One of my current personal practices is noticing when I’m feeling disconnected from someone and then, if I’m feeling brave enough, voicing my experience to them. I’ve also asked people in my life to tell me when they are having trouble connecting with me. It’s kind of like an ongoing experiment to test my emotional availability and presence.
Throughout this experience, I’ve gained a wealth of evidence for how myself and others deflect from sharing our honest in-the-moment emotions and experience. Metaphorically, I would describe the calling out process as if someone finally turned on the lights in the room. Whereas, it felt safe to ramble on in the dark about other people, stories, politics, sports and the weather, it now feels abruptly vulnerable and bright. Most people are not used to this so there is usually a moment of surprise, confusion, or defense. I have felt more and more okay with it, because I generally know what to expect.
And, although I’ve been going about this experiment quietly, I now think it is time that I share some of my findings. Here are the 4 Types of Emotional Deflectors:
#1 The Story Teller 🗣
Story, story and more story. You know I was at the store the other day and the cashier was getting all upset because she couldn’t find someone to come bag the groceries. Finally, I decided to bag them myself as she was shouting over the intercom, but I just think this store needs to hire more personable people because…. ENOUGH ALREADY! Are you listening to yourself? Do you realize that there are words coming out of your mouth, right now?
Hey, I know we all get caught in our day to day complaints about our partner, our boss, our work, our life, that guy, that girl, and so on, but let’s call it like it is. We are experiencing an underlying, ongoing, un-dealt with, emotional issue that we are not taking responsibility for and, instead of acknowledging it honestly, we are rambling on, blaming, or complaining.
Your job is to stop talking for a moment and feel. You can’t do a very good job of feeling while you’re talking.
#2 Mr./Mrs. Smarty Pants 🧠
We've all been in those disagreements about random stuff that seems to go off the rails. By the end, we are left wondering, "What are we even arguing about?" Is either of us really invested in *Facebook conspiracy theories?
*literal disagreement between Jenny and I
It can sometimes feel like we are the crazy person when we try to point out the deeper reality of our interactions. I am tempted to say that we may truly not understand that they are always having an emotional experience, but the fact that we are defending something makes me believe that we at least know that there is at least some feeling present on a subconscious level.
This is a common way for the intellectual types to deflect and it usually serves up enough confusion that it muddies the waters and makes it almost impossible to continue on in any direction. Your job is to stop hiding and justifying and start accepting responsibility for your feelings.
#3 Problem Solver 👨🔧
No, feelings don’t matter in this situation. All I said was that I wanted to finish this e-mail before I sat down for dinner and now, you’re upset. What do you want me to do?
Yep! Except, you got it all backwards. The truth is that now it actually doesn’t matter what you said. What matters is how YOU are feeling. Now, your resistance to admitting your own feelings has become the elephant in the room. Your job is to own your feelings, feel your feelings, and create a safe space for your partner where their feelings are okay.
#4 The Zombie 🤖
For some people, a natural strategy that they developed from childhood, was to go inside when things felt unsafe and scary. We also call this the freeze response. It’s common for some people to totally shut down when they feel overwhelmed, vulnerable, or blamed.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with this and it can be really helpful to identify your style. This person may be the type to go quiet, nod their head, and go watch hours and hours of television. They probably aren’t consciously trying to avoid feeling but, it has the same impact on their partners, nonetheless.
If this is you, your job is to start opening up and using your words. Even saying, “I don’t know what’s going on with me, right now” will go a long way.