One of the teachings that came out of the recent ecourse I took centered on Brene Brown‘s work dealing with what she calls superpowers and kryptonite. This is the idea that when you look at what you do really well and what you struggle with, you often find that the two are just different sides of the same coin.
The idea immediately resonated with me, and I could see examples in my own life quite easily. My sensitivity can act as a superpower, allowing me to empathize with others and connect with them on very deep levels. It also has inherent drawbacks, like struggling to maintain composure in high stakes situations and being easily hurt. I understood and embraced the lesson, but in the last few weeks it has really been coming home to roost.
I consider my communication skills to be a huge strength. I aced my verbal SATs and always had no problems writing papers. My last job centered me amid the IT folks, the legal folks, and the math folks, and a huge part of my work was to translate among them and facilitate their work together. I list clear verbal and written communication high on my skill list on my resume. It’s why I find writing this blog fun! And I’ve been repeatedly falling on my face in my communications with my partner Neal. Not just once, with a graceful recovery, but over and over again, to my frustration and distress (and his, too!).
I’ve been trying very hard to not beat myself up about this, but the truth is having this failing brought up over and over can bring me low, and quickly. I’m getting better at that piece, slowly but surely. But I’m still fumbling the communication ball. Neal will bring up his concerns and hurt feelings and instead of bolting I stay and listen (progress), but only with varying degrees of absorption. I all too easily enter a defensive mindset and/or panic at the thought of him leaving – both of which mean I’m not really being present and listening. I then shape up for a few days but then things will slip again and I’m back in the same unhelpful pattern (that is bigger than just this relationship).
The truth is, the details of our similarity to one another and our compatibility mean that his most important needs align with some of the things I most need to work on. It makes for a lot of high emotion. The weekend before last we hashed out some things and I determined to focus on being kinder. When I get riled up for any reason, even silly ones, I get “hard” – brittle, defensive, prickly, sharp-tongued. I decided that whenever I felt that kind of hardness take over, that I would concentrate on softening into kindness. I felt I was doing pretty decently. Not perfect, by any means, but a marked improvement.
Just last night emotions were high again, and Neal said he did’t notice any difference in me over the last week. My heart sunk. It ends up that my focus on general kindness was missing the mark of his biggest gripe, a lack of appreciation. It’s true that I don’t say thank you nearly enough. My listening skills were still too passive, and I should have actively asked after the biggest issue and the biggest thing I could do to immediately make him feel valued and respected. Things have been good over all, but the missteps have been painful for both of us. I think we’ve turned a corner now and will be able to work things out more easily going forward.
I’m equal parts pragmatic and romantic. I think you need love to make things work, but also a lot of work, too, especially once you move in together and are trying to learn to live with each other in the moment. I’m one hell of a determined, persistent (strength), stubborn, hard-headed (weakness) woman, and I’m going to learn my lesson this time and step out of the patterns that no longer serve me (and hurt those I love). I’m also not going to be ashamed of my weaknesses, but will share them and their continued transformation into strength.
PS – I am extremely grateful for a partner like Neal, with which I have grand adventures, tender moments, and the ability to have the hard conversations when needed. The honesty and transparency are amazing. He’s also the unofficial L3 proofreader! ❤