February 11

Deaf or Offended

February 11, 2013

Personal Growth

On several occasions, I worked with Lisa over the phone, but she was not listening, and as a result, she was making no progress in her personal happiness or in her relationships at home. On one call, she said, "I'm sorry that this is so frustrating for you."

I smiled. I hear this a lot. "Sweetie," I said, "it's not frustration. You use the word frustration as a way of shifting some of the responsibility for your lack of progress to me. If you believe I'm frustrated with you, then you also have a reason not to listen."

"No," she said, "I just—"

Having heard this conversation a great many times, and knowing Lisa well, I interrupted, because this line of thinking and arguing is never helpful. "Let me help you understand what you're hearing. Although it seems that we've spoken about quite a variety of issues, it's really only one problem. You are so wounded that you react to almost everyone as though they're trying to hurt you. Understandable. Even though you don't realize you're doing it, you attack people a lot, and they don't like that. Then they defend themselves, and you take their defensiveness personally.

"I've tried to tell you this quite a few times now, but you have utterly refused to hear me because then you'd have to be responsible for your own behavior, rather than blaming everybody else for how you feel and behave. When we first began to talk, many conversations ago, I spoke to you with a level of directness—or emotional 'volume,' if you like—of about one, on a scale of one to ten. You didn't hear me at all. You kept blaming.

"Now, I have no need to change your blaming. Zero. You can blame other people for how you feel and behave for the rest of your life, and I'll be just fine. But YOU won't—you'll stay unhappy, as you are now—and because I genuinely care about your happiness, I increased the volume. I did this FOR YOU, to get your attention, to help you see what's been hurting you all your life. Again, I'm not talking about the volume of my voice—I didn't speak louder—but about how directly I spoke to you.

"Then I spoke to you at a level two. Nothing. I tried level three. Still deaf. Four. Deaf. But then I tried a level five—probably not even that high—and you called it frustration on my part, which is a sneaky way of blaming me for being impatient or irritated with you."

"I didn't mean to accuse you of anything," she said.

"I believe you," I said, "just as I believe you don't see how much blaming and attacking you do with other people. But you still do it, and I thought I would help you see it, only because it's making you unhappy and ruining your relationships. THAT is why I increased the volume, but when I reached a level five, suddenly you were offended at my directness or tone or whatever, all of which is intended simply to break through the deafness. But you don't sense my desire to help you. You hear only frustration—which is not there—or claim that I'm mean or angry. Then you focus on my tone or perceived frustration or anger, and now you don't have to listen.

"In short, you're either deaf or offended. This is not a small point I'm making here. You create a world where you NEVER have to listen. You believe that if people would just speak to you in the right way, you could hear them, but that's not true. There is no such magical way because you're always deaf or offended. If that doesn't change, you'll stay right where you are for your entire life."

Most of us can't see our unproductive behaviors, because over a lifetime we've become accustomed to them. We're blind to them, so we REQUIRE the assistance of other people to see what we do. But we don't WANT to recognize our behaviors, because they're not attractive.

We're not proud of them. We want to hide them under a rock, so when people lift up the rock, we tend to resist, argue, lie, run away, and act hurt. We're deaf or offended, and though we rarely do this intentionally, we isolate ourselves. We will not—or cannot—listen.

We can't listen until we have a very strong desire to learn and until we thoroughly trust the people who are trying to genuinely help us. The decision to give that trust can be made only by US.

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