Metamessages

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I Can't Even Open My Mouth

The article "I Can't Even Open My Mouth," by Deborah Tannen, shows how words and actions of those closest to us often have two meanings, the message and the metamessage. Through examples of conversation between families, Tannen shows how words and actions that are meant to be caring, are often taken as criticism and can be as seen as having double meanings.

Deborah Tannen is a professor of sociolinguistics at Georgetown University. She is the author of several popular books about the way people in social situations talk to each other. By studying these interactions, she attempts to help others to understand them and so get along better in relationships.

Deborah Tannen explains so logically how linguistics can cause all types of mixed messages during an interaction with someone. Even when our intentions are good, it's now easy to see how we could be misinterpreted and how fights and long held grudges could be avoided or amended. Searching for signs of acceptance and belonging, we find signs of disapproval and rejection. It seems that the seeds of family love so often give way to a harvest of criticism and judgment.

Presenting real conversations from people's lives, Tannen reveals what is actually going on in family talk, including how family conversations must balance the longing for connection with the desire for control, as we struggle to be close without giving up our freedom.

This eye-opening article explains why grown women so often feel criticized by their mothers; and why mothers feel they can't open their mouths around their grown daughters.
While reading the article I felt completely connected and could relate to most everything written. I thoroughly enjoyed the article and look forward to reading more articles written by Deborah Tannen.
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