A chain of messages is usually called a dialogue or a conversation.

MESSAGE – each signal that is perceived contains a conceptual/emotional content [C/EC]- if this content is novel, the message contains information [the difference that makes a difference] that will cause arousal and interpretation. If the message contains no information, it may not even be perceived, or if perceived, it may be ignored. Repetition of nonnovel messages often become habituated into the nonconscious and become our own thoughts – and perhaps part of our beliefs. Messages also gain in power if they come from significant people [usually parents, teachers, etc.].

Messages are conveyed through all of the senses – most often through the use of words, tone of voice, context and intangibles such as ‘body language’.

Context cannot be underestimated for if you say something intending one context and it is taken in a different context, the message may be totally altered. This is similar to thinking you are sipping a cup of warm, black coffee and taking in cold cola. You are likely to spit it out before any recognition occurs since it is outside of the context expected. If the message seems to fit no context, it is likely the person will ask that it be repeated, for they cannot even ‘hear’ it. If it fits a context for them that is not the original context their response may not be coherent to you. Meaning must have a context. Sometimes, just changing the context changes the whole meaning of the message. When done consciously, this is called reframing.

INTERPRETATION of the C/EC is accomplished by comparing the information with all prior knowledge of the subject context and refined by your own nonconscious meaning system or beliefs. This usually effects a confirmation bias upon all messages – “Is there anything in this message that confirms my present belief system?” – If so, I will consider this message to be true [not necessarily acceptable or nondistressing]. If no confirmation exists, I will consider the information to be false. UNLESS the C/EC is so powerful [salient, cogent] as to be irrefutable. If this is the case, I will need to a) assimilate this message by making slight alterations in its meaning so that it will fit into my belief system OR if too powerful, I will need to b) accommodate this message by altering by belief system so that this C/EC will fit.

If the C/EC is so powerful as to cause trauma to my meaning [belief] system – my usual coping mechanisms may prove no longer useful and I may find myself seeking peculiar ways to maintain some semblance of personal meaning [to maintain my self]. This is often interpreted by those around us as a ‘nervous breakdown’. It could also be viewed as an extraordinarily creative effort to maintain oneself in the face of obliteration – but that would be reframing the context from how these new behaviors affect me to how these new behavior affect the person’s own inner logic.


While we generally think of messages in the form of communication, it is important to understand that we produce and receive messages in all conscious states. We see something and interpret it through the lens of our own personal meaning system. If we believe that life is dangerous, we will see danger almost everywhere – thus confirming our belief. What this means is that our meaning system creates our reality – or at the very least, sets us up to expect the reality that we believe exists. Thus, our meaning system or inner logic suggests to us how we should relate to the world. The chain of messages -> interpretations -> responses becoming messages, sets in motion a chain of events that is very likely to be a self fulfilling prophecy. Since the people around us interpret our response messages through their own internal logic, they may consider our response to their message to be bizarre or negative. How do you respond to a bizarre or negative message? The response usually confirms the message.

Emotional shock can be evoked by providing a response that is not coherent to the expectations of the message sender. Yeshua ben Yosip suggested this when he instructed his followers to “Turn the other cheek”. Usually when you hit someone, you expect some sort of retaliation. To simply have the person turn the other cheek to be struck can be disconcerting. You can test this construct out reasonably safely by responding to someone in a car politely asking you whether they can move into your lane in front of your car, by saying NO! The response is usually not one of anger, but of disbelief. They are not even sure that they perceived your message correctly. Even more disconcerting if you say NO with a smile on your face. It is good, however, not to persist, since as they figure it out, they are likely to become angry.

Often children with problems in living get into ‘intimate dances’ with adults where neither communicator even listens to the response messages of the other because they ‘know’ what the other is going to say. Imagine changing the response message to an adolescent who calls you a ‘jackass’ or worse, when you respond “Well, I have been known to be a jackass on occasion, but I am not sure I see it here – how do you see it?”

Such reframing of the message is a powerful tool in helping the other person to reconsider their meaning system. However, you do not need to wait for a negative message in order to respond, you can send out new, novel messages on a regular basis. These memes, or communication units, can be thought out and even scripted to provide a different meaning to things that occur on a regular basis. As an example, all human beings seek to answer the question why? – when something occurs. Why did I pass/fail? Why did s/he not call? Why? Why? Why? Human beings are not so much a rational animal as a rationalizing animal. That happened because of this. Where did this come from – the inner logic. “Why was I not invited to the party?” -1) they forgot me, 2) they don’t like me, 3) they did not have enough room, 4) they knew I couldn’t afford to go and did not want to hurt my feelings, and on and on. How many reasons can you think of? Interestingly enough the more you can think of the more likely you are going to be able to come up with a reason that is balanced and rational or not distressing. People with problems in living are often caught in a ‘one pony show’ – “they don’t like me” – that’s it.

By ‘seeding’ the environment with balanced and rational memes that explain the reasons differently you can prime the person to come up with more appropriate reasons. Memes such as “this room is so clean – you are very responsible kid”, or “people like you because you are so easy to talk to”, give both a situation and a possible reason for why that situation occurs. In all cases, the possible reason must be an internal attribution that is balanced and rational. Think of how often we give such memes with an opposing spin – “this room is a mess, I don’t understand how you can be so lazy”. “You failed again, you dummy!” Unfortunately these memes, while effective, are negative and defeating. Yet we tend to use this kind of meme quite often.

In order to change the memes in a culture, we are required to first, examine consciously what messages we are now sending and make a determined effort to eliminate those that are destructive. This may not be as easy as it seems, since even in our helping processes, we often send negative messages:

you have a brain disease, learning disability – whatever other label you use

its not your fault, you have no control over your behavior

you must take this medication to control your behavior – it will make you feel better

feeling good is important

you will never be able to control yourself

Compare these messages with messages such as:

well it is true you have a learning disability, but that might be a good thing, it causes you to seek creative ideas and you are quite a creative kid

yes, you had a very serious breakdown in coping skills because of this trauma; but you are capable of taking control again

suicide is a choice to end your suffering, but it is not your only choice – you have options

not everyone has the same skills, but you can learn to use the skills you have more effectively

These balanced and rational statements about problems in living, even serious and persistent problems in living, emphasize the capabilities of the person to choose other, more positive options.

What we must remember is that it is not what happens, it is our interpretation – how we give meaning to what happens, that is important. There are two [02] factors that contribute to the meaning we give. First, there is the belief(s) that affect the situation. If I see, hear or otherwise perceive something strange in the sky, I might decide that it is a ‘flying saucer’ OR that it was simply something I could not identify. The choice is somewhat contingent upon whether I believe that there are flying saucers. On the other hand, I am influenced by the messages sent to me by other people – if everyone agrees that it was a ‘flying saucer’, I am more likely to believe that as well.

The force of each of these contributors depends on the power of the belief and/or the significance of the ‘others’. If I am ambivalent about ‘flying saucers’ I am more likely to agree if others say that is what is being perceived. On the other hand, if the person telling me that it is a flying saucer is significant – parent, teacher – I am more likely to absorb their beliefs and accept what they say.

When we discuss messages that have to do with the ‘pillars’ of cognitive structure – thoughts about self and others – it is easy to see how parents and teachers can substantively influence the way in which we think. If a parent keeps telling a child that s/he is ‘stupid’ – it is highly probable that the child will begin to believe that this is true, even when his/her belief system does not start from that position and there is evidence to the contrary. Repetition and significance form a powerful vector that can be used for good or evil. If a parent, teacher or other significant adult continuously sends messages to a child that distorts thinking about self and others, that adult is guilty of psychological abuse. The messages may not be intentional nor necessarily malicious, the abuse nonetheless exists since the outcome could result in serious and persistent problems in living based on a personal meaning system that is maladaptive. The pain and suffering caused by such maladaptations can be as or more damaging that that caused by sexual or physical abuse.

Conversing with a child, either verbally or nonverbally, is therefore not a trivial task. The messages we send are often ambiguous and the child must ‘fill in the gaps’ in the same way the brain fills in the gap to cover the ‘blind spot’ in sight. How the child fills in the gaps can be powerfully influenced by the balanced and rational messages sent by significant adults. How to make the adults mindful of what messages they are sending and to alter any messages that might be disorienting, distorted or distressing, is the essence of universal prevention for a whole series of social problems that include psychological problems, delinquency, and substance abuse.