Hold on now? I am 59 years old here, and aged to perfection I might add. However, should not I know myself by now? Okay, granted, before now I have always let my emotions and my lack of self-confidence direct my interpersonal communication with particular others, and generalized others. Now suddenly I am asking the questions. Does my self-concept really affect how I communicate with others? Is my perception of the world around me so different from that of others? Do I let my emotions interfere with my ability to reason, and thus let those same emotions overwhelm me to the point of total dysfunction?
The answer given to those questions in the past would have been a resounding, "Yes"! To my embarrassment, I am very guilty of letting my self-concept, perception, and emotions control my communication with others. From the very moment we are born into this world, we start to learn about communication. We come into the world out of the womb, (which is said to be a terrifying experience for a baby), and we scream out of fear. The next moment we are wrapped in a warm blanket and we are suddenly comforted and have that perception of security. This is when we first start to develop a concept of self, which is our beginning in the process of communication. The self arises in communication and is a multidimensional process of internalizing and acting from social perspectives. (Wood, J. T., 2006). In the very beginning our education and knowledge of communication is acquired from our particular others, (specific people who are significant to us). Our parents and other family members are the first major influence on how we see ourselves.
Let me present to you a scenario that will give us some example of personal attachment styles by using a father and mother, who we will call, John, and Mary. The child in this scenario we will call Jane, (fictitious names, of course). John was unquestionably the more dominant figure in this scenario. As the phrase goes, "He ruled with an iron fist". This does not mean that he used physical abuse, but rather the verbal kind. He was also an alcoholic, which only made the family environment more chaotic. Throughout Jane's childhood, she developed several attachment styles. Jane developed a secure attachment style through her mother. This style is one in which the parent/caregiver responds in an attentive and loving manner on a consistent basis. (Wood, J. T., 2006). A child responds to this style by developing a positive sense of self-worth.
However, the father's dominant involvement in the upbringing of Jane hindered that style. The attachment styles varied in relation to John, (the father). A fearful attachment style, which cultivated negativity, rejection and poor self-esteem, but also a dismissive attachment style, and an anxious/ambivalent style, all were present. In a fearful attachment style, the parent/caregiver communicates in negative, rejecting, or even abusive ways. A child treated this way learns to see themselves as unlovable and others as rejecting, and they tend to be apprehensive about relationships. A dismissive attachment style is one in which a parent/caregiver is disinterested in, rejects or abuses a child. Children who develop this style do not accept a parent's view of them as unlovable, unlike a fearful attachment. They think others are untrustworthy and they will develop a positive view of themselves, but have a low regard for others and relationships. An anxious/ambivalent style is more complex because it is fostered by inconsistent treatment by the parent/caregiver. One time they can be loving and attentive, and another time indifferent or rejecting, which is not only inconsistent, but also unpredictable. (Wood, J. T., 2006)
How does a child deal with such influences? Most of the time children deal with those influences by becoming dysfunctional adults. Children brought up in these types of environments can end up feeling many different emotions relating to self; insecurity, unworthiness, anxiety, and poor regard for themselves and others. Hmmm, one wonders how we manage to get where we are today. I can only surmise that upon reaching adolescence, my communication had by then opened up to include generalized others, some of whom influenced me in a very positive way. Those positive influences were uppers who communicated good reflected appraisals, "How another person's view of us affects how we see ourselves". (Wood, J. T., 2006). Part of the reason that I did well in some of my school classes, while not so well in others, could be because of those afore mentioned reflected appraisals. At this moment, one must remember that one is 59 years old and still learning how to use the skills that are taught in Interpersonal Communication.
As an adolescent, I was very shy socially. I had internalized views of society and myself in general, and my perspectives and social values were distorted. Findings suggest that a person's perception of his or her family home environment is a primary influence on the future course of his or her psychological symptoms, regardless of how influential the person may deem the individuals in that home environment. (Renshaw, 2007). As teens there are groups with which one will "hang-out". There are popular groups, the rich kids, the poor kids, and the nerds. These groups also intermingle. For example, the nerds can also be poor or rich kids. On the other hand, the rich kids can also be nerds, or a part of the 'in' crowd. This has been the way of society throughout school and beyond.
Continuing with the family scenario with Jane, she was not a part of one of the 'in crowds'. She was somewhere in between nerd and poor, at least in the beginning. It was when Jane was in her final year of High School she realized she was a somewhat attractive girl. Not pretty mind you, but just so-so. Jane's self-perception up until then was that of an average girl, not thin nor fat, just average. She was your average teenager starting to bloom into womanhood, and she could not wait to get out from under her father's roof. Jane followed the example of John and Mary and got pregnant, then married, and suddenly became thrust into motherhood. She was a child having a child more or less. During the years of her marriage to the man who we will call Joe, Jane received the same kind of treatment from her husband Joe, that she received from her father. She kept the hurt feelings inside, and after taking years of verbal abuse and criticism, Jane's love for her husband died a slow death. This was as much her fault as his. Her husband was good at delivering direct hurtful messages. When people feel hurt, they may respond with a number of behaviors, i.e.; crying, yelling, or laughing: (McLaren R., and Solomon, H., 2008), but they also might withdraw from the relationship. Feeling hurt often leads to relational distancing, (usually a close relationship where a clash of wills and a rift has developed). Withdrawl was Jane's 'modus operandi'. It was easier than trying to talk things out. It had always been difficult for her to find the right words, to say what she really felt. Anger, hurt, and resentment would build inside until she had no feelings left. For some people, taking inner feelings and externalizing them in written expression allows them to understand those meanings more clearly, ponder the meaning, and where feasible, make changes in their thinking and behavior. (Riordan, 1996). After 22 years of marriage, Jane notified her husband that she wanted a divorce, the only way that she could begin to express her true feelings, or lack thereof, was to write them down on paper. By writing things down, it gave her time to think about what she truly wanted to say. Joe had a way of using Jane's words against her and turning them around to make her feel guilty, ashamed, or downright dumb. You notice the words (make her feel)? Jane was letting her husband Joe treat her this way. No one person can make someone feel a certain way. A person can try to influence how others thing of themselves, but it is up to the individual how they choose to feel. Jane still uses therapeutic writing to some extent today. She has written several short autobiographical stories simply as a release of emotions and feelings. Telling the story aids her in letting go of the hurt, and the resentment.
When Jane was young, her perception of the world was a very naive one. She had no real aspirations unlike some. Perception is the active process of creating meaning by selecting, organizing, and interpreting people, objects, events, situations, and other occurrences. (Wood, J. T., 2006). Our perception of what we have or lack, and how we think that we measure up to the people around us is based largely on our social comparisons. It is this woman's opinion that external influences only have a small effect on one's happiness. If we control our emotions and feelings, it makes sense that we also have control over whether or not to be happy or unhappy. "If you are unhappy with anything in your life, whatever is bringing you down, just get rid of it, because you will find that when you are free, your true creativity, your true self, comes out. (Tina Turner, singer, songwriter).
Emotions are given to us to use for survival purposes, such things as the threat of danger, assists us in knowing when we need to react swiftly. Affection is that which we feel toward others whom we like. Sexual desire shows deeper feelings for those we find attractive. Emotions become more complex when they are ruled by our thoughts and beliefs. We can feel love to the point of distraction, or hate to the point of madness. In communication with others, it is very important to take command over one's emotions. Emotion is a part of Jane's character that she has struggled with for many years. Lack of emotional intelligence skills have caused her many a sleepless night, and more stress and anxiety than any one person should ever have to go through. She has let harsh words hurt her feelings, and worry over situations distress her, and she has even let depression over circumstances almost destroy her. These emotions controlled Jane's mind and body. The depression caused severe physical symptoms that made it almost impossible for her to function as a human being.
Emotional Intelligence, now here are two words that intrigue, and fascinate. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to recognize feelings, to judge which feelings are appropriate in which situations, and to communicate those feelings effectively. There are qualitites to emotional intelligence not assessed by a standard intelligence test. These are:
Being aware of your feelings
Dealing with emotions without being overcome by them
Not letting setbacks and disappointments derail you
Channeling your feelings to assist you in achieving your goals
Being able to understand how others feel without their spelling it out
Listening to your feelings and those of others to learn from them
Having a strong yet realistic sense of optimism (Wood, J. T., 2006)
People who are emotionally adept, who know and manage their own feelings well, and who read and deal effectively with other people's feelings are at an advantage in any domain of life, whether romantic, or intimate relationships. People who cannot marshal some control over their emotional life fight inner battles that sabotage their ability for focused work and clear thought. (Goleman, 1995). Oh! How Jane would love to master these skills and qualities. Ineffectively expressing her emotions resulted in misunderstandings many times in her interpersonal communications. Withdrawal from interaction or a confrontation was her only way to express anger, sadness, depression, or fear. Jane was her mother's daughter in the past, but she is slowly changing that self-perception. By realizing her strengths and weaknesses, Jane has taken the first step in understanding what she needs to do.
Learning how to use 'I' language and replacing 'you' language helps one to own their feelings. The statement, "You make me angry" puts the responsibility for your feelings onto the other person in the communication. "I feel angry and worry when you don't arrive home when you say you will". By using 'I' language, one accepts responsibility for one's feelings. In additon to this phrase one could say, "Would you be willing to call when you know that you might be late". It is important to communicate this way so that particular/generalized others understand the meaning behind the words.
Constructive communication during a conflict builds a supportive, positive environment that increases the possibility of resolving differences without harming the relationship. There are conflict management skills that we can all use. Focusing only on the content level is not enough. One also needs to turn into the relationship level of the communication. Are you communicating respect, attentiveness, or superiority? Are you attacking a co-worker personally instead of arguing about the issues? Thinking about the relationship level helps give the communication more meaning. If we communicate supportively, we encourage a climate that is likely to build a win-win approach to conflict. (Wood, J. T., 2006). Listening mindfully, taking responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, and issues will also help to build a good resolution to conflict. The scenario presented in this article represented me, and at 59 years of age, I am still working on my interpersonal communications.
In conclusion, emotions, perception, and self-concept play a very important part of communication because these characteristics are a part of who we are and how we communicate with others. Interpersonal communication is an ongoing, continuous process, and it evolves over time. (Wood, J. T., 2006).
Renshaw, Keith D., Perceived criticism only matters when it comes from those you live with, Journal of Clinical Psychology; Dec. 2007, Vol. 63 Issue 12.
McLaren Rachel M., and Denise Haunani Solomon; Appraisals and Distancing Responses to Hurtful Messages, Communication Research 2008.
Riordan, Richard J., Scriptotherapy, Therapeutic Writing as a Counseling Adjunct; Journal of Counseling and Development.
Wood, J.T., 2006, Interpersonal Communications everyday encounters.