Every Time You Say “YOU,” You Will Pay!

The rule for men and women’s communication before, say Adam and Eve, was to not talk much about anything.  Adam never told Eve how he felt about the apple thing. Then there was a huge communication advance somewhere around the 80’s – “When you say or do, I feel…,” and then you would fill in the blank – “When you don’t show up on time I feel angry, disappointed, hurt,” etc.  To be sure this was a great break from the silent treatment.

I’ve had many clients say to me, “Well, I learned in couples’ counseling to say to my husband, ‘When “YOU” don’t make love to me often, I feel rejected, not sexy, not beautiful, and I need “YOU” to find me attractive.’”

“What did he say?” I asked. “Did you feel heard – really listened to?”

“Not at all! He got defensive and said in his harshest tone, ‘Damn, baby, “YOU” know I find you attractive. I married you, and it just seems like “YOU” are just too needy sometimes.”

Here’s what I used to do when I was not very smart just so you’ll know I learned the hard way what I’ve said so far. When I was young and dumb – when I was upset, disappointed, annoyed and even angry or hurt – “YOU” need to stop saying… or Why don’t “YOU…?” If only “YOU” would stop or start or, God forbid, I wish “YOU” would get some damn therapy. Well let’s just say my track record was not very good for this, and many other reasons, and that’s why I had to do what seems like 10,000 hours of therapy.

About 20 plus years ago I thought, “Why do I need to say, ‘When you say this, I feel…?’ Why not just say what I feel?” In other words, tell my lover, partner, parent, friend, child – “I feel…;” “I need…;” “I want;” “I hurt;” “I’m sad;” or “I’m angry.” Now you really smart people will say, “But how will they know why I’m sad or angry or hurt if I don’t tell them?”  When you take out the “YOU’S,” they can usually listen, and more often than not, even ask questions, like “Tell me what is wrong?” or “Tell me more.” If you don’t have to fend off any “YOU’S,” guess what happens — a conversation, communication — just imagine that.

So this is how most arguments or fights go, but don’t really go anywhere.

I’m going to tell about “YOU,” what you’re doing or saying, and how you’re wrong. Then he or she is going to tell “YOU” how “YOU” didn’t say that.

We tell the other person what they just did wrong, or “YOU” are not saying it right, and then you tell him/her, and they tell you, and this is a four-hour marathon where at the end I don’t know anymore about “YOU” and “YOU” don’t know any more about me – and I jokingly say, “This is too often called marriage?”

Every time you say the word, “YOU,” you will pay when you’re having a conflict, confrontation, or argument because there’s something about the word “YOU” that triggers people unless it’s followed by a compliment, and if not, we get our buttons pushed, or worse case, we really regress. As soon as I say “YOU” – the person almost always goes into defense mode. Hell, you may have already stopped reading this and are preparing a defensive rebuttal, and that is what most people do when they’ve had enough “YOU’S” hurled at them – they stop listening. “You” throws many into flight, fight, or freeze.

“I,” on the other hand, says, “Let me tell you about me, and then I want to hear your thoughts and feelings about this.” “I” tends to keep me in my adult self, my new brain, my neo-cortex.

…The truth is you turned away yourself,

and decided to go into the dark alone.

Now you are tangled up in others, and have forgotten

   what you once knew,

and that’s why everything you do has some weird

  failure in it.

From Kabir translated by Robert Bly

Boundaries

WE HAVE TO WATCH OUT WHERE WE’RE GOING: Boundary Errors and Boundary Violations

First, a boundary is “This is how close you can come to me:” physically, spiritually, in conversations about love or money, etc.

A “boundary error” is when someone, whether friend or foe, has crossed over into my space, my yard, my soul, or my pasture because they didn’t notice the “No Trespassing” sign or signal. As the poet William Stafford says, “The signals we give should be clear. The darkness around us is deep.” Or, as Robert Frost less dramatically put it, “Good fences make good neighbors.” A boundary error is simply a mistake, made, more or less, innocently. When informed, the perpetrators can see or hear their errors and can apologize and vow to be respectful in the future.

On the other hand is the “boundary violation.” This is committed when a person has been informed and warned, often numerous times, what your particular boundaries are in a certain situation, but keeps pushing and pressing in on the boundaries you have communicated. This is when the person will not respect those boundaries and, to some lesser or greater degree, knows that it irritates you, frustrates you, or makes you angry. This person might justify and rationalize their unwanted behavior and say that they are just “teasing,” “playing,” or “kidding” while telling you to “lighten up.” In truth, the above behaviors are just passive-aggressive pebbles in your shoe as you walk through the relationship. Or, worse violations feel like boulders on your head or stabs to the heart.

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What to do and what to say depends on who it is and in what context you feel those errors or violations are committed. Generally, boundary errors get committed once and are willingly corrected. Boundary violators get two warnings, and on the third time you may have to start rethinking your relationship to the violator, whether a boss, friend, family, lover, or spouse.

The really sad thing is that many people don’t know what boundaries are, don’t have very good boundaries themselves, and often confuse boundaries with walls. Where good boundaries exist, walls are not necessary. Boundaries—done appropriately—increase intimacy and communication, and reduce conflict and confrontations.

Here are a few common examples. People think that it is okay to talk about other peoples’ bodies. I have a beautiful friend who gets told by complete strangers, “You’re too thin!” or, “Are you eating enough?” Pregnant women get their bellies touched by complete strangers. Babies get pinched on the cheek. One friend had to stop a woman he’d never even seen before from putting a sock back on his very young son.

The real remedy? Ask before touching. Get information. Don’t assume—you know what that does. Tell folks your boundaries and tell them when they’ve committed errors so they won’t turn into violations, and get really acquainted with your own boundaries.

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