One of the biggest issues we face in relationships with others is difficulty with direct communication.
Did you know that God did not give us the capability to accurately know the thoughts and feelings of others? He very well could have given us this ability, but He decided that the one way for us to communicate our thoughts and feelings directly would be through our own words.
And this is often incredibly difficult.
Now, it is true that there is a part of our brain that is able to pick up on the nonverbal communication of other people. However, this is meant to be a supplementary source of information, not our main mode of operation.
If you grew up in a family where emotions were not discussed, people didn’t communicate clearly about what they were feeling or needing, and passive aggression was the norm, your brain probably learned very well how to read the nonverbal cues of others. It had to learn this to survive. If the people in your life who were supposed to be in charge never communicated clearly about what they were actually feeling and would act our their negative emotion in aggressive ways by yelling, criticizing, blaming, being silent, withdrawing, or manipulating, then your brain learned to take in whatever information was available, such as body language and tone of voice, and use the information to avoid harm or emotional pain.
Fast forward years later when you are an adult navigating adult relationships. Now, when your significant other is agitated and has a harsher than normal tone of voice, this same part of your brain goes to work. It tells you that the situation is unsafe and looks to the defense mechanisms it used in childhood to keep you safe. This might mean getting angry, shutting down, apologizing when you did nothing wrong, or going over the top to try to ‘fix’ the other’s feelings.
We are not meant to just know what is going on internally in another person. It is up to them to communicate that to us. If someone is angry with us, it is their responsibility to let us know. We do not have the ability to intuitively know that our well intended actions negatively impacted someone.
Assertive, or direct, communication is the way we are actually meant to communicate. However, this is not typically our default mode of communication because most of us have experienced similar things in childhood or later in life to what is described above. If we have wounds from these negative experiences, communicating directly may seem very threatening or aggressive. In reality, communicating directly about our feelings, needs, and desires is actually one of the most loving things we can do. Doing this is being honest with others and giving others the opportunity to more fully know us, understand us, and love us. And it gives others the permission and freedom to do the same so that we can more fully know, understand, and love others.
Communicating assertively means that we have to take the time to understand what we are truly feeling and needing. It also means we have to have the courage to be vulnerable in sharing those feelings and needs. It is very difficult to do this if we don’t have a trusting relationship with the other person. If we are afraid of a response of criticism, blame, or shame, fear may cause us to reach for passive aggressive, passive, or aggressive communication. Passive aggressive communication is communicating our resistance in an indirect way. Passive communication is not placing any importance on our own feelings and needs and keeping them secret from another. Aggressive communication is only caring about our own feelings and needs and not leaving room for others to voice their own feelings and needs. All of these are unloving because these kinds of communication don’t respect the dignity and worth of ourselves or the other person we are trying to communicate with.
Direct communication takes work, like most good and important things in life. But if we want to be truly loving to others in our lives and have deep and meaningful relationships, it is not optional. If you find yourself struggling to be direct with others, try to get curious about the wounds that God may be revealing to you through this struggle. Call on the Holy Spirit for courage, and take time in prayer to reflect on your true feelings and needs. Counseling can be very helpful to process these wounds and help you with practical guidance on direct communication.
As you work on being more honest with yourself and others in your life, something will happen. Others will get to know the real you, and along the way, so will you.