After having lived for a while in Oregon and California, I notice cultural differences in how I and others sometimes talk about emotional issues.
For instance, if I share about something triggered in me, I often also share the triggering situation. My intention is to share, clarify it for myself, and sow a seed for continuing to explore and work on it. It’s a confession and it helps my process. (And it can also be a way of connecting with the other, letting that person know what’s going on in me.) Mostly, it’s understood and received that way, and perhaps especially by people from the US west coast since we share this language and orientation.
And sometimes, it’s misunderstood. Sometimes, the other person focuses on the triggering situation and issue and goes off debating it.
Yesterday is an example. I shared how I noticed something in me getting triggered when a Facebook friend posted a snarky (conspiracy-laden, anti-climate change) comments on one of my posts. Instead of listening and acknowledging it, as I hoped for or expected, she went into debating the content of the comment.
I felt hurt because I felt she didn’t see me, and also because the conversation went off in another direction than I wanted, and in a direction irrelevant to why I mentioned it in the first place.
So what to do? It’s good to anticipate that these misunderstandings can happen. And if I suspect there is a chance it may happen, preface my sharing and clarify my intention in sharing. For instance, I may say: I notice I got triggered earlier today. Can I share with you? The situation is not important in itself, but I would like to share so I can see it more clearly and work on it later.
As this keeps happening – and especially in Norway where people have a different way of talking about these things – I want to hone my skills in prefacing and clarifying.
I have written about this topic in earlier articles.
For instance, I sometimes use parts language and talk about subpersonalities, and say I notice a part of me [sees the world this way, feels this way] and assume the other will understand that this is just a part, it’s universal and something we all have in us, and it’s not my conscious view. Most people in my life understand this and we share this language.
And yet, people not familiar with parts language – including psychologists and spiritual teachers – sometimes misunderstand. They assume that what I shared about the part is something I am consciously identified with and how I, as a whole, see the world. And they sometimes appear shocked, start arguing with it, and take the conversation in a very different direction than intended.
I have experienced filling out psychological questionnaires that only ask about the presence of something (an emotion, a set of thoughts) and not the strength, and – being honest – I’ll answer yes to all of it since all of it is in me, even if it’s at a very small level and doesn’t impact my daily life. And it’s taken as if these are in me at a strong level. (I understand that for most people filling out those questionnaires, that’s the case. But I have to be honest and answer truthfully, and I notice these in me even if they are at a tiny level.)
And I have also noticed that some in Norway – including people who I had assumed would know better like psychologists and spiritual teachers – assume that knowing about or understanding an issue at a story level should be enough to resolve it. And they, again, seem shocked (shocked!) that I am aware of issues and dynamics in me that are not (yet) fully resolved.
To me, this is not surprising at all since knowing about something at a story level doesn’t resolve it. We need to go further and deeper for something to resolve more thoroughly.
The answer to all of this is anticipating when this may happen and nip it in the bud by prefacing what I am about to share. And if it’s misunderstood, notice as soon as possible (it sometimes takes a while for me to understand what’s happening), step back from where the other person is taking the conversation, and clarify.