THE CARE AND FEEDING OF YOUR MIDDLE AND/OR HIGH SCHOOL AGE ADOLESCENT

School has begun and this means you’re having to deal with your teenager’s acting out behaviors, excuses, refusing to complete homework, unwillingness to show the steps of their math (“because it doesn’t matter, I got the right answer”), and their expectations of more freedom and control.  They’re telling you to stop trying to control them and let them grow up.  They’re insisting that if you would leave them alone, they would do their homework without our constant nagging.

For those parents who have adolescents, they already know that this is a period of time that children appear to be experiencing what seems to be a “normal psychosis.”  Their hostility towards you is difficult to understand.  After all, you’re the same loving and supportive parent they turned to when they couldn’t understand why their best childhood friend was treating them badly.  They relied on your wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to help them negotiate and normalize their feelings, cope with new experiences, and learn how to dance so they wouldn’t be humiliated at their first middle school dance.

However, from the adolescent perspective, as a parent you don’t understand what they are going through, your expectations are unreasonable, and you essentially have no value in their life.  This seems harsh, but many of you will agree that since your child turned 14 years old, they began morphing into something that you don’t always recognize and wish at times to deny responsibility for.

Fear not.  For most, it really is just a phase.  However, it is important to understand the developmental tasks of adolescence and what you can do to maintain some level of peace and control in your life, without selling your child to the circus.  Note: the circus won’t accept your child, they already have their quota of lions and tigers.  Besides, when your adolescent realizes they’ll have to do things at the circus that they don’t want to do, they’ll find their way home.

Prior to adolescents, development is the result of what others (parents and/or caregivers) do to them.  This isn’t about blame, but an attempt to express the developmental reality and provide clarity.  If during their infancy, parental responses are empathic and loving, they validate  the child’s value and worth, resulting in a sense that its good to be them, and the world as a safe place where they can get their needs met.  However, if this wasn’t the case the child’s view of himself will be negatively impaired and his/her view of the world will be one of a place that is threatening and/or dangerous.  These are generalizations, but you get the point.

Initially, parents are the most significant force in a child’s developmental process, having a significant impact on issues related to trust, autonomy, and exploration.  This shifts as the child attends school, is exposed to different authority figures, and becomes more social.  As the child passes through the different developmental stages more people influence their growth process and impact issues related to the child’s view of themselves, others, and the world.

Adolescence is a tumultuous time, in part due to the developmental process now being dependent on what they do.  Lacking the experience to make informed decisions or act in their own best interest, they are still confronted with a  number of developmental tasks to negotiate.  Of major importance is creating an identity separate from the family, but as a member of a larger group (society).

Because they lack the necessary experience to cope with the conflicting realities of life, they replace experience with their ideals.  Ideals are conflict free and allow for a view of themselves, others, and the world in a dichotomous fashion, as either “all good or all bad.”  It is therefore, developmentally appropriate for them to have unwavering devotion to their friends and causes, while your value continues to dwindle.  Many of you already know what side of the line your on.  If you’re being treated as if you’re the parent from hell, be aware that how you respond to their decisions and behaviors, as they can have a significant (positive or negative) impact on the relationship.

Don’t worry, they’ll still need you to do their laundry and other tasks they’re fully capable of doing themselves.   This confusing and infuriating double message represents their internal conflict about separating from you.  Understanding this conflict is pivotal in being able to have healthy responses to your adolescent’s grandiose, self-destructive, and poorly informed decisions and behaviors.  This includes all that acting out, I mentioned in the 1st paragraph.

The conflict comes down to this–It is developmentally appropriate for our children to begin separating during this stage.  However, there are a number of issues that make this task more challenging.  Within the adolescent, he/she has the desire to grow and separate, but simultaneously wants to continue to be mom and dad’s little boy/girl.  Unable to tolerate the need of being dependent, or the idea of giving up something of value (parents and what they provide emotionally), they separate in the only way they know how–they hide their desire to remain a little boy/girl from themselves, beneath a mask of anger.

As they devalue and refuse to follow your rules and request, the resulting power struggles provide your son/daughter with a necessary and important illusion that should there be a loss, it will be insignificant.  When one is angry, it is easier not to care if the other person falls off the end of the world.   This accomplishes 2 things–the adolescent is able to emotionally disconnect from their fears and anxieties regarding the pressures and expectations of adulthood, while simultaneously pressuring us to become angry and/or withdraw from them.  Your willingness to take on the role of the angry parent reinforces and validates (in their mind) their negative, hostile, and oppositional behaviors.

If your family is struggling with these issues, I’d recommend seeking out an experienced therapist who can help you develop a more functional familial structure, help you identify more effective interventions, and to restore a more emotionally satisfying relationship with your adolescent.

I hope these few thoughts have been helpful.  I will continue to share my thoughts about issues that impact us all.  If there is something you would like me to write about, please contact me at steve@sfriedman4psychotherapy.com  9/12

 

LOSS AND SAYING “GOOD-BYE”

Unfortunately, before I can discuss saying “good-bye, I feel it is necessary to make a few comments about loss.  It occurs to me that with the exception of birth, loss is the one only experience that we all have in common.  Loss crosses all boundaries–age, gender, race, and sexual preference. No one is protected from the experience of loss, because none of us will ever have even one person who will be there for us throughout our entire lives.

Over the years, I have observed how most people struggle with issues related to distance and loss.  I have found that with few exceptions there is a strong corrolation between an individual’s ability to adequately mourn the losses of their lives and their willingness to again encourage intimacy within another significant relationship.  Most people, especially if they have experienced loss at a young age, shy away from being that vulnerable again, and attempt to organize their lives in a way that will prevent another loss.  As if this is even possible.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I don’t want to get too close, because I don’t want to get hurt again.”  As a therapist in a school for emotionally disturbed adolescents, I’ve work with many children who didn’t want to talk with me because they were convinced that I would leave them as all their previous therapists had.  The reality is they were right. I remained as clinical director for 20 years, but they all graduated and left.  All of our relationships come to an end.  Either we learn to say “good-bye” or we spend the rest of our lives afraid of intimacy and continue to protect ourselves from the anticipation of losing someone we care about.

I have always defined loss as “wanting something and not having it.”  If you can consider this definition before running to a dictionary, it becomes evident that we suffer losses of different sizes and intensities throughout our lives.  If you have driven home from the ice cream store with a scoop of Rocky Road ( one of my personal favorites), and you realize that 1 scoop just wasn’t enough, in that moment you have experienced a small loss.  Maybe for some, a bigger one.

Obviously this loss doesn’t have the magnitude of losing a loved one, or the loss of the illusion of safety after having been physically or sexually assaulted, but each is a loss.  Each has a different impact, and each requires something of us, if we are going to process it in a healthy way.  Others have told me, “It isn’t a loss unless its permanent.”  If my ice cream example doesn’t adequately challenge this idea, consider the couple who copes with the husband traveling 1 week out of every month.  They are continually confronted with loss.  He misses seeing his wife and child, watching a little league game, or a school performance.  She has lost her confidant, helper, and support when the children are being difficult.  They have each lost the ability to touch and to be with the person they love the most.  The fact that they will see each other next week doesn’t take away the loss they experience in the moment, or the one that will occur next month or the month after.

I believe that once a pattern of not saying “good-bye” occurs, regardless of whether it due to circumstance or our need to avoid the issue, it becomes more difficult to say “good-bye” the next time.  Let me explain.  If every loss is represented by a book that we are holding, after 10 losses, the stack becomes difficult to balance let alone carry.  The only way to reduce the number of books you’re holding is by saying “good-bye” in a heartfelt and complete way.  For each “good-bye” you reduce the burden you carry by one book.

If you are willing to take the risk and have the opportunity to say “good-bye” to the 11th person you are about to lose, then there are a number of possibilities.  It has been my experience that if you say “good-bye to the 11th person, all of the old losses begin to come to the surface.  You thought that all you were going to do was to say “good-bye” to your friend who was moving to the next town, but over time, you begin to experience thoughts and feelings about having lost your father, grandmother, a child that was killed, friends who have moved away, or the fantasy of ever having the relationship you’ve always wanted but never had.

You might be asking yourself, if this is going to happen, why say “good-bye” at all.  There are a few really good reasons.  Many of my patients, who have difficulty saying “good-bye” have had the experience of having an “empty void” in their gut when a person leaves, and they haven’t said everything they needed to say.

When saying “good-bye” in a more complete and emotionally connected way, the opposite is true.  Telling the person leaving, everything that is important to say prior to their departure–the good, the bad, and the ugly–instills a more complete memory of them.  We can’t remember a lost one unless we remember all of them–what we liked and what we didn’t.  This is how we are can suffer a loss and remain whole within ourselves.  I’m not saying that you won’t miss the person.  If they are important you will.  I hope you miss and experience the full relationship many times throughout the years.

How many people do you know who say “good-bye” in this way.  I’m guessing not many.  Our culture doesn’t reinforce the importance and value of addressing/experiencing loss.  We give a two week notice at our jobs, and our schools teach us more about first aid and multiplication than they do grief and loss.  We are taught to avoid loss at all cost–the parent who loves his/her child and immediately buys a new puppy to replace the one that was run over yesterday.  There are many examples of how we as a society and as individuals reinforce the idea of avoiding and/or minimizing the experience of loss.

My grandfather died of cancer almost 40 years ago.  His last days were spent in his bedroom.  My family didn’t see the importance of saying “good-bye,” and they decided for him, that he didn’t want to deal with his death or say “good-bye”.  Don’t fret, I didn’t listen to them.  I spoke with my grandfather for hours.  It began with him showing me every bill that medicare ever paid.  He wasn’t ready to say “good-bye” directly, but as the time past, he did it more subtlety by sharing with me, things that he felt I should be aware of as I became a man.  I cherish having talked about our lives together and how much I loved him.

My grandfather wasn’t able to say “good-bye” directly.  You will find that most people you try to say “good-bye” to in a direct, emotionally directed way will do whatever they can to avoid this kind of interaction.  In my 22 years of practice, I’ve had 6 clients that completed and truly worked through a 6 months termination process.  Regardless of the emotional work that clients do, this is an endeavor that most avoid.

The reason we take 6 months to complete the termination work, is because it takes time to work through the different processes of loss.  While the relationship with a therapist maybe one of the most intimate my patient’s have had, it isn’t the most important one.  Saying good by to me and our relationship is a trigger and a catalyst to resolving the past losses of their lives.  Not one of the 6 clients who completed the termination and loss work have ever returned to treatment.

The following are suggestions that may help you address the losses in your life in more healthy ways, and create a more meaningful and satisfying “good-bye” process.

  • Give yourself as much time as possible to say “good-bye.”  Whenever you have a thought about the person, let them know.  This may begin one of many conversations about what losing the person means to you.
  • Communicate all of your feelings directly to the person you are losing–the good, the bad, and the ugly.  This provides us with the ability to remember them as a whole person, and leaves us feeling whole.
  • Even if they are uncomfortable, devaluing, or avoidant of participating in the conversations about your loss, ask them to just listen.  Saying “good-bye” to an important person is your gift to them, but you’re saying good bye for you, not them.  You may open your heart and get nothing in return.  Do it anyway, the benefit will be experienced when they have left and you are alone with yourself.
  • Teach your children about grief and loss in a healthy way.  Teach them how to accept and cope with loss in a healthy way.  This makes them better people.  The better you teach them the better you will be at saying “good-bye.”
  • Remind yourself that joy and loss are always linked.  It is with the daily awareness that we could lose our loved one, that we appreciate each day we have with them.

I hope these few thoughts have been helpful.  I will continue to share my thoughts about issues that impact us all.  If there is something you would like me to write about, please contact me at steve@sfriedman4psychotherapy.com 3/12

 

INACCURATE AND IRRATIONAL THINKING:

I am of the belief that if someone is talking about and is connected to their feelings, change in how they understand themselves, their behavior and the purpose their behavior serves can occur.  Without the emotional connection to what is being discussed, it simply becomes a story that can not create a shift in perception, feeling, or behavior.  This belief serves as the foundation for how I’ve lived my life and how I work with my clients.  An informed decision, means that one has not only identified the external truths involved, but is also emotionally connected to how their feelings motivate their decision, and what they will get from the decision they’ve made.

However, nothing works 100% of the time for 100% of the people.  There are certain pattens that have been so engrained, or repeated for so long, and serve such an “important” purpose(s) that even when emotionally connected to how self destructive a behavior is, or how a perception that is maintained with such vigor doesn’t make sense, a client feels defeated and helpless to effect a change.

The goal for psychodynamic psychotherapists like myself, is to help my client integrate their thoughts and feelings in a balanced way.  However, as I have suggested this can be a difficult task under the best of circumstances.  This is especially true when one has suffered trauma.  Regardless of the time passed, some people, regardless of their tireless efforts, have been unable to “resolve enough” of the intense emotions, that they remain unable to change how they process the trauma, view themselves, or develop healthier relationships.

From a Cognitive Behavioral perspective (you can google this if you’re interested), behavior occurs as a result of a particular process.  It’s like a math problem.  Don’t panic we’re just going to use addition.  S+T+F=B.  The english translation is simple–A Situation occurs, resulting in certain Thoughts.  These thoughts lead to Feelings.  And it is these feelings that motivate Behaviors. S+T+F=B.

If you will accept this premise, then it makes sense that if our thinking is inaccurate, distorted, or always negative, it would be near impossible to change our self destructive and dysfunctional behaviors.  Without an accurate view of ourselves, others, and the situations we find ourselves in, we will continue to depend on the same beliefs, decisions, and behaviors that have failed us for years.

It is fascinating how our distorted, inaccurate, or irrational thoughts/beliefs negatively impact our ability to step our of our comfort zone and attempt new healthy behaviors that will better serve us, because when examined they can not be defended.  It is fascinating, because in the moment they appear to be unquestionably true.  Avoiding failure or escaping a threatening experience serves as the foundation for these distortions.  “If I say what I really feel and set a limit, my spouse will become so angry that I won’t be able to cope with it.”  This inaccuracy provides the rationale for this person to not take care of himself/herself.  A more rational and accurate statement might be, “The retaliation and anger is hard to deal with, but I’ve been dealing with his/her anger for years.  I don’t like it, but I can deal with it.”

The 12 step-programs refer to this as “stinking thinking,” because these irrational thoughts provide the “perfect” reason/excuse to continue to use drugs/alcohol, have a danish, or experience the headache that will make it impossible to change anything.  Stinking thinking virtually guarantees that you will experience the same fear, betrayal, disappointment, anger, sense of powerlessness and shame that you always have, for as long as you live.

If inaccurate and irrational thoughts limit all the possible solutions to just one–avoidance of the person or situation, it will be viewed and experienced as a “10” on the scale.”  Note to self:  Not everything can be a 10.  However, in that moment of anticipation, panic, disappointment, depression, and anger that has been re-experienced and defeating you for years, it will always feel like a “10.”  When left with only one alternative and overwhelmingly negative thoughts and feelings, we function on automatic pilot, leaving us without the ability to accurately assess or question our thoughts, feelings, or the realities of the situation.

People tend to repeat what is comfortable.  I’m not suggesting that the irrational thoughts or feeling overwhelmed is satisfying or comfortable, but they are “known,” and drugs, danish, sex, or physical symptoms will serve to distance you from the “intolerable” feelings, keeping you in he same place of ineffectiveness.  Paying attention to and writing down the thoughts you tell yourself will give a clearer picture of how many times in a week, you employ “stinking thinking” to avoid a challenge.  This is just one path to developing more accurate, helpful, and healthy thoughts and assessments.

I have recognized my own pattern of addressing issues that can’t be fully addressed in this forum.  This essay is no different.  There are approximately 20 different types of thought distortions/beliefs and I have chosen to identify and discuss only five that create great pain and suffering to ourselves and our relationships.

Dichotomous Thinking – Seeing yourself, others, or situations as either all good or all bad.- I’ not good enough.

  • Believing that if you don’t offer something of value (tickets to a show, a cigarette, or picking up he lunch tab) you won’t be liked.
  • Going to a party and I know that I’m going to say the wrong thing and everyone is going to laugh or judge me.
  • Keeping others at a distance, because you think that if someone really gets to know you, they won’t like you.

Reality – We all have imperfections, weaknesses, and limitations which provide just enough truth for unrealistic thoughts to develop.  Focus solely on these and it will be difficult to leave the house, go to a party, or feel safe in a relationship.  However, in recognizing that success and failure are measured in degrees, it is unrealistic to believe that you can attain perfection and it is then equally unlikely that you are going to be a total failure.  More good news – We can learn from our mistakes.

Personal Powerlessness – The belief that you are unable to change your thinking, decisions, or behaviors.

  • I can’t tell him/her “No,” I always cave.
  • I can’t express how I really feel, and I can’t make myself do it.

Reality – We are capable of doing more than we think we can.  However, the belief that we can’t comes from childhood when in many cases and situations we were taught not to, or didn’t have the power, understanding, or ability to take care of ourselves.  Sometimes, parts of ourselves get stuck and we don’t develop adult ways of seeing ourselves or others.  When this happens, we give our internal child the power and control to take care of us.  Unfortunately, our internal child is always focused on not making others angry, or on their own fear that others will retaliate or reject them.  It is clear how this narrow focus will limit the number of possibilities that can be used to address the challenges in our lives.  Test your reality by identifying where on a 1-10 scale the problem or your feelings are.  Remember not everything is a “10,” except to an overwhelmed, frightened internal child.

Once the intensity is realistically identified, ask yourself are you responding to a “4” with the appropriate intensity of emotions.  If not, either identify for yourself or ask a friend, what an appropriate response would be.  There are two important questions to always ask yourself.  “What do I need to do to take good care of myself?” and “What can I do to decrease the severity  of the problem/or the intensity of my feelings?  It is usually possible to take a different approach and turn a “6”  into a lower number on the scale.

If you can’t answer the questions, don’t panic.  If you’ve been telling yourself and reinforcing your powerlessness for years, it would make perfect sense to not have answers.  It is especially difficult, actually it’s almost impossible to be creative and thoughtful when you’re feeling  overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, angry, etc.  However, if it takes you a week to figure out a better alternative than the one you used to employ, this isn’t a problem.  Measure your successes in time.  If the next time you acted as if you were powerless, and it only took 5 days to identify a more effective and efficient way of taking care of yourself, you’re making progress.  Keep it up, and at some point, you’ll be able to experience your power and use it effectively in the moment of need.

Catastrophizing – Yes, this is a real word, and it means that you tend to focus on the worst possible outcome, generally creating fear and anxiety.

  • I can’t believe I said that to my spouse.  He/She is going to leave me for sure this time.
  • This is the third time this week, my boss gave me a nasty look.  I know that I’m going to get fired.

Reality – Remember, not everything is a “10” on the scale.  Pay attention to what you are telling yourself.  Just because we have a thought or belief, it doesn’t  mean it is true.  What does the evidence say?  Your spouse told you yesterday that he/she were crazy about you, and last week your boss complemented on a job well done.  There can be numerous possibilities and motivations for what is happening around you.  Give it some thought and see how many other possibilities you can come up with.  Think about it, how often does the absolute worst thing really happen.

Overgeneralizing – Refers to the use of a single or infrequent event or fact as the foundation for a negative opinion or perception.

  • I didn’t establish a personal boundary last night and had way too much to drink at the party.  I can’t trust myself to set limits on my drinking.  I must never drink again.

Reality – I was drunk last night, but I didn’t cause a problem.  I didn’t knock anything over or make my host angry.  I feel good about allowing my friend drive me home.  I can’t remember the last time this happened.  Note: I’m not suggesting that you give yourself permission to get drunk at parties, but this is such a clear example of overgeneralization.

Four questions to help bring this distortion into focus:

  • How frequently does the event happen?
  • What were the consequences and how bad were they?
  • Were you in control of the situation?
  • Can I deal with the problem in a different way, should it happen again?

Personalizing – Is the belief that everything that another person does or says is the result of what  you do.

  • If I was a better son, then my father wouldn’t hit me.
  • If I wasn’t fat, then my husband would be more concerned with my feelings and love me.

Reality – While it is true that we have an impact on others, it is pure illusion that we can control anyone other than ourselves.  The result of personalizing is excessive guilt, resulting from the unconscious belief that “it is my evilness that makes the good person (father) treat me so poorly.  Sadly, many abused children feel this way.  Not because it is true, but because it provides an important and necessary illusion of power and control.  The illusion that they controlled the abuser, provides them with the myth that “anytime I choose to be a better son, brother, husband, or father, the abusive person will stop doing what they have been doing to me.

People who engage in personalization generally feel responsible for everything, and continually reenact their role as a victim.  In part, because the abuser is never given responsibility for their decisions, choices, and behaviors.   If everything is your fault (as if this is even possible) then what are they responsible for?

The following question are provided for your consideration.  We can control and change our thoughts, but challenging them is the first step.

  • What does the evidence show?
  • How else can I examine the circumstances?
  • What is the worst case scenario?
  • What is the best case scenario?
  • What is probably going to happen?

I hope these few thoughts have been helpful.  I will to continue to share my thoughts about issues that impact us all.  If there is something you would like me to write about, please contact me at steve@sfriedman4psychotherapy.com      2/12

 

FEELING SPECIAL:

After speaking to my clients and others about their search for validation and feeling special, I have been motivated to write a few lines about the topic.  I have found that there is a great deal of painful and enduring confusion about feeling special, or more specifically, where the feeling comes from.  For many, it is experienced by the applause/reinforcement after an excellent performance/doing for others, or is based on the opinions of those around them.  I recognize that it is common to be rewarded for an “A” on a report card or for being well behaved.  However, none of these examples mirror that someone is special.

Many people learned from infancy, that having value or being special is of external origin.  It came from mom or dad expressing their pride in you for being well behaved or cleaning the dishes without being asked.   There is a lack of necessary acknowledgement of the difference between who you are and what you do.  Your lack of value is equally communicated by their anger, withdrawal, or dissatisfaction.

These interactions become powerful templets for how we see ourselves, how we see others, and what our role is within relationships.  Throughout our lives these unquestioned beliefs are reinforced over and over, until there is little possibility of change without a therapeutic intervention.  Due to this repetitive reinforcement, some individuals begin to focus more, and give greater value to, what others think and say about them then they do their own thoughts and feelings.  They live their relational lives based on the illusion that someone knows them better than they know themselves, and their knowledge is the only basis for value and “specialness.”  I have witnessed the pain and sadness this creates for so many people.

Consider a woman (but it could as easily be a man) reinforced by the praise of others, without communication of the separation of who they are as a person from their behavior.  Raised to believe that value and being special comes from pleasing and taking care of others, she loves her husband, has a job, is central to raising the children, cooks the meals, and attempts to anticipate and fulfill the needs of her spouse.  However, instead of receiving the love, praise, and help with the tasks that face them both, she is devalued and disrespected by her husband.  Her attempts to discuss her feelings or the issues within the marriage are met with the husband’s anger and/or withdrawal.  He insists that she is the one with the problem.

As if there are no other options, she tries harder to please her husband, while receiving less emotionally from him.  To maintain the relationship and to avoid facing anticipated fears of greater distance and loss, she convinces herself that her needs and expectations of him are unrealistic.  Objective questioning of the relational dynamics can no longer occur, as she spends more time asking “How come he doesn’t understand… or How can he keep doing …  The reality is, it doesn’t matter what he is doing, why he doesn’t understand, or if he is ever going to get it.

Throughout the marriage, and in all her relationships prior, she has colluded with her significant others to treat her as if she isn’t special.  Confrontation of the issues shifts into passive, depressive acceptance of a continuous reenactment that feels like a prison of quiet frustration and loneliness.  As they always have been, the answers to her problems and negative feels require that she focus more rigidly on someone else’s needs, in desperate hope that if she says it just right or anticipates his needs perfectly, she will get the positive feedback that is vital to her self esteem.

As a side note, these templets and reenactments occur within our professional relationships as well.  We work hard, do more than is expected, and continually try to please and anticipate the needs of our boss, helping them grow their business, with the hope and expectation, that we will be acknowledged and rewarded.  Acknowledgement and reward does not mean special.

It is our job to make our employer’s life easy.  We do what we are asked.  We do what we know needs to be done.  That is the agreement.  We take care of him/her and he/she gives us a pay check.  Special is different.  If we are special, then we are special and have value all the time.  However, the day you stop meeting your quotas or working extra hours without recording them on your time card, it becomes clear that we have created the illusion that we are special to our employers.  This will be a painful day, not just because he lost our job, but because we have also suffered the loss of the illusion that we are special.

This is the clearest example I can provide of how being special has been confused with the feedback received when doing for others. As the reenactment of the templet requires continued focus on the needs and opinions of others, without regard or conscious questioning of our own emotional experience, another equally destructive, unconscious process is reinforced.  This unhealthy dependency on others to define our value, impairs our ability to identify our own feelings that serve as the foundation for establishing and maintaining appropriate personal boundaries.

I’m not suggesting that you get a divorce or tell your boss to “shove it.”  However, regardless of the relationship, we have a responsibility to take good care of ourselves.  This may look differently because the roles, rules, and expectations are different within relationships with our children, spouses, friends, colleagues, and employers.

If being and feeling special is based on what others think about us, then we have to be fully committed to the feelings and needs of others.  There are many who suffer in relationships based on the fantasy of fulfilling their partner’s needs will one day lead to the appreciation and validation they long for.  What isn’t understood or experienced by the giving person, is that each day they give without limitation, or fail to verb their partner’s responsibilities to them, they are treating themselves as valueless.

How does it make sense that intelligent, successful, and generally good people remain in painfully unsatisfying relationships?  A complete answer would require more than the comments of this essay.  However, I will attempt to provide the Reader’s Digest version.   I am of the belief that without intervention, we continue to do what we have always done.  Therefore, if a person was raised to believe that they weren’t special, a number of fantasies and patterns begin to form and are vigorously reinforced by the individual and those who are important to him/her.

  • Love and caring is received only when I satisfy others.
  • They are more important, so I am not equal to them, and will tolerate not getting the things I do for them.
  • Identifying and paying attention to my feelings get in the way of pleasing them, and will    result in rejection, retaliation, or anger, leaving me feeling bad about myself.
  • “No” is not part of my vocabulary.
  • Only other people can judge my value.

The sad insanity of reenacting this relationship time and time again, is that the person who believes they are not special, is generally attracted to a person who will support this distorted belief.  Therefore, the unconditional giver is asking someone who doesn’t care enough about them to treat them equally, to validate that the giver is special.

Here is what I’m suggesting.  Feeling special comes from within us.  It only comes from identifying, differentiating, and verbalizing our feelings.  Our feelings serve as the foundation for establishing and maintaining person boundaries that define us and show how we are separate from others.  Feelings identify when our boundaries have been violated.  They make us special. When we abdicate our responsibility to take good care of ourselves, we are not treating ourselves as special.  Special comes from having the ability to say “No, this doesn’t work for me.”

To do this topic justice, I would have to write a great deal more than this offering, but in the spirit of taking care of myself and acknowledging my limits, this is all I have time for.  I provide the following four statements for your consideration.  If your answers are “No” to these statements, you may not be taking care of yourself and continue to depend on others for your self worth, value, and feeling special.  If this is the case, please find a competent therapist to help you make you special.

  • I am able to show my real self to others
  • I can identify and verbalize my feelings to others
  • I can establish and set personal boundaries and limitations with others
  • I feel equal to other adults

I hope these few thoughts have been helpful.  I will to continue to share my thoughts about issues that impact us all.  If there is something you would like me to write about, please contact me at steve@sfriedman4psychotherapy.com        1/12

 

POWER STRUGGLES

All of us who have children, grandchildren, spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, or for that matter neighbors, have experienced the frustration of a verbal wrestling match that ends poorly for both parties.   Regardless of the participants, power struggles are generally the same.  The intensity of the interaction may differ, but the dynamics will be the same.  This essay will focus on those power struggles that occur with children, but the principles apply to the 100,000 power struggles we participate in throughout our lives.

To begin, one must ask what is a power struggle?  I’ve heard a variety of intelligent definitions that focus on the different aspects of arguing, verbal aggression, and lack of listening.  However, none of these descriptions adequately address the narrow mindedness and self destructive aspects of the power struggle. Whenever the cost of a battle far outweighs the benefits of winning, it is called a “Pyrrhic victory.” A Pyrrhic victory is essentially no victory at all, since the winner suffers irreparable damage and significant losses of his/her own.  This definition more accurately paints a picture of what happens during a power struggle, and clarifies the reason we should avoid them at all cost.

In using this definition, it is evident that to be a willing participant in a power struggle, one’s motivation must be greater than the desire to solve the problem.  The only motivation strong enough to participate in a power struggle is our emotions.  Emotions are the engine of every power struggle.  It is only when experiencing a certain intensity of anger, disappointment, pain, sense of powerlessness, etc., that we become so intensely fixated on what we’re doing to the other person, that we completely forget what is happening to us.

Most parents have experienced frustrating interactions with their adolescent children as a result of a refusal to complete a chore, clean their room, or modifying their behavior.  In the blink of an eye, everyone is yelling and the consequences that you normally rely on to reestablish control have failed to get your child’s attention, and only serve to increase their anger and defiance.  Welcome to the world of the power struggle, wet jeans and all.

This article would be of little value if I didn’t offer some insights about avoiding the struggle.  The following are the most effective tools (according to my clients) to stay out of power struggles, regardless of who they are with.

  • Let them talk first.  If you listen without interruption.  You can request the same courtesy. Additionally, you will have heard their entire thought process, and  will be better prepared to address their feelings and issues.
  • Pay attention to and identify the emotions that are fueling their position
  • Pay attention to and identify the emotions that are fueling your position.  Remember, you could be the unreasonable one.
  • Don’t stand above them, it can be intimidating and this isn’t the time to increase their defenses.
  • Make “I” statements.  They are more difficult to argue with.  Note: “I think you are… is not an “I” statement.”  “I” statements focus on our own feelings,  thoughts, needs, how you see the situation, etc.
  • Don’t have the struggle in front of others.  This increases your child’s need to show more bravado and defiance.

I hope these few comments have been helpful.  I will to continue to share my thoughts about issues that impact us all.  If there is something you would like me to address, I welcome your comments.      12/11