“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” - Aristotle
For fear of judgement & criticism, it can be easy to hold our thoughts, feelings & ideas close to our chest. Demanding others to simply guess what is actually happening in our internal world. Though this may feel like the safest way to engage with the world, it is definitely not the most dynamic or authentic. Alternatively we may also react quickly and sharply, jumping to conclusions, disassociating ourselves from those in front of us. Allowing ourselves to be honest when we are holding back or making assumption out of fear, we are more likely to be able to step out of the entanglement of emotions & past patterning.
When connecting authentically with others it takes a good dose of vulnerability, emotional intelligence & resiliency. I've found that this is most difficult with those that are closest to us (partners, close friends & family), whose opinions we hold most dear. The fear of criticism & judgement can quickly take a casual conversation into a spiral of overwhelming emotions and lashing out, snarky remarks & even tears... leaving you smack dab in the middle of an argument, wondering "how did we get here?". Quickly reacting & becoming aggressive or defensive when challenged on our thoughts/feeling/ actions can quickly shut down any conversation and lead to misery & misunderstandings. As we create our own story of what is happening in our heads, we can easily forget we are engaging with another human being. Rather than truly listening, we are preparing our defense. Rather than allowing compassion & empathy to enter the conversation we throw a wall up, disconnect, no longer listen & prepare for battle. Simply responding to the story that we've created in our heads rather than engaging fully in what is truly (and usually subtly) playing out before us.
This is where our 4 steps to compassionate connection come in, changing the dynamics of our conversations. Allowing us to make a PACT to engage empathetically with the one in front of us & with ourselves.
- PAUSE - Take a few deep breaths before you speak, allowing you to calm the nervous system & respond rather than react. Mimic your meditation practice, noticing & naming the emotions you are having. Allowing them to be present but also separate from your actual being, recognizing the response it elicits in your body (heart racing, clenching teeth, knot in the stomach, etc.) & name what is is that you are feeling (fear, anger, sadness...). Allow. Notice. Name. Quietly as you breathe. Checking in allows us to engage in a much more aware & thoughtful way.
- ASSESS - Take stock of both the environment (Has it been a stressful day? Are there fussy children at your feet? Is it right before mealtime?) as well as the emotional vibe (Have you or your partner had a short fuse all day? Feeling sensitive? Just left a stressful work/family situation). We all have our limits, see where the barometer is landing at the moment (for both of you).
- CURIOSITY- Enter the conversation with a sense of curiosity rather than a sense of conviction. Clarify by asking questions, digging deeper & challenging assumptions (yours & theirs). This allows an airing out of assumed assumptions and intent, rather than sticking to the story you've created in your head.
- TRUST - This can be the hardest one when we are feeling vulnerable & under fire. But trusting that they are doing the best that they can at the moment. We all struggle at showing up fully at every moment. Some days can be challenging & giving the other the benefit of the doubt, allowing them to be human (therefore imperfect) we allow ourselves to also make mistakes. When we are met with a sense of compassion and empathy it is much easier to admit to making mistakes or to soften our responses.
This is a process & a practice of building a more and more subtle awareness, not only what is happening within ourselves but also those we are connecting with & our environments. As we refine our internal awareness (thoughts, sensations & feelings) we are able to own our emotional environment & engage from a place of deep connection and ownership, rather than simply dropping into a power play desperately grasping for control. Building our emotional awareness, our bodies reactions & learning to trust our intuitive & inquisitive nature we can change the name of the game all together... from criticism, control & judgement to one of curiosity, compassion & connection.