Note: This article is not about legitimate cases of telephone harassment or threats. There are appropriate times when you may need to block a number; this story is not about one of those times.
Recently I was having a conversation with a client about a disagreement she was having with her long-distance boyfriend. They had been dating for some time, had multiple visits, and were talking about a future together when there was a change of plans. Her boyfriend found out that his job was being transferred to another location even further away and after a particularly tense "discussion" with her, he was obviously feeling "attacked" and got defensive. Of course, the situation was already less than ideal but as she was discussing it with me, she casually mentioned that she "blocked his number" in retaliation.
Whoa...hold the phone. She mentioned it so casually that clearly it was no big deal to her. In fact, when I asked her, she even admitted that it's a move she had pulled multiple times in the past. She said she always unblocks the number eventually. It's just a thing she does when she's angry or upset. That's when I had to stop her. We talked about how ineffective that is in her relationships and how it could be a huge form of self-sabotage that was costing her dearly over and over again in every relationship. As she started to see how that might be the case, I asked her where she got the idea that cutting off communication might be a good strategy—and I have to tell you—her answer kind of floored me. I wasn't expecting that level of self-awareness—mixed with cluelessness—at the same time.
Without missing a beat, she said it was something she started doing as a way to punish her Dad for not being there or for falling short of what she hoped he would be for her. In that moment, a beautiful accomplished woman who was nearing 40-years-old suddenly sounded like a hurt and disappointed little girl. Nearly four decades later, my client was still working out her "daddy issues"...and up until we started working together...she still wasn't entirely clear on what exactly she needed to heal.
So why is it such a bad idea? The fact that she's used this strategy over and over again for years—without success—should have been a clue as to its ineffectiveness. However, sometimes you're just too close to a problem to get a healthy, objective perspective on it. In fact, Albert Einstein famously said years ago that "You'll never solve a problem at the level of thinking that created it.” That's why coaching can be such an outstanding investment. Here's what my client wasn't seeing.
It's passive-aggressive. By disappearing and withholding contact, she was actually taking away the one and only shot she had at resolving the issue. By punishing her guy with enforced silence, there was no way to initiate and sustain a productive dialogue that could have yielded a solution that was a win/win for both parties.
It kills authenticity. If no one is talking, that also means no one has an opportunity to just be vulnerable and speak from the heart. That means no one gets to speak their truth either so the risk of false assumptions and misunderstandings is unnecessarily high. No one has the opportunity to own their own role in the breakdown and not make the other party wrong. No one gets to hold a safe space for their partner to work out or heal an old wound that might get discovered.
It Blocks Intimacy. When two people just get real and express their feelings without having to make any one else wrong, that's where the breakthroughs happen. (If this isn't working, a 3rd party like a coach can help you with this). That's when people bridge the gaps, get closer than ever and develop real, heartfelt understanding. That's how a Legendary Love For Life gets created.
It Forces You To Play Small. It stands to reason that if you don't step up and rise to the occasion in a way that makes you just a little bit uncomfortable—and at the same time, very proud and satisfied—well then you've missed an opportunity for massive growth. The truth is, the bigger the upset, the greater the opportunity for massive and rapid growth. That's because there are essentially two types of growth. Evolutionary growth happens slowly over time and when you stop many years later, you may notice the huge growth in the rear view mirror—but you seldom see it in real time.
By contrast, Revolutionary growth takes place when you come up against something huge, painful and maybe even seemingly insurmountable...but you somehow rise up and conquer because you find a strong enough "why". Usually, it requires an immediate response because it is so very painful. When it comes to creating an amazing relationship, you might as well give it everything you’ve got if you hope to succeed. After all, those who only make small, safe investments rarely enjoy a great return.
If At First You Don't Succeed...I'm pleased to say that after our talk, my client now sees just how very ineffective it was to block her number and give her partner the "silent treatment". She sees that two wrongs don't make a right and that her strategy was only hurting her even more. The good news is that she has now vowed to start asking for what she needs and speaking her truth and that is a much better call for everyone concerned.
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