Without realizing it, you may cover up your feelings by using communication filters, which can come in the forms of words, body language, and actions. When a close friend asks, “What’s wrong?” and you unreflectively smile and say, “Nothing,” you might be closing yourself off from your real feelings. Shutting the door to your inner world in this way prevents you from fully experiencing life, connecting with your personal values and making choices that help you live in alignment with them—all part of what I call “internal activism.”
Don't beat yourself up if you use filters as an emotional technique, though. You might be practicing a form of self-care. Filters can serve an important protective purpose in the case of trauma or a difficult-to-cope-with reaction to a situation. You might require a temporary filter on your feelings. Turning on or activating the fullest expression of your emotions when you are not ready can re-trigger unpleasant or even traumatic experiences. This can be counterproductive to a healing process, which is necessary in order to have an internally active life.
That is not to say that you have to be 100% healed, at peace in all moments, or cheery every day before having an internally active life. Filters can often garble your true sentiments and interfere with the relationships you have with yourself and others. Conscious or subconscious filters adulterate how you communicate your feelings. You pick up these filters for a variety of understandable reasons including fear of not being good enough or fear of being hurt. But filters end up dampening the message you’re trying to get across and affect communication in both directions. Here are two commonly used filters to become more aware of.
Stop Using These Two Communication Filters
1. Surface speak
If you find yourself asking a question in which you are not interested in the answer, you are probably initiating surface speak. “How was your commute this morning?” or “Is it cold over there?” Questions like these are habitual placeholders. If you’re about to enter into a meeting or business discussion, they might not be that harmful. Then again, consider asking a more insightful or personal question; it can still remain in the professional realm. People are able to connect more when asked, for example, how their daughter is doing, by name. Far from being manipulative, it demonstrates a genuine interest in other aspects of who they are, revealing talents, identities, and parts of their lives that they don’t always share in that context.
While weather is sometimes a noteworthy topic, unless you’re talking about climate change it does not need to be a centerpiece of a conversation. Certainly, in personal and intimate relationships surface speak can be harmful. They signal that there is a resistance to either receive or give on a deep and connected level. Sometimes they can serve as a warm up in conversation, but I ask you to question why that is necessary. What is behind that hesitancy?
2. Stepping back
Another filter or unconscious practice many people implement is stepping back. You can step back in many contexts—from your own dreams, from emotional connection or deeper communications, from potential conflict. The filter here creates a shield from something imagined, whether it’s an imagined good or difficult scenario. The truth is you don’t know what an experience will be until you step into it. When you step back, you distance yourself from vitality, from life forces that will bring you to the next place you can go, the next person you may meet and learn from, and most importantly it takes you further away from your internal life.
Stepping back—shutting people out of your safe space—can feel cozy. But you can create safe spaces through boundaries while still stepping into a full life. By stepping back you shrink yourself by ignoring or attempting to shut out experiences and emotions that will inevitably chase you down. Then you will have to face them, maybe tenfold.
The internal action and kriya yoga counterpoints to these filters are to speak deeply and step into experiences that will serve you. As with all yoga practices, they take repetition and practice to maximize how you experience them and your internal life. Go ahead and get started with the following partner exercise.
Practice Deepening Your Communication
Choose someone you trust to practice deepening your communication with. Set aside at least 15 minutes. Try telling your partner a topic or activity that you would like to dedicate more time and energy to in your life. Have your partner silently count to 10 then acknowledge the topic or activity that you just shared with them. Then, switch roles.
About Our Expert
Laura Riley is a writer, yoga teacher, and social justice attorney based in Los Angeles. This article is adapted from her manuscript “Internal Activism.”