So my neighbour has a dog that barks non stop and it drives me bonkers.
“What are on you about now Cat?” I hear you ask! Well this encounter with my neighbour reveals unhealthy communication techniques that people use in relationships.
Have you ever brought up an issue with your partner or anyone and wondered how they’ve managed to twist it back on you?
Notice how it scrambles your brain and nothing gets sorted out?
Communication skills are a big part of how I help couples move forward from a space of gridlock to a space of growth.
I want to use this example of my neighbour to illustrate how NOT to communicate in your relationship/s. My inconsiderate neighbour perfectly highlights how insidious some of these unhealthy communication styles are and how they roadblock any resolutions.
When I told my neighbour a few weeks ago very politely and assertively about her dog barking for 13 hours a day from 6am outside my bedroom window she replied in all the typical deflective and manipulative ways that I teach my couples to stop doing.
I really had to take deep breaths to keep my patience and not be dragged down her dizzying vortex.
My neighbour kept throwing the spotlight away from the problem that is her responsbility back onto me. She was focussing on the fact I worked nights rather than the fact that their neglecting their poor dog and keeping it outside and alone for 13 hours a day is causing the problem. I should be able to enjoy days off where I can sleep in regardless of my work schedule however the neighbour started to deny my polite assertions. She kept putting it back onto me and insinuated I was the one with the problem and there was nothing wrong with her neglected dog. She also kept insisting that none of the other neighbours had a problem with it and thus invalidating my complaint. This actually isn’t the case and other neighbours are very annoyed by her dog but if I wasn’t feeling confident in my cause imagine how that would’ve shaken me and made me give up.
My neighbour kept deflecting again and again away from the fact that she was the one at fault and her dog was a problem and refusing to take responsibility. When have you ever encountered someone doing something like this to you?
This is a very common technique in emotionally abusive relationships. Imagine being in a relationship for years and this technique always being used on you so you never feel heard or validated.
Deflection is a way we deflect blame. It is a kind of projection. It’s like the fruit fly of defence mechanisms!
Basically, when the fault lies with us, if we are a deflector, we project the blame and fault onto the person raising the fault. We hold up the mirror that’s been pointed at us and turn it back at the other person. This can stonewall any conflict resolution in a relationship.
Deflection happens we can’t take responsibility for something we’ve done wrong and feel good about ourselves at the same time. You see children after they spill something in the kitchen and they might blame it on the drink or the glass..
People that use deflection are not really hearing you or tackling the problem- they’re trying to divert attention back onto you as quickly as possible.
Deflection is an unhealthy way to escape self awareness.
Here are some examples of deflection…
Say, when an abusive partner blames their partner for their own abusive behaviour saying it’s their fault they abused them because they didn’t say…react appropriately/have dinner ready/do what they were told/dare to try to say no or erect healthy boundaries etc… “I was only phyiscally violent to you because you didn’t have my dinner ready on time” is an awful example of deflection. You choose to abuse someone and can’t blame someone for your own abusive actions.
Or when a partner gives feedback to their partner about something they’re doing wrong and instead of taking it on board they think to themselves, “Oh she’s just on her period or she’s just pre-menstrual.“
Or when someone does something very hurtful to someone and they don’t own it but instead say, “Oh it’s because of his/her mental health problems/mental health diagnosis“ “Or s/he’s just triggered because of their…….. trauma/abuse/childhood/trust issues” etc.. They can sidestep any responsibility here by lumping it all onto whatever label they choose.
Or when someone does something wrong but instead of owning it they say your reaction is “your own shit and your own projections.”
Or when a partner is abusive and the partner being abused stands up to it and gets frustrated and angry at the mistreatment. The abusive partner using deflection tactics says to their protesting partner that need to see a therapist for their “anger issues.”
Another example is when a parent is making mistakes raising their child but rather than own and realise that they put that all onto the child, effectively ‘scapegoating’ him or her.
How to stop Deflecting
To be able to repair rifts in a relationship you have to be able to ‘see’ yourself with a new self awareness.
You must to be able to accept that you are an imperfect being that makes mistakes and take responsibility for your actions. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
It’s important to feel okay with making a mistake.
I teach a lot of my couples listening skills, the sort we are never taught in schools.
If you stop and actually listen to your partner you can stop going straight into knee jerk responses or feeling like you have to defend yourself.
Don’t interrupt unless you need to clarify something.
Don’t feel like you have to jump in to fill the silence once your partner has finished talking.
It’s okay for a few seconds of silence as you ponder what they’ve said.
Try to echo back to your partner what you’ve heard them say. This can clarify that what you’re hearing is indeed what they’re trying to communicate.
You do not have to agree with what they’ve said but this important step helps you to understand clearly what they’re saying and it allows your partner to feel heard.
It can be so rewarding working with a therapist to discover how to spot your own defence mechanisms you usually lean back on in your relationships and start to work on challenging them.
Working with a therapist like me can lead to the patience and strength to openly listen to criticism.
Another important skill to develop is standing firm and standing your ground when you are feeling like the defence skills of your partner are starting to derail you.