Don’t Forget to Talk to Each Other

 

A client told me about a conversation with her teenage daughter. She had told her daughter about some changes that were going to be occurring in the family. The daughter responded by saying that she was very angry. A few days later, the mother asked her to spend a few hours with her, just the two of them. The daughter refused, and the mother was very distressed. 

I asked her about her response to her daughter. She told me she was sad and disappointed, but she had not said anything to her daughter. I asked her why she chose to say nothing. She said, “I did not know what to say.”

I was not surprised by her comment. I am aware that too many people never learn ways to express themselves in conversation. In a prior article in the Alameda Sun, I wrote about learning the language of feelings. Too often, we are raised in an environment where the vocabulary we learn does not include the feelings we have. And, too often, conversations do not occur to share our thoughts and feelings with each other. 

I have learned from my clients over the years, that our families of origin often failed to teach us how to talk to each other. An expectation is spoken but not explained. We have a response, but we do not express it. We do not exchange in words what we mean or how we are reacting. 

My client asked me how I would have responded to her daughter’s refusal to spend time with her. I suggested she might have begun by saying she felt sad and disappointed. I then asked her why she wanted to spend the time alone with her daughter. She told me that they never have time with each other, and she wanted to be able to talk more fully about what was happening in the family. I encouraged her to tell me more about that, and she did. 

I then asked her if she was willing to share those thoughts with her daughter, to let her know how she felt and what her goal was. She said she would give it a try, but it was not the type of conversation she was accustomed to. It never occurred in her family when she was growing up.

I pointed out to her that she says she is tense when she comes for her appointments at my office, but always leaves feeling differently. I encourage her to express herself fully, often by asking a question which prompts her to expand on what she has already said. Thus, in therapy, she has had the experience of expressing herself more fully, and she chooses to come back each week. I have pointed out her courage in facing the challenge each time, to begin tense and to end relieved. 

That is what we can achieve when we learn to say what is on our minds.

 

Dr. Natalie Gelman is an Alameda-based therapist. Submit questions to drnataliegelman@gmail.com or through her website, www.drnataliegelman.com.