I love this week's blog because it brings to all of our attention how we're communicating with each other and whether that communication is positive or negative. Do we plant flowers, or do we spread garbage? Quite the visual, isn't it? Today we're going to talk more about Garbage Messages. Some of these messages may have been common in your household growing up, or are messages you give currently. You may not realize these are even unhealthy, so we'll discuss why. Garbage Messages (messages that make us feel bad and unloved)
- Family business is private business. Of course we don't want to go around sharing private family information, but there is a limit to this message. Giving this message too often in a family creates the unspoken belief that "outsiders" or other people cannot be trusted. It creates dependence and sole reliance on the family. Yes, we need to be able to rely on our family members, but this message make it sound as though family are the only people that are reliable and trustworthy people.
- Work first, play later. Being a hard worker is definitely important and can build great character. However, a downside to this message is that it also says, "What you do is more important than who you are". There must be a balance between work and play (hobbies, interests, etc..). It's important that we remain human beings than human-doings.
- Boys don't cry. Hopefully it's clear why this message would be unhealthy! We don't want to give men the impression that they must always be strong. There are different kinds of strength too....physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, etc... We do find that individuals who are able to express emotion are much healthier physically and emotionally and report more life satisfaction.
- Women shouldn't get angry. This is similar to the one above. We don't want to give the message that women cannot express angry feelings. Remember that anger is an emotion just like happiness and fear. It's what we DO with the emotion that can become healthy or unhealthy. Expressing emotion, whether you are male or female is perfectly fine. It's HOW you do it that can get inappropriate.
- Don't speak unless spoken to. We want to teach patience and manners. However, we also want to allow individuals to have a voice and speak up if they have reactions to things that feel inappropriate in their gut. This statement gives the message that spontaneity is wrong. We want individuals to speak up if their gut or intuition says, "Hey, something isn't right here".
- Don't talk about sex. Sex is a naturally occurring topic and very important area in relationships/marriage just as finances and communication. To give the message "Don't talk about sex", it can give the impression that sex is bad or wrong, or that the human body is bad or wrong. Shame then surrounds the topic of sex, and it becomes very uncomfortable to discuss between two individuals. The key is communicating about sex just as you would about finances and other relationship topics.
- You made your bed, now lie in it. This statement gives the message that mistakes are not allowed. It gives the impression that mistakes can be avoided, thus creating perfectionism and shame in the relationship. This will also create secrecy when mistakes are made, because the person who made the mistake will want to hide the fact that they made it, so they'll not want to disappoint anyone. The key is realizing that mistakes are part of being human, everyone is going to make them, and letting loved ones know that they are still accepted even if they do make mistakes.
If you find yourself giving these messages, don't worry! You can change them into flower messages and turn things around. If you grew up with these messages, recognize that you can put "flowers" into your basket and toss the garbage out. We have more garbage messages for you tomorrow so you know what to avoid. Thank you for reading and have a great day!
Written by: Tamara Wilhelm MA, LMHC, LCAC
*Tamara enjoys doing marriage counseling, individual counseling, & couples counseling at Imagine Hope. We also specialize in family counseling, child & adolescent counseling. Imagine Hope serves the Indianapolis area, including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield & Fishers.