How many people are you not speaking to?
Do you sometimes get so angry, disappointed, or hurt that you react by completely shutting down? Do you withdraw from the person who caused you such pain? Do you ever stop talking to them for days, months, or years?
Many of us handle emotional pain by retreating into ourselves. Feeling trapped, unheard, uncared for, and/or abused, we see no other way of handling the situation. It doesn’t seem possible that the person who hurt us so badly will be open to an honest exchange of feelings, a healing dialogue of some kind. We no longer trust her and so we don’t see any point in exposing ourselves further. Instead of trying to talk things through, we flee for safety.
While others might judge us, we know that we are saving our lives. Indeed, there are situations that call for such drastic measures. There are some people — narcissists and psychopaths of varying degrees — who simply cannot be communicated with. There is truly no point in trying to work things out with members of this disturbed population for they lack the ability to empathize. They are so psychologically disturbed that, instead of taking our words to heart, they will use them against us in the most vile manner. Instead of trying to understand and cooperate, they only seek conflict and revenge. Their goal is to take care of themselves at all costs and they care nothing about crushing those in their path. These are people who we must flee from in order to protect ourselves; we have no other choice.
A World of Distortion
Fortunately, severely psychologically disturbed people are relatively rare. Any of us might encounter one or two such folk in our family, social, communal, or professional circles. However, if you find that you have encountered more than one such person over the course of a decade, you are probably wearing distorted lenses.
If there are two or three people in your life whom you are not talking to, the problem is much more likely to be with you than with them — unless they are members of an abusive gang. In fact, when many people around us seem to be cruel, the true problem lies within our own perceptions and patterns of communication. We are thinking and doing something incorrectly.
Working it Through
This is especially true when the people we are avoiding are family members. If you are not talking to an aunt, a parent, and two sisters, it is because you have not learned an effective way of working through conflict with ordinary, imperfect human beings. It is not that such people can’t listen or understand, rather, it is that you have not yet found a way to make yourself heard and understood. Normal human beings are challenged in the realm of conflict resolution. The people we want to talk to will typically have trouble hearing us. Still, we have to plow through and find ways to make ourselves understood and get our needs met.
People typically find it hard to admit their errors and so tend to shift blame rather than accept and address it. And yet, a careful and skillful communicator can help reduce defensiveness. All of us need to learn how to communicate with the entire range of normal people — mature, healthy people, as well as difficult and otherwise flawed folks. The only ones we are exempt from working with are the very few, very rare, psychologically disturbed people described above; therefore, we can excuse ourselves from the effort to negotiate conflict maybe once in our lifetime. If we’re doing it more often than that, if we’re not talking to more than one person, and if that one person we’re not talking to isn’t suffering from a severe mental dysfunction, then we must help ourselves.
We need to learn how to overcome our own fear and pain in order to communicate effectively. We need to learn how to be assertive — polite, yet firm. We need to know how to ask for what we need and how to make sure we get it. Failure to learn the necessary skills, guarantees a life of troubled and dysfunctional relationships, not because people are so terrible, but because we haven’t learned how to bring out the best in them. There are self-help books on communicating with difficult people that can help anyone who can read. In addition, professional counseling can assist those who too readily shut down to learn how to open up to a world of happier and healthier relationships.