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Finding Aliveness - When You Are Being Talked At

Breaking the spell of the of someone talking at you and finding your aliveness is not always easy.

One gem reader, I will call her Carol, gave an example of her own struggle with her father-in-law:

"He launches into a 30 minute monologue about his back pain, and doesn't take any social cues that I'm not listening anymore, or that I'm hurt that he interrupted me, or that I'm disappointed that he doesn't show any interest in me, only in himself. I just don't have the courage to bust out at the dinner table with saying something like "you know Jon, I noticed that you interrupted me and then talked continuously for 30 min without noticing my boredom. I feel hurt and disconnected and would like to have a conversation that is shared equally, and would like for you to show some genuine interest. Would you be willing to listen to me too? "

The first thing for Carol to consider is how she wants to direct her life energy.  If she rarely sees her father-in-law, maybe she will choose to avoid him.  If however, he is regularly in her life she may need another strategy to maintain her own aliveness in the face of his behavior.

The first order of business in maintaining aliveness in difficult situations is identifying what blocks aliveness - namely jackals. Carol's jackals might be saying something like, "He's so selfish.  He just wants everything to be about him."  "He's so oblivious to other's needs."

All your jackals point to your own feelings and needs. It's important not to believe them in a literal sense.  Carol's jackals point to her feelings of hurt and disconnect and her needs for mutuality and consideration in her relationship with her father-in-law.

After connecting with your feelings and needs, the next step is grieving that your needs are not met.  This helps you move into acceptance around what is true.  It is difficult to change in a positive direction, if you are not willing to acknowledge and fully experience the reality of a situation.  I am guessing this is a hard one for Carol.  She maybe sees that Jon is competent in other areas and can't believe that he doesn't know how disconnecting his monologues are.  She may also long for a grandfather she can trust for her child and doesn't want to accept this possible loss. Probably the most difficult part of moving into acceptance is knowing that people are really doing the best they can. Everyone wants to feel connected and alive.

Unfortunately people have some very ineffective strategies.  Monologues is one.  When faced with behaviors that don't really meet needs, it's helpful to ask what needs could that person be trying to meet and how could they have arrived at such a behavior?  The possible answers to these questions aren't nearly as important as asking them.  Just asking them helps you remember that you are not dealing with an "egomaniac" or whatever else your jackals propose.  You are dealing with a person who is doing the best they can and not having much success.

To promote curiosity rather than judgment we could make some guesses about Jon's world.  Maybe he grew up in a family where he had to be the biggest and loudest to get his needs met.  Maybe the ways he learned to communicate in his family are so ineffective that he chronically alienates others and thus his needs for being seen and heard are usually unmet.  The point here is not to analyze Jon, but rather to recognize that there is more to him than the monologue behavior.

Where does all this leave Carol?

Going through this process several options may occur to her:

-She could take care of her needs up front by asking for his assurance that he really wants to listen.  For example if Jon asks her how school is going, she could say something like:  "Okay I would like to tell you three things about school, would you really like to hear them?  Okay, let me say all three though. One is . . . "

-She could frame Jon's talking as an opportunity to practice empathy by interrupting him frequently:  "Jon, Jon, hang on I want to see if I am hearing you so far. It sounds like . . . "

-She could silently empathize with herself and/or Jon as he talks.

-She could approach Jon when he is not in a monologue and they have a moment of privacy and try honest expression.  Perhaps something like, "Hey Jon I notice when we talk that I am wanting to share more with you so we can grow closer (needs for expression & intimacy).  When I am sharing something could you ask me more questions about it?"

This week if you find yourself being talked at, try one of the suggestions above to get back to your aliveness.

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Invalidating Other's Feelings vs. Listening with Empathy
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How Staying Positive Can Leave You Lonely


1 Response

  1. May 06, 2010
    Tam An Tran

    I have had experiences with family members not only going on and on in answer to a simple question I may have asked and i then get bored and wait somewhat bored and impatient for the speaker to finish, e.g. my father, especially if I have heard the story before! i have also had the experience of family members interrupting me as i am speaking and/or always having a comment to make on what I say, regardless of what it is and it sometimes makes me feel as though I am worthless! At the same time, I realize that I may have interrupted as well.

    As for what may be a background situation to being interrupted and interrupting, I do know that as a child in a family with six siblings that I had a very difficult time getting a word in edgewise even when I did speak, which was rare when I was young! I know I really appreciate it when friends or family say to me: "Let me finish" as this is better than remaining quiet, getting angry, etc. It also sets an example to me as to how to let others know they are interrupting me and that they will have a chance to speak when I am finished.

    Also, speaking a lot even when the person shows boredom, I think, is due to not having opportunity to speak when younger and with regards to my habit of sometimes speaking too much when it is not necessary, may be because I am my father's daughter, among other things! For me it is also a way, although I find very ineffective, of letting people know I wish to be heard and so have something important to say - at least it's important to me!

    Whenever I hear someone make comments or ask certain questions which seem insignificant to me, I recall how disappointed and hurt when I just want to contribute and I get a 'brush off' or a bored reaction. Yes, I've lost the listener and that indicates that my words are wasted, so what is the purpose of continuing and only making matters worse?

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