Sometimes when we are communicating with others, we get the sense that there is something else in the message that doesn’t exactly match with the words. How many times do we hear, ‘it’s not what was said, but the way it was said’? Very often the intention behind the message isn’t evident in the narrative being spoken.
I was aware of this when I used to run group therapy sessions. I would ask people to be really honest with themselves about what their intention was before they delivered any feedback to the others. It’s something we should all be considering and asking ourselves routinely, before we communicate with others. If we are honest about how we want the other person to feel, then it could alter what we say and how we say it. If we want to give someone a poke, we can do so with quite innocent-sounding words. There are some really obvious red flags, for instance, if someone says, ‘I don’t mean to be rude’, or ‘I hope you don’t take this the wrong way’ we know that we might be getting a rude or insulting comment, veiled in something sounding innocuous.
If we have an exchange with someone and we come away feeling negative or talked down to, then quite likely this was the intention meant by the other person. If we were to trust the way we felt and the signals we were getting from our body we would get a more accurate measure of what is actually being communicated to us. Instead, we allow our heads to tell us that we’re imagining things or being silly, but often these first signs prove, in time, to be correct. Some people are really good at delivering insults with a big smile with nothing directly in the things they say that could be challenged, but we know we have been insulted.
How we can change our intentions
During our sensorimotor training, we did an exercise where we stood behind someone and placed a hand on their back. We then had to energetically communicate an intention through our hand, without altering the pressure. We communicated things like kindness, frustration, anger, hope, understanding and acceptance. The receiver guessed right every time because they could feel the intention through the hand. It was an incredible exercise and a real eye opener.
It’s really important to be aware of our intentions, because if we are feeling frustrated or negative, then anyone we are communicating with is likely to pick it up and may feel it’s something they have done to cause this. If we can be aware of these feeling or states, then we can make sure that it doesn’t get projected onto the person behind the checkout in a shop, or anyone else we might come across over our day. In addition, if we are tuned into our own emotional state and have a sense of our own body, then we can pick up the intentions that are being projected onto us and we’ll know that they don’t belong to us, we didn’t cause it.
If we could be more honest with ourselves about what indirect, underlying intention we are projecting then it might stop us having a dig at someone, and instead be more honest about how we are feeling and why. Our suppressed emotions have a way of leaking out, especially an emotion like anger. We end up displaying it not only through verbal communication, but through our behaviour. If we want to annoy someone, we usually find a way but try to make it look very innocent. Narcissists are experts at this, and the gaslighting is the denial of it, turning it back onto the person on the receiving end as paranoia or oversensitivity.
Honesty is the missing piece. If we can be honest with ourselves about what we are trying to deliver, it can give us time to reconsider what we say and the way we say it. We can replace a negative intention with a much kinder one.