Lesson Seven: Communication and Relationships

This lesson is divided into three sections designed to improve your communication skills and connect with your tribe. Diversity is important, but having like-minded friends gives us safe spaces to relax and be our true self without judgement or intolerance.

A major blockade in depression is poor communication. When depression feels all-encompassing, it’s difficult to communicate unhappiness with family and friends. You might begin to feel like a burden to others if you are consistently unhappy. After a while I was tired of my own depression, but I didn’t know how to communicate my feelings. I soon began working on my communication skills and felt like I was making real progress, so I stopped when I felt like I had learned what I needed. I should have continued.


 

Part One: Communicate with Compassion

As I mentioned earlier in the section about regret, after quite an awful spring I was beginning to feel so depressed that I treated a friend rather badly and put strain on our relationship. That summer I learned that I still need a lot of work in regard to communication. Healthy communication is a skill I must cultivate and therefor be aware of on a regular basis.

Communicate with compassion and openness. Holding questions, concerns and anger inside is unhealthy. 

When I asked myself why I am afraid to communicate, these were my answers:

-People won’t care, will be mean or take advantage of me.

-I will be a burden to others. It’s not necessary to share.

-I will look weak. I should be able to handle problems on my own.

-I don’t truly want to follow through or move forward on what I’m not communicating.

None of these are valid reasons, but I had convinced myself they were. So now that I’m aware of why I don’t want to communicate I can choose to not allow fear or doubt to guide my decisions.

Become aware of your anger. I used to feel a lot of anger about what I went through in my youth. I also was angry about a lot of scenarios I created in my mind which never actually came true. I would rile myself up with anger by reliving moments and becoming angry at myself for not saying or doing something differently. I would also get angry with others for what they did or didn’t do. Then I would hold it in and build it up until whatever happened became a tsunami of pain and drama. I was often unconsciously being passive aggressive because I could only hold in so much. Once I noticed how I was acting I felt a mixture of guilt and revenge. It never felt good, but I didn’t know how to communicate very well.

Action:

Journal about what scares you.

What are you afraid to communicate with others?

Why do you feel that way?

How do you feel when you don’t communicate, but want to?


 

Part Two: Angry Words in Relationships!

Have you ever been so angry that you said something you didn’t mean or exaggerated an emotion to feel vindicated? I certainly have and always with regret. I clearly remember calling a friend ‘Fat’ and then quickly trying to play it off like I meant, the slang world ‘Phat’, but could see the hurt in her eyes. As someone who was bullied so often I never wanted to act like a bully. Yet here I am, years later and it’s still in my memories.

Sometimes in the heat of the moment a person will reveal signs that they are dangerous and we should heed this warning. It’s important to heed these warning signs, especially in romantic relationships. Generally, we are just ‘attacking’ out of frustration and not deliberately being cruel. We just as often say the first nasty thought that arrives without thinking of the consequences. I did that more often when I was younger, usually fighting with my siblings or friends. It was a deep-seated habit to break, but I’ve since learned that to get angry doesn’t solve relationship issues. Anger is a great tool when wielded in self-defense, but should not be used to win every disagreement or a reaction to every offense.

In my book, ‘You Can Fight Back: Emotional and Physical Self Defense’ I share different ways of resolving issues. These 5 steps are a summary of how you may be able to find a solution. I recommend writing these down on your phone or on an index card for easy access.

  1. Neutralize your emotions. Allowing your emotions to run wild causes you to become irrational.
  2. Identify if this person is being difficult because of the situation or because they are purposely being difficult.
  3. Control the situation before it gets out of hand. Do you need to move to a safe space or a neutral environment?
  4. Consider your different options to reach a solution or compromise.
  5. Whether you come to an agreement or not it’s important to walk away without burning bridges if possible.

If yo crave healthier relationships then you must be open to learning new ways to be emotionally healthy. Take classes, read books, ask for advice and learn to be more transparent. The more I lean into my truth the easier it is for me to communicate honestly and openly. It takes a lot of work and sometimes I fail at communicating, but I feel good knowing how much I have improved compared to how I felt several years ago.

Seeing what you don’t like in others is a chance to look within. Occasionally I notice how people can do something that bothers me, but when I do those same things it barely registers. I don’t like people who are passive aggressive because I spent a lifetime doing that and I can see how it hurt me. In some ways, we are rather simple animals, but when it comes to our brains we can be quite complex. It’s interesting the way we can each see the same world so differently. Do yourself a favor and cut some slack to others. In the process, you can cut yourself some slack too.

Action One:

Learn to understand why you feel aggravated towards others when they are doing something that isn’t causing you harm. Here are three questions to write in your journal.

  1. What am I feeling?
  2. Why do I feel this way?
  3. What do I want?

Action Two:

Start a list of your pet peeves by other people. Notice which ones are things you do and make a conscious effort to either accept those things or change your actions.


 

Part Three: Creating Connections and Finding your Tribe.

We are social animals. Because of this, feeling disconnected is an opening for depression to seep inside. In the book “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection” Jon Cacioppo wrote that “Physical pain protects the individual from physical dangers. Social pain, also known as loneliness, evolved for a similar reason: because it protected individuals from the danger of remaining isolated. Our forbearers depended on social bonds for safety and the successful replication of their genes in the form of offspring who themselves survived long enough to reproduce.If you’re familiar with the scientific research showing that most of our knowledge is ingrained in our DNA than this makes sense. Loneliness is a natural reaction to life that has been passed down throughout the centuries.

Looking back, I can see that connection has always been something I felt was missing. Perhaps because my family moved so much I have always craved connection with others so that I could plant my roots and grow. A constant feeling of being out of touch with my peers (and intense bullying) contributed to feeling like an outcast. Now I understand that connection is not about being in one place or liked by all, but finding those who share similar thoughts hopes, dreams and aspirations for not just ourselves, but the world. It seems to be a matter of planting your roots in those ideas.

Compounding the need for connection is the amount of violence that is ever-present in our lives and our entertainment. There’s the school bully, deep seated prejudice, racist governments, police brutality, war, genocide, etc. How does anyone heal from that?

They seem to do it out of a deep knowledge that WE have so much potential. That WE can heal together and that each of us is in control of our response to the world.

Have you ever…

…joined a support group?

…volunteered?

…talked to a therapist?

…joined a team to solve a problem?

…attended a rally or marched for justice?

If so how did you feel?

Did you feel connected, make friends and become more involved?

Despite violence and fear that over shadowed my youth, I’ve learned to heal, to release the pain. Why? Deep inside I feel like all is good because there is an abundance of energy that is ours for the absorbing. Isn’t this what wise women (and men and children) have been teaching us throughout the ages, to surrender to the idea that we always have access to this abundance if we CHOOSE to access it? I feel inner balance when I believe there is an abundance of peace and love that I can always access, if I choose. Most of the time it is a concentrated effort, but it’s slowly becoming an automatic habit. There are still times of doubt, fear, grief and pain, but I know healing is possible.

Throughout my years of depression, I did socialize, but not often with those whom I felt a deep connection. I tended to need acceptance so much I would force it on whoever was closest and eventually that faux relationship would crumble. I volunteered which gave me more opportunities. Still even that wasn’t enough to make me feel connected. Unknowingly I had to find my “tribe” of people who were on similar journey.  Eventually I did. I found them through being myself and pursing what is most significant to me. I attended activism rallies, volunteered, offered support to people I genuinely liked, moved to a new area of the city and said YES more often to invitations. I started offering my self-defense classes free. I accept gifts of support and ask for help. At one point, I even attended a party where I didn’t know anyone except through social media. By trusting in a new idea that if I simply tuned into my true self I would enjoy it, I did. I felt relaxed enough to create genuine connections.

This new tribe is not all in one place and not all are close friends, but just being surrounded by people who accept me, as is, gives me energy. It’s just like finding solace at home. Family has always been my solace because it feels safe and loving. All the years of faux friendships hindered my growth because I was not being true to myself. I was simply trying not to be alone, not to be an outcast. I wasn’t putting in an effort to find my tribe, or exploring or moving past my comfort zone.

I’m so amazingly grateful for these new friends and neighbors who have created a safe space for me to thrive. I know if more of us can learn to feel connected we can stop the apathy and fear that plagues our communities. It’s a knowledge deep in my bones.

Action One:

Commit to one or more of the following actions when you feel disconnected.  

  1. ONLY say yes to new opportunities IF they resonate with you. Don’t waste your time in groups or places that go against your grain.
  2. Focus your energy on what’s significant, on your passion, on finding inner balance.
  3. Start exploring. Talk to people, ask questions, read books and learn about the world. Don’t just absorb the bad stuff on the news.
  4. Turn off that TV, put down your phone, and get away from the negative media images. The mass media is built around advertising. It’s not about creativity or connection. It’s about profit.
  5. Learn to love yourself and that will help to attract people who love themselves and in turn love you.
  6. Say farewell to relationships and work that pull you away from your true self.
  7. Practice feeling comfortable in your own skin. Be yourself around loved ones and when you’re strong enough continue to be your true self everywhere you go.

Action Two:

Write the following affirmation in your journal and pin it up as a note somewhere you can often look at it: “I will not be a people pleaser! I will say No or Yes based on MY truths.”

This isn’t random advice. These are all actions I took toward creating a healthier life. It was challenging at first. When I started doing this I feared judgement and being cast away, but it made me stronger. Now when I am true to myself good things are attracted back to me. I’m not financially wealthy or über popular and haven’t accomplished all my goals, but I’m finally living.


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