As the world struggles to embrace holistic health, even staunch supporters cry foul when confronted with holistic communication skills.
It seems that ideas like “taking the whole person into account” and “understanding the underlying issues” in the arena of interpersonal communication are simply too much for most people.
My fascination with holistic communication skills began in the 1980s in high school psychology class. We had just studied a chapter on a phenomenon called micro-expressions, lightning-fast facial expressions that often contradict the primary verbal message.
I was intrigued that someone could utter the words “thank you” while their face simultaneously flashed a quickie expression that said something more along the lines of “f*** you!” Fascinated, I learned to observe a different level of interaction, eventually studying the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and non-verbal communication.
Hidden, underlying feelings are everywhere.
We are rarely taught to value our feelings, especially the darker or socially unacceptable ones. In fact, most people are punished for feeling angry, resentful, afraid, jealous, spiteful, rebellious, greedy, nervous, and so forth.
Fearing rejection or punishment, we learn to hide darker feelings, which quickly assume their position beneath our words, breaking through to the surface—often at the most inopportune times—through facial expressions, voice tones, hard blinking, stiff posture and other non-verbal phenomena.
Fortunately, most people pretend not to notice. We practice avoiding our own underlying, socially unacceptable feelings, as well as those of others. Who wants to deal with all the ugliness?
The bizarre woman who forced me to communicate holistically.
I am a participant and supporter of psychiatric orgone therapy. Brainchild of Dr. Wilhelm Reich, this bold and holistic, body-centered psychotherapeutic model aims to dissipate emotional armoring, the rigid patterns of muscle tension that serve to repress and hold back powerful yet “unacceptable” emotions
In one particular session, I had thanked my doctor, Mary Lou MacIlvaine, for something she did that I found helpful. Her reply was, “I heard the words, but what did your eyes say?”
“I’m not sure, but I guess I was glaring at you as I thanked you,” I confessed.
“Yes, you were and you tend to do that. So, let’s just say that from now on—in here—you follow any ‘thank you’ with a ‘f*** you.’”
Now that is holistic. It honestly took into account the whole of my feelings on the matter. The next time I felt to thank her, I did so, followed by a familiar resentment and a solid curse in her direction. To my amazement, I felt complete because my communication was complete. My underlying resentment of this crazy lady who had been challenging my dearest assumptions for months was finally coming through.
Of course, you must think I am nuts, but consider the following:
The way-too-nice woman who continually does for others, and never complains except under her breath.
The super tough guy that looks like a scared little boy in the briefest moments of vulnerability.
The child who promises to obey and reminds mom and dad how much he loves them, then promptly continues playing with a scowl on his face.
The preacher who entertains prostitutes on the side. The prostitute, alluring and sexy on the outside, hates the man with a passion while letting him have his way with her.
The man called “Mr. Natural” who, at night, takes out his strong box, kept under lock and key, then pulls out a Hostess Twinkie and pops it in his mouth!
The enlightened one who embraces the Universal laws of love and light, guiding others toward certain fulfillment and prosperity, who silently stresses over money and can barely pay the rent.
And so forth. The above are not merely examples pulled out of thin air, but real life scenarios that I have personally encountered as a therapist and coach. In other words, underlying causes of mental, emotional and relationship problems are for real. They are continually brewing just under the surface and must be dealt with if we are to become mentally, emotionally and spiritually whole.
The problem is, these issues are ugly!
So is a fatty liver, a leaky gut and an intestinal parasite. In the holistic community we have no problem slinging these terms around as if we have unveiled a fine gem. Why not embrace and express all of our ugly feelings when we feel them? If we are committed “whole-ists” then why do we bite back the part of our message that is the ugliest?
We hold back because we want to keep our jobs, spare our children, preserve our marriage, keep the public peace and stay out of jail. Holding back raw emotion is the wise thing to do in most situations.
What’s the answer, then?
Some people think the answer is to find a safe place to “let it all out” like I have suggested with the holistic thank you technique. This is worthwhile, but not the ultimate answer. The solution lies in the mature expression of our deeper feelings.
Feelings and attitudes of all kinds exist. To pretend otherwise, or cover up the underlying tension, is like treating surface symptoms and only acknowledging part of the person. The whole truth remains half-buried and this does not lead to healthy, whole, honest relationships.
The problem is, are you supposed to express your anger “in a mature way” to your boss who’d rather not hear it? Probably not. We’re in a real pickle between the demands of the social world and the realities of emotional life.
Still, there is a place to start—with the people closest to you. Slowly become aware and learn to express your whole self in a mature and respectful way. Regardless of what you may be feeling on the surface or 20 leagues under, there is a mature and respectful way to communicate it and give those you care about feedback from your entire self; the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. It’s all part of living holistically.
Mike Bundrant is a life coach and founder of the, which offers training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming. He is also host of Mental Health Exposed, a Natural News Radio program. To learn more about natural sleep and receive a free life coaching session, please visit inlpcenter.org.
Editor: Mel Squarey