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Word Famine
by Mark Sichel, LCSW

Many of the difficulties we encounter in our interpersonal communications at work and at home are related to our perceived inability to find the words for certain experiences and events. One of the major issues involved in the difficulties people have saying goodbye, whether to a job or a loved one, is not knowing the words to use for their experience. We struggle with all kinds of fears related to words and their meanings, and most of the time we're not aware of what exactly what it is that frightens us so greatly.

We also sometimes have difficulty simply tolerating the ambivalence related to leaving, as well as the sadness that can descend upon us when we leave a situation, like Joe* did. Joe has been a restaurant cook for eight years, has received many promotions and is now what's called a sous chef. He reports directly to the head chef at the restaurant, and at the same time feels he is ready to become a chef in his own right.

Joe was struggling with mixed emotions about leaving the restaurant, and had difficulty discussing this with the owner and the chef. His fears included:

1. He feared both the owner and the chef would be furious with him for wanting to leave.

2. He feared that they would tell him he wasn't ready to be a chef and he would be humiliated.

3. He feared that they would make working there a nightmare if he told them he wanted to leave and seek a chef's position.

4. He felt very sad giving notice to both the owner and the chef, as he felt they had been very good to him.

These fears overwhelmed Joe and he started acting them out by missing work, arriving late, burning food "by mistake," and picking fights with restaurant managers. Finally, Joe became so reckless in his behavior that the owner of the restaurant had to fire him. Joe could have left with much more grace had he not been victim to "word famine" and instead been able to tell his boss how he felt, what he wanted and what he needed.

In another instance, Katherine, a young woman in her first semester at college was having great difficulty separating from her family. She found it embarrassing to admit her homesickness, and her family also lacked the verbal skills to help her through this process. Katherine did not know how to verbalize her fear of living on her own, and she began to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to help her live with the fear. Ultimately, Katherine became so out of control that her parents had to pull her out of college and she ended up living back at home with her parents. Katharine didn't have to say goodbye or contend with homesickness any longer.

Did you know that Sunday nights are a major night for couples to fight with each other? This is particularly true of people who have a good, loving and warm relationship and enjoy spending weekends together. When they have to "gear up" for Monday mornings, they often don't know how to say to each other: "I love you and will miss you when I'm at work tomorrow." Instead, they find something to fight about, and then they can go off to work being mad at their partner, rather than sad about saying goodbye.

Have you ever been the victim of word famine?

Acting out can negatively effect your work experience. To learn more about "acting out" and how it is usually a result of word famine, read Acting Out.

*The names of all clients have been changed to protect their identities.

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