Apr 28, 2010

The Disguised You-Message

Mr. G., the father of two adolescent boys, came to class and reported that his first attempt to put I-Messages to work has ended dismally.

"My son, Paul, contrary to what you told us, started sending his own You-Messages right back to me, like h always does."

"Did you send I-Messages yourself? asked the instructor.

"Of course--or I think I did; I tried to anyway," Mr. G. replied.

The instructor suggested acting out the situation in class--he would play the part of Paul and Mr. G. would be himself. After explaining the situation to the class, Mr. G. began to recapture the situation:

MR. G: I feel strongly that you have been neglectful of your chores.
PAUL: How's that?
MR. G: Well, take your job of mowing the lawn. I feel upset every time you goof off. Like last Saturday. I was angry at you because you sneaked off without mowing the backyard. I felt that was irresponsible and I was upset.

At this point, the instructor stopped the role-playing and said to Mr. G., "I did hear a lot of 'I feel's' from you, but let's ask the class if they heard anything else."

One of the fathers in the class immediately chimed in with, "In a few seconds, you told Paul he was neglectful, he was a goof-off, he was sneaky, and he was irresponsible."

"Wow. Did I? I guess maybe I did," Mr. G. said sheepishly. "those sound just like You-Messages."

Mr. G. was correct. He had made the mistake many parents initially make--sending You-Messages under the disguise of putting "I feel" in front of name-calling messages.

It sometimes takes this kind of re-enactment of a real situation for parents to see clearly that "I feel you are a slob" is just as much a You-Message as "You are a slob." Parents are instructed to drop the "I feel" and state what they did feel specifically--such as "I was disappointed," "I wanted the lawn to look nice Sunday," Or "I was upset because I thought we had agreed the lawn would be mowed Saturday."*

*Excerpt from Dr. Thomas Gordon's P.E.T. book

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