A middle-aged man has been hospitalized in a psychiatric ward for weeks. His diagnosis of schizophrenia includes symptoms such as delusions and paranoid thinking.
His mother visits occasionally, and each time he is told that she is on her way to see him, he becomes agitated – even terrified – and exhibits bizarre behavior. When she arrives, she says, as he stands, frozen with fear, “Aren’t you going to give your mother a hug?”
He approaches her and hugs her. Instantly her body stiffens and she does not return the hug.
This classic case has been discussed for many years in order to illustrate how one person’s behavior can make another person feel crazy. It is an extreme case of what we commonly refer to as a mixed message. The mother’s words said one thing, but her body said the opposite. It is clear to see which of her behaviors – her words or her body language – carries more emotional weight.
The purpose of this article is to help you understand the power of mixed messages, whether you’re on the sending or receiving end. Since personal conflicts are often fueled by this error in communication, it’s worth the effort.
You know how this shows up. Your husband’s words say one thing, but his body language says another. He says one thing, but his appearance – his personal grooming, behavior in public, dependability at work or around the house, or his treatment of your friends or family – says another.
I invite you to pay attention – don’t let this slip by you – as this is happening. Not only when you’re on the receiving end, but also when you, yourself, may be sending mixed messages.
If you’re concerned that you could be doing this, get some honest feedback from a trusted friend or family member. Ask that person directly to tell you if they notice you doing it. This is absolutely critical, because, when you’re trying change a habit, you’re less likely to make the new habit stick, without such feedback.
To improve your communication and observation skills, please feel free to reach out for a brief, free consultation. The phone number is 219-309-3928.
Thanks for reading!