I'm feeling like a post about communication, or the lack thereof rather, is apt for the day after Thanksgiving and the kick off of the holiday season. I've been digging into the idea of conflict, defense mechanisms, and miscommunication in my personal therapy and work this week. On a humorous note, on her podcast Ask Iliza Anything, comedian Iliza Shlesinger regularly jokes that she knows the answer to her listener's problem/question is most likely "talk to the person you have a problem with" before she opens the email. And yet that simple piece of advice is so difficult to take. Generally because we grow up in households where we don't see a template for healthy conflict resolution. It's super rare that people grow up simply knowing how to confront a problem with another person head on, directly, without hostility or blame.
The four defense mechanisms that occur during conflict (anything from a passive aggressive comment or a hostile email to an actually life-threatening physical threat or personal crisis) are: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. Fawn is new to me and especially interesting when we think about on-going conflict in relationships. Fight is obvious - overpower and control the situation. Flight (my go-to for sure) is to avoid conflict by leaving or cutting people off forever. Freeze is mentally leaving the situation by dissociation or numbing out (ever scroll Instagram mindlessly after an unresolved argument until a few hours have gone by?). And fawn is to turn into a people-pleaser in order to subdue the situation while sacrificing your own needs / boundaries. All of these mechanisms move us to perceived safety while never allowing true connection or conflict resolution to occur.
As I can only speak from personal experience, I believe whole-heartedly that I'm a fleer. I would much rather moon-walk out of your life forever than tell you how you hurt my feelings or upset me. When faced with an uncomfortable conversation, my heart rate rapidly elevates and my palms get sweaty. I've gotten much better as I've gotten older - I have been in countless horrible situations of my own making by not speaking up when I've felt wronged or slighted and that hurt coming out later in resentment, hostility, and outright aggression. Funnily enough, my job at lululemon forced me to tackle my issues with "mindful communication" head on and I find myself using the tools I learned there in my difficult conversations now. Additionally, Elly 2.0 gives much fewer fucks and has realized that since the worst has already happened, why shy away from a tough conversation that has the opportunity to clear air that has felt oppressively heavy for years?
Have I made mistakes as I attempt to heal, learn, and change over these past three months? You bet. Have I had to request do-over's / take two's when the first try goes sideways? Also yes. Have the conversations been incredibly uncomfortable at times? Let's just say I am almost always hungry and on the days I have these interactions, I have to force myself to eat. And am I glad that I've had every single one of the tough conversations? Absolutely. The alternative is continuing to live a partial life, full of partial relationships, and I'm no longer here for that.
I'm also coming to terms with the fact that people get uncomfortable when you start to dismantle the status quo of a dynamic. It's easy to say "you can't be for everyone!" when you are actively doing everything you can to actually be for everyone. Now that I've let that pressure go, I've ruffled feathers and pissed people off. It's uncomfortable. And, in my opinion, necessary, in order to cross through the muddy waters and get to a new shore. So, for this holiday season, here's to saying what you actually mean, asking for what you truly need, and having the tough conversations that need to be had.
"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." - Dr. Seuss