6. Illogical Values - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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6. Illogical Values

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Ghost Guest Family Past
As the person individually, or the couple or family jointly discusses situation or action, the person or each person gives his or her interpretations of what occurred.  The therapist prompts more in depth expression of feelings that may not have been previously verbalized.  The feelings and thoughts are validated as the subjective experiences of each partner.  Underlying values should be elicited from the individual or each person.  The therapist often restrains from making an objective confirmation of one or the other's experience in a couple or a family.  Expressed feelings and thoughts may hide or protect vulnerability, hurt, helplessness, fear, or other feelings that an individual had not felt safe to express openly.  Open expression may contradict values against showing or having anger, aggression or depression.  An individual may feel too vulnerable, afraid, insecure, or fragile to reveal him or herself, often from previous family-of-origin experiences, prior relationships, and in the current relationship including that of therapy.  In lieu of revealing these core feelings, thoughts, and experiences, a person may verbalize or act in ways that appear illogical or arbitrary.  Two or more held values may be revealed as contradictory.  While a person may be dismissive of another's apparent illogical verbal assertions or behaviors, the therapist should prompt for the values and meanings related to words or actions. While people constantly seek meaning for their experiences, unfortunately the default conclusion is often "He or she is crazy… unloving… doesn't care…" and so forth in a conflicted relationship.  The other person often is unaware of the unexpressed context of thoughts and emotions about a situation.  If the therapist is able to have the individual, partners, or family members identify and reveal the fuller belief system and meanings for verbalizations and behaviors, then further inquiry may replace the negative default dismissal of "illogic."   Instead of "He or she's nuts!" the person needs to respond with, "That doesn't make sense.  I don't understand."  And inquire, "Tell me more to help me understand."  Once respective personal logic from various influences (including from the family-of-origin) is accepted by each other, problem solving relationship issues becomes more tenable.

"Beliefs, being often out of immediate awareness, reside at a non-conscious and unarticulated level much of the time… What becomes clear is how one spouse may be talking about how they feel inside (sad, vulnerable, not valued) while the other is pursuing a course of trying to understand the meaning of all this – the 'why' and 'how'.  Or it may be that while one is questioning the basis of their relationship – their beliefs, the other just wants to express how angry they are – their emotions.  Neither is wrong, but each is pursuing their understanding, and these understandings miss, thereby creating a true mis-understanding.  All levels need to be addressed, but in a way that both parties are aware of which one is being dealt with at the time.  What this simple process addresses is: what is happening between the couple, the relational; their internal worlds of experience – 'public' and 'private' – and the meanings, followed by their beliefs.  In this way they begin to address their constructions of realities based both on current time and internalized time, that timeless time which is handed down from generation to generation, influenced by their gendered, cultural stories" (Jenkins, 2006, page 126-28).  Not only does one or both persons present with unexpressed and sometimes, unconscious beliefs, they may also be communicating and working out of sync with one another.  Subsequently, everyone is talking and no one is communicating.  Each person is listening not to understand the other but listening for confirmation of a personal agenda mismatched with the other's agenda.  It does not add up when elements are missing from awareness, but even more so when the individuals are working on disparate psychological and emotional equations.  Larson et al., (2000) discussed examining individuals in couple's relationship that included a subscale score on the "false self… a measure of how much an individual tries to "'look good'" or 'be perfect' to others rather than showing their genuine self to others" (page 166).  Other subscales looked at restricted communication or the lack of self-disclosure of thoughts, feelings, and problems; inappropriate caretaking- a measure of self-neglect in the service of others; and lack of spontaneity which was seen as a measure of a lack of vulnerability.  They found that family-of-origin rules that fostered these tendencies "hindered the perceived expression of thoughts, opinions, and expectations between partners and the open expression of feelings and empathy.  Sexual intimacy also was negatively affected by all three types of perceived dysfunctional family-of-origin rules, but to a somewhat lesser degree" (page 170).  

While the therapist may value and encourage open and honest communication between people, one or more individuals may be held by family-of-origin requires to "look good."  Looking good to the therapist or to the other person may have been the corrupt agenda that had compromised a mutually connected agenda for the relationship.  Being honest with the other person and "looking good" may be contradictory.  Instructing the individuals what to do may not be effective until the therapist helps them first uncover what they feel they should do.  If the family-of-origin guides for being a good spouse or partner (good worker, friend, etc.) include presenting a false self, the incongruity between feelings/beliefs and behavior and between expectations and outcomes would preempt true intimacy.  The same situation may have different meanings, concerns, and "shoulds" for each person.  The insistence of ones concerns and seeming blindness to the other's concerns may itself be some consequence of family-of-origin experiences or values that the therapist should explore.  With the lack of a mutual topic or goal, the therapist must either reframe the two goals into one accepted joint goal, or negotiate for choosing one person's concerns to be considered first and the other person's concerns at the next time.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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