Slicing it Thinner

Have you ever wanted to say something to someone, but just felt too nervous to do so, perhaps fearing how it might come across and despite your best intentions?

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by a situation that you didn’t know what to say at all?

If so, then I think this post might be for you…

I see it in my office, so if I follow my “ten times” rule, it happens ten times as often out in the real world of relationships. It doesn’t mean we are incompetent with words, either. But when emotions such as fear take over, we have very few resources to count on where we can access what it is we are trying to get across to our partners (or family members, or anyone of importance to us.)

Or perhaps addressing the “elephant in the room” is too challenging for you? Maybe thinking it would be easier to say “wow, there’s an elephant in the room,” metaphorically-speaking? It probably is easier to note the elephant in the room, with someone you might not feel entirely secure going and talking about the actual elephant. We would call this “slicing it thinner”: because the entirety of the conversation seems like too much to handle, you can always slice off a thinner piece and try handling that which feels more manageable.

In my practice, I want to have partners be able to turn towards one another and share “primary emotions” — unthinking, instinctive, visceral emotions that take some time to search for and understand before putting into words — and almost always this is an intensely-felt vulnerable experience. As a result, sharing that experience is not possible all the time, and even more challenging in the beginning of our work. As a result, I would have a partner try saying “this is really hard for me to share, because I don’t know how you will hear it and am scared by that.” So, the sharer is not going to the deepest depths of his or her vulnerability, but is helping their partner understand why it is so hard to do so: in this case because of the fear of how it will land. There is a step towards re-engagement in this statement, and can usually feel good to the person who took the step, which can lead to even more risks and steps being taken.

There is a bit of a catch in all of this…and that is that I’m used to slicing it thinner with clients in my office. I can have a hand in how the “reach” can be received by a partner, and I can also validate the risk that the sharer did take. When this takes place at home, validation and acceptance can happen. But not always, and the recipient might be frustrated as a result of not hearing all that he or she wants to hear. Instead, he or she sees just the slice being given to them and the whole pie is not, therefore noticing what is lacking as opposed to what they have. As much as it becomes the responsibility of the sharer to take as much of a risk as possible in the moment, it is up to the recipient to take as equally big of a risk and be okay with hearing and sitting with the experience of receiving what was shared, no matter the level of discomfort. Seeing it as a risk what did get shared, and not cowardice for what did not, can be helpful to everyone’s own process.