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Desperate Housewives... Desperate Communication!
All emotional communication is either an act of love or a cry for help.
Either our needs are being met and we'd like to celebrate that with other people, or our needs are not being met and we would like empathy from others.
This is one of the basic premises of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg's communication theory, Nonviolent Communication. And the characters in the hit TV series Desperate Housewives soooo beautifully demonstrate this premise.
Take the episode from season 2, "No One is Alone." In past episodes, Susan has remarried Carl in order to use his health insurance for a surgery she needs.
It's presumably just for the papers, not for any real romantic interest. Meanwhile, Carl and Eddie are becoming more serious. Nobody has told Edie of Susan's predicament and that they've remarried.
I was never sure why they would have kept that a secret, but truly, there ARE people who think that keeping secrets is the only way to go. That happens when they run into too much pain by being honest earlier in their lives.
This episode begins with the neighbors all gathering at Susan's burnt-down house to help her salvage as much as possible.
The insurance agent is there and tells Susan that they won't be able to give her the insurance money until they finish their investigation because it's believed it was arson.
Susan sees Edie across the street watching. Later she goes over to Edie's house and knocks on the door. Edie stands there, eating popcorn, and through her munching tells Susan that she burnt her house down.
Now... was that an act of love or a cry for help? What needs of Edie were not being met that she felt compelled to give such a loud cry for help? I'd take a wild guess that she's feeling sad, frustrated, and hopeless because she has a need for connection and love with the man she loves.
The only way she knows to express her pain is through this act of arson.
She never learned to tell people her feelings and needs, or to even really be in touch with what her true feelings and needs actually ARE. She only knows she's in pain and that she's got to do something to get rid of the pain.
Most people are not consciously aware that empathy, being truly understood by another human being, is enough to ease the pain. We look to revenge and violence in order to demonstrate our pain to the other person.
There's another part of this episode that shows brilliantly how people can choose a strategy to demonstrate their true feelings and needs, instead of choosing verbal communication to get their needs met. TV.com gives the following summary of the Bree and Danielle part of the episode:
"While Bree is preparing for Susan and Julie to move in, Danielle tells her that she's forgotten her birthday, which was six weeks ago. Bree promises her a birthday party where she could invite all her friends. Danielle also takes Andrew's room, telling Bree she should give her whatever she wants since she forgot her birthday.
Danielle finds out that Bree has been up all night making birthday arrangements, but Danielle doesn't want the huge '17' made of balloons, the fajita bar or the juggler saying that her friends would make fun of her. She says a cake would be good enough. Bree is disappointed but acts like it's alright and starts popping all the balloons. Susan gets worried about Bree, as she's become obsessive about the party and she never sleeps."
Hmmmm... Now is Danielle's behavior an act of love or a cry for help? Danielle guilt-trips her mother into letting her have the bedroom she wants and a big party. That's probably a cry for help. Danielle may be feeling sad and disappointed that her mother forgets her birthday because she has a real need for connection, support and self-esteem.
But if she's unable to state her feelings and needs clearly, as so few of us are able to do (after all, we're never taught to clearly state feelings and needs), then she tries another way of getting her needs met.
She lets her mother know how much pain she's in by SHOWING her mother pain. She knows it will hurt her mother to let her have Andrew's bedroom, as Bree's hoping Andrew may return some day and because it keeps up appearances that Andrew may come back some day. And she wants the party as a demonstration of her mother's appreciation for her. The party is merely a symbol - a huge symbol - of her mother's love and appreciation.
Bree, too, sees the party as a symbol for love and appreciation. Danielle tries to keep the party as just a symbol - fun, light and entertaining. But Bree begins to obsess, as though the party were more than the symbol, as though the party were the love itself. Bree is hooked on her strategy.
Marshall Rosenberg teaches that there are many ways for a human to get their needs met - these are strategies. Psychological pain results from becoming stuck on a strategy. We ignore all of the other ways to show our daughter love and appreciation - through hugs and kisses, a different gift, conversation, a lunch together - and decide that this one strategy is the ONLY way that her daughter will understand that she's loved.
This obsessive attention to one strategy is what we would call insanity. And Bree goes insane over this party. By the end, all of the neighborhood teenagers are frightened and Danielle is in her bedroom crying. The real tragedy is that it all happened over Bree trying to show her love.
About the Author: Kristin Denton & Paul Sterling teach Relationship Communication Skills -- Live Seminars or Tele-Classes including '4 Steps To Instant Intimacy & Understanding'- '5 Relationship-Wrecking Mistakes'-- To get a free copy of 'The 5 Mistakes Report' go to http://www.magicRelationship.com/freeaccess