Holding On and Letting Go
You're Wearing That is the title of a new book by Deborah Tannen.
National Public Radio's Susan Stamberg excerpts from the book and interviews the author. I excerpt from her excerpt below, but it's worth reading the whole post, and I'm sure it's worth reading the whole book (sight unseen I say this).
Most of us instinctively identify You're wearing that as a mother's communique to a daughter, and that's what the book is all about, mothers and daughter and how they talk to one another.
Quick and dirty:
You've heard it here before that when you talk to a significant other you should try on the idea that your S-O is important, as important, indeed more important than your boss, and you wouldn't speak to your boss harshly. You wouldn't second guess or psychologically undermine (out loud) your boss's choices. You wouldn't yell at your boss. You wouldn't hang up on your boss.
Parents assume that they have the right to do these things to children. Children, especially when they get older, assume that they've earned the right to do them to their parents.
Earn the right? There's a right to emotionally abuse a family member?
A little harsh, let's dial that down.
Of course if you don't correct your children then they might grow up feeling the world owes them a living and that they're always right, or conversely, that no one cares about them and they're nobodies. But there is a right and a wrong way to advise people, and probably Dr. Tannen discusses all of this in her book.
(Why is it I didn't get an advance copy of THAT one, by the way?)
Recently a patient told me that the state of being angry is now considered emotionally abusive, a real kick to therapies that encourage you to beat your pillows. I still like the beat your pillow concept. Who does it hurt, after all?
But for sure if you're in therapy or have ever been in therapy and the topic of anger has come up then you know that the expression of anger can be extremely abusive, even in low tones. It's exactly what we tell people in anger management.
You have potential to emotionally damage by being angry-- either at your spouse or at a child-- at anyone, if the way you express your anger as volatile and unpredictable, or if it's cruel, biting, mean.
I've told you this on my Because of You post that discusses Kelly Clarkson's song. She bemoans the domestic violence she experienced by watching her parents fight. I tell you that her anxiety, her fear is a response to trauma.
So no, you don't have the right to be angry, rather, you don't have the right to express it without sensitivity.
I titled this post Holding On and Letting Go because so much of what happens between parents and children is about control. We have such a need to hold on, take care of, protect our children, that letting them fly can be supremely difficult.
Sending them to kindergarten can be hard, how can we do weddings? The stress of letting go (and the energy it takes to hold on, double entendre intended) is a variable that surely drives the way moms and daughters talk to one another.
So when it comes to communication, walking on eggshells, even if it is uncomfortable and doesn't feel intimate is a good thing. The intimacy will come if we're careful about how we talk to one another. It's okay to have to watch what we say-- to think and rethink everything, to couch communication in the most sensitive, caring fashion.
When the kid is about to stick a finger into an electric socket or run into the street, THEN you can scream. But most of the time children aren't doing that. They're not sticking fingers into electric sockets. They're not running into the street. They're looking both ways.
I don't mean to minimize this subject in any way, trust me. I understand that if your child's shooting up that you'd better do something and it might be best to be strict, calculatedly rejecting, even mean. We can talk about that another time.
Meanwhile, here's a quick excerpt of the book, excerpted from the NPR website. Congratulations Ms. Stamberg and National Public Radio and thanks Dr. Tannen.
A woman in her sixties expressed this: “I always assumed that once my daughter became an adult, the problems would be over,” she said. “We’d be friends; we’d just enjoy each other. But you find yourself getting older, things start to hurt, and on top of that, there are all these complications with your daughter. It’s a big disappointment.”Gotta' love it.
Small Spark, Big Flare-up
Especially disappointing—and puzzling—is that hurt feelings and even arguments can be sparked by the smallest, seemingly insignificant remarks. Here’s an example that comes from a student in one of my classes named Kathryn Ann Harrison.
“Are you going to quarter those tomatoes?” Kathryn heard her mother’s voice as she was preparing a salad. Kathryn stiffened, and her pulse quickened. “Well, I was,” she answered. Her mother responded, “Oh, okay,” but the tone of her voice and the look on her face prompted Kathryn to ask, “Is that wrong?”
“No, no,” her mother replied. “It’s just that personally, I would slice them.”
Kathryn’s response was terse: “Fine.” But as she cut the tomatoes—in slices—she thought, Can’t I do anything without my mother letting me know she thinks I should do it some other way?
copyright 2007, therapydoc