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Feeling Dismissed in Your Relationships? Time to Be Heard

By doing now what you couldn't do then, you repair the past in the present.

Key points

  • A common problem in relationships is that one person's feelings are dismissed, not heard, or not taken seriously.
  • Often this is tied to old childhood wounds that get triggered in the present.
  • Healing the past and changing requires you to speak up, push back, and let others know how you feel.
Alexandra_Koch/pixabay
Source: Alexandra_Koch/pixabay

You make suggestions at work, but they seem quickly discounted. Or, you try to tell your partner about your stressful day, and they interrupt you, look at their phone, or do the equivalent of mansplaining; or they don't follow through on what you ask them to do—they forgot, didn’t hear you, they say. You feel invisible, dismissed.

This is one of the most common complaints I hear from couples I work with: One partner feels that they have no voice, are not heard, and by the time they see me, they’re fed up.

Some of us are obviously more sensitive to such interactions than others, and childhood experiences are always part of the mix. Middle children, for example, often say they felt overlooked and forgotten among the gaggle of siblings.

The “lost child” in the alcoholic family feels much the same: Where they coped by withdrawing, their siblings found more assertive ways of getting attention–the hero, the rebel. Or, you may have grown up with dominating parents where children were seen but not heard.

Early experiences of feeling dismissed become part of the problem: Not only because you continue to be sensitive to these slights and hurts as an adult, but when triggered, you automatically slip into that “little kid” response: You feel one-down, angry but powerless, and have a hard time speaking up or pushing back.

Time to speak up and push back. Here’s how:

Talk about the larger pattern when calm.

Even though you’re frustrated yet again with your partner looking at their phone while you’re trying to talk, or mansplaining, or they've let the garbage sit for two days, and you’re fed up, this is not the time to make your case. Your frustration likely only likely triggers their defensiveness, and you’ll both get stuck in an argument over whose reality is right. You lose your point and voice.

Instead, pick a time when you are both calm and talk about the larger pattern of behavior that you’ve noticed: The frequent (don’t say always) looking at the phone, the mansplaining, interruptions, or the lack of follow through.

Avoid getting into the weeds; own your problem.

At this point, they may get defensive, want you to supply evidence when they did any of this, or feel you’re just complaining and dismiss what you’re saying yet again). Don’t take the bait or go down that rabbit hole. Say instead that the point is that this hurts your feelings, that you feel dismissed or unheard, and that you realize this is your reaction but that it bothers you.

Say what you want them to do.

Again, think big pattern but be concrete. Say, Stop interrupting me or looking at your phone when I'm talking; agree on deadlines for getting chores/requests done. By being clear and behavioral, you avoid the miscommunication of their thinking that they’re doing what you want, can't get it right, and you're never satisfied. Move forward, avoid getting into the weeds of the past, and let them know how they can help solve the problem. Then, thank them when they follow through—or follow up if they don't.

Feeling dismissed on the job.

Feeling dismissed on the job is tricky because you don’t have an equal relationship: As an employee, you are automatically one down. This is not the place to talk about hurt feelings, or your neglectful parents; you’ll wind up seeming high-maintenance. Instead, talk about your problem with your supervisor in work terms, and ask what you need to do to have your ideas better fit the company's needs.

Like most old wounds that we are sensitive to and trigger us, the key is doing now what you couldn’t do as a child—letting others know how you feel, what bothers you, and what you need. By doing this, you not only solve those problems that have been dogging you but, in the process, heal those childhood wounds.

References

Taibbi, R. (2017). Doing couple therapy: Craft & creativity in intimate relationships. New York: Guilford.

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