The word communication shares its roots with other words that are similar and are taken from the Latin word communis which means “common.” It is that which is shared “in common” with others. When we take “Communion” in church, we are “sharing” the blood and body of Christ. When we live in a community, we share in the life of the others who live there as well. When we communicate, we share the understanding of thoughts from one mind to another. When we talk about communication, we are referring to that which becomes understood by others or shared by others. The knowledge becomes “common” for those who understand it. Communication may be oral, in writing, or by body language.
For people to get to know others they must communicate with spoken or written speech, gestures or facial expressions. Unless this happens, what goes on inside people’s brains will not be known or understood. Did you ever try to understand the thoughts of a cow or a crocodile? What does a dog think about the status of dogs in the Middle East? Sure, we can tell when an animal is hurting, hungry, tired or sick, and we may even see affection from some, but we really don’t communicate like Dr. Doolittle and talk to the animals, expecting them to respond in the same manner. We may share our homes with them and enjoy their company, but we really can’t share our thoughts and have them understand what it is to be human, or for us to be a dog or a cat.
To communicate with God is called prayer. For man to know God, he had to come to earth in the only way that mankind could understand. He came as one of us—flesh and blood. Now we could hear his speech, see his eyes and look at the expressions on his face. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) God broke his silence by creating the universe when he spoke, and things happened: out of nothing stars were formed, planets began to circle them, and life sprang up on the earth from his command. Plants were placed in the oceans and on land, and living creatures were created to swim, fly, crawl, walk and run. An immensely powerful speech indeed!
While our speech is nowhere as dramatic, it can and does have great effect on those around us as well as ourselves. We use our voices to build up and to tear down, to bless and to curse. What we do and when we do it depends on our inner orientation, the source of our understanding. Our spirit, which is the part of us that reflects the image of God, becomes the vehicle for this ability to do it G0d’s way.
Then there is the “old man,” the flesh that keeps tugging at us to break relationships, to be selfish with our time, our energy, and our possessions. We are always fighting with our old nature. The Bible stresses repeatedly that a person’s speech can do either good or evil. There is no doubt that wicked people use words to build themselves up while tearing others down. They insist that no one has the right to tell them what to say or do. Psalm 12:1-4 shares the thought of David: “Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue that says, ‘We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips—who is our master?’”
Some of us are “task” oriented; others are “people” oriented. Those who are task oriented usually need to work on people skills since they may be so involved in what they are doing or must do that they ignore others or the needs of others around them. The other group gets so involved with the people around them that they can’t get done those things they need to do. Most of us need to balance ourselves if we are going to be effective with the way we communicate and relate to others.
Sometimes the balance isn’t easy, our personalities may need to change somewhat. There are DNA and chemistry issues to be aware of that predispose us to certain emotions or lack of empathy which are sometimes hard to control, and we need to learn to be productive with our relationships and to overcome our problems to effectively communicate with those around us. We may have grown up in an environment which stunted our social interaction with others. Maybe we were commanded to “sit down and shut up.” Children often are expected to be seen and not heard. Some children grow up in families that are in conflict all the time and in order to be a part of the family they learned to out-shout those who were loud and abusive. In the process they learned how to abuse others in order to protect themselves.
For many we have what may be a “hair trigger” predisposition to handling things with angry outbursts. This may have been developed in infancy when we learned we could control parental benefits by becoming belligerent with those we wanted something from. I once met a fellow in California who delighted in embarrassing his wife at the grocery store. He would pick something off the shelf that he knew wasn’t on his wife’s shopping list. When she would try to get him to put it back, he would sit on the floor and pound his fists (not hard enough to hurt himself) and loudly keep saying, “But I want it! I want it!” and begin to feign a cry.
While most adults don’t act this way, there are similar behaviors that are exhibited when we don’t get what we want. Often anger is one of the emotional outbursts that is made.
Codependent behaviors are used all the time to manipulate others to do what is wanted. Codependency is a trait shared by many people and displays itself in some or all these behaviors. Low self-esteem is inherent in codependency. The person does not consider himself or herself to be of value. They tend to find themselves only in relationship with others. This can also be reflected in trying to compensate by feeling superior as a cover up to the inadequacy. The feeling of shame is also present because the comparison is so inadequate.
Those with this behavior are often people pleasers. On the surface this seems to be a good thing, but it does not allow the individual to be authentic. One becomes a chameleon trying to fit into whatever situation they find themselves. The person needs to be accepted into the group in order to feel good. If this is the case, we can never be ourselves and find a real relationship because we are trying to be somebody else. Neither can we help others to find a better way out of the situations they find themselves in.
Some people have boundary issues. If you don’t know where your personality ends, and another begins, you can be in for a problem. Boundaries are an imaginary line between you and others. It delineates what’s yours and what’s somebody else’s, which can include your body, your money, and belongings, as well as your feelings, thoughts and needs. Codependents get into trouble because they have blurry or weak boundaries between themselves and others. They often feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else.
With poor boundaries we react rather than respond which can result in consequences we had not desired or expected. When you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings you are intruding into their “space.” You might take things personally and get easily triggered yourself. If someone says something you disagree with, you become defensive. You absorb their words because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of what is going on with you and you wouldn’t feel threatened by disagreements.
We can learn to respond with the help of God’s Holy Spirit within us. Allowing him to control our emotional outbursts and allowing the love (agape) of God to direct our attention toward the person we are speaking with. Many of us reach for that emotional trigger that wants to correct the other person and get them on the right track… which is a trap because we may not really know what that is.
If someone else has a problem, a codependent wants to help them to the point that they might feel guilty if they don’t and give up themselves in the process. It’s natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves in wanting to do for the other person what that person doesn’t want to do for himself or herself. In fact, they need to help and might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help. Moreover, they keep trying to fix the other person, even when that person clearly isn’t taking their advice. For some codependents, their self-worth is dependent upon being needed. This is an unhealthy place to be when learning to communicate with others. We wind up doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons.
Everyone needs to feel in control but for a codependent, lack of control makes them fearful. Nobody wants to live in constant uncertainty and chaos, but for codependents, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings. Sometimes they have an addiction that either helps them loosen up, like drugs or alcohol, or helps them repress their feelings, like workaholism, so that they don’t feel out of control in their relationships. They also have a need to control those close to them, because unless others behave in a certain way, they feel that fear begin to rise. In fact, people pleasing, and caretaking can be used to control and manipulate people. Alternatively, codependents can be bossy and tell others what they should or shouldn’t do. When another person’s boundaries are violated, an adversarial relationship will more than likely be the result. Sooner or later the relationship will be headed in a direction neither wants to go in and resentment or even hostility can result.
Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings and needs. Conversation becomes dysfunctional. If you don’t know what you think, feel or need, you don’t know what you need to say, and you won’t own up to your truth. You’re afraid to be truthful because you don’t want to upset someone else. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that,” you might pretend that it’s okay or tell someone what to do. Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when we try to manipulate the other person because of our own fear.
Sometimes the tendency is to spend time thinking about other people or relationships, trying to decipher what someone else is thinking or feeling and why. This is caused by dependency on others and anxieties and fears about being rejected, due to shame. A person can become obsessed when they think they’ve made or might make a “mistake.” Sometimes they can lapse into fantasy about how they’d like things to be or about someone they love to avoid the pain of the present. This is one way to stay in denial, but it keeps people from living their lives.
Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves, and they’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even though they can function on their own. Other codependents need to always be in a relationship because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long. This trait makes it hard for them to end a relationship, even when the relationship is painful or abusive. They end up feeling trapped.
A major problem is that they don’t face their problems. They are in denial. Usually they think the problem is someone else or the situation. They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person or go from one relationship or job to another and never own up the fact that they have a problem. They also deny their feelings and needs. When you don’t know what you’re feeling and instead focus on what others are feeling, you won’t reach out to others and have trouble receiving help others can give you. You are afraid to become vulnerable and miss the opportunity for love and intimacy.
Intimacy does not refer necessarily to sex, although sexual dysfunction is often a reflection of an intimacy problem. We need to be open and close with someone in an intimate relationship. A good marriage and a healthy family life depend on it, but because of shame and weak boundaries, a person might fear judgment, rejection, or abandonment. On the other hand, they may fear being smothered in a relationship and losing their autonomy. A need for closeness might be denied and the person feels that their partner wants too much of their time; they might complain that you’re unavailable, but he or she is denying his or her need for separateness.
All of this can bring about a life that is full of anxiety, maybe depression and guilt along with never feeling adequate and being able to engage others in a satisfactory way in communication. Fear of making mistakes, of being a failure or being trapped in the relationship are all symptoms of this debilitating condition.
Whatever situation you came out of, there are ways to learn to be better at getting along with the people around us, whether they are in our families, our schools, our places of employment or wherever we happen to need to communicate with them. There are programs such as Celebrate Recovery© that help overcome the obstacles of codependency, but the object of the support group is to facilitate ways to understand yourself under the authority and blessing of God and your need for others in your life to help you as you work out of the codependent behavior you may be locked into.