SAY WHAT YOU SEE to Yourself First
In her blog article "Applying 'Say What You See' to Adult Relationships" Monica Cravotta related my work to that of her friend and coach Chris Douglas. Monica came to the conclusion that "in a very basic way, we’re no different than our little ones in feeling upset when our basic emotional needs are unmet." So true!
In trying to bring understanding to heated moments in her adult relationships Monica wisely says, "It’s your ability to center yourself when your buttons are pushed to seek first to understand, then be understood." But even more wisely, she goes on to say how hard that is when all you are thinking is "how wrong the other person is, how you can make sure they understand how wrong they are, and all the things you need to say to defend yourself."
I laughed when I read that because I've had those exact thoughts.
Douglas says to take a moment to breathe for a certain number of counts, which is excellent advice and can often work to center oneself, but not always. Here's why:
When you hit the point where you cannot listen, you are right. You cannot listen because you need to be heard.
As Monica said, like children, we get upset when our needs are unmet. The first premise of SAY WHAT YOU SEE is: Everything children say and do is a communication; and they MUST continue to communicate until heard. This applies to us as well.
So what can you do? When you hit the wall with your partner or spouse, SAY WHAT YOU SEE to yourself.
Talk to your partner ahead of time and establish a way to break away from an argument that won't make things worse. A statement like, "Wait. I can't listen. I need a moment," might do. Then while you are doing your breathing or whatever calms you down, LISTEN TO YOURSELF and SAY WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS) yourself thinking.
Do not resist your thoughts, explore them fully.
Start from wherever you are, follow your thoughts and feelings, and have an internal dialog with yourself about it (or talk to yourself out loud if you can step away from your partner) For example:
SWYS to Yourself: "He/she is wrong, wrong, wrong!!! You know he/she is! You hate it when he/she doesn't listen. You feel like there's nothing you can say that will make any difference..."
Addressing yourself as "you" will give you some distance from your thoughts. If you find yourself nodding or even agreeing with yourself out loud, you are definitely getting yourself heard.
Notice which thought has the most power and really sets off your anger or tears. Hold that thought and SAY WHAT YOU SEE, over and over. That kind of thought is usually not new, but it's importance might have been overlooked. It will often reach as far back as childhood.
As strange as it seems, the more you SAY WHAT YOU SEE and realize how true a thought is to you, the less true it becomes, until you can finally distinguish it as a thought, not a reality.
Hint: Listen for thoughts that are generalized as in "always" or "never." Your adult mind may recognize that something is not always true, but your child mind still thinks it is. The more you step into your child perspective on it, the more sense your anger or tears make.
Here's an example. I recently uncovered a thought that has been trying to get itself heard and validated for 50 years or so: "Adults never listen." Try that one when your job is teaching parents! Definitely a child's conversation, but powerful none-the-less.
Here's how it shows up: I can be teaching folks to listen and getting enthusiastic responses for weeks on end, then that one person shows up who "doesn't want to listen." Truth is he can't hear a word I say because he needs to be heard first. But even I though I know that (I wrote the book on this stuff!) and tell myself, "No, he really wants to listen. That's why he's here," when that thought "adults never listen" gets fired up, I'm gone.
Breathing and saying what I see him saying gets me through, but I know I've got some work to do. When I see a pattern in my reactions (in this case it was men not listening), I look for the thought that would explain it. When "adults never listen" popped up, I knew I had it. It explained everything. The frustration, anger and helplessness I feel when I can't make my point now is the same as when I was little with my dad (though I'm better at hiding or coping with it now, as Monica said).
That thought "adults never listen" also explains my life! What do I do? I teach parents to listen; not kids, just adults. Now it all makes sense.
When you hit that level of self-understanding everything shifts. In my case, I can now see that "adults never listen" is not a truism—sometimes adults listen and sometimes they don't. As a child I couldn't do anything about it, but now I can. No need to feel frustrated, angry and helpless...for very long.
The thing is that old thoughts may still get activated, but once you know they are not a reality, you can bounce back almost instantly by SAYing WHAT YOU SEE yourself thinking. At this point all I need to say to myself is, "You think he's not listening. Oh, that's right! You think adults never listen!" Just like that, I'm back and ready to say what I see until I understand him first.
Besides being the missing step in parenting and adult relationships, SAY WHAT YOU SEE is often the missing step in connecting with ourselves. Do that first and listening becomes easy.