An excerpt from Overcoming Your Difficult Family: 8 Skills for Thriving in Any Family Situation, by Eric Maisel, PhD
Family communication is often murky, negative, and hurtful. Much remains unsaid or half-said; and the things that are said are likely to be delivered with a critical edge. Surprisingly often, when someone in a family speaks, someone else in the family gets hurt. You can’t change this dynamic single-handedly, but you can become an instrument for change.
Waiting for someone else in your family to begin communicating well won’t work. If you wait for your child to reveal what’s really on her mind, she’s likely to continue keeping her fears, frustrations, and problems a secret. If you wait for your mate to start the communication ball rolling, you’ll have another long wait coming. While it’s true that every family member has a duty to communicate well, someone has to start. Let that person be you.
It’s important that you say things directly, in short, simple, clear sentences. Saying things indirectly or at great length often means that you feel you don’t have a leg to stand on, that you are ambivalent about your message, or that you hope the family member you’re talking to won’t discover your hidden agenda. It is better to be clear before you speak, know what you want to say, trust that you have the right to communicate, and then deliver your message simply and directly.
Here are some examples of clear, direct speaking:
“You’ve been spending a lot of extra time at work. Does that mean that we have a problem?”
“You seem to have much less homework this year than last year. Is that the case? Or are you less motivated this year?”
“I want to stop working and start a home business. I know that has a lot of ramifications, but I’d like us to talk about it.”
“We’ve been having sex pretty infrequently. I wonder what’s up.”
“You and your sister have been fighting a lot recently. Can you tell me what’s going on?”
“I feel like we need a vacation, but I know we don’t have money put aside for that. Can we talk about whether we have any vacation options?”
Being direct isn’t the same as being blunt or mean. Always leave room for kindness in the spaces between words. By your tone, your inflection, your body language, and by the words themselves, you can communicate the fact that you have something to say but that you don’t mean to hurt, insult, or criticize the other person. If you pay attention to being both direct and kind, you will grow stronger as a communicator and also invite more love into every family interaction.
Ceremony: Gaining Clarity
When you feel a lack of clarity about some situation in your family life, write on a sheet of paper, “There’s something going on that I don’t understand.” Close your eyes and breathe regularly for a minute or two. Don’t strain to gain clarity or to understand. Just relax. Then open your eyes and write below your first sentence, “I think what’s going on is ___ ,” and see how you want to complete that sentence. If nothing comes, or if what comes doesn’t seem to be quite right or on point, repeat the ceremony. Close your eyes again, and breathe regularly. Open them after a few minutes and write out that sentence again: “I think what’s going on is ___ ,” and see how you want to complete it. If nothing comes, try this ceremonial exercise another time or two. If you gain some clarity, excellent! If not, congratulate yourself for showing up, and pledge to continue your efforts at gaining clarity.
Avoid Mixed Messages
Human beings send mixed messages all the time, especially within the family. A mixed message is a message in which two contradictory ideas are blithely — and often bizarrely — conjoined. Here are some classic mixed messages:
“Please get all of your homework done and get to bed early.”
“I really want to have sex with you tonight, but I’m just not in the mood.”
“Grandpa, I’d love to visit you over spring break, but I only have a week off.”
“My job is killing me. By the way, I’ve asked to take on a couple of new assignments.”
“Mom, I really think we should eat healthier meals, but can we have cheeseburgers and fries tonight?”
Sometimes we can tell what is illogical or contradictory about a mixed message, and sometimes we can’t quite. But we always know that they feel wrong. The reason we send mixed messages is that the truth is inconvenient or unpleasant. We find receiving mixed messages unacceptable for exactly the same reason: the sender has played fast and loose with the truth. Don’t send mixed messages: be brave and tell the truth. Don’t accept mixed messages, either: be smart and demand the truth.
It’s your job to send clear messages. But what if the message sent to you isn’t clear? Then your job is to ask for clarification. When you don’t understand the message you just received, always ask. But be careful, because our first impulse is to criticize the sender for not being clear, or to lash out because we didn’t like the message received.
Our most common response — “What did you mean by that?” — is often just an attack question and not a request for clarification at all. Its translation is, “How dare you say that!” All of the following are better alternative ways of asking for clarification:
“I think you’re saying ___ , but I’m not positive. Am I close?”
“There was a part there that I don’t think I understood. What did you mean when you said ___?”
“I’m a little confused. I think you said ___ . But you also said ___ . Did I get that right?”
“I think I understand what you’re saying, but I’m not 100 percent sure. Could you tell me a little more?”
Asking for clarification is an excellent communication skill that prevents small and large misunderstandings. If your daughter says, “My biology teacher is stupid,” don’t leap to the conclusion that your daughter is failing biology. Ask for clarification instead. She may only mean that in her opinion her biology teacher is stupid for giving homework on the weekend and so many pop quizzes, but she plans to get an A in biology as her revenge. Wasn’t that good to clear up?
Be clear, don’t send or accept mixed messages, and ask for clarification when you don’t understand. Also, trust your intuition. When you have an intuition that a problem exists — that your son is in trouble, your husband is angry with you, or your sister is in crisis — you shouldn’t ignore that feeling. Almost always, that intuition is right on the money. Trust your intuition that something is up, decide what you want to say, prepare yourself to say it, and then courageously hold that conversation.
Becoming a communication wizard may not enable you to cure everything that ails your family, but it may help a lot. Often, dramatic changes occur when what needs to be said gets said. Be clear about your intention to speak compassionately and forthrightly, be clear when you speak, and say exactly what you want to say and what you need to say. That clarity may work wonders!
Six Tips for Being Clear
Be clear about what you need. Do you need your privacy? Do you need to be treated with respect? Do you need to not have your efforts belittled? Do you need to feel safe? Do you need some occasional praise? Do you need help? Be clear both about what you need and about how you will announce those needs!
Be clear about what you want. Are you hoping for a certain island vacation? Would you love a little more tenderness, a little more romance, and a little more kindness? Do you want to be able to watch your favorite television program without anyone making snide remarks about it? Be clear about what you want and about how you will announce those wants!
Be clear about what you won’t tolerate. Be clear about what absolutely crosses the line. Maybe you’ve decided to live with your mate’s sardonic style, which always verges on sarcasm — but how sarcastic is he or she permitted to be? Be clear about what you won’t tolerate and about how you will announce what you won’t tolerate!
Be clear about pointing out when a commitment or a promise has been broken. Is your mate chronically late? Did you parents promise to help financially and then conveniently forget — again? Did your teenager pledge to never smoke cigarettes again — and come home with clothes smelling of tobacco smoke? Be clear that a promise has been broken and about what you intend to say and do about it!
Be clear about who is supposed to do what. If your siblings are being super vague about who is supposed to take your ailing parent to medical appointments, resulting in your taking up the slack and the bulk of the responsibility, announce that their vagueness is not okay with you. If your mate refuses to hire someone to do something that he says he can do, and then he doesn’t do it, be clear about what you want to say and do. For instance, give him one more chance, and then hire someone!
Be clear about what matters. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if your mate is five minutes late and has a good reason, and perhaps it really does matter if he or she is an hour late and offers up the lamest of excuses. Distinguish between the two situations. In the first case, quickly let go of your irritation. In the second case, say what you need to say and do what you need to do. Be clear about what matters and about what you will say and do when something important has transpired!
Eric Maisel, PhD, is a retired family therapist, an active life coach, and the author of more than fifty books including his latest, Overcoming Your Difficult Family. He has been quoted or featured in a variety of publications, including Martha Stewart Living, Redbook, Glamour, Men’s Health, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Self. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. His website is www.EricMaisel.com.
Based on the book Overcoming Your Difficult Family. Copyright © 2017 by Eric Maisel. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.
"Life happens. Life in the flow."
We learn over time that nobody can solve our problems, but someone can guide you how to solve the problem. You may receive guidance through a teacher, a guru or even strangers that you run into every day. As we practice yoga we learn that the more we know, the less we truly know. Every day I am reminded how much I truly do not know; a very humbling experience.
Yoga teaches me to be present. To just live for being and enjoying life as it is right NOW. Not ten minutes from now, no five days ago, but right now. We are taught to get out of our heads, to release worries and fears of the past or the future and to only live for this very moment. Presence.
"Lead me from untruth to truth, lead me from darkness to light." ~ Buddha
Through yoga we are reminded that we do have a dark side as well as a light side. We are not to repress the dark side, but embrace that side of our Self. We are the yin and the yang. We ultimately cleanse the dark stuff we hold inside. We shine the light on this. We must make friends with dark side. Both positive and negative balance out the whole. Daily practice refines and improves our inner vision to see our Self more clearly. We no longer need to run from fears. Face them and say I'm not running from you anymore. So much is in our heads, so much dark is only in our heads, self-doubt judgment betrayal. Yoga grounds the body so that the light and dark sides of ourselves become clear. So much is truly untrue. But as we diligently practice we are able to find the middle ground and walk our centered balanced line in life. We gain balance in centered lightheartedness. We can have harmony in both light and dark.
"Yoga tells us that the world is actually a projection of our own thoughts and we can modify our inner world to manifest into our outer world. When our inside realm is at peace and in harmony, our outer world shines this projection back at us." ~ David, Jiva Mukti Yoga co-founder
Yoga is observation.
We can observe our world and see what part that is in us is begin reflected back to us. We can then see what part of us needs modification or adjustment in order to have our outer reality reflect back to us the peace, happiness and love we so greatly desire and deserve.
Yoga is already inside of you. Happiness is there. Yoga helps you peel away the onion layers to get to the core. To freedom. The deepest Divine connection to the Ultimate Light Source.
Come out of wanting and back into acceptance and Joy. A yogi or yogini can turn any situation into bliss. That is a yogi. Yoga is being now. Ultimate yoga is meditation. Just BE.
Yoga is love.
"Love is the light that dissolves all walls between souls." ~ Paramahansa Yogananda
Through a dedicated practice of all forms of yoga we can participate in the world with a sense of freedom, unaffected from trauma, depression, anger, etc. The freedom is balance in both.
Maggie Anderson is a Yoga & Spiritual Teacher, Reiki Master Teacher, Integrated Energy Therapy® Master Instructor, Soul Coach®, Past Life Coach, Magnified Healing® Master Teacher and Angelights Messenger. She is the author of How I Found My True Inner Peace and Divine Embrace. You can contact Maggie at SpiritualCompassConnection.com.
"Follow Your Bliss. It's Your Spiritual Compass."