Trigger warning -this is a long post with potentially triggering words used in different sections. Please read with care, skip through, skim etc.
In many past blog posts, I’ve discussed challenges around communication and verbalizing my real thoughts, feelings, opinions, and intentions to people in the outside world like:
- switching alter personalities in conversation
- automatic defense mechanisms
- internalized lessons about myself
- making assumptions/sharing assumptions
- verbalizing what I perceptions based on triggers and then asking for confirmation or denial of what I said to different people
What I am learning is that there are huge gaps in my social education. By social education, I mean how to have positive social interactions within the boundaries of social culture or norms. What is normal to everyone else is a scary and dangerous situation to me. I feel like a dog or cat who hasn’t been properly socialized as a puppy or a kitten and have to learn all of this as an adult while also learning/accepting that there is more influencing the situation than trauma.
For example: me going with a friend to her family’s house for the first time and meeting all of these new people who have their own culture. It’s normal for everyone to feel a little nervous/anxious and act awkward around each other until we all settle down and start to feel comfortable. I didn’t know that and still have a hard time believing it.
I was raised to believe:
there’s something inherently wrong with me that everyone in the outside world can see so any anxiety, discomfort, awkwardness, etc. is my fault and these people don’t like me in every social situation.
if I say or do something different than everyone else, I insulted the hosts and humiliated the person who invited me.
I am there as entertainment and the goal is to insult me and embarrass me and use me or hurt me in some way, so I have to take it all with a smile and then get abused again at home.
In my mind
I am socially inept, an awful conversationalist, stupid, full of bad opinions and negativity, abrasive, rude, presumptuous, mean, blunt, snobbish, and insulting whenever I open my mouth.
The physical impression I give people is
a shy, ugly, awkward, maybe dirty, invisible person lacking in self-confidence with nothing interesting or important to say.
Trouble Connecting with People
I also don’t understand nuances in conversation or what information needs to be elaborated on when talking to other people. It’s not so much making assumptions as believing I already explained that bit and am glossing over it to continue the rest of the story. This happens often when I get interrupted or distracted or triggered into a flashback that feels real because it’s not a memory so much as a set of feelings.
While I am more aware of sharing certain information with people because their experiences are different from mine, I have a hard time doing this with people I consider real friends. And it’s always more difficult explaining miscommunications and working through them with friends than acquaintances, co-workers, & relative strangers I won’t see again.
And the issue again is
perception + different worldview colliding = miscommunication in verbal conversations (most often) & written conversations (less often).
Especially difficult is when I ask questions that seem strange to “normal” people or ask for validation/clarity about something someone said or did. Because that experience is A) new to me; B) not normal or something I know how to process; C) triggering and not understandable to my stressed out mind, I ask if my perception of the situation is the same as my friend’s perception.
And YES I MEAN PERCEPTION – impression or understanding of what my senses are telling me
NOT ASSUMPTION – belief that I am sharing and accept as true without proof of some kind
NOT OPINION – judgement based on perceptions and impressions that may or may not be based on truth or facts or reality
NOT PERSPECTIVE OR PRESUMPTION – Opinion + perception that opinion giver is out of social bounds, arrogant, rude, etc.
What am I doing when I ask about a perception?
I am ASKING for help with a Coping Strategy called Reality Testing. I am ASKING for my friend to help me move past the trigger distorting reality and making me feel/act/think I am in a past situation instead of the present one.
What my friends and often other people THINK I’m doing when I ask about a perception
I am making an assumption, opinion, or a judgement – usually incorrect and almost always negative – about a person, group of people, or situation and asking if it’s true or not.
This gives the friend or friends the impression that
A) I could be/might be/am a generally negative person who thinks everyone is out to get me or hates me
B) I tend to make assumptions and am closed minded
C) and many of my social anxieties and challenges could be/maybe/are of my own making because I make assumptions, think negative, and believe the worst about people.
What my friends, new therapists, and many other people in life don’t understand about me is the following:
- I am aware that I have trouble talking and making sense at the same time
- I am aware that what other people hear is not always what I mean or intend to say
- I am aware that this is a problem, and yes even though you might not see any improvement or change, I am working on it
- I am aware that some of my questions and perceptions are “not normal” and make people uncomfortable because “normal” people don’t have to ask those questions or have those perceptions/impressions
- I am not aware of what type of impression I give people in conversations because my self-perception is distorted and I lack people who will give me honest feedback
- I am not aware of how to ask for this kind of honest feedback without giving the impression that I am not listening to them
Is What You Hear the Same as What I’m Saying?
And so it continues. I say one thing. The other person hears something else – usually something that gives him or her a negative impression of me – and then goes on to tell me how to change my attitude and behavior so that I can be a happier, more confident, better-adjusted, conversationalist and human being.
Then I try to correct this impression. And the other person starts to think I am not listening or not believing and shuts out my words. The other person jumps on a word or phrase I said and continues on his or her line of thinking using my own words to emphasize the point. I try again to correct the impression – making things worse by repeating myself and missing vital details – and finally get to my point. Repeat, repeat until…
The other person interrupts and tries to end the conversation.
At this critical point, I have 2 options:
- Give in and walk away feeling frustrated while the other person feels validated in “winning the argument” and having her or his beliefs about me reinforced
- Stop, take deep breaths, start using the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Interpersonal Communication dialogue techniques to make my point and leave feeling at peace with the situation. Neither of us “wins” anything, yet we are both listened to and validated
If option 1 happens, I feel frustrated and then resigned to believe that my past training is true and won’t ever change
If option 2 happens, I feel relieved and then mad at myself because I am ashamed of speaking up for myself and taking steps to change long-held self-beliefs/perceptions
The Current Obstacles This Challenge Brings to My Life
I am trying to improve communications in professional and personal experiences, but this talking problem scares me and stops me from challenging myself to participate in committees and correcting false impressions with friends.
Whether I succeed or fail in verbalizing my true opinions, the backlash and shame always get me down afterwards.
In fact, I had to reach out to the hotline before writing this post because asserting myself with my current therapist and a friend put me on the expected downward spiral. And talking with a safe person who understands allows me the freedom to ask for the individual’s help with reality testing my perceptions of the experiences.
A) Did I go into each situation with the intention to deliberately hurt myself with emotional self harm by starting these conversations knowing that the other person was going to say something critical and/or negative and offer suggestions for thinking and behavioral changes?
B) Did I go into each situation with the intention to resolve real or potential miscommunications and perceptions about past conversations and my opinions of those conversations even knowing that the situation would trigger me and make using the DBT techniques difficult.
In this case, Option B was the truth. I went into both conversations knowing that they would be difficult and that I was fighting my own internal triggers based on anniversaries along with the communication triggers.
Now I still feel some shame and self-anger. I still feel inner turmoil and conflict. But I feel calmer and more centered too. Because even if I was so frustrated that I couldn’t verbalize this information, I would have fallen back on a tried and true method of communication – writing.
But mostly I wish there were people I could share this with and get positive feedback/help on how to cope with situations like this in the real world.
So if you got this far, thanks for reading my rant. Thanks for listening with an open mind and an open heart. And I hope that maybe this helps any of you (guests) who might be struggling with similar challenges realize you are not alone.
Thanks for Reading