“There’s a pink elephant in the room.”
We’ve all heard that phase, right? What is a pink elephant and how did it become the spokes-animal for poor communication or things that people are avoiding? If you’re looking for those answers, I doubt I’ll be able to provide them. But if you’re looking for some thoughts about the importance of communication and overcoming pink-elephant syndrome (I made that up), you came to the right spot.
In my opinion, effective communication is at the top of the list (I believe it’s number one) of essentials in relationships. This does not have to be romantic relationships only…it can be at work, with family members, with friends, and even effectively communicating honestly to oneself. To me, a “pink elephant” represents fear…fear of rejection, fear of intimacy, fear of vulnerability, fear of shame, fear of judgment, and on and on and on.
When we solicit the pink elephant to the room, the thought pattern goes something like this, “If I tell her that I’m not happy with how we discipline the children, I’m afraid she’ll get angry with me.” Or, “If I tell him that I feel smothered when he gets upset about me for hanging out with my friends, he’ll be hurt.”
Both of those statements might be true, but they definitely remain true if they’re not verbalized. You see, the problem with the pink elephant is that the longer these unspoken feelings go on, the more poor communication calories the pink elephant consumes and the larger that big guy gets. Eventually he will be so large that you won’t know what the issue was in the first place…all you’ll see is a pink elephant dividing a relationship full of resentment.
How do we work through pink elephant challenges?
First, honestly talking about “tough stuff” takes courage, vulnerability and walking through whatever fear is being avoided. For me, I have to take ownership of my experience and not make the other person responsible for how I feel, which isn’t easy…this takes a lot of insight and honest self-reflection. I have to look inward and ask myself, “What am I experiencing and what am I fearing?”
So, let’s look at the two examples above for an anti-pink elephant syndrome communication:
* In the first one, if I were to say, “Honey, there’s a part of me that’s uncomfortable with how we discipline the children and I’m curious if you would be willing to discuss it with me?” This isn’t placing blame, it’s saying, “Hey, we’re a team. Let’s find something that feels right for both of us.”
* In the second one, if I were to find the courage to say, “Hey babe, sometimes I’d like to go hang out with my friends and it feels like that can be a challenge for you. Am I reading that right and, if so, can we talk about it?”
All you’re looking for is an opening to the conversation. How your husband, wife or partner hears it might create some defensiveness, but stay present, breathe and keep rephrasing how it “feels for you” (without blaming).
I’m not saying that you will solve all of your problems in one sitting…but the opening will occur, the pink elephant will start to shrink, you will gain some courage, and you will start having honest dialogue with those who are important to you.
Look, you are going to be in relationships with others…it’s just a fact of life. You owe it to yourself to be you and speak your truth. If you find yourself not wanting to speak to someone important to you about an issue, look inward.
What is it that you fear?
Is the fear valid or is it just fear of an uncomfortable conversation? You can even start the conversation with, “Hey, I feel like there’s a pink elephant in the room. I respect and value our relationship so much that I want to talk about something that’s bothering me. You mean that much to me. Are you willing to sit down and talk?” Those conversations are amazing and intimate and will take your relationships to the next level. You deserve that. Paco (my dog) agrees…we just had a tough talk about treats. It wasn’t easy, but it was important. Don’t worry, we’re fine :-).