In this post, I will describe a strategy used by people who do not want to tell you their real motives for why they did or did not do something – for any of a variety of reasons – and therefore block your efforts to understand them and their motives better by confusing the issue: descriptions masquerading as explanations.
The response sounds like an explanation for their motives or fears but in fact explains absolutely nothing. Here once again, the use of follow-up questions is essential in clarifying what the family member’s actual motives are.
Follow-up questions might include: Did something else happen after the event? What was the reaction of your parents to what your teacher did? What seems to make you focus only on this event? Why do you think you are unable to overcome it? What have you done to try to overcome the problem, and if nothing, why?
If the family member replies to the latter question with, “I just didn’t think there was anything I could do about it,” the metacommunicator should inquire if the family member had even looked into possible solutions, and if not, why not.
The person and his or her audience probably both presuppose that someone who has difficulty dealing with anger either has trouble appropriately expressing it, or flies off the handle too readily. We already know that this guy is explaining his passivity. Therefore, for him to say that he has trouble dealing with his angry feelings means the same thing, in essence, as the statement that he always keeps his anger to himself.
Inquiring minds want to know.