Reality Check: Mixed Messages

We have lots of ways to communicate. We use words, of course, both written and spoken. But we also communicate through facial expressions, tone, and actions. If you’re not sure how we communicate using actions, think about the message sent by a slamming door. That’s communication, isn’t it?
Despite having all those methods, clear communication can be surprisingly difficult, even within ourselves. In his book, Reality Therapy, Dr. Robert Wubbolding talks about a rebellious adolescent who wants to be left alone, yet sends a message that his parents interpret as, “I need to interfere.”
If we’re feeling dissatisfied, it’s worth checking that we’re clear with ourselves about what we want to satisfy.
Over the last year, I don’t need to remind you that we have been living different lives than usual. Our routines, social events, freedom, even opportunities for fun have all changed. It’s disconcerting. Even those who thrive on change may still find it difficult when change is thrust upon us, rather than chosen by us.
And thrust upon us, it has been!
It’s understandable that some are having a difficult time. Feelings and outlooks are different. Some who used to be trusting are now suspicious. Some who used to be courageous are now fearful. Some who are normally cheery are now despondent.
The Reality Therapy approach puts significant emphasis on self-evaluation. That is, look at what you want and what you’ve been doing, and ask, “How is this working?” Make your own assessment of how things are going and create a plan according to your evaluation. It’s empowering to do your own evaluation and follow up by making your own choices.
Yet, it can be difficult to do that assessment. For example, say you are sitting at home feeling that you don’t ever want to go out among people again. You have reasons; you can justify your position. So when you self-evaluate, you could say, “Yes, this behaviour is what I want. I want to stay safe, so I am avoiding people. This is my plan.”
That’s fine. That is, it’s fine unless you are miserable. Misery could indicate that what you are doing is perhaps not such an effective choice.
How can you know? The suggestion I’ll offer comes from Dr. Glasser’s five basic needs: survival, power, love/belonging, freedom, and fun.
To be satisfied, we need to find ways to satisfy all the needs. We can get (and send) mixed messages when our needs conflict.
While avoiding people may help to satisfy the need for survival, how about other needs? Freedom: Do you feel trapped by fear? How about power: Do you have the courage to go out? How about love/belonging: Has withdrawal changed your perception of being accepted and loved? Finally, how’s your need for fun being satisfied?
If you are feeling down, it can be hard to determine the precise cause. Thinking about whether there are gaps in how we satisfy our needs may be a good place to start.
It can take a huge effort to call a friend, get out of the PJs, or drag oneself out for coffee. If it will satisfy more of our basic needs, is it worth the effort?
How do you satisfy your basic needs?

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