Communication: Week 13 of 'Mental Muscle' Boot Camp

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Part fifteen in a series.

"There is a reason why Communication Week follows Self-Esteem in Spiritual Boot Camp," said James Mellon. "First, you get clear that you have the right to be who you are, and then you step into actually saying and expressing it!"

I am good at expressing myself. As communicative as I am though, I have problems telling the truth if I think honesty will hurt someone. In those situations, I tend to say nothing. I clam up and hold all of it in. If I keep running into problems with someone over and over, everything I've stuffed festers and builds until I blow like a volcano!

I've had a rough go of it with someone I considered my best friend for a very long time. We didn't speak for a year, then reconciled. Even so, twice in the last year I noticed the patterns I didn't like in our friendship were still there and still bothered me.

Last fall, I addressed the issues with my friend as the erupting volcano. After that interaction, I thought I'd purged everything and couldn't possibly have any upset left. I was wrong. The issues popped up again just as Spiritual Boot Camp was getting underway in January.

I didn't want to be a broken record and have another discussion, and I especially did not want to risk going to volcano mode. So I chose to be silent and avoid. I decided I would talk with her when Boot Camp ended. I expected by that time I might have a stronger, more peaceful way of discussing the situation.

This week, my friend posted something on my Facebook page that seemed to necessitate a response. I had mixed feelings. I was happy something good was going on, but also had my avoidance issues in the back of my mind. I sent a short, private Facebook response essentially stating that fact.

My friend left me a voice mail with her reaction. This was interesting!

You see, this friend once had something very serious happen to her, and she told me about it during a Yahoo! instant message conversation. It was fourth or fifth down in a string of other, rather innocuous things. Since the serious matter was not the first thing I was told, I assumed my friend was OK and responded very calmly and matter of fact.

As confident as I am with my writing abilities, I get very concerned over interpretation of my written words. If someone projects a "tone" on what I've written that I do not intend, then BOOM! We have miscommunication and misunderstanding. It's driven me a little crazy in the past and this story is my top example of why.

What I typed "calmly" was interpreted by my friend as impersonal and uncaring. The fact that I didn't seem to be reacting or freaking out the way she wanted (i.e., with a lot of exclamation points or "OMG??!! ARE U OK??!!) led her to tell me she didn't think I cared about her and that I was a bad friend. After 13 years of friendship, I was incredulous over those words. They were unacceptable. We had a huge fight, which caused the initial break in our friendship.

That experience taught me to cease using email, instant message or phone text message to communicate anything important. In fact, after my friend and I reconciled, I insisted that we never speak on instant message services at all. So, it didn't surprise me that she was leaving a voice mail in response to my Facebook message. She listened to me; I'd actually broken my own rule.

We began a game of "voice mail" tag where the messages were quite lengthy. She stated her case, I would respond to it. Of course, with all these voice mails traded back and forth, we were completely avoiding authentic communication by not speaking directly with each other.

I wrote a few details about the situation in a "Mental Muscle" blog. On air, James didn't get to address something I felt pleased about, so after session was over I asked what he thought.

James said, "You sounded passive-aggressive."

I was surprised by that response and actually felt stung by the idea that I may be a passive-aggressive communicator. I felt the wall of "Anxiety Monster" surging, but punched through that immediately. That is a definite shift.

I considered that I may be confused over what passive-aggressive behavior is. So, I went to a passage in the "Mental Muscle" book about passive-aggressiveness and re-evaluated the interaction with my friend.

Throughout the voice mails, I used examples and comparison/contrast of why I felt she was not a good friend based on my standards. However, I never actually said the words, "I don't think you're a good friend." How I spoke was filled with subtext and therefore, absolutely passive-aggressive.

In fact, it was my friend who said to me, "Paul, through the examples and comparisons you're giving, I'm hearing you tell me that you think I'm not a very good friend." Once she said that, I couldn't dodge it. That was clearly what I meant, but was afraid to say.

Even though I could no longer escape the truth, I still felt a need to protect her feelings. In my next, final message, I said things like, "If what I said doesn't resonate with you, you have every right to think I'm full of shit and no reason to be sad" and "Your truth is not my truth, and that's OK."

This is where I was proud of myself. I thought I was speaking from a place of being spiritually minded, but those were the big comments James pointed out as passive-aggressive.

Additionally, where I thought I was easing the blow for her, I discovered my need to let her off the hook was really my backwards way of trying to protect myself.

As I wrote last week, I fear telling unvarnished truth will come back to haunt me. I want to keep myself from being hurt; therefore I do not hurt others as a rule. This is a major reason I've stayed in relationships and friendships that are unhealthy or no longer serve me.

It's all fear based. Once again, fear raises its head in Boot Camp. Sometimes I think my word for Boot Camp should have been fear! Someone asked me if there was a week based on "fear" in "Mental Muscle" and I said, "There doesn't need to be. Fear is running through the whole damn thing week after week "

That made James laugh. He said, "When you pull up a belief, and you're not happy with it, what accompanies the belief is the fear that you're not going to be able to change it."

I expect I am changing it. One thought came to me which I know will carry me forward. Despite my fears over anything, I never make a mistake in communicating the truth.