This is the last in a series of five posts about communication. When I teach communication I use the 5 Fs authentic communication framework which requires 5 different aspects to be communicated. These are:
Facts What actually happened
Fears and Fantasies What we imagine or believe about what happened
Feelings How we feel about what happened
Fortress What is not ok for us. Where we need to protect ourselves
Forward From Here What we want from the other person in the future
(It might be helpful to look at the previous four Communication posts in conjunction with this one. Please follow these links: how can we communicate with authenticity and depth , communicating without arguing , communicating our vulnerability with dignity , communicating our boundaries)
In this post I am introducing a final optional part of the authentic communication framework, which has the potential to really deepen our understanding of ourselves and our shadow sides. It can also lead us to a deeper connection with the other person if we choose to share our thoughts and insights with them.
EXAMINING OUR FEARS AND FANTASIES
There are three ways that we can explore what we have said in the fears and fantasies section of our communication in order to learn more about ourselves and others and to deepen our communication.
1) CAN WE OWN ANY OF OUR JUDGEMENTS?
Our fears and fantasies include any judgements that we might have formed of the other person. These are not ‘facts’. They may be true and they may not be. We find it helpful to own these as our fears and fantasies, and to acknowledge that they may actually be nothing to do with what is going on for the other person.
This part asks the questions:
Which of the judgements that you have made of the ‘other’ can you own for yourself?
As Robert Bly has pointed out, we all go around with a little projector in our head which takes aspects of ourselves and projects them out on to others. We sometimes therefore see our own shadows in other people whilst not recognising them in ourselves. (Please note, this doesn’t mean this quality is NOT present in the other person – it may be – but we focus very strongly on the possibility of it being present in the other person when it may be of deeper value to acknowledge its existence in ourselves.)
Here’s an example. Imagine a woman Jane met a good friend for lunch and she found that her friend talked all the way through their meeting. Jane sensed there was no opportunity for her to talk herself. No space for her. She finds herself getting quite upset afterwards about the way the meeting went. So when she’s reflecting on what happened Jane could use the authentic communication framework to lay out her thoughts and feelings as follows:
Facts: We met for lunch and you ( my friend ) talked about the difficulties you’d been having at work.
Fear and Fantasies: You talked a lot. There was no space for me to talk, you didn’t seem to care about me. You were selfish. You only met me for yourself, so you could vent on me. I ended up with a sense of despair and I just wanted to escape from you! (NB when sharing our Fears and Fantasies we always make an effort to let the other person know that these are our responses to the situation, they may not be true, they are our reactions and may not reflect in any way on the other person. Please see the previous 4 articles for more information on how to phrase these conversations.)
Feelings: I feel sad.
Fortress: It’s not ok with me that you didn’t ask how I was or give me a chance to speak.
Forward From Here: I want our meetings to be more even handed, so that you give me an equal opportunity to talk.
Now, looking at the Fears and Fantasies section she could ask herself which of the judgements that she made of her friend can she own herself. She judged her friend as being selfish, just meeting her to vent, and not being interested in her. If she honestly looks at herself, she can ask ‘Do I ever exhibit these characteristics that I am judging in her?’ Looking carefully at her past behaviour she may think ‘I could see that I have sometimes approached conversations in this way, really wanting to talk about something that’s important to me, venting my feelings and not interested in listening to the other person. Also, I have to admit that in those moments I’m not really caring about the person opposite me, I am not giving space to hear what is going on for them. If I am honest, I can admit that I am harshly judging my friend for behaving in a way that I have sometimes behaved in the past.’ Sometimes the judgements we make of others may not reflect on us in any way, but in this example for Jane they definitely did, so it is always worth exploring this.
It’s worth taking this a bit further by looking at the final two fears and fantasies as well. A sense of desperation and wanting to escape are quite strong reactions. What was going on for Jane that this experience was so overwhelming for her? She may consider this and think, ‘I came from a large noisy family, and I can see that the only way I could get any ‘airtime’ was to talk loudly and constantly, and so dominate the little conversation space that was available to me. And I can see that maybe I have continued this childhood dynamic in my adult life, fearing that if someone else dominates the conversation I might not get to talk at all. And if that happens I feel lonely and despairing just as I did as a child when I couldn’t make myself heard, just as I did with my friend who talked a lot that day.’
So, here Jane has turned a difficult situation into an opportunity for self learning, and an opportunity for deepening her connection with her friend. Jane might have decided to run off and never see this friend again. Instead she has used the communication framework to reveal clearly to herself a way in which she behaves and how that behaviour originated. She has pulled back her projections from her friend. She can now go ahead and speak to her friend about this in an open way, sharing her experience and her judgements, fears and fantasies, and owning the parts of the judgements that apply to her. She can share her childhood experiences with her friend so that her friend gets to understand why Jane responded in the way she did. Jane has owned up to her own behaviour in similar circumstances so she can now take steps to correct it. Her friend has had the opportunity to see deeply into Jane, right back to her childhood, and can understand her better. This means they have enhanced their connection in a situation which otherwise might have permanently damaged their friendship. When Jane owns her fears and fantasies in this way it makes it much more likely that her friend will be able to listen openly to Jane’s experience and will make an effort to allow space for Jane to speak in future in conversations.
Such a level of introspection is sometimes only possible after all our thoughts and feelings have been expressed and heard by the other person and when we feel calmer and more reflective, so this section may be reserved for later on in a conversation, or even on another day. It may also be something we wish to do only alone in order to learn about ourselves and may not choose to share our thoughts with the other person. Examining our judgements can often be a first step towards exploring and healing what we have held in Shadow.
Of course, it may be that when they talk Jane’s friend fully acknowledges that she talked a lot on that day and that she is aware she was being quite demanding in getting her own needs met. This is covered in part 3 of this article, but this doesn’t in any way take away from Jane’s process of self reflection. A different person may not have had the reaction Jane did to her friend’s behaviour. Someone else may have felt happy to listen and support, trusting that there would be space for them to speak another time. Another person might have felt really honoured that their friend trusted them enough to talk to them at such length and they may have been pleased, thinking that the meeting had deepened the friendship. So it is really helpful to acknowledge that others may have had a completely different reaction to the same situation and that our particular reaction has something to teach us about ourselves.
2) WHO IS STANDING BEHING THE PERSON WHO HAS TRIGGERED THESE FEARS AND FANTASIES?
If we have experienced distressing or traumatic situations in our early lives we are likely to develop a part of ourselves that tries to protect us from ever experiencing such a situation again. One way we may protect ourselves is to look out for similar situations and try to alert ourselves to them early on. In this way we hope to have time to take action to avoid the same thing happening again. This part of us can become very hyper-vigilant. Such alertness may have been extremely helpful during our childhood and may well have kept us safe, but is likely be out of date now as we operate in the adult world.
This vigilant part of us can be behind some of the fears, fantasies and judgements we may have. For example, if a man’s partner is an hour late to meet him for lunch there may be many reasons. However, without further evidence the fears and fantasies he has (the conclusions he draws or the judgements he makes) are likely to reflect his childhood experiences in some way:
– He may start to think his partner has had an accident or fallen ill or been hurt.
– He may think they no longer love him, or that they’ve found someone else they’d prefer to spend time with.
– He may think they’ve been terribly thoughtless and just couldn’t be bothered to respect him by arriving on time.
– He may think they’re trying to manipulate him in some way rather than communicating directly. Perhaps they would prefer a different cafe or they disapprove of spending money on eating lunch out.
– He may think they are trying to punish him for something – perhaps something he said or did the night before.
– He may assume it is his mistake – perhaps he got the time wrong – or the cafe? He may fear their anger at his error.
What would your thoughts be in this situation? Would they be similar to one of the above, or something different – or would you wait calmly without making any stories in your head?
Whatever response you have is likely to reflect your childhood experiences. For example, if you experienced a parent leaving when you were young then you may think something along the lines of the second judgement listed – that your partner doesn’t love you anymore, or has chosen someone else over you. If a parent or family member died when you were young you may think thoughts along the lines of the first statement. If your parents were very critical and you were often blamed and punished for things then your fears might be similar to one of the last two statements.
So when we ask who is standing behind the person who has brought up these fears and fantasies we are asking who originally treated you in this way that you are now judging this person to have treated you? If this man’s mother had abandoned him when he was little he might respond with the second judgement and think that his partner doesn’t love him any more if they are late. He might fear they’ve chosen someone else over him. In this case the person ‘standing behind’ his partner is his mother. He is not seeing his partner clearly for the person she is, because he is viewing his partner’s behaviours through the lens of his previous experience with his mother. He is looking at his partner but seeing his mother standing behind her. We all make judgements in this way – it is automatic. However the more we can become aware of this process the more we can free ourselves up to see other people for who they really are and to understand that their actions may have very different causes to those that we have guessed at.
3) DOES THE OTHER PERSON AGREE WITH ANY OF YOUR FEARS AND FANTASIES?
Last but not least it can save a lot of agonising and soul searching if you simply take the time to check out your fears and fantasies with the other person involved. This isn’t always possible, and is likely to hold some risks for you, but when you have the chance to talk openly with the other person it can be tremendously helpful simply to ask them if you are correct or not.
We could go back to the example above where the man’s partner is late. Let’s call his partner Jo. Once Jo has arrived he could check out what was going on for her and why she was late. For example, if he had been thinking that she was punishing him for something he had done the night before he could say something like:
‘When you arrived late today I had a lot of thoughts and feelings swirling around. I know this may be nothing to do with what was actually going on for you, but I started to think that maybe you’d decided to arrive late to punish me for what I did last night. I thought maybe you wanted to get back at me. I know that might not be the case, but I just wanted to check it out.’
This will probably feel quite scary for him to say, however there is real potential here to open up deep and honest communication between the two. It can be very helpful to have a reality check at this stage. If Jo agrees that she might have been trying to get back at him, (perhaps even without being fully aware herself of what she was doing), then this can open up a conversation about what happened the night before and the fact that it is not yet resolved for her. It allows a possibility for them to resolve it through an open and honest discussion rather than allowing resentments to build. If however she reassures him that she was genuinely delayed and it was in no way her attention to punish him then this can calm his fears and prevent the thought from lingering in his mind and causing difficulties for them later on. It can also give Jo an insight in to his thoughts and feelings that will bring the two of them closer, and may result in her changing her behaviour and contacting him in future to let him know when she’s delayed to reassure him that everything’s ok between them.
For further information on Authentic Communication Courses, Couples Work, Shadow Work, Group workshops and individual sessions please visit