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#141 To Thine Own Self Be True

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Polonius says this wonderful quote to his son Laertes as he takes his leave from his father:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78–82

It turns out that the meaning of this quote in Shakespeare’s time was different than it is now. In our day we take it to mean that if we don’t harbor false illusions about ourselves, we will not be deceitful to others. If we know who we are in all our strengths and weaknesses we will not have to worry about being caught in lies to anyone. It is good advice for any age and it is especially true in families. Children are masters at ferreting out deceit and hypocrisy. If they are afraid to say it, it still doesn’t mean that they don’t know it. If parents say one thing and do another, children will be the first to catch it.
So in terms of our 360 degree feedback exercise it is important that parents be able to give honest feedback to themselves. Within a trusted environment everyone needs to be true to themselves. We have heard from each of the children so now it is time for Mom to give herself feedback. Remember though, it has to be positive. (This is not the moment for listing all the times you lose your temper when the children are fighting or scream at them to clean their rooms.)
What can Mom say about herself that is positive? The children have already told her that she is their best friend and that she smells good. Dad likes how she looks in the morning getting ready for work. Well, hmmmm!!! She didn’t yell at Zak when he forgot to feed the dog …for the millionth time! But that is not positive. It is the absence of negative. See! I know how her mind works! (Been there. Done that.) She was pleasant and cheerful when Samantha forgot her lunch and she had to bring it to school Okay. That’s positive. But that’s not really how Mom feels, is it?
Right now, Mom is not being true to herself. She is tired of being the “quicker picker upper.” She doesn’t feel positive and she is angry about the extra chores she is doing. She starts to cry. So it is time to back up. Mom needs to express some negative stuff and then she will have a better chance at being positive. She wants people to be a little more accountable for their own duties. The family voted to have the dog and the children agreed to feed her. So how about we get with the program?
The family really loves Mom so they start to respond. Zak volunteers to be diligent about feeding the dog. Samantha starts getting tearful. (Feelings really are contagious. But that’s okay. It’s what makes us human.) She will put her lunch in her back pack before she sits down to breakfast. Mom and Samantha hug. Tabitha wants to get in on the action. “Mommy, I love your new hair-do!” “Well, I like it too,” Mom says. “I want a haircut just like yours, Mommy!” “That’s a great idea,” says Dad. “We can go when I pick you up from pre-school.”
Disaster averted! The positive feedback continues. It won’t always be this simple to fix but if participants feel safe about expressing real feelings it has a good chance of working.

#141 To Thine Own Self Be True

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2015). #141 To Thine Own Self Be True. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Mar 2015
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