What is Your Story About Not Feeling Heard?

What’s the story you’re telling yourself?

Welcome back to exploring this series, “Why Not Feeling Heard Hurts”.

In the first article I shared with you why not feeling heard can be a source of conflict. We looked at the story of a couple I am calling Frank and Faye and the argument they had on the way home from a fun-filled night with close friends

In the second article, I continued with their story and shared the importance of paying attention to feelings that are triggered during the conflict. Those feelings need to be understood and acknowledged.

The two that I notice most when working with couples are hurt and fear.

Expressions of anger and frustration can usually be observed in the heat of the moment. However, there are others simmering beneath the surface out of the awareness of both partners. The two that I notice most when working with couples are hurt and fear.

In this article, I will share the next layer beneath the surface of conflict that is important to be aware of. That is self-talk or the thinking that goes on in each partner’s head. Usually, when people think about their experience, they tell themselves a story about what they were going through. The narrative usually includes their interpretation of what the other person’s words and behavior meant. It’s a way of trying to answer the question, “what happened?”

When people try to figure out what happened they are usually at a disadvantage because the “what happened” is usually interpreted and filtered through the lens of the most primitive part of the brain that is only focused on survival. It has “tunnel vision” and only focuses on safety and danger. Conflict means danger. That means that both partners are programmed to think a certain way and react a certain way in the heat of the moment to cope.

Therefore, the self-talk and story is an interpretation through this lens of each partner being a threat to the other. It stands to reason that it would be difficult to hear each other out and get to the root of the issue and resolve it because both parties are in defensive mode and communication breaks down. Frank and Faye can relate 🙂

It is also important to mention that self-talk, story, and interpretations have a specific purpose. The goal and intention are to try to make sense of what is happening in the moment. That is what Frank and Faye were trying to do when they were arguing. The problem was they really didn’t know what was going on in each other’s inner world when they were making assumptions and misinterpretations. They discovered that later during their journey of turning things around.

The other role of the story related to self-talk is to provide justification for how each person reacts to protect themselves during conflict like blaming, criticizing, withdrawing, etc.

It’s like an immediate chain reaction:

  • One person says or does something that is offensive on some level to the other
  • The other person feels the negative impact
  • Negative feelings are activated in them
  • They interpret the actions of their mate as ill-intentioned through their negative self-talk and story
  • Then they react
  • Their reaction has a negative impact on the person who was originally offensive in some way
  • The cycle repeats itself over and over.
  • This leads to the couple getting stuck in a vicious cycle of negativity.
  • In the process, they inflict emotional wounds on each other that they don’t know how to repair.

More about that next time.

The point I want to make in this article is how important it is for couples to be aware of their self-talk, story, and interpretations about their partner. They may be inaccurate.

It makes sense that both partners want change. However, the reality is this:

• No one can change another person; however, they can invite change.

• No one can change the reality that they will probably be flooded with frustrating and angry feelings during conflict. However, they can discover how to manage them.

• Negative thoughts can be changed.

• Negative reactions can be changed.

So, there is hope.

When this concept was presented to Frank and Faye they had a big “Aha Moment”. They began to see their situation differently. I hope you can too if both of you get stuck in conflict at times.

Frank and Faye realized that they had individual work to do and they were up for the challenge.

But before they get started, they have another layer to explore.

I will introduce that layer next time.

In the meantime, I invite you to visit your conflict scenario and think about what that looks like if you were watching each other in a movie. Begin to think about the possibilities for change.

As Dr. Maya Angelou says, “When we know better, we do better”. That is why awareness is so important.

I will share the next layer beneath the surface of conflict that needs to be addressed in my next article.

In the meantime, if you would like additional ideas and tips, I am inviting you to join the Overcoming Barriers to a Long-Lasting Relationship Facebook Group

Until the next article in this series, I am sending warm wishes for your Relationship Success,

~ Melva