Slippery People

Whatabout the time? / You were rollin’ over
Fall on your face / You must be having fun
Walk lightly! / Think of a time.
You’d best believe / This think is real
– Slippery People, Talking Heads

All of us have ‘walked lightly’ or skated on the delicate slippery surface of a personal interaction at some time or another. One short story I wrote, Thin Ice, explored how it takes time to get to a point where we feel really comfortable talking to another person and safe to express what we really feel.

Carl Rogers, in his book On Becoming A Person, talks about congruence – where our communication is consistent on all levels; words and body language match, and our inner feelings match what we are saying. This doesn’t happen unless we feel safe, so before that happens, we skate on the ice. I think we all do a fair bit of skating in our relationships, both personal and professional, and at those times we’re too busy worrying about how we’re appearing and what someone else is thinking that we never quite flow gracefully into it. This is why confident people are so attractive. They exist in the now, in the flow.

Confidence empowers both people in a conversation. Acceptance of, love and respect for another person and valuing them allows them space to breathe and space to grow. Yes, we can all grow on our own, but those moments of insight that we experience with someone else are nothing short of magical. And those periods of growth are liberating.

Space to grow includes finding space to integrate the emotional baggage from past relationships too. There’s always a danger that we bring our unresolved feelings from past experiences into new relationships. We find ourselves ‘modelling’ situations and projecting what the likely outcome is going to be. This is usually a fallacy because no two people can ever be truly alike. Until we mature and find our own feet, we still do it and it eventually gets in the way.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spot the losers and the parasites when they appear, because they surely do exist. It means having a lot of faith in trusting your own judgement and looking for consistent behaviour in accordance with a set of solid principles. Honesty, integrity, caring, standards of quality, knowing right from wrong – those sorts of things. Just avoid the pigeonholing (and that includes relying on things like horridscopes!).

Even when we are communicating with someone we genuinely like and respect, we can still find ourselves putting on ice skates whenever our brains click into the mental ‘modelling’ mode. We’re usually trying to guess the outcome rather than accepting the present. Or maybe we’re trying to guess what effect our words are having rather than accepting ourselves for the wonderful people we are. Maybe these are guy things, although really I certainly can’t speak for anyone other than little old me (six foot one, grey eyes… stop it!). Ahem, yes. These are merely my own thoughts for now.

At the end of the Thin Ice story true communication finally took place. After that’s happened a few times, it gradually gets easier, in my experience. You stop worrying about the outcome because you learn to trust that the other person really does accept you for who you are and you know in your heart that they’re there, in your life – and you’re there for them. Okay, so it will never be perfect – no one can ever know what you’re thinking. That’s why it’s important to keep communicating.

To my mind, we all keep growing, and need to value ourselves, value our own strengths, recognise our weaknesses. It’s incredibly important to find room for ourselves even when we’re in a relationship – a house where you go when there’s too many people. And, for goodness sake, don’t take it all too seriously or the pod people will get you!