We don’t know what’s happened in peoples’ lives unless they tell us; and we can’t expect others to know the trauma that hurts us unless we let them know. Communication and feedback is what helps an organism to adapt and grow.
Don't let yourself go
'Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts
Yesterday I was out walking with one of my disabled clients. He has severe autism as well as Downs Syndrome, and is non-verbal. He suffers from anxiousness a lot. And one of the things that triggers his anxiety are dogs. When he was very young, he was attacked by the family dog.
As we walked, a young lady was coming towards us with her very large dog, not on a leash. It was a beautiful golden retriever, who came straight up to us. My client does what he always does, grab my arm suddenly, and hides behind me.
“It’s OK, she won’t hurt you, she loves people,” she said.
“Yes,” I replied, “and he [pointing to my client] is highly phobic of dogs.”
“Oh sorry, I didn’t know,” she replied, and grabbed her dog by the collar and finally led her away from us.
The thing that struck me about the incident was the time it took for her to realise there was a problem. It wasn’t until she was explicitly told that she intervened in the situation. Seeing my client’s reaction as they approached, and then his reaction when the dog came right up to us was not enough to suggest to her that she may need to take some kind of action. Her belief that there was no possible way that harm could come from her dog’s actions was the perceptual filter with which she operated.
I’ve been contemplating the issue of communication all week, ever since what I wrote on Steem about my experience with another of my non-verbal disabled clients. And then there was this piece by @tarazkp which also triggered some further reflection on how we communicate with one another, and how our capacity to speak and also to listen really impacts how we relate to each other.
The reality is we are never going to get it 100% right, 100% of the time. Even if we remain mindful of walking through the world in a non-violent way, there are going to be occasions where we do or say something that someone is going to get triggered, offended, or hurt by.
This is by no means an excuse to say or do whatever the heck we like; that would be a complete disregard and lack of care and courtesy for others. It is simply a reality.
We can try our best, however. If we walk through the world knowing that someone may get hurt by our words or deeds, then at least we are prepared to make amends or even prevent it from happening when we can see it coming.
The woman with the dog probably didn’t believe she’d ever need to ‘control’ her dog, because her worldview was that it would just never happen. She knew her dog, she knew she would never hurt anyone. The way to deal with the situation was to give us the feedback that the dog wasn’t dangerous. That wasn’t the issue.
What she didn’t know was that a young intellectually disabled man had suffered a trauma from a dog. To him, all dogs equal danger, pain, and hurt. Yes, even Golden Retrievers. My curiosity in all of this is whether or not she will change her behaviour — will she keep her dog on a leash when walking busy streets? Will she be more aware of who is approaching her and her dog? Who knows…
Change only happens with feedback; it’s one essential part of a system.
My client is actually a lot better than he was when I started working with him. We’ve been working at healing that trauma and coaching him to manage his responses to dogs. One of the things I’ve worked at doing is pointing out the difference between well-mannered dogs, and ill-mannered ones. Nowadays he’s probably only reacting to maybe 60-65% of dogs that we walk past. I always let him know how well he handled it, when he does. It’s important he is acknowledged for his efforts, so he knows he’s making progress, even if it is small. A little bit of praise makes all the difference.
He once told me (via his device) that he feels people don’t listen to him, or believe him because of his disability. I thanked him for telling me that, and asked him if he’d ever felt that I had been that way. He said only a couple of time (thankfully), and again I thanked him for telling me the truth. It was never my intention to come across that way, as I do think he is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met; but somewhere along the line, I was probably so wrapped up in my own stuff I inadvertently stepped out of presence with him.
We revisited that conversation this week, and he said it had never happened again after that, and he thanked me for showing him “respect and humility”. He told me how it’s especially important for him to feel seen and heard by those of us who are trained to help with communicate, because he doesn’t feel like that in the community. A bit like the woman with the dog, who just didn’t see his distress as we approached one another.
When it comes to feeling hurt, being acknowledged can go a long way to healing old, deep wounds. We don’t want to be mocked, derided, or disbelieved when we have the courage to speak up and say, “hey, I feel hurt by that.”
Like I said before, we never know when something we think is harmless is going to hurt another person. We shouldn’t use that to never say or do anything; but instead simply be mindful that it may happen. It’s easier to change our ways to prevent it happening, and maybe even rectify the situation after we receive the feedback.
If we want to tell others about our hurt, we also need to be open to listening. Communication is an ever-evolving two-way process, and feedback is the principle mechanism of growth and change.
Next time you feel hurt, or are told you have said/done something hurtful, remember that everybody hurts, sometimes.
Take care, and above all be kind.