In the P.E.T. program, self-disclosing messages are referred to as I-Messages. An l-Message is a communication about the self — the “I”.
An I-Message is authentic, honest, and congruent — reflecting the actual nature and strength of your thoughts and feelings. It is a clear message, understandable, and to the point, not masked in indirect or vague language.
Declarative I-Messages Are The Basic Form of Self-Disclosure
They are the declaration to others of your beliefs, ideas, likes, dislikes, feelings, thoughts, reactions — or any other statement that helps others know you better and understand how you are experiencing your life.
Some Examples of Declarative I-Messages:
“I believe the homework that your teacher’s given you is really important.”
“I think that we should have a military draft.”
“I feel discouraged about how much things cost these days.”
“I know you disagree strongly, yet I got real value from the first parent-faculty meeting, and I think we should give it a real chance.”
Preventive I-Messages Stop Trouble Before It Starts
Another important type of self-disclosure is one that lets your children and others know of some future need that you want to meet; that anticipates what you want to do or see happen. Such a message, because it clearly describes how you want events to turn out, greatly increases the chances that others will adjust their actions so as not to block what you need. Such a message may prevent a conflict. Such Preventive I-Messages are especially appropriate in the home. An example, familiar to every parent, is the announcement of the time dinner will be ready so that the children can finish what they’re doing and, ideally, help out in the kitchen!
Some examples of Preventive I-Messages:
“I need some uninterrupted time tonight so I can get the bills paid.”
“I’d like to hear of your weekend plans this evening so we can work out transportation ahead of time.”
“I’d love to come to dinner. Please remember, I don’t eat meat.”
“I’d like to set a limit on our holiday spending this year.”
Positive I-Messages Enhance and Strengthen Relationships
One of the most enriching forms of self-disclosure is the Positive I-Message. These are messages that exclusively describe parents’ positive feelings toward their children. Although kids do plenty of things that are a problem for parents, they also say and do many things that are a pleasure, often helping a parent in unexpected ways or displaying kindness, maturity, considerateness, or good humor just when it’s needed most. When these behaviors occur, it is appropriate and important for parents to disclose any genuine positive feelings they have about them.
Unfortunately, many parents are only self-disclosing when they are upset with their child’s behavior. This is clearly appropriate self-disclosure, but the important point is that parents should disclose both their feelings of unacceptance and acceptance. Positive I-Messages that express appreciation, love, enjoyment, and affection toward children (spouse, friends, and others) can contribute greatly to warmer, closer, and more enjoyable relationships. Very young children, with their budding self-esteem and desire to be a “helper,” seem especially to thrive on Positive I-Messages.
Consider the value for you, your children, or others in the following examples of Positive I-Messages:
“I appreciate how quiet you were when I was paying the bills. I did it a lot faster, thanks to you!”
“I really like the story you wrote, James.”
“I was so proud when I heard you telling those kids you wouldn’t lie to cover for them!”
“Honey, I really love you.”
It is important that Positive I-Messages not be used to manipulate or “shape” a child’s behavior. Such ulterior motives invariably come through to the child and make your sincerity suspect. The Positive I-Message should be a “no-strings attached” expression of acceptance and acknowledgement.
Even though changing your child should not be the motive, parents who express a lot of positive feelings toward their children are often automatically rewarded with less unacceptable behavior, more trust, mutual respect and cooperation, more affection and caring. Like honesty, warmth and affection are highly contagious in families!