Minimizing Ulterior Motives in Communication for More Efficient and Loving Interactions
Communication goes a lot better when we learn to take responsibility for what we feel instead of blaming another person, trying to fix them, or manipulating them.
This is called “owning your experience ” in a lot of circles, and it is an important skill to develop as it leads to greater happiness, self-awareness, and effectiveness in communication.
It’s Easy to Misuse
But a lot of people still screw it up. For example:
- They use a language pattern of owning experience  to blame someone else
- They use it to blame themselves
- They use it to keep from experiencing and communicating negative emotions. (See Spiritual Bypassing)
- They really think they are owning their experience but it is obvious to everyone else that they are unconscious of what is really going on inside.
- They think it gives them free license to give people advice without asking, as long as they really want to give it.
Experience is Complex
So what does “owning your experience” really mean?
It is complex, and it changes in each moment. There are layers of increasing depth and complexity of experience, and most of us are unaware of all of these layers.
There are different understandings of what the self is that owns any particular experience.
There is not even one experience for someone to own. The very act of trying to take responsibility for the way you feel changes the way you feel. In other words, this is an ongoing, developmental process that changes us as we do it.
Reading this list one might get overwhelmed and give up on the project altogether. But this complexity is exactly why it is valuable to gain more insight into ourselves and communicate more clearly with others what it is like for us to see the world through our perspective in any given moment.
Seeing It In Action
Perhaps the best way to learn it is just to see some an example.
John is crying and Barbara says, “it’s going to be OK.” (Note that she has no idea whether or not it is going to be OK. She might think she knows what John’s thinking and why he’s crying but she has not actually checked with him yet). You ask her, “What’s going on inside of you?” and she responds, “I want to comfort John.”
There, she thinks she’s owned her experience. Great. But why? She’s never stopped to think about why. There are many possibilities, and many of these are unconscious ways to blame John, try to fix him, or manipulate him to get what she wants. For example:
- She thinks he wants to be comforted.
- She really cares for him and wants him to know that he is loved. 
- Comforting him keeps her from experiencing her own pain.
- She feels responsible for his wellbeing, or his sadness.
- She wants him to accept her.
- She wants to be seen and known as a comforting person.
- She believes a man should not cry.
- She does not think the time or setting is appropriate.
- She wants him to stop crying.
- A mix of all, etc.
If she is uncomfortable around sadness, her discomfort could be for a million reasons as well:
- A habit developed out of a family system
- A fear of John’s vulnerability
- Having her own sadness triggered
- A mix of all, etc.
Discovering these deeper motivations is the gift of this practice. I find that when I share my experience honestly, especially when it seems scary, the result is a deeper connection with people, more awareness for both of us, and personal growth.
Therefore my goal is to go as deep as I can while still feeling the impact emotionally. That is to say if I get too caught up in philosophy, analysis, and metaphysics, I am likely using rational thought to avoid the pain of whatever emotion is arising.
Applying It Universally
This is not just something for couples, for personal growth junkies, or intentional communities. At the office, in politics, in the news, communication also goes a lot better when we take responsibility for what we feel instead of blaming people, trying to fix them, or manipulate them.
 For example, let us pretend that Bobby texts Sandra three times a day. It pisses Sandra off. She tells him, “It pisses me off how much you text me. You shouldn’t do that.” A more effective and honest way of communicating is to say, “When you text me three times a day I feel annoyed. Will you please text me less often?” (more on this)
 Misusing the language of non-violent communication. For example, “I feel you should…” or “I feel like you’re being an asshole”