A very public (communication) breakdown

by Rebecca A. Watson on August 22, 2013

in blogs, Germany, goals, habits, needs, writing

A few months after I moved into Santa Cruz proper, a couple stopped me on the street to ask me for directions. A week later, a father and daughter did the same. I liked it. It made me feel good, like somehow I was giving off the vibe that I lived there.

So last week you can imagine my surprise when an older couple in a little car stopped me after my run. (I was walking through old town because those cobblestones are brutal! People who run on those impress me.)

Easy on the eyes. On the feet? Not so much..

Easy on the eyes. On the feet? Not so much.

The man called out his window, “Bitte. (Insert loads of German that, in my limited understanding, meant they were looking for something.)”

I froze. I had no words. My throat felt like it had closed up. I shook my head and simply said, “No.”  Gah! I couldn’t even said “no” correctly!

He smiled and said, “OK,” and drove on.

As they drove away I started to cry. Actually, sob is the right verb. In that moment I was so frustrated with myself and my inability to communicate, it was the only thing I seemed capable of doing.

I wept because I couldn’t speak when the women at the laundromat asked if I knew when the last load was allowed to be washed. I cried because even though I was completely capable of saying the words (in German), “I only speak a little German,” the words refused to come out when a cashier at the store told me I had to weigh my produce.

As I returned home after my public crying session, I came to realize that it wasn’t just because I was living in Germany, surrounded by folks who communicated differently. In fact, that was just the tipping point. The fact was that I had been struggling with my ability to communicate for some time.

don't speak communication breakdown

I have this nasty habit of not telling people what I really want. Or what works best for me. Or what I’m thinking. I’ve been a people-pleaser for years, and even though I make it a point to read Codependent No More at least once a year, this is a habit that dies hard.

For some reason, it just seems easier for me to let everyone else do what they want and push my desires down, down, down. Mostly I think it’s because I want to avoid conflict, but I also think since I grew up doing this, it’s something I’ve been programmed to do.

So even though people pleasing has caused me harm (misunderstandings, divorce, eating at McDonalds), I still have a tendency to do it. And even though I know better, if I’m not hyper-vigilant, I slip into it.

I always thought because I was a writer that maybe I was just better at putting things into words as opposed to saying them. I thought that the people pleasing didn’t extend to my journals and blog posts, but that just isn’t true. I’ve written before that I sometimes feel like I edit myself.

The sore throat I’ve had for the last month or so is directly related to all of this, I know. As I’ve been working with my awesome life/business coach, I’ve come to understand that my fifth chakra could use some help. Basically it’s what governs our ability to speak our truths and communicate fluidly. Blocks to it can cause sore throats, thyroid problems, TMJ, etc.

If you want more info, I liked this site. I’m also reading Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss, which lays all of the chakras out in a very simple way and explains how our struggles within each of them can cause physical damage (like random body aches, allergies, cancer and a whole lot more) to our bodies. Interesting stuff.

7 chakras

The sadness I expressed on Marienstrasse was just a message telling me that it was time to speak up, time to say (and write) what I mean and also to create what I want to create. Since then, I’ve been practicing my standard phrase  (Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch.) so I won’t freeze.

I’ve also been focusing on saying exactly what I mean and what I want (and don’t want). Another thing I’ve been trying to be mindful of is what I say about other people. I’m not a super-gossipy type, but sometimes I get a little carried away.

The other big thing I’m trying to be more mindful of is writing my truth on this blog. The fifth chakra affects creativity and part of clearing it out is writing what I want, regardless of how people might view it.

So keep me honest here! If you read something that doesn’t ring true, speak up, either in the comments or through an email. And if you’re digging what I’m writing, I would love to hear it, because speaking my truth can be frightening. Encouragement welcome.

The goal in all of this is to speak really great German (of course!) and also to feel safe expressing myself. It’s one thing to know you’re safe, but it’s quite another to feel it. And I think that by feeling that, over and over, I’ll be able to make a new habit.

And I’ll be able to give great directions to out-of-towners. Because I live here.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Olivia August 22, 2013 at 9:17 am

I could imagine the exact same thing happening to me. Communicating has always been a bit hard since I’m somewhat of an introvert (but I’m good at putting on my extrovert suit if I’m feeling up for it).

I use to have a stutter when I was a child, and it made communicating very hard… sometimes mid-sentence I’d just stop trying and walk away.

I wonder if rote memory is what is needed before communicating fluently comes into play. Maybe you could find a student trying to learn English and have coffee and just talk back and forth. How fun would that be?

I’m also a big foreign film lover (with subtitles) but even reading and listening can help you pick up the language, I know after a good French film I’m temped to let the words flow 🙂 Netflixs has all those options (that’s what we have instead of cable).

And of course iphone apps if you have an iphone… I can say hello in Japanese now 😉 lol

Oh how I wish I could be right where you are. I know this is hard for you, but I love this journey you’re taking us all on. Hugs to you!


Ken Butler August 22, 2013 at 12:41 pm

You have the chance to make a “new German” you, to make a point of saying what you mean in German when you speak it, a kind of “this is the way I express myself in German”. I think this is easier than trying to convince yourself to do so in English, because speaking German is new to you, and speaking English has been happening for years.

I feel for your “breakdown”, though, because I can imagine it happening to me. Maybe it would be useful to have “Es tut mir leid” as a handy backup for when you can’t find anything else to say. Written on a scrap of paper in your purse, so that you know where it is, maybe.”I’m sorry” is a bit more polite than “no”, after all.


Lilly August 23, 2013 at 2:18 am

I think you have amazing self insight and write wonderfully, for what it’s worth. But if I ever think there is something to call you on there I lovingly shall, because I think we all need people who can call us on our shit sometimes. I, too, have been working on expressing myself a bit better and I know what you mean – being good with words doesn’t always mean we’re good at getting those words out and writing them can be a whole hell of a lot better than speaking them. Congrats on being brave enough to put all that out there.

Lilly xo


Taylor Jacobson August 27, 2013 at 6:50 am

Hey Rebecca,
Thanks for your comment today.

I enjoyed this post and it made me think of Julien Smith’s article yesterday about James Altucher, as well as one of the posts he references therein.

Basically: you’re not going far enough unless you’re scared. That gave me pause as I thought about what I’m writing on my blog and it also hit home for my own truth-speaking project. Perhaps you’ll derive something similar.


Rock on fair lady.



Ms. Becca August 27, 2013 at 8:14 am

Olivia, thanks so much for your comment and suggestions! It’s so interesting what you said about stuttering. I’ve never had a speech impediment but I can imagine the feelings of frustration would be similar. That inability to communicate…ARG!

Ken! Welcome and thanks for your comment. It really got me thinking A LOT about what the new German me would look like. I used to fantasize about reinventing myself and moving to a new place to do that and it never even occurred to me to consider this as an opportunity to do that. Yes, the new German me DOES speak her mind and her truth 🙂 And also thank you for the phrase. I have practiced it quite a bit and although I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, I have a feeling it will come in handy.

Awwww Lilly! You are so super sweet! Thank you so much for your compliments. They mean a lot.

Thanks for your comment Taylor. That is great reading! Thanks for sharing and I did derive something similar. There is so much I want to write and I’m scared to hit publish. But yeah, you know that’s when something is gonna be really good. Plus it’s also the stuff that sticks in your mind saying “you should write about this.” It doesn’t go away. Look for some of that in the future. I’ll look for it on your blog 😉


Ms. Becca August 27, 2013 at 8:17 am

My cousin wrote to me and had some trouble commenting on my site but what she wrote was potent and bears consideration:

“I’ve often wondered if 5th chakra development issues were systemic in Northern Minnesota/Nordic culture. The whole MN Nice behavior is welcoming… yet perhaps a sigh of a blocked vishudda chakra.

Don’t like to make generalizations but it is curious, right? If a fifth chakra isn’t considered valuable to a culture, families will not take the time to help children develop self expression.

Also, thyroids simply fail to regulate themselves in our family (at least on my side). But it is fairly business as usual throughout the region. It could certainly be diet, toxins or a multitude of other factors, but I definitely think you hit it right on the money with the underdeveloped 5th chakra.”

I think she’s onto something here and I wonder if there are loads of MN nice folks who feel their 5th chakra is underdeveloped. I know a TON of people from that area with TMJ. Obviously this is all very unscientific, but it’s curious.


sonal August 27, 2013 at 9:59 am

Thank u so much for beautiful blog and sharing it with people all over the world . Liked it
reading it second time in one day. Lot of love and God bless you!!


Ms. Becca August 27, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Thanks sonal 🙂 So glad I can inspire you! Love and light!


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