Three Ways to Recognize a Hostile Communicator

I don’t actually know three ways to recognize a hostile communicator. I’m just typing because I committed to do it for at least 50 minutes. I’m going to try this for the next few days and see if I’m able to cobble together at least one post.

Hostile communicators I have known:


Bill collectors



i want to define hostile communications as the same thing that nonviolent communication represents. But they’re not really one-to-one relationship.

When people “should” on you.
Often, even people who love you will try to give what has erroneously been labeled as constructive criticism. Not necessarily With permission. So often people say things flippantly that really cause pain. Whenever you hear “should” you automatically resist. Humans don’t like anything they HAVE to do. The key to dealing with “should” is to turn it into “want to”.

“I’ve told you over and over, You should quit that job before it kills you.”

“Honey, you have such a pretty face; but You should lose a few pounds.”

Then there is the lesser known corollary “If I were you, I’d…” This is a more sneaky form of shoulding. There is implied criticism of how you are handling The Thing. And outright criticism that they’d be better at it, anyway.

I’m getting bogged down here. Although, I am actually writing. yay!!!! Go me!!!!!

“I should write an article.”

Instantly, I am de-inspired. Any possible thought that supports writing the article is quickly squashed.

I frequently stop doing this. Is it because I ‘should’ write an article? You betcha!

Here I sit with my house in dissaray. Boxes everywhere. More stuff to pack. I am trying to avoid packing–so even writing an article feels better than that. And I’m not sure exactly how I can add to the panoply of personal development. I don’t think I have anything to share. But of course I do. Everyone does. Only a few people in the vastness of the internet space may ‘get’ what I’m saying. I feel sad when i think about that. But it’s a possibility. In fact, I’m taking steps to try to kick start an article.


“You made me cry!”

“Look what you did!”

“If you’d picked me up on time, I wouldn’t have missed rehearsal. Now I’m off the team.”

Pretty easy to spot ‘blame’ language. Often, one indicator is when the language starts off with, “You…”.

I just started looking off into the trees and realized my commitment is to write without stopping until 11:00. That’s not going to be easy. I’m trying to remember I time I was blamed or that I blamed someone else. I’m always blaming Chip for something, but that’s almost always because he’s present. Uh oh, trying to think of the last time…Oh, I blamed Chip for my loneliness on Football Monday. It was most definitely his fault that I got stuck at home because he didn’t give me time to make other arrangements when he agreed to a guys football night.

On the surface, that may seem to be perfectly justified–I’m still *trying* to make it about him. But it was really about me. So what need might Chip have been trying to meet?

Maybe a need for harmony or connection. He wanted to watch the game with people who actually care, rather than leaving the room every time there’s a tackle.
Maybe a need for play and understanding. He needed some time with his friends. (This is very hard to take, sometimes.)
Maybe even a need for community, spontaneity, and freedom.

Wow. That’s a lot of needs taken care of in a single evening of football with the boys. And I’m feeling so good about writing this that it’s hard not to stop.

So, blame. There’s a lot of blame in commercials, too. Carefully hidden, but definitely implying that you aren’t doing something right and it will hurt you–unless you buy their product. Listerine commercials used to be about having bad breath and not using Listerine is the reason. Shit. Can’t think of any more examples, but maybe they will come later.

So, what’s the third way to recognize hostile communication?

Let’s see…what are other ways?

Shoulds younger and less good looking cousin, ‘Have to’

I have to write an article.

I have to go to the store.

I have to go to work.

I have to eat.

So, have to. What are the things I ‘have had to’ do lately? I had to get an endoscopy. I had to get a kidney transplant. I have to pay my taxes.

Again, when I hear ‘have to’ I immediately resist–even if it’s something I really don’t mind doing. The key to transforming ‘have to’ into something I won’t resist is to change ‘have to’ to ‘want to’. Just like ‘should’ this needs the touch of ‘want’. A spark of want. Realizing that we have a choice can change ‘have to’ to ‘want to’ and voila! we stop resisting.

I have to write an article – clearly I do not have to write an article. nuff said
I have to go to the store – Nope. I can choose to starve or to spend a lot of money on take out or to go without a shower. I have choices.

I have to work – Not true here either. You could choose to NOT to work and live with the consequences. But if you don’t like the consequences, then it’s pretty easy to convert into a WANT phrasae. I want to work because I can put my kids through school. I want to work so I can buy food.

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5 Little Known Factors that could affect your Holiday Cheer

Pay Attention! If you’re reading this now, chances are, you already know about holiday funk first hand.  Here are 5 factors you might have missed.

  1. Comparing Your inside to Their Outside

    We all make comparisons.  Just be sure you’re not telling yourself stories about other people, then comparing those stories with your feelings.  Since we don’t have access to their inner voice, we have no idea if the story we are telling ourselves about them is true.

Instead of comparing what you feel, with what you see, look for the similarities.  When we find similarities, we begin to relate to that person.  When we can relate, we can empathize. Then we have a connection.   When you notice you’re comparing again, and you will, remember that you’re comparing apples to oranges and look for the similarities, instead.

Alone Time Isn’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be

Humans are pack animals.  Human interaction is necessary for our survival and for our mental health. When we get lonely, we are at risk for depression, which makes it even harder for us to reach out and satisfy our need for connection.

When you feel the first twinges of loneliness, plan an outing of some kind.  Go to your local library or coffee shop.  You don’t have to engage right away–or at all.  Just being around others can satisfy that craving for the pack that is at the root of loneliness.

if you don’t have the money, don’t go to the store.

Can you ‘window shop’ and feel uplifted and prosperous?  Or, do you develop a sort of grudge about all the pretty things that sparkle, and you can’t have?  If the latter, we may find It’s the ‘can’t have’ mentality that sours our holiday. One way to dissolve the unease before it matures into bitterness, is to try limiting exposure to high pressure retail sales.  But then you have Ebay and Amazon, as well as all the paid advertisements, that seep into your subliminal consciousness and give you a vague feeling of discontent. Of wanting, without knowing what you want, exactly. Thwart those feelings of discontent by tricking yourself. and get your ‘shopping on’ at the local thrift store.  You’ll be amazed at what $5 can buy. I’m talking about the eating away at you kind of envy.  Everyone else has nice stuff.  Why isn’t my stuff nicer and look like Cindy’s?  Just that corrosive sense that other people must be buying all that stuff on TV, why am I working my ass off and I still can’t afford a bottle of purfume.

  1. Hanging out on the shopping channel – if you don’t have the money, don’t go to the store  Money Wanting vs needing, Gifting yourself, Old rule from Mom–  This is especially true, considering the pressure to BUY, whether you can afford it or not.  Used to be simple, if you don’t have the money, don’t go to the store.  But today, the stores either have their own credit cards or maybe you have one ‘for emegencies’.  No?  Then step over here and fill out this application and you WILL be able to afford whatever your heart desires.  We are more and more removed from actual cash and  virtual money isn’t real money. Again, comparing ourselves to people on TV is time consuming and frustrating.  The Truth?  No matter what hand bag or shoes you buy We don’t like seeing what we can’t have.  This might begin with a low level sense of unease.  This can grow into depression or bitterness–maybe both.  So much so, that we use credit to buy what feels like the deal of the year.
  2. Body maintenance  Take care of the vehicle you live in if you don’t get your car’s oil changed regularly, you are probably subject to almost certainly going to suffer from this.  These are basics.  Make a list and check it twice.  Take care of your vehicle.  Get some sleep.  Cuddle with someone special or a pet.  Ease up on the coffee or cola.  And take a giant mental step back so you have time to breathe.
  3. Comfortable clothes or Comfort –  Keeping the body in comfort is important all year.  Spot check: Do your pants leave red welts on your waist?  How can you have a good time if your body is in discomfort?  Trying to fit into that party dress?  Just give yourself a buy and don’t fret.  Are you adequately hydrated?  Are you allergic to pine needles?

Start the day with a quick check-in  There are so many factors that affect our level of comfort.  Identifying these little known factors could be the trick to turn your bubbling over inner rage into joy and peace.

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Guess What?

Snappy Heading. But seriously, I’ve been thinking about how often I try to guess how other people are feeling and what they think about me. I still remember

Twelve years ago, on our honeymoon, we met another couple. We liked them.  They were getting drunk and running around, just like us. So we agreed to meet in their room for drinks and a swim.

The rest is foggy.

They were Republicans, lived in Washington, D.C., and politics was their bread and butter. They were working to get George W. Bush elected.

Because of his stance on abortion, I refused to even consider voting for him. I may have said this more than once. Or twice.

They avoided us the next day and for the remainder of our stay.

And I’ve been trying to guess what was going on with them ever since.

Or, more accurately, what I did ‘wrong’ that made them not like me.

It’s only recently (today!) that I considered that my guessing it was all about me, might have been inaccurate.

I guessed that we’d made asses of ourselves (notice the precision of the pronoun) and they didn’t want to hang out with us.

They did not want to hang out with us was a fact. Why was all guess work.

So, as I grow in my practice of self compassion, I’m re-examining things that I have made guesses about.

It’s important to make clear that guessing what someone is feeling is ok–as long as you check in with the person to see if your guess is correct.

Let’s start with the spouse. He tries to guess what I’m feeling all the time.

I get stuck frequently trying to guess what other women in my ‘circle’ think about me. Happily, I feel secure enough to inquire from one or two whether my guess is right.

Here’s the kicker:

It doesn’t matter whether you guessed what they were thinking/feeling.

By simply asking the other person, a connection is created. You can build on that kind of connection.

Some of my guesses are engraved on my heart and difficult to change.

I was born trying to sense the needs of others. I might as well have had antennas. Constantly trying to guess what would please mama. She was so unhappy and I would come upon her frequently crying. I quickly did an inventory and guessed that I’d done something bad.

That’s how it started.

Then there’s dad.

I grew up, first guessing, then believing my daddy didn’t love me. There’s a lot more back story here. My mother was actually still grieving her husband, who died when I was 6 weeks old. And she had issues with daddy and us kids being close. So she subtly encouraged us to find fault with him.

Now, I understand.

So, I took the family tradition out into the world with me. I had a hard time making connections in my youth. I think maybe I would try to guess what you wanted me to be–and then be it. But sometimes, I fall out of the costume and my real self is revealed. My real self might be light years away from who you wanted me to be. So, curiously, we drifted apart.

I didn’t know how to be myself. And I’m still practicing.

Most often it shows up in my marriage. My husband is always guessing how I’m feeling and reacts on it before checking to see if his guess was right.

That’s the kicker.

I’m asking him, ‘Are you trying to guess what’s going on with me?”

This has become a signal to stop and check with each other. We are doing this maybe 10% of the time. But it’s something to build on.

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Hard to Hear Messages

Practicing How to Hear The Need Behind the Message

Some messages are hard to hear!

I’d been working on some class materials and I wanted to show off.  I know, I know.  But I’d just finished the best flyer of my life.  I knew it would be a magnet for interesting people.  So, I took the flyer with me to book club.

I’ve been going to book club for 12 years!  I KNOW this  audience very well, so I expected praise and gasps of surprise at how brilliantly I wrote.  Or more accurately, I expected to hear how brilliant I was.

The first response?  “You’ll probably be rejected, so be careful because you take things personally.”  WTF?!

What did I do?  Reaching way back and rummaging in my Trunk of Important Tools, I respond with–say it with me–taking it personally.

I know!

I spent days brooding on this and what it meant.  Just a few remarks and I’m sure they no longer love me and don’t want to be my friends.  My interior dialogue goes on to add that they probably never did love me.  In fact, no one has ever loved me.  Or ever will.

Arriving at these inflated and obviously untrue statements is my own personal red flag.  I really do feel those feelings.  And, while it’s intriguing to follow the psychological threads back to their origins in the mist of time, I don’t have to.

But I did.

After a week of horrible self-talk, I got an “Ah ha!” and remembered that what people say is usually a desperate attempt to meet their own needs.

What a relief!  It isn’t me being a horrible person who takes things personally.  We’re ALL walking around trying to get our needs met with whatever grace we can muster.

So, if you’ve had a hard to hear message recently, you can try this formula along with me:

4 Options for Hearing a Difficult Message

  1. Blame Ourselves
  2. Blame Others
  3. Sense our own feelings and needs
  4. Sense others’ feelings and needs

Difficult Message:  You take things personally!

My initial response was to unconsciously throw out everything I know about compassionate communication.  Then, I applied a blend of blaming self and blaming others. I immediately began questioning every interaction I’d had with any of the members.  Did I imagine their love and friendship from the beginning?  Did they ever like me?  And, finally, “Why don’t they like me?”

So, what were my own feelings?

  • In the moment, I wanted recognition for my efforts.
  • Outrage.  Wow–I take things personally?  Doesn’t everybody?  Is there a different way to take things? (note:  this is an effort to move toward blaming others)
  • Appalled.  Oh my god–what I have feared has come to pass.  These people have only been pretending to like me to get by, while all along they’ve talked about me and decided that I take things personally.
  • Disappointment – If they did love me and had always loved me, they picked a strange way to show their love.
  • Exasperation – come on!  this is some of the best work I’ve ever done.  You look at it and the first thing that pops into your head is “You take things personally?”

What needs might have been at the root of these feelings?
What needs did I have in the moment?

  • safety and protection
  • connection
  • respect
  • safe haven
  • understanding

What might the speaker have been feeling or needing?

  • They might have been coming from wanting to protect me.
  • Sounds like they had some concerns about how I’d handle the class.
  • Needed to give me some advice about how to do it.

Now that I’ve gotten in touch with their needs instead of their words, I begin to feel a connection and experience emotional relief.  But when I stay with how I’m feeling and what I’m needing, I miss the healing that occurs when we acknowledge each other’s needs.  And that everyone’s needs matter.

I do feel real disappointment in their initial response.  However, I am also mourning the lost opportunity to find out what was up with the speakers.  It would have been fascinating to hear what was really going on with them.

But, I’m meeting myself with compassion about that.  Maybe next time it won’t take a week to remember the tools in my Tool Box. Or that I even have a Tool Box.

How do you react to hard to hear messages?

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How to Take Charge of Your Guilt

Isn’t there something you were supposed to do?

As a child, I was terrified of thunderstorms.  I was afraid thunder was the call of The Archangel Gabriel’s horn and Judgment Day was at hand.  Our preacher at The Church of Christ had described in gory detail what happens after that sound.  Not surprisingly, I had a strong sense of doom.

Because, at 12 years old, I was eaten up with guilt. I can’t remember why.  I just remember the torment of feeling guilty.  I made lots of confessions, sometimes for things I didn’t even do. Curiously, I still felt guilty.

I got over my fear of thunder storms, but guilt never went away.  Sometimes, I thought guilt was valid–screaming at the cable company’s customer service rep, for example–but mostly not.  It wasn’t until my kids were out of high school and off to college that I found it doesn’t have to be this way.

I lived in fear that I’d done something wrong–or not done something I was supposed to do.

Every night, after prayers but before sleep, I’d go over a litany of activities for the day and second guess all my actions.  Not surprisingly, I was afraid to express myself for fear of  judgment–other’s and my own.

I brought this habit with me into adulthood, with a twist.  Going over the litany of things I’d done wrong moved to “the morning after.”  And if, by some kindness (or blackout), I skipped the guilt session, there was always someone to remind me of my drunken escapades.  And the guilt would take it from there.

As an adult, I didn’t wait for bedtime to second guess myself.  The guilt committee in my head tried mightily to check everything I was about to say against a list of things one must not say.  I had trouble keeping the tribunal happy AND relating to others.

It was impossible to be authentic in my relationships

I was introduced to Nonviolent Communication several years ago and began incorporating the empathic listening and the empathic speaking techniques developed by Marshall Rosenberg.  With time, I began to re-educate myself and learn ways of communicating that promoted deep connection with others, as well as myself.  There are many rich resources based on Rosenburg’s process of communication.  Holly Michelle Eckert’s book, “Graduating from Guilt” was particularly inspiring.

If you are haunted by feelings of guilt, like I was, here are six steps for releasing guilt, found in “Graduating from Guilt:”

  1. Identify the guilt
  2. name the “shoulds”
  3. Connect with unmet needs
  4. Experience the feelings of unmet needs
  5. Connect with the positive motivations
  6. Check in and make a request.  This is done using the four basic components of “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg.
  • Observation
  • Feeling
  • Needs
  • Request

Did you mean to do that?

Here’s how I turned the torment of feeling guilty about my half-dead plants into acceptance and understanding:

What do you feel guilty about?
Not watering the plants regularly.

What are you telling yourself you should and shouldn’t do?
I should have a schedule of watering plants.
I shouldn’t have real plants if I’m not going to take care of them.
I shouldn’t accept plants as a gift.
I should check them more often.
What needs are not met by choice you made?
How do you feel when you get in touch with these unmet needs?
What needs were you attempting to meet by the choice you made?
What are your Observations, Feelings, Needs and Requests in the present moment?
Observation – When I see dried up plants
Feeling – I feel sad, embarrassed, annoyed, overwhelmed
Needs – because I need beauty and order in my living space
Request – would I be willing to put ‘watering the plants’ on my activity calendar?

This process has helped me get rid of feeling guilty and uncover the unmet needs behind the feelings.  Try it and, if you feel like it, bring it to the comments section and share your experience with the rest of us.

As for me, I’m no longer afraid of judgment–whether on high or right here.  And I sleep like a baby through thunderstorms.


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