Dangling Conversations

November 5th, 2010

“There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul.” -Arnold Bennett

I married into a family whose primary operating principle was “If something is wrong, don’t talk about it.” Even as a young woman in my early twenties, I knew instinctively that silence in the face of difficult emotions is a mistake. In the years of therapy that I undertook during adolescence to deal with my own family’s dysfunction whose version was “If something is wrong -scream about it,” I learned the power of giving language to emotions.

Talking about feelings requires learning the nuances of first identifying them. Many children grow up not knowing the difference between basic emotions like fear, sadness and anger. Anger is the easiest emotion for most people to express, whether inward or outward, and many grow up without the emotional support to experience these other more vulnerable and painful emotions.

Emotional intelligence is perhaps one of the most sorely missed and profoundly necessary skill sets in our culture. As an often frightened and sad teenager, I realized that putting words to feelings and having a framework to understand the range of emotions that occurred inside and around me was a way out of the insanity; or at the very least brought insanity into an easily recognizable light.

This week I had an experience with a co-worker that brought back many memories of the power of the dangling conversation that hung perpetually around any attempts to relate to my in-laws. To the degree that nothing was ever resolved in their family, all the issues and hurt feelings that ever happened between them and now me, was up for grabs.   Everyone had to walk on egg shells because almost any comment could set off a chain reaction that led back to that huge sack of unfinished conversations.

If I did anything right in my own family, it was making sure that every difficult emotional meeting found some kind of conclusion. If not an apology or an emotional coming together, at the very least I always demanded closure that included true listening and attempts at empathy. This practice allows the past to be over when people leave the room, even if both people walk away with less than they want.

The alternative makes relationships unsafe, only increasingly so over time. Dangling conversations that leave hurt feelings fester; even if the people practicing them can come back looking like nothing happened the next day. Emotions are real things that live in our bodies with more power and force than our thoughts. Respected, they are the most powerful form of bonding that a relationship can hope for. Silent, ignored or left hanging, they are the most prevalent form of cancer that eats away at the health and longevity of loving.

4 Responses to “Dangling Conversations”

  1. Ann Catherine Thomas Says:

    I grew up in a family of “stuffers.” We stuffed all emotions because it was not safe to express them. I still remember, as a little child, the pain of not being permitted to express emotions – even happiness via laughter – because it was very frightening to my father. As an adult, I now know my father lived in terror that he would crack and break open and all the stuffed emotions would spill out and he would die. He never looked back over his life and made a conscious decision to open up and let go of all the scare-y things inside of him and, I believe, he died in fear.

    At 61, I know how short life is. I decided several years ago to let go of any residual unfelt emotions and to live the rest of my life experiencing my emotions as they came. I had not cried in years and finally, when my father died in 2006, I cried. All my fears about living under his control loosened and fell away.

  2. Cindy Says:

    What a wonderful post! My relationship with one of my sisters is still damaged because of nasty, angry words on her part that were never resolved, in other words, I never got my say. She was perfectly fine with leaving the conversation dangling, because there was no attempt at empathy or true listening on her part. So your post really struck a chord with me!

    On the other hand, a similar thing happened with my other sister, and I was able to restore the relationship through the use of EFT with a trained counselor. I still need to work on the relationship with my younger sister, but I anticipate EFT to be helpful there as well. So sometimes we can continue with relationships by finding resolution for our feelings on our own. I know that I have.

  3. Teddie Says:

    I was married for 15 years, and whenever a disagreement arose or a topic that needed calm listening and discussion, my wife would get up from the table and say: “You’re making a mountain out of a molehill, so let’s not discuss it.” So, there I was, sitting in the dining room totally frustrated because there was something that needed discussing by mature adults, but she would not discuss it.

    She left me for another man and got herself into real mess. Now, I know better and I’m grateful to the Lord for leading me to books and Internet sites, such as this one, which teach about the importance of communication and how to do it, including “the 5 languages of love” and “how to apologize”. So, now at age 71, I look foward with eager anticipation to the woman the Lord brings to me to be my new wife, who I will cherish, cherish, cherish. I am truly a new person and all things have passed away by forgiveness and by praying blessings on the people in my past who have both intentionally and unintentionally hurt me. By blessing our “enemies” we are the main beneficiaries!

  4. Mary Kaye Says:

    I was in a long-term relationship, where very real things needed to be resolved, but there was no avenue. You cannot change anyone, Life just went on with a “bright face”, and the relationship did not end. It built a wall that blocked the vision of the real soul and love bond that did exist, and this truth became apparent after death. It was lethal. I believe the stress made both of us physically ill. He had diabetes, which ended terminally, and I am a cancer survivor. I believe that “unresolved issues” are one of the major emotional causes of cancer, and of illness. Unforgiveness is another. Our immune system is physically weakened and unable to handle the load. We need to develop emotional health for ourselves, and for each other, and for our children. All life and love needs us to do this.

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