Here are some ideas around communication in terms of - expressing how we feel without blaming and shaming the other person.

If you find yourself responding in the same way with the people you love, colleagues at work etc, and in turn receive the same response from the other person/s you are not alone. For example, you may find yourself in situations that remind you of your past which in turn can leave you feeling negative, sad, bruised etc. In the world of therapy we call those old familiar feelings, racket feelings. If we feel ashamed or fear what might happen if we share our true feelings with other people in our lives we may collect up those emotions and cash them in later for a ‘prize’. Therapists call this behaviour, ‘stamp collecting’, a metaphor for the traditional method of collecting and trading stamps to make a future purchase.

Racket feelings are learnt from our early care takers. In many families there are clear but unwritten rules about which feelings are OK and which are not. These ‘feeling rules’ are spoken out loud by our parents or guardians, or illustrated to us without a single word being spoken. Common spoken messages can be, “stop crying, don’t be a baby” or “why are you sad, snap out of it” or “don’t shout, be quiet!”. The hidden message here is “Don’t be you!”. Unspoken rules are communicated like this example, young John is upset about his grandmother cancelling her trip to see him but instead of being comforted by his parents he may be ignored; and later that day, he comes home with a glowing school report and is given lots of praise and attention by mum and dad. The hidden messages here are “Achivement is good, but sad is bad”. It could be that by the time he has grown up John has learnt that in times of sadness he shouldn’t feel sad, and therefore buries it and may instead feel numb inside. But that is perhaps preferable to taking a risk and then being rejected.

So, as children we learn to favour certain feelings and as adults we seek out opportunities to feel the same way. They may not feel healthy but they are familiar like an old pair of shoes that are worn out and should have been thrown out years ago. What I find interesting is that as adults we actually seek out other people to join us in our emotional games, e.g. we manipulate them to hurt us, and get to experience that old familiar feeling, and then later on trade in those feelings (collecting stamps).

If you are one of those people who withholds their emotional responses and then when you can’t stand it any more, you literally respond in a explosive way with your partner or work colleague, again, you are not alone. In therapy speak this is called trading in your stamps. Some people withhold their responses for days or even years, and then one day, a most innocent remark from a loved one will ignite a very angry response leaving the poor person on the receiving end feeling confused, hurt, blamed and judged.

The good news is that we don’t have to continue to respond to situations in our adult lives in the same way as we did when we were much younger. We need to identify those situations that cause us pain, suffering, anger etc and work through them. This can be done alone, but ideally with a therapist as he and she can support you through what can be a an emotional process. They can also provide valuable feedback on how they experience you as a person, instead of the out of date version of yourself, e.g. they may see you as the brave person who is coming to therapy, instead of the bad person who cries. You can also avoid the stamp collecting by learning to be honest with your emotions. For example, if a friend cancels an appointment at the last moment, rather than swallow the disappointment and let it fester, reply honestly with “I’m disappointed you are cancelling and...” This sets the tone for an adult dialogue. As long as you are labelling the behaviour and NOT the person the communication should be on an even standing. But using words like “You are stupid” or “pathetic” is setting the tone for an argument and can leave both parties feeling crushed and bruised.

Change takes time of course and being honest with ourselves is the first key to success. And practice makes perfect of course and so don’t be dismayed if your first attempt is a bit clumsy or feels awkward. And when we learn to become ‘masters’ of our own emotions we are likely to be breaking down an out of date pattern of communication passed down to us over several generations; and in turn we will become good role models of communication for the future generations, and that will be a great achievement!

I work as a counsellor at a holisitic studio in Portimão and am always happy have an initial discussion over the phone to clarify issues that you have and how best you can work through them. Please call me on 910 665 601 for a short telephone consultation and to book an appointment.