Once upon a time, when we were young and much smaller than we are today, we learned early that when someone much larger than we were said “You” we were in trouble, we felt physically and emotionally threatened. Being young, we were scared, afraid, and terrified. Inexperienced at life we did not know what to do.
“You apologize! You come back here. You explain yourself. Did You do that? I don’t believe You.”
And then the ultimate threat, “Wait until you father comes home.”
Young, feeling threatened, psychologically battered, mentally and physically paralyzed, literally or figuratively “backed into a corner,” surprised, not really understanding why they were so very angry at us, we did our best to protect ourselves. We slowly learned to deny, minimize, or blame as best we could.
“No! It wasn’t me. I didn’t do it. I wasn’t even there. Ask anyone. I’m telling the truth. They’re lying. I didn’t mean it.”
Beneath clear and immediate threats of adult violence and anger and prepared with only the imperfect intelligence and limited capacities of a five or ten-year-old, or teenager, we tried everything we could think of to avoid consequences, the punishments we anticipated were coming - whether we were guilty or not.
Finally, when those strategies failed, yet still trying to get out from under anger and threat, we said something like. “I’m sorry; I’m sorry. I promise I’ll never do it again.”
Ultimately, we learned that the only sure way out was to admit our guilt – whether or not we were actually guilty. We came to know that the only way to survive, to “be forgiven” was to admit that, “Yes, I did it.” We also came to understand that truth wouldn’t necessarily protect us. To protect ourselves, under threat by others, we often learned to lie to get out from under.
If you are reading this the good news is that if you are reading this, you survived childhood.
The bad news: is that all of us grew up with a set of reflexive defense mechanisms. Adults now, confronted by a “You…” we stop listening and start defending, deflecting, distracting. To survive. With a classic case of fight or flight, we learned to react to another’s anger first with fear, resistance, and or defense. To deny, minimize, or blame.
These reflexive defense mechanisms, while they may have helped us survive childhood and our teenage years, those mechanisms stand squarely in the way of effective communication among adults. Every time we attempt to communicate express our emotions, feelings and thoughts to spouses, children, friends, bosses, or coworkers, when a “You” enters our speaking effective communication stops and we jump down the proverbial rabbit hole with both feet.
“You and You-ing,” saying, “You” to one another when we want to communicate blocks effective communication.
What to do? How do we communicate effectively, expressing ourselves, our feelings – without “You-ing?”
Coming up: The psychology of “Yes, and.”