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I could see it in his eyes. I scared him to the point of shivering. At the time, I didn’t care. I didn’t apologize. But a week after the incident, the guilt for the pain I had caused began to set in and I knew changes needed to be made.
This wasn’t the first time my aggressive, combative communication style had killed a relationship. It was a pattern of toxic behavior – one I repeated too many times to count – and it impacted my life both personally and professionally.
It wasn’t just the toxic words that were coming out of my mouth, but the pent up rage and anger I had unleashed that was very problematic. I also used manipulation to twist other people’s words and make them feel bad. Classic narcissism was in play and in overdrive during these times.
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The truth? I couldn’t stand what I was being told because if I had to admit that she was right, it would call my identity into question. It exposed the truth about who I was: insecure. And it felt like hell for my ego.
It marked a critical turning point – an experience that forced me to reflect on my state of mind. I could either continue on this path of destruction and pain while continuing to hurt people, or commit myself more to changing who I was and how I felt about myself. The latter would lead me to the happy and healthy relationships I always wanted.
The problem was that I didn’t know the steps how. What does healthy communication look like under pressure? All I had ever known was to use anger and aggression to win an argument and be right. It was time to unlearn those toxic traits.
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Healing the Wounded Contractor
While I had already worked on my personal development, I hadn’t fully committed to meeting the challenge head-on. At the time, I was aware of my unhealthy communication style, but I didn’t know the root cause. That meant digging a little deeper to find out what exactly was triggering those toxic traits.
I discovered that the conversations I had had triggered a fear response from events in my past – scenarios that had hurt me by those I cared about most. My feelings of “this isn’t good enough” stemmed from moments in my childhood. What should have been calm, balanced conversations put me in full defense mode that changed my emotions and set me back. Instead of responding with the same composure as the other person, I responded like a hurt child or a demanding teenager who didn’t get everything he wanted. Immaturity in difficult times was my way of being.
The latter was particularly problematic because what should be a healthy conversation turned into a heated argument, and nothing would be resolved. More tension and eggshells ensued, and relationships broke down because I became unapproachable and instilled fear in others. My lack of apologies was a “punishment” for others – an act of my ego to protect itself once again. My inability to take responsibility prevented me from transforming, which was my ultimate blind spot.
Reduce reaction in response
Each of us has a different way of reacting or responding to events, which are shaped by a number of factors. I have found the following to have the most significant impact on communication with my clients.
- State of mind at the time: For example, if a stressful situation arises before a conversation, it can have a huge impact on how you communicate.
- Past unhealed events: Emotional trauma such as bullying or abuse, betrayal, and loss can also affect how we engage with others.
- Beliefs and values: What’s going on and our level of passion for those topics can dictate how a conversation unfolds.
- Self-awareness: Your general level of awareness and self-awareness can affect how you communicate.
Going from an unconscious reaction to a conscious response does not happen overnight. I had to work steadily over time on things like daily meditation, which I increased in duration and found to be the most impactful.
I also had to start realizing that not everyone was a threat and why that was through coaching, which meant opening up about what had happened to me. I began to understand what had happened to me in the past and the beliefs I carried with me because of those events. Those ah-ha moments were the breakthroughs that changed me.
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As a result of these interventions, I had to recognize and admit that what I was doing was wrong the next time it happened. It took on vulnerability, which I felt was a weakness at the time. But when I learned that it would actually help me get what I and others needed – connection – it spurred massive change.
Finally, eliminating alcohol and substances from my life was huge because the toxicity was still present in my body for days, and it made me irritable. They fueled the depression, which lowered my confidence, and the lack of real self-confidence was another challenge.
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When we know who we are with confidence, we can communicate healthily. When we struggle to possess ourselves, the words we speak reflect that confusion, so we try to stop others from exposing that truth.
My leadership has gone from struggling to connect to participating in very emotional conversations that would once push me to fight or bail. I became more and more aware of the feelings inside me, and thanks to this awareness, I was able to better manage my feelings and the way I reacted.