In going through my saved links recently for a different post, I came across this post from Cynthia Kim —Echolalia and Scripting: Straddling the Border of Functional Language.
I’ve read it before, of course, that’s why it’s in my saved links; but today this quote from it felt really familiar. It describes a recent experience that I had no words to describe and then BAM, I read this regarding when a verbal script is used in a way that isn’t functional:
“When language is nonfunctional, it’s often hard for the speaker to self-correct. In my experience, nonfunctional language doesn’t happen by choice but as a kind of defense mechanism or a last ditch effort to keep the lines of communication open in some way, even if it’s an unreliable and potentially harmful way.”
Suddenly, upon reading that paragraph, a recent event in my life made oh so much sense.
I’ve not even known how to write about what happened. Mainly because I’m still somewhat confused by the whole thing, but I’m far less confused about it now.
Basically what happened on my end:
I was on the phone, which I struggle to communicate effectively over in the first place, and I did actually manage to say clearly that I had no words and was unable to communicate effectively (I literally said both of those things).
The other person on the phone had expressed their expectation that I would probably never speak to them again and I desperately wanted to convey to them that they didn’t need to worry about that. They had given more thought to an arrangement we’d made and had determined that they couldn’t follow through with it, which was fine. I was thankful they told me as quickly as they did and I would never have held them to an agreement they entered into without giving it enough thought.
But I couldn’t make those words to let them know it was fine.
Instead, I fell back on a script I’d used before. This script had not had great reception from this person in the past, but somehow it got filed in my brain under “words that show I care about a person” which seemed also to fit in with my desire to let them know I wouldn’t be cutting them off the way they feared. Because I don’t do that to people I care about and these were “words that show I care about a person.”
So, all good, right?
Wrong. I said my “words that show I care about a person” and the response was stunningly not even remotely what I’d expected. Those words I’d used were nonfunctional and harmful instead of functional and helpful the way I’d anticipated.
After a great many, “I don’t understand”s and “I’m confused”s from me and a great deal of being talked over by them, the call ended. It ended with them telling me they were triggered by my words and with me extremely confused and unsure of what exactly had happened.
So I went for a drive. A long, fast drive with a mission. This was to prevent me from attempting to contact them for clarification after they’d just let me know they were triggered. I knew I shouldn’t do that, but I also knew that I’d be a wreck if I sat at home thinking. So I texted Counterpart that I was going for a drive, cranked up my music, and drove halfway across the state to the closest location of my favorite grocery store.
One part of my mission was to get there before they closed (we won’t talk about how fast I drove there) and the other part was to purchase a few items, one item for the person on the phone (an item that had been destroyed a few days previously and that I’d promised to get them another of) and several items for myself and my family.
Somehow, without either getting pulled over or dying in a car crash, I made it there with five minutes to spare. It was very exciting and distracting, which was another of my goals.
Then, items purchased, I went to one of my favorite spots in that city and sat and wrote a note to clarify what I thought had been misunderstood and to reiterate that I appreciated them telling me the truth and that I didn’t think poorly of them, etc.
Then I drove back to my town.
I stopped by and dropped the item and note off on their porch. By then it was midnight and I fully planned not to see anyone (I didn’t want to bother the person by stopping by during daytime the next day), but their sibling was outside. So I talked a bit to their sibling who conveyed to me that the other person and I were no longer friends. That the other person had given up and was done with me completely.
So. That’s that, I guess. I’m not in the habit of begging people to be my friends or of expecting people to be around anyone they find triggering. I’m also not in the habit of hanging out with people who are unwilling, or even unable, to work through misunderstandings because being misunderstood and not listened to when I clarify happens to be a trigger for me and my triggers are just as valid as other people’s.
What has been interesting and also perplexing to me is how very routine and unimportant this has felt. It’s been years since the last time I lost a friend without any real explanation and yet it’s still just, “Oh yeah, this again. Oh well.”
Anyhow. More generally speaking now:
Sometimes automatic responses, or scripting, are functional and appropriate while other times they result in nonfunctional and inappropriate, or even harmful, responses.
I’ve personally used them both ways. The latter can destroy relationships because usually the other people in the conversation assume that you’re using functional language (since that’s generally the default) and aren’t often interested in hearing clarifications.
Not everyone is a good friend for everyone else. This doesn’t make them or you a bad person, just sometimes your triggers and disabilities may bump up unpleasantly against someone else’s. If the clashing is too much for either person then it may very well be better to just part ways.
Someone who either won’t or can’t listen to clarifications or try to understand what another person is trying to say may not be a great friend for someone who struggles with producing functional language.
Be gentle with yourself if you struggle with functional language. You have value aside from how anyone else interprets how you communicate. A good deal of their interpretation comes from them, not you.
Communication is hard ❤