How avoiding “the talk” with your kids can cause them stress
A psychiatrist named Milt Erickson is well known amongst professionals but not so much amongst the general public. He is known for his brilliant communication techniques which were founded on the idea that many people are resistant to change and even advice, so you need to meet them where they are. Confrontation, thought Erikson, was only likely to lead to more denial and resistance.
There are many great examples of Erikson at work and one of my favorite books is Uncommon Therapy by Jay Haley, which tells many stories of the psychiatrist in action. And one of my favorite stories concerns a female client who came to see Erickson about her lack of interest in sex.
The woman, in her mid-twenties, told Erickson that her mother had told her that sex was dirty and evil. Unfortunately, her mother died when the girl was 12 years old.
Now some therapists may be driven to tell the woman that her mother’s attitudes about sex were inappropriate and that sex was an important part of a healthy relationship and life. However, Erickson knew that this would be a problem, because the woman had glorified her mother because of her untimely death. As a result, she wouldn’t accept anything negative about her mom.
Erickson worked his genius.
“Your mother was absolutely right,” he told the woman. “Sex is evil and dirty — when you’re 12 years old. Unfortunately, your mother didn’t live long enough to give you the 16 year-old’s, 20 year-old’s and the 25 year-old’s message about sex.”
The woman sat on the edge of her seat as Erickson told her that he was sure her mother would have endorsed sexual activity as an appropriate and healthy activity as her daughter aged.
Wow! Apparently Erickson’s words enabled the woman to free herself of negative views about sex and shed her guilt about violating her mother’s edicts every time she thought about it.
Apart from highlighting Erickson’s brilliance, the story also shows the powerful impact of the source and type of messages about sex that we can all be exposed to.
Children and even teenagers, can easily mistake and misunderstand what is being told to them. The discomfort of a conversation on this subject with parents can lead to anxiety about the whole topic. And as a result, many people never have “the talk” with their parents, instead taking their cue from friends, who might or might not have the details right. In addition, even when they have “the talk” it tends to be about the mechanics of sex not other critical aspects, like when it is appropriate and how to respond to sexual feelings.
We live in a culture of sex and we are all being constantly bombarded by sexual messages of one sort of another: whether that is how we should dress, look and behave. These have subtle influences on developing attitudes and can create pressure to conform.
Just as with other beliefs and values, we can get our views about sex from those who have a distorted view about it (see the story above). There’s no reason why we should base our beliefs and values on other people’s opinions. We need to develop our own views based, where necessary, on informed discussion and thought about who you want to be, not what others are.
I have had many such conversations with people who were confused about sexual activity and feelings. Typically, talking through with them these issues and their own values, often leads to greater clarity and confidence about the subject.
Healthy sexuality is an important aspect of self-image and relationships. Your views about it shouldn’t be left to chance.
Uncommon Therapy: the Psychiatric Techniques of Milton H. Erickson. Jay Haley.
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