The art of naked conversation

How to take off the mask and say what really matters

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How often do we say exactly what we’re thinking?

‘How are you?’ is the only question to which no one really wants the answer, so how do we take off the mask and give ourselves permission to be more real? Let’s face it, there’s generally more power in what is not said than what is. No one particularly wants to hear about problems, but continually dodging the elephant in the room doesn’t mean the elephant isn’t there.

 My 17 year old client, Paula, and her father had been dodging elephants for a while and the stress was building up as a result. Paula had secured herself a string of A*s at GCSE and been strongly advised by her father to go for STEM subjects at A level to give her greater career opportunities.

 But within weeks of starting sixth form, Paula knew she had made a bad mistake. She actually loved art, music and creative writing. Doing sciences made her feel like she was ‘thinking in circles but writing in squares'. 'I feel so boxed in’ she told me but she felt unable to talk to her father about it.

Emotionally absent

Actually, Paula’s father was one of the main problems. He was a highly qualified scientist specialising in Artificial Intelligence. Worryingly, Paula described him as ‘physically present but emotionally absent.’ He often worked from home but hardly ever emerged from behind the doors of his office.

 As Paula painted more of a picture of his work, personality and behaviour, I began to feel her father might have a systemising brain, a term used by Dr Simon Barron Cohen to describe those on the autistic spectrum. If my hunch was right, then he would not have an instinct that Paula was distressed at all. He would not understand that his advice to follow STEM subjects might be at odds with Paula’s natural inclination or preference. He would not have a sense of context and would probably not be able to empathise with Paula’s current dilemma.

 But it went deeper than that. It turned out that Paula’s father had never told her he loved her and had never even given her a hug. Real communication had all but broken down over the years. Paula respected her father deeply and wanted a relationship with him and, after I had explained the implications of systemising brain wiring, she began to realise her father was not actually being uncaring, it was more probable that he did not have the innate skills to relate to his teenage daughter.

A naked conversation

Direct action would be needed. Paula had to find a way to have ‘a naked conversation’ with her father; one where she could tell him exactly how she felt and what her needs were. I introduced Paula to the ‘communicating difficult feelings’ template and we set to work, collating Paula’s thoughts into the essence of what she felt he needed to say. It’s a formula I’ve used many times and in many different contexts and it always has an impact. One client, Barbara, came to see me on the brink of leaving her husband.

‘He has no instinct about what is going on for me’, she said despairingly. ‘Most of the time he seems indifferent to how I’m feeling. If I want him to do something, I have to write it on a list or it doesn’t happen. I have to make all the social arrangements and even tell him what to wear or he’ll turn up in odd socks!’

The template came in very useful for Barbara, as did the systemising brain explanation. She became much more forgiving of her husband when she realised he was not being bloody-minded after all. One real up side of systemisers is that they are very loyal and have a keen sense of fair play. They are often highly intelligent too. I asked Barbara what her husband did for a living. ‘He’s a rocket scientist’ she said with a wry smile. All was becoming clear.

 Even if your partner is not on the spectrum, according to relationship counsellor John Gray, author of ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ women will discuss feelings easily yet most men would rather mow the lawn ten times or lock themselves in the shed rather than have ‘that’ conversation.

Paula's letter

The letter starts with a positive statement to open communication. There is a tendency to switch off pretty quickly if something looks like it will be critical.

 The template can be used to structure thoughts for a spoken conversation, but putting it in writing works well when trying to communicate with a systemiser as they often miss non verbal signals, and crucially, the letter ends with a call to action.

 This is what Paula wrote. The template is in bold:

Dear Dad,

I love you because you have always stood by me. When mum left, you became my rock. You have worked so hard for us to be able to stay in this house and keep me at my school. I don’t think you know how much I admire you and the work you do.

Yet, it makes me angry when I try to talk with you about what’s worrying me and you seem pre occupied and don’t really listen.

I feel so sad that we don’t spend time together or have fun like we used to before mum left and that communication has broken down between us.

I am frightened that I’m doing subjects at sixth form that I don’t enjoy and I’ve made a mistake I can’t undo because you won’t listen to what I’m saying.

I regret taking STEM subjects and want to do art, music and creative writing instead.

Dad, there’s something I need from you now

I need us to talk about this and for you to come and speak to my form tutor and explain how I feel and find out if I can change subjects or what my options are

And there’s something else…

I need a hug and I need you to tell me you love me (you never have)

Love Paula


I wondered how Paula's father would react. She intended to leave the letter on his desk that evening.

 But I needn’t have worried. When she returned the following week, Paula was like a different girl. After her father’s intervention, the school had been very sympathetic to Paula’s needs and helped her change subjects without delay. It was still early in the term. Paula was bright and would be able to catch up it was felt.

 But there was another more immediate result from the letter.

‘After he read it’, she told me,’ he came straight out of his office, gave me the biggest bear hug and told me he loves me and is really proud of me.’

‘Result’ I said (I had to stop myself from punching the air) ‘Looks like that template might come in very handy in the future’.

Paula agreed. ‘Yes, and it might come in handy if I get married too’, she said.

 Told you she was bright…

Solution focus, guided visualisation, addiction, Mindfulness Based Mind Management (advanced MBSR), epigenetics, mapping the connectome, polyvagal theory, the reticular activating system (RAS), secondary gain, trauma resolution, coaching for kids, treating depression, worrying well, working SMART, therapeutic stories, insight, psycho education, suicide prevention, affirmations, positive mental rehearsal, imagery, dissociation, goal setting, new paradigms, reframes, fast track learning, perception shifting, self actualisation, positive psychology, reframing, metaphor, personal empowerment, motivational thinking, lifting depression, the happiness principle, resilience and resourcefulness, human flourishing, anchoring, rewiring your brain, the STOP System, the SAFE SPACE happiness recipe, holistic coaching and working on the continuum of wellbeing plus many other professional theories, tools and techniques underpin the content of the fast paced, fast track, Fusion training programmes.  

Frances A Masters

Psychotherapist, Coach, Writer. Live your best life.

Do you want to be happier and more resilient? Some people seem to just 'bounce back' no matter what life throws at them. We can't choose many of life's events but we certainly do have a choice about how we respond. My passion for mental health began 25 years ago when I suffered postnatal depression and realised the help I needed simply wasn't there. The pills didn't work. In fact they made things worse. What I really needed was to understand how anxiety, depression and emotional ill health can develop. I needed to learn good 'mind management' skills which would act like a 'psychological inoculation' against future problems. When I recovered, I made a decision to find out how and why I had become so depressed and made a personal pledge to do something to provide the kind of help for others which I had needed. I wanted to prevent people suffering unnecessarily. So I embarked on a personal and professional journey and, along the way, developed a brand new approach to health and well-being. My journey began with four years of traditional counselling training, followed by a postgraduate diploma in psychotherapy. I studied cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), hypnotherapy, coaching and cognitive neuroscience. I built up 30,000 hours professional experience which I brought together into the new happiness and resilience programme l named 'Fusion.' I also wrote a book about how to resolve post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), founded a therapeutic coaching charity and trained volunteers to work in this new way. This training programme would later become the nationally accredited Fusion Therapeutic Coaching Diploma and Distance Learning Skills Certificate. Now... The journey continues. Now I want to reveal all my professional secrets about good mind management to as many people as possible through social media and by training Fusion Breakthrough trainers from all over the world. One of them could be you... Something new.. Something different.. Something which lasts.. What if you could experience one day which could actually change your life for good; giving you your own eureka moment; not only helping you create a vision of the life you want to live, but actually give you the real skills to get there and stay there? Fusion is a tried and tested system which combines the best of psychotherapy and coaching into a powerful new formula for lasting change. My aim is to help and empower as many people as possible to feel their best, be their best and live their best lives. Perhaps I could help you too....


Go to the profile of Sally Jarvis
over 3 years ago

this was really helpful but ended rather suddenly ?

Go to the profile of Frances A Masters
over 3 years ago

Paula's story continued of course Sally. The real intervention I wanted to pass on here was the 'communicating difficult feelings' template which I Hope people will find useful. I'm really pleased you liked the article....