The Pink Elephant in the Room

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Image credit: photo by Andrew Worley on Unsplash.

Is there a pink elephant in your living room that is no one is talking about? Is your best friend drinking too much or are you and your partner arguing constantly? Are your children consistently getting in trouble at school? Is your dad beginning to lose his memory on a consistent basis?

The phrase there is an elephant in the room or others like it refers to the existence of a significant problem or issue that is obvious yet no one is willing to acknowledge or discuss it. I believe that most of us have come across this phenomenon at some point in our lives.

The issue may not be as huge as those mentioned, yet is still problematic to some degree and not being addressed. Often, too, we may have grown so comfortable with the situation that we consider it normal. We may not even entirely recognize that there is a problem at all, and we may just be left with a vague sense of unease in our daily lives.

Check in with yourself regarding your current relationships; do they bring a smile to your face, or do you feel as if your interaction with the person drains you of energy or makes you tense or angry? Do you look forward to seeing this person – whether it is your spouse, child, or friend? And if not, why not?

There Are A Myriad Of Reasons For Ignoring The Pink Elephant

Including:

  • Fear: At the heart of most of our reluctance to have these difficult conversations is fear. Many of us fear confrontation.. We worry that the other person may get upset, angry, or sad, and, ultimately, a fear of rejection by the other person. Who doesn’t want everyone to like them?
  • We also might fear that the problem may grow if discussed, as if giving it our attention will add fuel to the fire. We might worry, too, that even if we were to talk about it, it might still not help, and so we add a fear of disappointment or failure to the mix.
  • Denial: If we are aware of the problem at all, then we might have thought to ourselves that the problem will go away by itself. Denial is usually more comfortable than facing the issue head on, especially if we don’t see an immediate solution. It’s as if we feel that if we acknowledge that there is a problem, then we will either need to do something about it, or feel uncomfortable or guilty not doing it.

However, the reality is that talking about a problem can only benefit us, and not doing something most certainly means the problem will not go away on its own.

For instance, in the case of a friend who is abusing alcohol, even if she may not change (and perhaps she might), just taking the opportunity to talk about our own feelings may help our own emotional state.

And, addressing real problems in a relationship gives us the opportunity to work through them, while not addressing it will certainly mean that the problem will continue.

Initiating A Tough Conversation:

First, Remove the Emotional Charge

Attempt to first work through the heavy emotions before bringing up the subject. This may mean waiting a day (or a week) or writing down our thoughts and feelings before speaking with the other person.

You will know when the time is right if you can begin the conversation without becoming overly emotional (whether that be anger, tears, or frustration). This does not mean that we ignore our emotions, only that we allow ourselves to be in a calm and grounded state before initiating the conversation.

Start With “I”

Begin your sentences with “I”, for instance, “I feel sad and angry when we argue. I feel ashamed of the way I act towards you.” This practice will help in lessening the other person’s feeling of being attacked.

Active Listening: When your partner, friend, or child responds, repeat back to them what they have said. For instance, if your child says “I hate school. Everyone’s mean to me,” then repeat the words back, perhaps with the words, “I hear that you are saying that you hate school, and that everyone is mean to you. Is that right?”

Removing Blame Or Shame

Many interventions fail because the interventionee feels even worse about their current situation when confronted by family and friends – it is usually not the case that a person doesn’t know about an issue, but that they have covered it up in their conscious mind. And so it is not about assigning blame or labeling the other person as a failure in our conversation, more about an expression of our feelings when _X_ situation arises (as mentioned above).

As part of this, really tune in and examine your motives around the conversation that needs to happen. Are you doing this out of a sense of righteousness, or out of a genuine need for emotional clarity or happiness?

Not Always Necessary To Have A Solution Or Answer

Often, we feel as if we must go into a tough conversation already knowing the answer or solution. However, especially in the case of long-standing or addictive behaviors (including arguing!), an easy solution, may not be forthcoming. It’s even possible that you find that you have things you need to work on, too.

Be okay with being wrong.

Barton Goldsmith, PhD and psychotherapist, on commenting about handling difficult conversations.

Furthermore, it is also very important for the other person to come up with ideas on their own – this way, there will be buy-in to the solution and ensure good feelings all around.

Getting Professional Help Resolving Pink Elephant Type Problems And Difficult Life Issues

If you feel as if you need support with an issue or concern, or if you have tried to address the issue and not been successful, it might be helpful to speak with a licensed psychotherapist.

A therapist can help to find the root causes of the concern, as well as teach ways to hold emotional conversations in a supportive and loving way.

At Nassau Guidance & Counseling, we work with individuals, couples, and families, helping each person to experience more joy and happiness on their life’s journey.

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