Directness with People
After a very nice and long brunch with friends today, I’m using my Saturday evening to write a little more. A conversation during the day reminded me of a moment early in my studies to become a Grinberg Practitioner that was quite a strong learning experience. At the same time a great example or „verification“ of how I aspire to be with people.
A little bit about the structure of the studies to give you a background to my story: The training took place in a kind of seminar house a little bit away from civilization, in an intense week of learning every three months (12 weeks of training in total). During those courses we learned by watching our teacher give demonstration sessions, giving lectures, discussions and very importantly we were giving sessions to each other as students. So already during the week of training we got to try how it is to work with many different people. A group of around 30 students gives already a rich experience – which we were then going to increase and train with „real clients“ when we got back home.
So, over the course of this kind of training you get to know each other quite a bit, but during my very first week of studying I shared a room with two people whom I, obviously, hadn’t known before.
They seemed to be nice, we were germanly shy in the beginning, arriving late in the evening and going to bed fast. I had noticed that there was a slightly weird smell in the room that we stayed in, but never mind: I was really excited to be starting this new thing and still a bit unsure of what exactly I had gotten myself into.
The next days I was enjoying the training more and more and it was great to give and receive two sessions every day. This was intense, fun and challenging. Every session I tried to exchange with a new person that I hadn’t met before and it was a nice challenge to allow this intensity and see what I can learn from a new person every time. Both as the practitioner as well as a client.
Over the first couple of days I started to notice that the weird smell in our room, didn’t come from the room but from one of the people I shared it with and unfortunately it got stronger every day. It smelled like a mix of campfire-smoke, sweat and something indefinable. I stopped breathing through my nose when I was in my room and avoided being there at all, feeling extremely uncomfortable and disgusted.
I noticed that smell also during class and that I was not the only person who was disturbed by it. I saw that this woman often was one of the last people to be partnered when we were about to do a training session. And then people also started to talk about her. I also remember asking – how can she go around smelling like this? What kind of person is she? I’m not proud of it, but I really did look down on her.
As the days went by this took a lot of my attention besides the learning I actually wanted to focus on. I made a lot of effort not to look into her eyes in order to avert a situation where she would ask me if we should partner up. I started making appointments with people before hand in breaks to be sure I wouldn’t end up with her. I was checking with the assistants, if we did have to do a session with everyone or if we could chose not to. A lot of my energy went into avoiding her and simultaneously checking her all the time in order to keep safe…
I found it extremely uncomfortable to be in this situation and one day I had enough. I didn’t know what to do, because the only option I could think of was going to her and saying „you stink“ and that didn’t seem like a very nice thing to do. (Thoughts about being nice at some other point…)
I didn’t want to back-talk her with the other students so I went to my teacher and asked her if she has any advice on how to deal with this situation. At that moment I was especially concerned with the time of choosing training-partners and how much I really didn’t want touch her. I guess I was hoping my teacher would take care of the situation somehow, as she was responsible for us as a group.
But her answer was different than I expected. „I think you could tell her how you feel. If she wants to work with people, it will be relevant that they want to be touched by her. She might not be aware how this kind of smell affects others and appreciate your feedback. And even if she doesn’t want to change the smell, at least she’ll know that you don’t want to work with her and will be able to also take care that this won’t happen.”
I thought that this sounded a bit unrealistic – wishful thinking. That was during the lunch break. The rest of the day I was really excited, not sure if and how I should do this. In my head she would be really angry or hurt or it would just be the worst situation ever. And I would be the ass who said this to her, tell her that she stinks. In my head she was going to call me a bitch and hate me.
In all the breaks there were good reasons why it wasn’t the right moment – I was procrastinating.
Eventually I didn’t want to be a coward though and during dinner I sat near her, waiting until everyone had left and then asked her, if she would go take a little walk with me.
The first few moments were really weird. This awkward silence of having something to say and not knowing how, shaking slightly and breathing in order to get over the moment. Then I told her, that I didn’t want to work with her because her smell was so strong, that I didn’t want to touch her or be touched by her. For a moment we just walked quietly. I was relieved to have said, what I needed and at the same time waiting for her furious or devastated response.
Then she said „Thank you“.
The next day she didn’t wear her old sweaters and jacket, she didn’t smell as strongly anymore and it was very simple for the two of us not to work together. There was no more awkwardness; there was a clear distance but nothing complicated or unfriendly. I could easily look into her eyes and talk to her, without being afraid that I’d end up working with her.
In one of the last days of the course we even decided to work together for one session, which was totally fine. She and I didn’t get to be close friends, but I didn’t disrespect or look down on her anymore. Somehow, making space for my own need and taking care of my own borders, made it possible for me to leave her alone and let her be as well. Her being who she is didn’t pose a threat to my needs anymore and my attention could go to other things. I didn’t need to constantly watch out not to „slide into“ an unwanted situation.
It struck me how simple a situation that felt so complicated and socially sensitive was changed by directness. I was also extremely surprised by the sincere thank you that I received for a critical feedback I had given.
There have still been quite a few conversations that I didn’t take right away since then. I still have moments where I procrastinate for a while before doing the act. But the outcome of this experience has been a motivation in many uncomfortable conversations or social situation.
I really enjoy clarity and simplicity when I’m with people. I like to be able to look them in the eyes, without fear that they might see what I really think of them. When being open and outspoken about it, I don’t hide anything and can just look.
The moment of going up to a person and saying or asking what I need, is intense. Not knowing how she is going to react and what this will do to the relationship in the end is weird. Being direct can be scary still. But, instead of investing energy in guessing, hoping, dreading, avoiding, imagining and other hypotheses:
I much rather spend time and attention on finding out what the reality is. Find out whom this person is, how we will interact and meet if we both are being real. In the case with my colleague what happened was nothing like I would’ve imagined.
Since then in other situations my experience has been that it can be uncomfortable or even painful to be direct. Sometimes it’s scary. However, almost always the outcome is surprising and adding new options to my experience of human connection.
And instead of feeling drained, I gain energy from being direct. Every time that happens it makes me curious to find out more.
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