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Communication Risk:

Communication in some families is very good and very bad in others. At its best, communication is congruent. This means family members are, as the saying goes, usually on the same page. They listen and seldom misunderstand. This is true whether the communication is relaxed and comfortable or more tense and heated. It is true whether the interaction is quick or more leisurely. Congruence is there in the sense of fit, meaning, intent, and feeling. It is not usually necessary to read between the lines, wonder what someone meant, or be concerned about whether what was said was what was intended.

In other families, communication is searching. This happens when families are somewhere between hearing and understanding each other and finding themselves unable to communicate. Family members are trying to find or search out common meaning and understanding. Sometimes they succeed. Nonetheless, much of the time they do not.

Here is the problem. As a family member, you cannot tell for sure on any given occasion. This means you are always a little uncertain and anxious. You cannot trust and depend on what others say or how they respond to what happens.

At the ritualistic level, communication has little to do with trust, faith, and understanding. People say what is expected and hear what others say as nothing more than an automatic and expected response. Each person is on his/her own; but everyone goes through the motions and conforms with the family rituals. The value is in the ritual and not in honesty, openness, and caring. For example, did you get any real sense of interest and caring when TJ visited his mother twenty years later?

At the most risky level, family communication is random. Sometimes people talk and sometimes not. Sometimes what they say is relevant and sometimes not. A key to this is hearing people say things that seem unrelated to the conversation or noticing they have completely changed the subject. For example, the question might be, “What do you think about it?” The random response is, “Are we going to eat soon?”

Children who have grown up in families where communication is random are, as they say, like talking to a stone wall. They are usually deferential; but either they do not respond or come back with something random or unrelated. It is as if they were paying no attention or had been hearing a totally different conversation. Not only are they on a different page, they are not even in the same book at times.

It is interesting to note that, as communication became more random in TJ’s family, the truth became irrelevant. Leroy and TJ’s mother said whatever served their purpose; and the fact that TJ became the scapegoat did not matter.

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