In the journey of the Pearl of Purity, we started by getting a more balanced view on responsibilities and learned to see how some often touted memes in our present day society – such as the laws of attraction – are only age old scapegoating tactics used to distort our perception of how much control and responsibility we had over the malice done to us in our lives, in a pseudoscientific new (age) packaging.
Now that we are better equipped to see through the lies of the slime, we can start working on our communication. We normally attempt to inform others in some way how we want to be treated. But what do we do when someone ignores our requests or complaints? How do we communicate effectively in a manner that furthers our healing and, in its highest application, preserves our purity as we maintain our boundaries?
THE PERFECT COMMUNICATION FORMULA?
Anyone who ever sat through a communication course will have been taught a certain communication recipe, generally referred to as the I-message, and went home believing it was an all-purposeful trick to easily maintain boundaries. The construction of the I-message generally follows these guidelines:
You start your sentence with ‘I’, followed by a description of observable behaviour. Next, you inform the offender how this makes you feel. And finally you tell them what future behaviour you expect instead. The I-message appeals irresistibly to the other person’s empathy and feelings of responsibility, while avoiding personally attacking them. Your message might sting for a moment, but ultimately people cannot resent you for unfair treatment. Meanwhile, as you empathize with your own feelings, you connect to yourself (instead of dissociating). It also empowers you, because it takes immense courage to express how someone’s behaviour makes you feel. After a decade of practice and experience of this I-message, as a tourleader and teacher, I can confirm the I-message works perfectly… on normal, empathic, responsible adults (and the majority of teens).
Unfortunately, sometimes the I-message fails. Since the I-message appeals to the other person’s empathy and feelings of responsibility, it can only work on people who are empathic and responsible. It does not work on people who lack empathy, are too self-absorbed, or irresponsible. It certainly does not work with a psychopath. But unless you have been deeply involved with a psychopath and learned about personality disorders, most people, including communication coaches, assume that everybody can ultimately feel empathy.
The idea that the I-message will work on everyone, including psychopaths, as long as you stick to the formula is a delusion. The next example illustrates how delusional. How successful do you think I was in having the ex-psychopath respect my wishes when I texted him the following I-message? “I discovered you took my credit card from my wallet while I was sleeping. I am upset and worried, because we barely have enough to make it to next week for food. I want you to come home right now and return me the card and any money you took out with it. If you ignore this, I will block my cards and report them as stolen to the police.”
Can there be anything more surreal than attempting to appeal to the empathy from a grown man who emptied my wallet while I was asleep? It seems bizarre to me now that, at the time, I expected it to actually work. Of course, my I-message went without result. I only got result (and temporarily at that), because I did as I threatened to do. I blocked all my cards. He found out as he tried to take money out of the ATM with the VISA, again, and the ATM swallowed it. That is when he called me to assure me he was on his way home, and arrived within 5 minutes.
But who did I blame for the fact that I had to block the bank cards? I blamed myself; I blamed my ‘failing’ communication – I was too demanding, or did not communicate compassionate enough, or messed up the formula. I blamed myself each time the psychopath ignored my I-message. I felt I failed my responsibilities when teens ignored my I-messages in class. At the heart of the communication issue stands the false belief that we alone are responsible for making others stop disrespecting, disturbing, hurting or harming us. When people completely ignored my request and crossed them over and over, my sole mistake was how I neglected to consider how much they had failed to comply to my request. It is not our responsibility to make someone else stop behaving badly. We cannot be held responsible for the simple reason that we have no control over other people. It is their duty to correct their behaviour themselves.
As for the I-message, the disappointing truth is that normal, empathic people are compelled to comply with a reasonable request, regardless of it being an I-message or not. Even if you completely mess the formula up, or shout, or bang your fist on the table in anger, a normal, empathic and responsible adult will comply to your wishes. In contrast, you may compose a perfect I-message for people lacking empathy and your effort will be for naught. The psychopath comprehended the message perfectly and was even versatile in using his own I-messages, on others, on me. But he could completely ignore my I-messages in a way I could never ignore his – he simply did not care for my boundaries, feelings, wishes and expectations. Worse, he loved to walk all over them. And he used my I-messages as a user guide on how to hurt, anger, annoy, disappoint, or freak me out. Psychopaths and narcissists are the few people you better not use an I-message with at all. You do not wish to hand them a road map on how they impact your feelings either negatively or positively.
The I-message remains one of the best ways to communicate with our fellow empathic man. It preserves and harmonizes relationships. But when you use an I-message and notice how it is ignored, then that is a red flag that the other either has low, diminished or absent empathy, or is irresponsible. This may be a temporarily phase as with teens, or more permanent. But when we make a reasonable request of someone, it is their responsibility to abide by it. If they ignore it, they are being irresponsible. And when you observe how a person consistently uses your I-messages to annoy, hurt or upset you even more, then you should refrain from using them at all to them.
SPEAK NO EVIL
Communication is not just a technical issue on how to express yourself. Timing and content of our speech also has its influence. What we say, how we speak, and when we communicate has a direct impact on another human being. We experienced this with the psychopath who could make us believe on their word alone that there was world peace while we stood in the middle of a war zone. Our own words are no less influential. Ultimately, our speech has the most impact upon ourselves. We can empower, heal and even liberate ourselves through the way we communicate. But it can also backfire, harm, taint and weaken us, when we utter words that disagree with our own values.
We may have no control over another person’s actions or words, but we do have control over our own. When we act and speak with integrity, the more pure we become, and the less affected we are by slime.
In the past we may have tried to use speech to defend or stand up for ourselves and to try and make others see what they were doing was wrong, but either we ended up fouling ourselves or heaped too much responsibility upon ourselves as well as a false belief of ability to control those around us. Instead we can learn to use speech to heal ourselves, to purify ourselves and to grow our Pearl. And to explain this I will have to borrow from Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path.
Conduct or behaviour consists of two elements – speech and action. Or more specific, speaking is a particular type of action, since it requires energy to speak as well as to listen. So what does ‘Right Speech’ mean? The Buddha says it is “abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter”. How does that differ, for example, from the Bible’s command not to “bear false witness against your neighbor”? Because it goes further than just advising you not to lie.
A person is not to utter disagreeable and divisive lies. Pleasing white lies or flattery are out, even truthful flattery. A truth that benefits no one should not be said. And it is best to wait for the proper time to tell a truth that is disagreeable but beneficial. Even if what you have to say is factual, beneficial, endearing and agreeable, you can sense and wait for the proper time to say them. In short, it means that the wise (wo)man only speaks truth and fact when it is beneficial and the appropriate time for it, preferably in an agreeable manner. Even if your words are true, but not beneficial or timely, it is most wise to remain mum. Because we are empathic human beings.
The above paragraph is comprehensive and may need rereading again and again, but I found it incredibly wise and recognizable the first time I stumbled on it as I was already on my path of Purity. And I would ask you to reflect on it, before continuing to explore the forms of speech relating to this Buddhist advice.
In a more hidden sense – complete silence, the lack of talking, has its own impact. Sometimes, it even has a bigger impact. It is hard to be silent when we feel we must explain ourselves for having boundaries at all. We fear that silence might be seen as letting someone walk all over us. In our culture we associate empowerment with speaking up and victimization with silencing. So we are under the illusion that we must speak and react to prove we have the power to defend ourselves. But when we are in the company of people who contemplate our demise, we then freely hand them a manual on how to hurt us. So, all we end up doing by reacting is hurting ourselves far more than we can ever hurt them. Speaking up only feeds their needy attention monster. But they abhor silence! They are frustrated when they do not know whether they hurt, upset or angered you. They despise being ignored. So, bite your tongue. Put your hand before your mouth and prevent yourself from saying anything to toxic people.
Initially, you will feel pressure to blurt out whatever you think and feel or to explain yourself and make another understand. And yet, it gets easier with practice, as you discover how empowering it can feel when you choose to walk away from a situation that would otherwise have gone ugly and probably would have left you feeling ravaged by your own impulsiveness. I became acutely aware how feeling the need to defend myself actually belies powerlessness. We all learn the powerful lesson that silence can teach us, the moment we commit ourselves to having “No Contact “ with the psychopath in our life. The realization dawned that I do not owe toxic people an explanation, and how silence is the most effective way to show this. Silence says and explains it all on its own and yet does no harm, neither to myself nor another. When I am silent, I free my mind from the obsessive task of having to find the right words and arguments. Not having to speak liberates my mind from the fog, from chasing MacGuffins. Shrouded in my own silence, it becomes far more easier to recognize who makes a lot of dramatic hullabaloo over nothing and how unworthy they are of my attention and energy. If we are not even spending energy by speaking to a toxic person, we are even less likely to spend energy in other ways on that person.
Refraining from explaining or defending ourselves to toxic people is not the only way many of us need to practice silence about. Silence is even a more difficult thing to accomplish when we are in an anger phase of our recovery. Certain profanities or graphic descriptions seem very factual then. It can feel good to curse, to swear, to name-call, and use the most vulgar and graphic language. It may even have a therapeutic effect. At the very least we may want to refer to him or her with profane names to those who sympathize with us.
There is a neurological reason to avoid profanity though. Neuron paths are like furrows in a field. The more we use a certain neuron path the deeper the furrow becomes. If we then want to plow a new furrow the plough tends to slip back in the old one. Making a new neuron path is possible, but it takes energy and mindfulness, and depending on where you are in your healing stage you may not yet have plenty of those. The mind is lazy too when it comes to using vocabulary. The vocabulary we use the most and the most recent will pop out of our mouths the easiest at moments when we are stressed or emotional. And it needs no reminding who is most able to make us feel stressed or emotional, and who would wring their hands in ecstasy for making us behave badly over them.
I once had a difficult toxic situation in a classroom with a triad of toxic girls who loved nothing better than drag the blood from under my nails. One time I found a writing on a desk in that class referring to me as a ‘#####’. I wanted to take the wind out of the sails by referring to it as ‘I know some people here think of me as a #####, an opinion I have no control over whatsoever, but I still expect respectful behaviour from you all.’ Of course the triad did the opposite and eventually I got so upset that I blurted out, “Stop behaving like a #####.” I do not have to explain how horrible I felt the moment that word had escaped my lips. In fact, I am quite sure it hurt me more to have said it than it hurt their feelings. On the contrary, I had given them ammunition. Now, I did request all three to remain at the end of the class and I apologized to them, and the horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach spurred me on to solve the dynamic issues once and for all. Next class they supposed they could pull all the strings. They were quite stunned when I proved them wrong as I set up the lesson in a way that they could be as noisy as they wanted and I could ignore them completely, while giving all my attention to the majority of the pupils who wanted to learn something. I practiced silence and patience without any difficulties.
Profanity is hardly harmless in a public setting, even with an internet support group. It crosses the readers’ boundaries and it pleases toxic people to no end. The latter love nothing better than turn a recovery forum, blog or website into a vulgarity fest. It may be too much at times to completely avoid profanities, and it can indeed work therapeutic during an anger release session. But there is no audience needed for a swearing session to have a therapeutic effect. By all means, if you have to indulge in every name-calling and malediction you want, but do it when you are alone. Be like the silent tree in the forest who made no sound when falling, because there was no one to hear it fall. In time you will get to a point of anger where you can formulate coherent accusations, instead of helpless profanities.
TIMELINESS AND BENEFICIAL
Most of us, have no problems to speak agreeable and truthful. We want to, and do so most of the time. But we have a hard time recognizing the timeliness of it or even the benefit of our speech, especially when we hope to protect or save other people from harm or when we hope to achieve some form of justice. Again we can turn the whole ordeal with the psychopath into a lesson on timeliness and benefice, or rather how most moments are untimely and unbeneficial.
When we first learn about psychopaths in the wild we want to expose them, especially to people who need to be warned, like the new victim. But it may not be the good time for some of them to hear the truth at all – someone who is being lovebombed by a psychopath for example will not believe you. I made the mistake of trying to warn the woman he traded me for. But, by telling her at the wrong time, my speech most likely had the opposite effect. The psychopath used it to manipulate her in doing all that I supposedly did not do enough for him: trust him more (than I ever did already), forgive him more (than the many times I forgave him), finance him more, be with him more, sacrifice more. We and our warnings become an example in the mind of the pity-played victim on why they will succeed in what we failed – fix the psychopath. Remember what picture he or she painted about their latest ex, and how this seed manipulated you into proving him or her you certainly were nothing like his ex. So, alas, we help a psychopath when we oppose them at the wrong moment as much as when we enable them.
Meanwhile, the attempt of exposing a psychopath publically can be physically dangerous or you might be sued for liable. And if you do it anonymously, who will care? You will appear only as petty and vengeful. And lastly, it will be you who keeps a virtual mental contact line open to the psychopath. There will come a time that the psychopath will contact you about this, and when that moment comes you do not want that. They will manipulate others into talking to you about it, to emotionally blackmail you to remove it or they threaten you personally. And before long, the peace you strove for has suddenly turned into a dramatic soap opera again. You want peace, instead of drama.
Contacting relations of the psychopath in order to feel vindicated or have some justice is not advisable either. It is very likely, that if they are not disordered, you simply passed the psychopath’s slime onto them, while they are as innocent and helpless as you were. There is one big difference: they cannot escape the lifetime blood tie they have with the psychopath. At the very least, each time whenever the psychopath does severe wrong, someone, including the police, will tell and confront them about it. And every time they latch on to a new person who hopes to be the psychopath’s savior, his or her family more than likely fervently hopes the same. They probably are slimed enough directly by the psychopath. While they may empathize with you, they do not need an extra slime reminder of the psychopath’s shamelessness.
So when can you warn someone about the psychopath? When is it timely and beneficial? Of course with a heavy crime such as murder attempt or child and sexual abuse, any time is timely and beneficial. Only make sure not to compromise your own physical safety. Aside from those emergencies, the only appropriate time to expose a psychopath is when a victim contacts you. They only tend do so when there have been enough incidents to make them consider the notion that there is something wrong with the psychopath. They independently started to investigate who the psychopath is, and thus are more open to the truth of your story. By then you have probably or hopefully healed enough to give a disinterested, factual report. The right time occurs when people ask for your advice about the psychopath. Then you can pass on info like the telephone game where you hold hands and pass the unseen signal with a slight squeeze to the next person.
And of course speak facts in therapy, to your support network, to those who are healing. It is timely and very beneficial to you and others in order to heal.
Ultimately ‘right speech’ eases the path to ‘right action’. Eventually by consistently behaving as if you believe your emotions, your energy, your time, your money, your body, and your attention are too precious to spend on people who disrespect you, you will start to believe you are as valuable as you portray to be. As you wisely speak no evil, your Pearl of Purity grows. And sometimes the only way to speak no evil is to be silent. Sometimes, the most right and most effective action requires little activity or energy from you, little or no explanation. You just cease to have contact with these people. You do not spend time with or waste words on someone who is irresponsible with your feelings, your time, your energy, your finances. Avoid the use of profanities, even in thought, because in stressful times our tongues are more apt to speak what we use regularly. And it will only result in you feeling worse than the person you cursed at. Once you behave by your own moral standards and see responsibilities in a correct way you neither soil yourself nor accept someone’s slime either. You grow to be a very wise (wo)man.
Lastly, the wisest of us remember their humanity. Sometimes you will make a mistake when you communicate. Surely, you made plenty in the past. Recognize that those mistakes were never grave enough to deserve evil behaviour from others. Each person, including children, are responsible for their own ill and disrespecting behaviour. Not you. Empathic people respect even the most garbled or angrily voiced request. And as long as you have the capacity to learn, forgive yourself your communication mistakes and take them with you as a lesson. I only learned to see the benefit in the above communication advice through my own mistakes and the accompanying bruises and bumps. And I too had to forgive myself for making them.
Further related reading:
1. Skylar’s article on how to communicate with a psychopath when it is not possible to go ‘no contact’: http://180rule.com/the-gray-rock-method-of-dealing-with-psychopaths/
2. The first article of the Pearl series: http://180rule.com/precious-pearl-of-purity/
3. The second article of the Pearl series: http://180rule.com/attraction-by-the-pearl-of-purity/
4. I-message: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-message
5. Compassionate communication: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_Communication (important note: this is a form of communication using the I-message formula combined with the disastrous and faulty assumptions that everyone has the ability to feel compassion, enjoys giving and that everyone can change. A minority of people do not fit those assumptions at all or only marginally)