What Are Mixed Messages?

In psychological terms mixed messages are called “double binds” and they were discussed extensively way back by Gregory Bateson (http://www.anecologyofmind.com/). Analytical people will enjoy Bateson. Let’s look at Mary Lou, who delivers mixed messages. We met her in an earlier post. She may have had an ulterior motive to doing so and she may not even be consciously aware of it. Ulterior Motives for Mixed Messages Let’s look at the ulterior motive possibility. Mary Lou knows very well that something is wrong. She asks her husband to ”be honest” with her although she actually is too frightened and fragile to handle honest feedback. If she’s unable to handle painful feedback, why does she ask for it? The answer is because when she admits—to herself—that she could be hurt by some kinds of feedback, she becomes frightened. In other words, Mary Lou can’t handle the feedback and the act of admitting she can’t handle it hurts and frightens her as much as the feedback itself. Family History of People Who Give Mixed Messages Mary Lou grew up in a family with high standards. You had to excel. Her sense of her own identity was tied up with excelling. Her parents were so disappointed when she didn’t measure up to their expectations, that she would feel crushed. Because they were kind and loving parents, she certainly wanted to please them. And I would expect that in holding such high standards, Mary Lou’s parents thought they were doing something positive for her. Maybe they thought that they were bringing out the best in her that way. Mary Lou was a person who...

Why People Give Mixed Messages

By the good fortune of technology, we can enjoy Abbot and Costello’s famous routine, “Who’s on first. What’s on second, and I-Don’t-Know is on third.” Those guys are still funny today. It’s just not so funny when you’re married to someone who is sending mixed messages. In fact, it’s downright frustrating. But that may be exactly the point. Let me explain with a story. “Be honest with me,” Mary Lou pleaded with Lou. “Did I do something wrong?” “Oh, no,” Lloyd answered, trying to sound reassuring. Inside, however, he felt as though he were walking on a tightrope. Past experience told him that he was now being carefully placed in a lose-lose situation. His guard was up, but he didn’t know what to do. The bombshell fell right away and although it was expected, it still jarred him as it always did. His stomach muscles tightened, his breath quickened, his palms perspired. “See, that’s why I don’t trust you,” Mary Lou, his wife of 20 years, said. “I don’t believe you are being honest. And you’ve done this before. I can’t ever get into a real conversation with you. You run away from it so fast. You hide. You won’t talk about what’s really happening. You are just not in reality!” Mary Lou said and then continued on for a few minutes more until Lloyd felt almost faint. Not only was he confused as to how to respond, but he was clearly being attacked. He wanted to lash out. “I am not hiding!” Lloyd said, making his first mistake. “Yes, you are,” insisted Mary Lou. “When Marjorie came to...
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