Archive for September, 2011

Ladies, “He’s Just Not That Into You”! Recognize That, Please!

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

      “He’s just not that into you” is the title of a best selling book a couple of years ago.  The topic deserves to be continually discussed by women across the land, both single and married. 

      It may be surprising to some that a book like this, which purports to help the female sex realize that the male that they are interested in may not be in a reciprocal mode, has been so popular.   It is not surprising to me, however.  Over the years one of my favorite, although painful, tasks has been to help women see the reality of their relationship with a man that means a lot to them.  Women often need some objectivity to know what the man is thinking.

      Too many women see what they want to see.  If troubled at all they seek advice from their women friends (wrong choice!).  These “friends” usually tell the anxious one what she wants to hear under the guise of support.  (Men usually are more honest – often brutally).

      Many Single women waste some of their most “marketable” years hanging on to a relationship that has no future.  Over and over these women rue their lack of earlier decision-making while they naively waited for their dream relationship to develop. It did not happen. These women fail to realize that they are “convenient” companions for men while they enjoy “the good life” – not anxious to settle down and marry.  Once they do decide to marry, men usually marry someone else – often after a short courtship!

     While clinging to a ”going no place” relationship women accept/believe lame excuses and odd ball explanations.  Meanwhile time goes by, women are oblivious and deceived. Many of these women stayed in the wrong relationship too long.

     Until men get near forty (mid life adjustment or crisis) men do not need/want a woman in their life as much as women need/want a man in their life.  This all begins during puberty.  Girls in our society spend most of their time talking about boys.   This begins  at twelve or thirteen at which time they call boys incessantly and often offer to
”please” them in ways that are not appropriate.  Boys in their teens, on the other hand, do not talk about girls very much except to brag about what they “got off” a girl or what a
”ho” someone is.  Women’s Lib and Feminism have had little impact on the obessionary side of girls.

      “He’s just not that into you” needs to be recognized sooner rather than later for girls and women so that they will have minimal pain and less “lost” years.  Hopefully neither you nor your daughter is in this situation.  Maybe you have a friend that is.  Within two sessions I am able to tell a woman/girl whether the relationship is solid or not.  I also help them develop strategies, time lines, and expectations to help them assess their relationship.  Women need to spend less time in bad relationships and find out sooner rather than later if this chap is a “keeper” or if the relationship can evolve into something beautiful and enduring.

Perfectionism Is Destructive: Where Does It Come From?

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

     In most every community there are perfectionists and slackers.  How do these people develop this style related to achievement? Usually there are a combination of factors involved including parent modeling and expectations, capacity, and opportunity available.  This article will focus on perfectionism.  If you are a slacker, you will have your turn!

     Perfectionism is developed in the family.  Family dynamics play a major part in its development. There are a number of family types that produce perfectionistic children who grow up into perfectionistic adults.  Two of the more prominent types are:

1. The high expectation pressure driven family.

2. The family where there is marital discord, parent absence, and/or addictions present.

The high pressure family is featured here.

     The responsibility of parents is to raise children who feel good about themselves, are adaptable, and are able to grow into the fullness of their potential.  “Perfect” children are rigid, not adaptable, and generally feel they “are not good enough.”  They stay within the safe narrow lane that says, “You are doing it right.”  They do not want to feel the pain associated with mistakes.

     Many well meaning, but ill advised, parents pressure their children to do the “right” things, as they define it.  If kids deviate, overkill criticism is the result.  It is a form of parental control, and a way to have status based on their child’s performance.  These parents are over involved in their children’s lives.

     Perfectionistic children become “human doings”.  Approval is contingent on performance. Mistakes not allowed. A child’s sense of worth should not be determined by accomplishments alone.

     Perfectionists worry too much about mistakes for fear that people will think badly of them.  Other peoples’ judgment of them is over valued.

     Perfectionism is an endless report card, keeping people completely self absorbed, self critical, and often viewing themselves as “not good enough”. Usually they are prone to anxiety and depression. Occasionally this need to “get it right” leads to OCD behaviors which are ritualistically “perfect”.

     Miriam Aderholdt, author of PERFECTIONISM: WHAT’S BAD ABOUT BEING GOOD?, distinguishes between excellence and perfection.  She emphasizes that excellence involves enjoying what you are doing, feeling good about yourself, and developing confidence. Perfectionism involves feeling bad and being overly critical.

     Let’s go back to perfectionist creators – parents who use various techniques, some subtle, to give the message of approval or disappointment based on the performance delivered.  In an article entitled “CHILDREN OF THE AFFLUENT”, Suniya Luther’s research showed that such children had as many problems as inner city kids.  They had just as high rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.  (In my years as a therapist  I have witnessed this phenomenon often.)

     How parents give feedback to children is important here. Children are very sensitive to criticism by parents.  Criticism emphasizes the negative, what is wrong.  Look for ways to be supportive and build confidence in the child. Compliment the effort made, not the result.  If the performance was poor, ask the child how s/he felt about it and if you can help in any way.  Empathize and agree that the task at hand is challenging.

     Over involvement in a child’s life can be as damaging as under involvement in a child’s life. Balance is not easy for any parent, but is worth striving for. 

     Kahlil Gibran in THE PROPHET spoke eloquently to parents about children:

 “You may give them your love, but not your thoughts.  For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies, but not their souls. For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.  For life does not go backward, nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

     May you aim well, dear parents.  And those of you adults who tend to be perfectionistic, may you recognize your burden and lighten it into excellence.

Are You Free To “Doubt”? Or Does “Hardening of the Categories” Have You Closed Off?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

     A while ago I saw the movie “DOUBT”.  Riveting.  Oscar worthy. It impacted me in several thought-provoking ways.  It has a great story line and incredible acting. How about you?  Have you seen it?  Your reaction?

     DOUBT is a personal movie for me.  I have lived much of the way of life portrayed in the film. I grew up Catholic.  I was an altar boy (filled the cruets and sneakily tasted the altar wine); was slapped around by the nuns (but got my grammar correct); became a priest (tried to bring love and compassion to a stodgy church while never touching an altar boy).

     In the seminary for five years I studied the Bible and how it was formed, Christian History, denominational spin offs,  and how Dogma and Church practices were developed – all emanating from the simple teachings of Jesus. As I learned more I moved from the faith certainty of my youth (“Yes, Father”) to the doubt of my seminary trained adulthood.

     One of the themes of the movie was tolerance.  Tolerance invites openness, freedom to explore, and non judgment of others who may live a different form of existence or belief system.  It is the opposite of intolerance – dogmatically proclaiming truth and condemning those who differ.  Some people are threatened by DOUBT, their own or that of others.  Their fear leads them to resort to the safety net of rigidity.  They have “hardening of the categories”. Their motto is “don’t confuse me with the facts”.

     Faith is a wonderful thing to have – as long as you understand that faith is a “leap” (as the Protestant theologian Kierkegaard taught). Faith has no certainty or logic about it.  It is a belief – a hope – that something exists. It cannot be objectively proved. (Confer Merriam – Webster dictionary)

     Doubt is to be sanctioned and encouraged in a free and diverse society.  It, hopefully, means a person does not take things for granted, buy into something just because s/he was told that XYZ is true.  Gullibility can lead to painful consequences. Doubters can be searchers after truth – open to dialogue and greater understanding. Unfortunately doubters can also be dogmatic, which is oxymoronic behavior.

     In the film a man was judged, vilified, gossiped about by a dogmatic woman who “leaped” to a conclusion based on her “intuition”.  She ruined his life and noble ministry and in the end cried as she expressed her “DOUBT”.

     And you, respected reader, do you have doubt in regard to any facet of your life – in  whatever or whomever you have faith?  God, Church, denominations, institutions, your fellow human beings, individual people?  What do you believe?  Who do you believe in?  Are you tolerant, a seeker finding your own beliefs and practices?

     The movie DOUBT is provocative and invites reflection on many levels.  My hope is that this article suggests the same to you – the freedom to doubt – and not judge (“There is only one Judge” – and you ain’t it!) as you come to conclusions about what is right for you to believe and live faithfully – and, perhaps, even share with other seekers of truth who may also be free enough to DOUBT.

       “The unexamined life  is not worth living”    Socrates

Do You Need to be “Right”? Wrong, You Lose!

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

     Power is an interesting reality.  What is power?  How is it best used?  How can it be shared?  Every relationship is an exchange of power.  How a person utilizes power, or fails to use it, can greatly affect any relationship.  For discussion sake here, I will address power exchanges in the personal realm – between committed partners.

     Too often in the relationship there exists a dominant person and a submissive person.   In such a dominant-submissive relationship, one person has to be “right”, keeping him or her in control and psychologically safe.  Thus, the other person has no choice but to be submissive, “wrong”. It does not feel good to be the “wrong” person most of the time.  Such a person keeps being whittled down, feeling bad about oneself.  Perhaps, when s/he cannot take it anymore s/he explodes – usually inappropriately.

     The goal in any healthy relationship is to create a “win-win” way of communicating, addressing problems, and living together harmoniously.  And that is not easy!  Most disagreements about whom is “right” are subjective perceptions and experiences – not about objective facts.  This opens the door to the power exchange.

     How does the power exchange work within your primary relationship? (I mean besides the classic one with most couples: Man controls money.  Woman controls sex) Does one person have most of the power; s/he is the one that is “right”?  This imbalance is unhealthy and sets up toxic communication and resentment.  Or, is there a balance of power with the emphasis being on agreeing, not winning.  When there are disagreements, does each person allow enough “wiggle room” so that there is not a winner and a loser, a “right” and “wrong” exchange?

     In the relationship counseling I do frequently the power struggle is in full force.  Each person righteously states what the issue was and how the other person was “wrong”. Each person is angry and often belittling in style.  I then intervene and say that since neither person brought along the videotape of this power exchange, we are wasting valuable time in discussing this past experience with widely variant subjective understandings.  Instead I try to teach a method of communication that allows each person to express a viewpoint, and where there are differences, have good communication and compromise be the outcome.  This method can keep the relationship solid with a balanced power exchange.  After all, the relationship is the most important factor, not the particular issue being argued over.  In fact most people (especially the men) don’t even remember what the disagreement was about a few days later.  Yet that clumsy interaction significantly damaged the relationship.  Defenses went up.  Emotional distance was created.

     In a close relationship ego and pride get overly involved.  Neither party wants to be vulnerable, so one aggresses or hides so as to not be perceived as “wrong” or the “loser”.

     The bottom line here is to do the right thing by not insisting on being “right”.  If you need to be “right” you will ultimately be wrong and have a rotten relationship.  Who wants that?  This suggestion is not easy – but it is worth striving for!

“Stabbed in the Back!” And, Your Response Is?

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

     In my practice people frequently complain about being “stabbed in the back” and wonder how to handle it.  Have you ever had such an experience of pain?  Of course you have.  It triggers all your betrayal buttons.  Disappointment, hurt, and anger are the usual resultant feelings.  What have you done with this perceived injustice?

     Spouses, family members, friends, neighbors, club/team members, supervisors, colleagues, etc… are people who may have “stabbed” you.  Can you think of a few? Usually such events are surprising and come “out of the blue”.  “Ouch, where did that come from? And why?”

     There are a number of possible responses to the “stab” available to you:

UNHEALTHY

1. Retaliate.  Revenge will make you feel better. Not.

2. Whine and gossip. That will make people feel sorry for you. Not.

3. Obsess over it.  Bottled up negative energy will help you feel better. Not.

HEALTHY

1. Talk to the person about it if possible. There may have been a legitimate misunderstanding. Perhaps even an apology could be forthcoming.  But don’t hold your breath.

2. Take the high road. There is no need to tell the whole world about it.

3. Forgive the person.  The act of forgiveness helps cleanse the scab of the stab.

4. Develop a boundary with that person to the extent possible.  Do not be vulnerable until trust is established.  Some people are “serial stabbers” and should be shunned.

5. Detach and let go.  “Stuff happens”.  Do not ruminate over it.  Let it evaporate from your mind.  Whenever that thought/feeling comes to mind, “change the channel”.  Such negative energy needs to be cesspool bound – not stored up to repeatedly irritate.

     I hope that there are few past or present “stabs in the back” in your life and that this model will be helpful.  If you are a “stabber”, please refrain.  There is enough pain in this challenging world without needing more “stabs” as a burden to anyone.

     The above “healthy” response suggestions are not easy to perform.  They are presented as a model to be strived for. I’m presuming that you, like me, are trying to be the best person that you can be.  Sometimes it helps to learn, or be reminded, that there are better ways to handle certain situations and then strive to deliver.