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Developing Your
"Communication Membrane"

Excerpts from Making Healthy Families

Making Healthy Families

By Gayle Peterson, Ph.D.

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Although most of us are aware that communicating is an important element of relationships, we do not realize the full impact on our emotional and physical health. Research on heart disease1 reveals that an inability to communicate can contribute to large and rapid fluctuations in blood pressure which can ravage an already weakened cardiovascular system.

Psychologist James Lynch describes the concept of a "communication membrane" which exists between people in a family. The better able family members are at identifying and expressing their feelings, the more quickly their blood pressure returns to normal when emotional excitement occurs. However when we are unable to identify and verbally express our feelings, our blood pressure remains more volatile.

Biofeedback research shows that patients with heart disease often suffer increased and prolonged bouts of high blood pressure because their bodies experience the feelings, but there is no release of this pressure through effective means for resolving conflict and being understood. They are literally "trapped inside their bodies" unable to express themselves. Dr. Lynch calls this "alexithymia" which translated from Latin means "no words for feelings." The inability to communicate our feelings is physically as well as emotionally distressful.

Patterns of ineffective communication can be passed down through generations when we grow up in families that have poorly developed communication skills. A child's self esteem develops in relationship to the people who love that child. Being understood is a primary and validating experience we all need in order to develop a solid sense of ourselves in the world. However, in some families, even naming the feelings a child is experiencing may be difficult, leaving him or her vulnerable to alexithymia in adulthood.

Throughout our adult lives, our sense of self worth is linked to our need to commune with others, to feel understood. "Commune" is defined in Webster's dictionary as "to converse together intimately, to have spiritual intercourse with." Effectively communicating with other family members is not a luxury, but a basic emotional need.

The ability to negotiate our needs in the family and our capacity to solve problems is also a function of our ability to identify and articulate feelings. If we fail to develop a healthy "communication membrane" in our families, we are vulnerable to increased stress resulting from misunderstandings and fractured relationships.

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Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

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