Communication is an issue that comes up often in therapy, and in many contexts. For some, communication is a struggle in terms of their marriage or romantic relationship; for others, the struggle to effectively communicate – especially in terms of boundaries, wants and needs – presents itself at the workplace, among friends or with relatives.
So what’s the big deal about communication? Why do so many of us struggle to effectively communicate? And how does communication – or lack thereof – influence our mental health and well-being?
Our ability to communicate what we want and need is intricately tied to our sense of self-worth and self-love, and is also related to our childhood and past conditioning. So many of us grow up and receive messages – from parents, teachers or other loved ones – that our feelings are not valid. These messages may be well-intentioned, such as when a child hurts herself and a parent (lovingly) says “It’s okay, you’re alright”, but regardless, the child still hears that there’s something wrong, different or “off” in terms of her experience of reality. She feels one thing but is told something else. After so many years of such social cues, we often internalize the message that what we feel, want or need is not valid. And if we hold such an underlying or “core belief” about the validity of our needs, we find ourselves unable to communicate. We’re scared that when we show our true selves – when we become vulnerable and express our wants or needs – we’ll be rejected. And rejection = pain, which, in Buddhist terms, the ego or mind will always try to resist.
When we don’t communicate what we feel, want or need – with our partners, at work, or anywhere else – we aren’t loving ourselves. We aren’t living from a place of authenticity and truth, and we reinforce the ego’s false sense of separation. We hide who we really are in the hopes that we will win the approval of others, and that we’ll avoid the pain of feeling as though we don’t belong.
Conversely, when we love ourselves, value ourselves and know that we are worthy of everything and anything this universe has to offer, communication becomes easy. And living from a place of self-love, embracing who we really are and validating what we really want are essential stepping stones on the path to lasting happiness.