Helping: Being Congruent

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 8) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which I am most grateful.

Quite often we are not congruent. For example, we may feel angry in our  minds and bodies but try not to show it. This is called a mixed message and these can cause confusion in other people because they can sense that something isn’t “straight”. Children are especially sensitive to mixed messages and may behave in negative ways when they are receiving them from you because they cannot cope with the confusion they are experiencing.

We can be incongruent in three ways:

1. At the awareness level

We can experience thoughts and feelings without being aware of them. This means that others can sense that we are angry, hurt or upset but we don’t know it ourselves. When someone confronts us with how we are feeling we deny it and may even become defensive about it. Hence the red-faced person loudly shouting “I am not angry!”


In these instances the person is genuinely unaware of what they are experiencing and they may need help and support in order to “get in touch” with their feelings.

2. At the communication level

In these instances a person is aware of what they are experiencing but for some reason they are choosing not to express it to others. This includes being “polite” to someone you may not like and, also, not telling someone how you really feel because it may “hurt” them.

The choice not to express what you are feeling may be conscious or unconscious. We often learn as children that it is not safe to talk openly about what we experience and we bring this lesson with us into adult life. For instance, the little boy who is told it isn’t manly to cry may grow up into a man who suppresses any display of emotion. People who learn that it isn’t safe to be honest about their feelings very often keep their opinions of things to themselves, even when it would be valuable for them to express them.

3. Internal congruence

We can also experience a lack of congruence if what we believe is right is at odds with what we are actually able to do. For example, a modern mother may “believe” in breast feeding on demand. But perhaps she doesn’t have enough milk or she becomes too exhausted because she has other small children to take care of too. She becomes more and more tired, irritable and run down. Her beliefs are at odds with what she is physically capable of doing.

In instances like these, the belief needs changing and there needs to be far more trust put into what “feels” right rather than what is “thought” to be right.

What is right for a person makes them feel happy, doesn’t exhaust them, feels good, and works!

If you don’t feel happy and comfortable with what you are doing, then it isn’t right for you, whatever anyone tells you. Take time to find out what feels right! If you are happy, you will have so much more energy to live your life creatively.


Communication is the process by which messages are sent from one person to another via our senses. In our society there is a great deal of emphasis placed on words but studies have shown that often the words are the least important part of the communication.

Actions speak louder than words

If we take away the word content of communication we are left with tone of voice, which includes pitch, rhythm, volume, etc. and body language, which includes facial expression, gestures, body movement, posture and breathing.

It’s not what we say but how we say it, as the old saying goes.

Spend some time just watching people, making sure that you can’t hear what they are saying, and see just how much you can pick up from their non-verbal behaviour.

One interesting way to do this is to turn the sound down on the television and watch the picture alone. It is often quite easy to follow what is happening in the programme without sounds.

Most of us pick up the non-verbal aspect of communication unconsciously as we go along and only really become aware of it when there is a very obvious discrepancy between what is being said and the way in which it is said.

These discrepancies arise when we are not being congruent; on some level we are sending a mixed message that the receiver is unclear about, e.g. saying yes or no when we really don’t want to, or when we are trying to hide our true thoughts and feelings.


Using the child as a guide


We all have some ability to sense when people are not being straightforward or completely honest with us. Our response, when this happens, can range from feeling slightly uncomfortable to believing that we are being lied to. Whatever the response there is likely to be a feeling of confusion and a lack of understanding of what is going on.

Young children are very sharp at picking up mixed messages from what we say and do. This makes them ill at ease and that is likely to be reflected in their behaviour.

For instance:

Bob is concentrating on producing some complex statistics for his MD, and people keep popping into his office for trivial reasons.  At first he is patient and polite, but as time passes and he makes little progress on his task due to interruptions, he starts to get harassed.  Finally he blows up at the next unfortunate who pops their head around the door.  Word gets round the office – “leave Bob alone!” and he is able to finish his task in peace.

In an effort to be Mr. Nice Guy, Bob sent out mixed messages, until his internal stress reached critical levels, and he erupted.  After that everyone knew what it was he wanted and was happy to give it to him.


Often children force us to be straight and honest by their simple innocence and directness.  This quality of innocence is important in helping us remain straight with ourselves.  Observe young children and get a sense of where they’re coming from and apply this to your own life.

If you don’t have children in your life, try to harness the innocence and directness that is still part of the child within you – the child that you once were.  Pay attention to that little voice inside – it is often more honest than we allow ourselves to be, and can help us become more congruent, more `real’ in our daily lives.

If you don’t have children in your life, try to harness the innocence and directness that is still part of the child within you – the child that you once were.  Pay attention to that little voice inside – it is often more honest than we allow ourselves to be, and can help us become more congruent, more `real’ in our daily lives.


There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”.  Download chapter 1 free now!

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