Here's Why We Should Talk to Each Other Differently

It's simple, really.

Posted Oct 21, 2018

Maine/David B. Seaburn
Source: Maine/David B. Seaburn

I am sitting with a friend and former colleague of mine, Bill Watson, Ph.D., University of Rochester Medical Center, who is telling me about his training in the modern analytic method of group psychotherapy. I am fascinated by his description of the emotional connectivity at the center of the method. Group participants are asked to share thoughts and feelings toward each other as they happen. The idea scares the heck out of me, as it also initially did Bill. But over time, he has come to see the value in plugging directly into the present expression of his inner life as it relates to others.

What intrigued me most was Bill’s description of how his own feelings in the moment were also ciphers for what others around him were feeling. His anxiety or sense of inadequacy was not only his own but were reflections of similar feelings in other group members. As Bill explains, this is “induction.” He explains that induction refers to “the process by which an electrical conductor becomes electrified when near a charged body.” In essence, through our emotional process, we electrify one another, often without even realizing it. As Bill explains, this is more than empathy, where one person can imagine what it is like to be inside another’s skin. Instead, “It feels like a direct visceral gutshot, completely bypassing conscious thought.”

Mostly we don’t recognize this emotional connectivity. Instead, we experience our emotions as exclusively individual. “What I feel is what I feel.” While this is true, we can easily miss how our feelings reveal how similar we are to those around us. In essence, “they feel me and I feel them.” Instead, we often become secretive about our emotional life and to protect it, may defend ourselves against the emotions of others, leading to division rather than connection.

I like the notion that this emotional linkage occurs while “completely bypassing conscious thought.” In that sense, our connection one to another is preverbal; it occurs by nature before we have the language to describe or express it.

How we then use language is critical. If we are able to tap into the electric current that runs through us all, it cannot help but shape what we say, how we say it, and what we do as a result. But if we do not recognize that we are linked at a gut level, it is much easier to speak from separation, from division, from “me against you,” rather than “me with you.”

As Bill Watson wisely notes, “My task [as a group leader] is to greet these feelings with interest and kindness, with curiosity and welcome, for these scruffy, tattered aliens that invade me with their ugly imperfections, their glaring flaws, their uncomfortable strangeness that make me feel so different from others…these aliens have much to give me.  They enrich me, they help me cultivate humility and empathy, they acquaint me with grief, they join me with the suffering of others if I let them, and, if I have eyes to see it, they open a path to healing, connection, forgiveness, and peace.”       

Let the people say “Amen.”

David B. Seaburn is a writer. His most recent novel is Parrot Talk. Seaburn is also a retired marriage and family therapist, psychologist and minister. Learn more about his writing at www.davidbseaburn.com.