Well pooh-pooh, la-di-da, and phooey on this quote, which shouldn’t even be allowed on a psychology website. Because really, what is psychology if not discussing people? People are endlessly fascinating, they are responsible for ideas and events, and you couldn’t figure them out in a lifetime of study. What’s so small about discussing people?
What about Freud? Didja ever think about him, Eleanor? He couldn’t have gotten to all his ideas if he hadn’t first thought about and discussed people.
And can you even separate ideas from events and people? Aren’t the three all completely intertwined in this big glorious mess that is life? Ideas don’t exist in a vacuum, they are the product of people’s minds. To fully understand them, you have to understand where they come from. And events are the result of behavior. People again.
Is this true? I need to know.
I’ve always believed that talking things out is the right thing to do, but I am doubting, doubting, doubting these days. And here’s this dame (a novelist and travel writer) telling me my belief is delusional.
But I need explanations. Is nothing made better by talking, or are some things made better and some worse? And which are made worse and which better? And are we talking about talking between affected parties, or talking to someone else?
Research is finding that, contrary to popular assumption, insisting people talk about trauma immediately after it occurs actually increases the risk of PTSD.
But what about run-of-the-mill problems? Fights with friends? Marital difficulties? Problems at work? Sometimes it seems like venting to friends just makes a problem feel worse and worse. Like talking after a trauma, venting sometimes makes the problem calcify in my brain, as I build arguments and build arguments and build arguments and justify and justify and justify until I have walled myself into the problem with what feels like no way out.
Talking about things feels good to me. It lets a breath of fresh air into my rumination, and sometimes I can talk my way to insight. Sometimes the person I’m talking to has useful things to say. Sometimes just venting releases enough pressure to allow a problem to dissipate.
But other times, my feels-good talking is the other person’s feels-bad talking, and what started as my problem then turns into the other person’s problem. Or the talking itself creates its own new problem. And then I don’t know if I should talk about that problem, the talking problem, or just shut up for once.
You see my problem. What’s the answer? Can we talk about it?
Photo of man with tape over mouth available from Shutterstock.
How are you at taking criticism?
I’ve gotten pretty good at it. If you’re going to put yourself in the public eye, you have to take your lumps.
I usually let rotten tomatoes land where they will. Readers often have unpleasant things to say to those of us with the audacity to put our thoughts in print. I’ve been called names, been accused of unspeakable acts, had my fitness for my job questioned. I hardly even consider that kind of thing criticism. Most of the time, it’s just people flapping their gums. I can imagine their red-faced sputtering and I hope they can imagine my eyes rolling. Those rotten tomatoes miss me by a mile.
(I’ve also noticed that when someone agrees with something I’ve written, it’s because the idea is good and great minds think alike. When someone disagrees, it’s because, obviously, I’m an idiot.)
Live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy. — Kurt Vonnegut.
Ah yes, the little white lie. I’m all for it. You’re haircut looks great! The party was a blast! No, I don’t mind doing you a favor at all!
Life is indeed nicer with harmless untruths like those.
But this quote also makes an argument for what I think of as benign denial.
I grew up in a family mired in unhealthy denial, which convinced me that denial must be avoided at all costs. Denial can be a terrible problem. It keeps people in unhealthy relationships, reassures them that lung cancer only happens to other people, causes financial ruin, and all kinds of other bad things.
But there are other kinds of denial that are no big deal.
Nothing against the lovely, late Audrey Hepburn. I love her movies, her look, her philanthropy. But this motivational quote? Not so much.
This is one of those clever sayings that sounds great until you really think about it.
Nothing is impossible? OK then—flap your arms and fly.
No, not even Audrey Hepburn could do that.
I was talking to a friend recently about a complicated situation and doing my usual over-thinking thing, trying to figure out what I would say and what he would say and what that would mean and then what I should say about that thing he said and then what he would probably say about that and what that would mean and whether it would be a good thing or a bad thing and what it might lead to and how I should address that and how me might react and so on and so on and so on until finally my friend told me to slow down.
“One conversation at a time,” she counseled.
That certainly shut my mouth. In a good way.
Being thoughtful and analytical about my own actions is not a bad thing, if I don’t get carried away and descend into pointless rumination. But talk about pointless–writing scripts for another person’s side of a conversation doesn’t do me, the other person, or the situation any good. And jumping three conversations in the future, before I even know how the first will resolve, is counterproductive.