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I could see it in her eyes. I scared her to the point of shivering. At the time, I didn’t care. I didn’t apologize. But a week after the incident, the guilt of the pain I caused started to set in, and I knew that changes had to be made.
This wasn’t the first time my aggressive and combative communication style had killed a relationship. It was a toxic behavioral pattern — one that I was repeating too many times to count — and it was impacting my life both personally and professionally.
It wasn’t just the toxic words that came spewing out of my mouth but the pent-up rage and anger I unleashed that was highly problematic. I would also use manipulation to twist other people’s words and make them feel bad. Classic narcissism was at play and in overdrive during these moments.
The truth? I couldn’t handle what was being told to me because if I were to admit that she was right, it would put my identity into question. It was exposing the truth of who I was: insecure. And that felt like hell to my ego.
It marked a critical turning point — an experience that forced me to reflect on my mindset. I could either continue on this path of destruction and pain while continuing to hurt people or make a bigger commitment to change who I was and how I felt about myself. The latter would lead me to the happy and healthy relationships I always wanted.
The trouble was, I didn’t know the steps how. What does healthy communication look like under pressure? All I had ever known was to use anger and aggression to win an argument and be right. It was time to unlearn these toxic traits.
Healing the wounded entrepreneur
While I had already put in some work towards my personal development, I hadn’t fully committed to addressing the challenge head-on. At the time, I was aware of my unhealthy communication style, but I didn’t know the root cause. This meant digging a little deeper to unearth what exactly was triggering these toxic traits.
I discovered the conversations I had triggered a fear response from events in my past — scenarios that left me hurt by those I cared about the most. My feelings of “this isn’t good enough” were from moments in my childhood. What should have been calm, level-headed conversations put me into full-on defense mode that shifted my emotions and put my back up. Instead of responding with the same composure as the other person, I responded like a child who had been hurt or a demanding teenager who didn’t get everything they wanted. Immaturity in challenging times was my way of being.
The latter was especially problematic because what should be a healthy conversation turned into a heated argument, and nothing would be resolved. More tension and eggshells ensued, and relationships broke down because I became unapproachable and instilled fear in others. My lack of apology was a “punishment” to others — an act of my ego to once again protect itself. My inability to take responsibility blocked me from transforming, which was my ultimate blind spot.
Reducing reaction into response
Each of us has a different way of reacting or responding to events, which are shaped by a number of factors. I have found the following had the most significant impact on communication with my clients.
- State of mind at the time: For example, if a stressful situation occurs prior to a conversation, it can greatly impact how you communicate.
- Unhealed events from the past: Emotional traumas such as bullying or abuse, betrayal and loss can also affect how we engage with others.
- Beliefs and values: What is happening and our level of passion for those topics can dictate how a conversation might go.
- Self-awareness: Your overall level of consciousness and self-awareness can affect how you communicate.
Shifting from an unconscious reaction to a conscious response doesn’t happen overnight. I had to work consistently over time on things like daily meditation, which I increased in duration and found most impactful.
I also had to start to become aware that not everyone was a threat and why that was the case through coaching, which meant opening up about what happened to me. I started understanding what happened to me in the past and the beliefs I carried with me because of those events. These ah-ha moments were the breakthroughs that changed me.
As a result of these interventions, I had to acknowledge and admit that what I was doing was not okay the next time it happened. This took vulnerability, which I felt was a weakness at the time. But when I learned that It would actually help me to get what I and others needed — connection — that encouraged a massive shift.
Finally, getting alcohol and substances out of my life was huge because the toxicity was still in my body for days, and that made me irritable. They fueled depression, which lowered my confidence, and the lack of true confidence in myself was another challenge.
When we know who we are with confidence, we can communicate healthily. When we struggle to own ourselves, the words we speak reflect that confusion, so we try to shut others down from exposing that truth.
My leadership went from struggling to connect to participating in highly emotional conversations that would once trigger me to fight or bail. I became increasingly aware of the feelings inside of me, and through that awareness, I was able to better manage my feelings and how I respond.