Teaching Too Much

"Intensity" by Mimi Stuart ©

How to convey knowledge without alienating your partner

The Expert

Have you ever delighted in sharing your expertise, only to be surprised by a cold response? Despite our passion about the subject, we may unknowingly lack connection to the person we’re talking to or have an attitude of superiority.

The mind is a wonderful thing. It gives us a sense of understanding and control in the world. Yet, the mind is in the realm of logic, facts, and objectivity. So, it’s easy to be logical, cool, and objective when conveying knowledge. Remaining in the realm of the mind can cause us to forget that both expert and novice are human beings with feelings and desires. When people feel as though they are lesser-than information-receiving vessels to be filled, they may feel objectified or alienated.

Basing your identity on the mind

Some people who particularly value the mind have come to base their identity and sense of adequacy on their mind. Their sense of self-worth then depends on being in the position of expert. When they are not conveying knowledge, they may feel adrift or inconsequential.

It helps to develop some warmth and ability to connect with people in order to best convey knowledge. In learning how to simply “be” with another person without teaching them, the relationship becomes more energetically alive. And they’ll feel more at ease whether they’re in the position of expert or not.

The psychology expert

Amateur psychologists as well as therapists have to be particularly careful not to use their knowledge to preach to, decipher, or label others. Even when such labeling is accurate, it feels demeaning to be scrutinized, dissected, and analyzed. Being told we are dysfunctional or codependent doesn’t inspire love, passion, or functionality. In fact, it will probably undermine any vestiges of passion. When we analyze others, we dehumanize and objectify them—that is, we look at them like rats in a lab.

Analysis of someone’s psyche leaves out that which is lovable in a person—their ineffable essence.

Understanding the psychological dynamics in our lives can help us enormously and allow us to improve our relationships. Yet, each person has to be in charge of his or her own psychological process. We can share our own experiences or describe how a psychological theory has been illuminating for us. But rather than label our partners, we should attempt to see the beauty in them, even beneath the pain and the flaws. Ideally, we enrich another’s life only by reciprocal connection and respect for each other’s autonomy.

An example

Imagine that Sheila’s partner Brian is frustrated with his boss. Sheila asserts that he’s having a mid-life crisis and is rebelling against his boss’s authority as he rebelled against his father as a child; it is time for him to grow up. Will Brian react positively to her analysis of him? Unlikely.

Instead, Sheila might help Brian explore his various feelings regarding the situation—if he’s willing to do so, that is. She might share her experience in a similar situation or even make some suggestions, but without an attitude of expertise about his psyche, and without secretly trying to manipulate him.

How do we know if we are alienating our partners?

The listener’s reactions generally tell us whether we’re speaking without any linkage and life force. If your listener has glazed-over eyes, you can bet that there’s no connection between you. If your listener is angry and rebellious, or cold and withdrawn, chances are you have an attitude of superiority.

Some listeners become acquiescent, which is a dynamic that may feel good to both the expert and the novice for a short while. Yet, subservient adulation is eventually draining and tiresome for the listener. You may remember the movie “The Squid and the Whale,” when the older son finally wakes up to the fact that worship of his father’s writing capabilities has not led to any sort of satisfying, reciprocal relationship.

How can we effectively convey knowledge?

The most precious gift we can give another is our presence in the moment. Great communication involves keeping in touch with what is alive in us and what is alive in the other. This is also known as “being” with another person, and is much more appreciated than doing something to them, such as lecturing, improving, or showing off to them.

Communication from the heart is epitomized by Martin Luther King’s riveting “I have a Dream” speech—a far cry from detached, dogmatic droning. The speech speaks volumes over and above the remarkable content, because the connection King has with his own heart and that of the audience is alive with nuance, energy, and passion. Although we all have our own style, some quiet and others outspoken, we can move our own mountains by keeping in touch with that which moves within us and within others.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Too Responsible to Enjoy.”

Recommended References:
“The Voice Dialogue Series” (CDs), by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone.

“The Rational Mind” and “The Psychological Knower” (CDs,) by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone.

5 thoughts on “Teaching Too Much

  1. F

    Thank you so much Alison!
    I found your first book incredible helpful and look forward to the new one.
    Your dedication and attention to detail regarding communication and human interaction is remarkable. You’re an insightful human being!

  2. F

    Dear Alison
    On a recent outing my husband couldn’t keep his eyes off the waitress’s breasts and commented how scantly she was dressed while making himself more attractive by arranging his hair and sucking his stomach in. It was an innocent comment that doesn’t happen very often but I felt hurt by it. Lately he’s also been improving himself physically by exercising more. I was unable to express my hurt because I felt silly being jealous about such a trivial thing but spoiled the night by withdrawing emotionally. Perhaps it was the realisation that eventhough he’s circumspect and measured regarding flirting, he also has a roving eye/vanity I hadn’t detected/paid attention to before. Maybe I feel threatened by all this…
    My question: how do I balance felling and expressing hurt with his desire to freely admire other people?
    I don’t want to be a control freak and pride myself of being open minded and tolerant when it comes to flirting but this situation arose quite strong feelings within me!

    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you for your question. Jealousy is a difficult emotion to handle and to act on. It’s important to figure out whether he is acting inappropriately or not. In either case, you should handle yourself with dignity, and without displaying hostility or insecurity, which would backfire by making you less attractive. Sometimes it’s best to fake self-confidence, sometimes you have to speak up (still with self-confidence, but without being controlling), and other times, you have to take action–such as doing more things on your own and maybe becoming a little more unpredictable.

      This is tricky. You become more desirable if you retain your self-confidence and avoid controlling him. You appear to have more self-confidence if you can respond without showing insecurity. Yet if he is truly being inappropriate, you might speak up without appearing hurt. Instead, you might say something about it with self-confidence and humor, “hey she does look good, but I’m losing a little interest in this dinner here tonight. Do you want to have dinner with her or me?” Keep your sense of humor and calmness.

      The fact that he is exercising more and staying in good shape is a good thing and shouldn’t threaten you. Instead, show appreciation for how good he looks. You don’t want him to stay with you because he is getting out of shape and doesn’t feel good about himself. And this doesn’t mean that you have to work out as much as he does and look perfect. While it is good to remain physically healthy and vibrant and take care of yourself, much of a person’s self-confidence comes from the inside–continuing to grow, to have interests, friends, and activities in life that you are interesting and excited about, knowing who you are, and having fun, and having appropriate boundaries as well–that is, being willing to walk away if things become bad enough.

      If he has a constant roving eye, or you feel that he is flirting excessively, or that he is on the lookout for another relationship, talk to him, but do so from a place of self-empowerment, not control over him. Tone of voice displaying honesty, kindness, and self-empowerment–that is, knowing what you want in your life–are key. Something like, “It’s normal for men and women to appreciate other attractive people. I have no interest in being controlling and preventing you from looking at other women, but I want to be in a relationship where we treat each other as special and the most important person in each other’s life. Is that what you want too?”

      Also, you might make sure you continue to do some other things in your life so that you are not becoming too predictable, or too identified with being just a mother (if you have children), or always home for him. Desire requires that both people grow. Dress well, see friends, take a class, leave a note when he gets home that you’re visiting your sister or a lecture or yoga class, or for him to meet you at a restaurant or in the park.

      I have a video and a blog on jealousy that you might look at:

      “How to handle a jealous partner & your own jealousy”

      I’m also coming out with a book in a couple of weeks called “Desire and Desirability,” which is about the Pursuer/Distancer dynamic, and how to avoid becoming the Pursuer so that you stop pushing your partner away. This could be a relevant topic for you to consider.

      All the best.


  3. Pingback: Analyzing people: “You’re just like your father!” | Healthy Relationships and Solutions to Happiness and Love

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