Selective Hearing, Seeing, & Speaking

Years ago I worked with a man who lives with autism. He was in his 40′s at the time and had been diagnosed as deaf and mute. While it’s true that he does not speak; it did not take me long to recognize that he would respond when I said things, sang things, or did silly things that appealed to him. I’m a curious fellow and so I experimented. I thought perhaps he was reading lips and so I made sure he could not see my face when I spoke.

it couldn’t have been more simple. He wasn’t deaf, he simply ignored people he didn’t like and chose not to respond to anything he found boring or unpleasant. I was excited about my discovery and shared it with the professionals who served him. They refused to believe me. To prove my point I stood in the next room from him and in a conversational tone I said, “McDonald’s?” He instantly ran to my car. To this day the bureaucrats in his life still  believe that he is deaf.

You can’t make people see what they’re not willing to see. This is selective vision and rigidity of beliefs. Just as the religious fanatic is unyielding dogmatic about their ONE true way to God, many of us are unwilling to expand our perspectives or change what we believe about ourselves, those we love, and the world we live in. Rigidity is fear and the more afraid we are, the more we see things as only either black or white.

We expect children to have “selective hearing”  when they’re very young. We expect that the developmentally disabled may not move fully into maturity. The rest of us need to get our shit together. Too often we say, “I don’t know” when what we really mean is, “I don’t want to know”, “I don’t want to say”, or “I don’t want to deal with it.”

Each of us has a filter through which we receive, process, and provide communication. I frequently quote Anais Nin who said, “We see things not as they are, but as we are.” Our past experiences create expectations of how we will be treated and how we ought to treat others. We come to have a worldview based on what we were taught. Our worldview sets the parameters within which we gather, make sense of, and act upon that which we perceive. Our perceptions expand if we examine the filter we use, though most of never do.

The degree to which we are closed minded and pessimistic is usually an indicator of how much we are afraid. The world can be a scary place. Many of us seem to have the perception of a horse wearing blinders. We only focus on what’s directly in front of us and we maintain a narrow focus akin to a bull in a china shop. Others of us seem to have only peripheral vision. We fear the things that lie before us and so we are seeking distraction. Still others seem only to be looking over their shoulders in fear that the past is catching up to us and concern that history will repeat itself.

If we’re going to move away from being apathetic or overwhelmed, we’ve got to become willing to understand ourselves and ultimately each other. This necessitates clear and direct communication. It’s not crazy to talk to yourself. It’s healthy. Just watch your tone and listen carefully. Be at least as kind to yourself as you are to others.

When communicating with those you fear, dislike, or don’t care about, use an “economy of words.” Say things concisely and directly. Get your point across and be assertive without being aggressive.

In communicating with those we care about, vulnerability is the key.  I’m convinced that 90% of miscommunication would be eliminated if we all simply said, “Here’s what I’m feeling, wanting and needing.” This is terrifying to most of us. We fear rejection and so we communicate in veiled ways as if saying things indirectly will protect us from being hurt.

Everyone wants to be understood. Get on the same page with yourself (this is why journaling is so helpful). Clean out your filter, open your mind and your heart and get on the same page with others.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.