Doctor Neha: Welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. This week my wonderful guest is Phil. He’s an optometrist and he’s been thinking about a communication question. Thank you for joining us, Phil.
Phil: It’s somewhat of a pleasure.
Doctor Neha: You’re a little nervous?
Phil: A little.
Doctor Neha: A little bit? How do you know that in your body? What’s your physical intelligence telling you?
Phil: I have to face new patients every moment of the day and I’m also a lay preacher, so I’ve had to stand in front of audiences for funerals and weddings and that sort of thing, and I know what I’m feeling.
Doctor Neha: Tell me what you typically feel physically.
Phil: Dry mouth and slightly damp palm.
Doctor Neha: So this is a little uncomfortable for you?
Phil: A little. But you’re easy on the eyes, so that makes it less uncomfortable.
Doctor Neha: Listen, I’ll take it. Thank you very much.
Phil: You’re welcome.
Doctor Neha: So it sounds like not only are you a healer and someone who works with patients a lot, but you are also comfortable with the expression of deep emotion, so tell me where sometimes you feel challenged.
Phil: I feel challenged when I return to the house after a long day in the office. In my optometrist capacity, I come home after I’ve talked all day. My wife sometimes hasn’t because she works on the computer most of the day or in her design studio—and she wants to talk. She wants to communicate. The last thing on my mind is communication, and she feels sometimes that the silence is passive/aggressive or something is going on with me. She loves to probe, and I don’t like to be probed.
Doctor Neha: It sounds like during the day with your clients you’re doing much more than helping them with their vision.
Phil: I hope so.
Doctor Neha: It’s what takes a clinician and turns him or her into a healer—that amazing depth and capacity to listen and to engage them, right? Then it sounds like you feel spent by the time you’re home and your done. How long have you been married?
Phil: Forty-three years.
Doctor Neha: I would say you’re quite seasoned at this. So tell me why you really have trouble talking at home, because you’re a talker. You enjoy it. You made it your profession. Tell me what’s different when you come home.
Phil: I find it difficult possibly because of my upbringing.
Doctor Neha: That’s a great place to start.
Phil: Being a pastor’s kid, I would hear all the things that the pastor has to deal with over the phone and having to keep quiet about it and just forget about it and move on. I think that has something to do with it. Also, being a Yorkshireman is part of it too. We don’t say much, you know, back in Yorkshire. Maybe just laziness too if I’m honest with myself. I have to delve and think.
Doctor Neha: It can be a little draining?
Doctor Neha: All right, there are a few differences here. First, you have to keep confidences of other people. When your father’s a pastor or you’re in that capacity, other people share their troubles that you need to keep in confidence. When you are the one in charge at your office and all your patients are coming through, you are the one in control and listening to all their troubles.
Now when you come home and saying that you’re all talked out, there’s something that doesn’t add up because your wife doesn’t actually want to hear about everybody else’s troubles. She wants to know about who you are and how you are.
Phil: That’s true.
Doctor Neha: To you, that feels more challenging, more difficult, harder, and more energy consuming, right? Obviously family is important to you. So is it important to you that your wife feels connected to you?
Doctor Neha: It is. It’s just that in your work capacity it’s easier for you to navigate that realm. Then when you come home, you use the excuse, like you said, “Maybe I’m lazy.” I don’t really think of a man like you as lazy because you’ve worked hard, you have business. It’s just that some things might come easier to you than other things, and the emotional realm for many men [and some women] is a much more ambiguous and difficult realm to navigate.
Phil: I’ll say!
Doctor Neha: What do you do when you’re listening to your patients? How do you navigate it? A lot of the times, what they’re telling you is emotional.
Phil: I find it much easier for some reason to listen to them and to show compassion toward them. It’s just part of being a doctor, and it’s a big part that’s often lost with doctors. I don’t do that. I still work on paper because I want to be present with my patients. (The other thing is I’m useless on the computer.)
Doctor Neha: I love your honesty.
Phil: However, I just find it comes naturally to me. There’s always something deeper than the eye problem—always.
Doctor Neha: They can’t see in some realm of their life. It shows up as a problem in their eye, but it’s a much deeper meaning.
Doctor Neha: So I want to ask you, what is it that you can’t see in your life?
Phil: That’s a good question.
Doctor Neha: Much more difficult. Notice if this is that moment that your body said dry mouth, palms sweating. Really? It’s so much easier to talk about someone else’s problems than it is to acknowledge what I can’t see.
Phil: Yeah, you put your finger on it.
Doctor Neha: You don’t have to have the answer at this moment.
Phil: I don’t have it.
Doctor Neha: That’s okay. That’s the beauty of it. If you’re willing to go into the unknown and sit in the discomfort of not knowing and saying, “You know what? I just felt my mouth get dry and my palms get sweaty. I’m used to being in control, having the answer and being able to do what I do well. Right now, I feel like I’m out of my comfort zone.”
Doctor Neha: That is all anyone who loves you wants to hear because it’s the truth. Then they may to say, “Let’s learn. Let’s start figuring out a language around what’s happening for you. I’d love it if we communicated more.” You might be thinking, Oh, gosh, I don’t want to communicate anymore, but the truth is you just identified an area that might not be as strong for you as other areas; that’s all.
Phil: That’s right.
Doctor Neha: Because you value family so much and you value connection, ask yourself, “Is there a way I work a lot because I get the reward and feel valued so much that by the time I come home I don’t have energy to explore communication or connection?” In the name of providing support to your patients and supporting your family, do you get to kind of hide a little bit from [communication at home]? Is that like the laziness piece you were talking about?
Phil: That’s it.
Doctor Neha: I love your honesty. I know as a physician myself, I have gotten pretty comfortable in the roles at which I’m good and staying in those zones. I don’t particularly do well in the awkward when I’m not really sure what the answer is. As a physician, I never say, “I don’t know.” That’s not our job. We’re paid to say we have the answer, even sometimes when we don’t.
I find it so refreshing to be with a colleague who trusts himself enough, that you’re willing to show up and be an example for other people. Thank you so much for sharing.
Phil: Do you feel the warmth of my hand? And you’re as cool as a cucumber.
Doctor Neha: Well, we’re in my comfort zone. I get to be asking the questions, and I get to do what has become more comfortable over the years. Trust me, you get me in your office and I’ll be a little less comfortable. Thank you.
For any of you watching or reading who know that there’s one arena of your life that works so well that you sometimes overuse and overwork that muscle to avoid showing up in another arena, there’s a short-term and long-term repercussion for choosing the avoidance. If you avoid dealing with one area of your life and you invest a lot of energy in the other, that neglected area will not be satisfied over time—whether it’s with your partner and the ability to communicate in your family. You will continue taking what I call the short-term high to avoid the experience of dealing with something that might have a short-term death or discomfort.
Ask yourself, do you want to feel the pain of death by paper cut (as in 43 years of someone telling you that you don’t communicate with them) or would you like to spend just a little bit of time dipping into that discomfort to have the long-term high of connection, love and feeling satisfied in all areas of your life?
It starts with honesty and with saying, “Hey, I’m not really sure about that right now.” For that, I honor you.
Phil: Thank you.
Doctor Neha: Ask yourself, what part of your life have you been avoiding? What part have you been hesitant to say, “I don’t know the answer”? I’d love to hear your comments and your experiences. Drop me a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha. Until next week, stay true and stay curious.
- Are you more comfortable sharing about yourself or letting others do the talking?
- What excuses have you made to avoid uncomfortable situations?
- What might happen if you stepped outside your comfort zone?
- Name three benefits of getting uncomfortable and taking the risk.
- What’s the first step for you to do something different?
Getting personal about the things that matter,