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The Unstated Message (Part I)


(Circumstances changed)


 


A simple sentence is not so simple. It evokes emotions that may or may not be what we intended. It can also say more about us than we want to reveal. It may convey to the person reading or hearing the sentence what we think about ourselves and how we see our role as well as what we think about them. Allow me to clarify.


 


A well spouse I spoke to (I’ll call her Sadie) was instrumental in developing an on-line site she felt would be of great service to another well spouse support group that was starting up in her community. This site was going to have a “teleclass” that would convey information that Sadie felt would greatly benefit this fledgling organization and its members.


 


And so she called the leader of the group (I’ll call her Joyce) to share the information with her. She told her about the site, the topic and the time of the broadcast. In response, Joyce told Sadie, “I am sure I will forget or be tied up, could you please call me at the office…just before the class and remind me?”


 


Sadie was livid.  What had she heard in the sentence to make her so angry?


 


To Sadie the sentence said a lot about how the leader saw her. “She must think I have all the time in the world and am just looking for things to fill my day. I will barely have time to get home from work, check on my husband to make sure he has been given his meds, been fed etc. and then tune in to the class myself  - and she expects me to be her reminder! Just add another thing to my schedule. I have a busy day too. I am not her employee or her underling. If it’s important to her, she can just take two seconds now and put it in her date book.”


 


To Sadie it also told her a lot about how Joyce saw herself. Sadie felt that Joyce clearly saw herself as more important and superior to Sadie. Sadie now saw Joyce as someone who expected other people to do her bidding and someone who delegated instead of doing and shifted responsibility instead of taking it.


 


Whether Sadie’s analysis of Joyce is correct remains to be seen. But Sadie now has a negative picture of Joyce that will be hard to erase. All this emotion, from one sentence. An impression that came from that sentence Joyce uttered and therefore, she must take some responsibility for it.


 


I asked Sadie, what Joyce could have said that might have left her with a different impression. She told me that a “thank you” might have helped, since Sadie did go out of her way to share the information with Joyce. An acknowledgement that this might be a class worth listening to would have given Sadie some credibility as a knowledgeable peer.  Lastly, consideration for Sadie’s schedule might have made all the difference. 


 


Sadie said she would have liked to hear, “Thank you for thinking of me. It sounds really interesting. I want to participate very much and am afraid I might miss it. I know how busy youare too, but if it’s not too much to ask, could you call me at the office just before the class starts? It would be a great help to me and would be so much appreciated.”


 


In this way Sadie might think Joyce lacked organizational skills but would not have been left with such a negative impression of Joyce as a person.


 


First impressions last as long time. We make many first impressions, one for each role we play in life. Even more important than how we dress for success is how we speak for success. We bring our emotional history to all we hear and it is reflected in what we say and how we say it. It is so important to be sensitive to how others will hear us.


 


We do this not just to be sensitive to the emotions of those we are speaking to but we considering that our listener will help us get what we want and need from others. It will also go a long way in portraying ourselves in a more positive light to those around us because, what we say and how we say it may tell people a great deal about us. It may even tell them much more than we’d like.


 


You can contact me at annnovick@hotmail.com.

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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