Dealing with the Crazy ex-Spouse

For those who will be dealing with ex’s and Oh Craps! this holiday season, a little help.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Run from the anger alien!

Question: My husband’s ex-wife is making our lives miserable.  She calls my husband’s cell phone at all hours screaming at him.  She keeps taking this whole mess back to court, saying that we’re attempting to alienate her children and we’re abusive.  What makes me nuts about this is how she tells everyone I caused everything. She left him for another man!  I’m sick of defending myself.  Yes, I started dating my husband before the divorce was final, but how does that make me a homewrecker?  She was living with a guy and avoiding her children ’till I came along.  Now it’s like she’s in some weird competition with me.  How can I stop the craziness?

Answer: Some people connect better through anger.  Your husband’s ex-wife WANTS everyone to be angry.    If you hate her,  you’re thinking about her all the time.  She has your undivided attention and she’s not likely to give it up.

You don’t understand this.  You have a normal life where you get the attention you need from people actually liking you.  I’m betting that your husband’s ex-wife has few friends and unrealistic expectations of people.  She probably didn’t think her marriage was over just because she walked out.  That might have been her way of getting her husband to pay more attention to her  and be more intense with how he expressed his feelings.

She can’t feel at a normal level and she attempts to have people dial up the heat until they are out of fuel.  When she figures out that all resources have been consumed, she will move on like a conquering alien army looking for the next planet to eat.  You interupted this process.  Don’t feel bad.  You’re presence in this family has re-energized your husband and made him more attractive to his ex-wife.  It might not have happened had she moved on to a new victim, sorry, partner.  You got there too early for that scenario since she was still prodding your husband to do something combustible.

You must cut off the fuel.  And the cut-off has to come from the both of you.

  1. Get an alarm clock.  Your phones will no longer be by your bedside at night unless they are turned off.  If you must, get a second phone that is for emergency or job situations.  Guard the number with your life.  Phone calls are taken during decent hours only.  If you answer the phone tired you are most likely to become angry and fuel the anger sucking alien.
  2. Get a good lawyer who is willing to do the worrying for you or, make court prep a regularly scheduled weekly activity that has a time limit.  Do not spend more than 2hours per week on this mess.  These cases will tend to go back to the same judge time after time.  Keep a log of; phone calls, problems, refusals to exchange, and any negative statements the children repeat to you.  Do NOT cross examine children, ask them what their mother said, etc.  If they tell you, say “Oh, really?”  and go write it down.  When she takes you back to court, bring the log.  Judges don’t get elected for being stupid and they are rarely able to suffer fools gladly.  The ex-wife will be wearing out her welcome with the judge, let her.
  3. Who’s everyone?  And why do you care?  If the lady who lives under the overpass and throws old donuts at cars starts talking about you, is that going to be a problem?  You are making this situation worse by defending yourself against her accusations.  Learn to roll your eyes.  Do it often.  You already think she’s crazy, what does that make you if you’re taking her seriously? When you defend yourself to someone, you have made them a judge of your life.  This woman has no right to that much power over you.  Smile and act vague.  At the very least it will irritate the crap out of her.
  4. Figure out who you are actually angry at.  My best guess in these situations is your husband.  Write down what you want him to do about this situation and take it to someone who’s dealt with an ex.  Let them tell you which of these expectations are realistic.  Take the realistic ones back to your husband and start a conversation.  He’s been running and ducking this for years.  He’s tired and wishes it would go away, so phrase the opening of this conversation to appeal to those two needs.
  5. If people are that easy to predict, use it.  What do her children wish she would do with them?  Tell them you’re planning to do it and wait.  She’ll get to it first and you can go ahead with the things you really want to do.  Surprise is key here.  The kids will tell their mother everything and that needs to be OK!  You’re plans will have to be surprises or last minute.  Learn to act faintly ditzy so that last minute plans don’t seem like a stretch.
  6. No matter what she does, you and your husband need to respond as though you are smoking weed and have no motivation.  Vague, benign, faintly, slightly bored, yawning, disinterested.  Whether you are telling her that Monday is striped socks day for little Johnny, or you’ll call the police if she comes on your property again, use the same tone of voice and the same body language.  Practice acting stoned with each other.  It will be something you both get a laugh out of, and you could use that right now.

 

Reach out for help.  You’ll need a place to vent and some accountability on your actions so you don’t accidentally fuel this anymore.  Once you’ve cut off the fuel, expect it will take a while to get her to cut the behaviors.  Your family has been a regular feeding ground and aliens don’t give those up and move off without a fight.  She’ll fight, you’ll smile benignly and she will eventually get frustrated and move on.  Keep that stoned smile plastered on your face and reclaim your planet for peace!

Why don’t people appreciate it when I do better? I should just go back to being bad!

Our responses to people and situations can become so automatic that really, we have a habit and we do the emotional response with NO THINKING involved.

This is fine if we have good habits like eating our broccoli and going to bed early. But what if we have the emotional equivalent of smoking? You might thing that’s not possible, but have you ever felt excited to see the ex who verbally shat on you? Maybe you’ve gotten so angry that you couldn’t speak when you were questioned and felt stupid afterwards . Maybe you know someone who can’t understand why they keep going back to an abusive job/relationship. Or maybe you’ve given up alcohol and now you have to avoid the family Thanksgiving because those idiots are going to try and get you to drink. Anything that interferes with your functioning, sends you running towards pain, or encourages painful behavior from others, hey! That’s a bad habit.

The problem with habits is they don’t actually respond to will power where we most want to apply it. Think about the drunk in the bar with the whiskey in front of him trying to say NO! And I’m thinking, why worry at this point? Drinking the whiskey is a forgone conclusion if you wait till it’s in front of you. The place to apply a well intentioned “NO” was way before you already ordered the drink, made the whole pan of brownies, stayed late enough that you might as well just keep working. Habits are a response to a stimuli, but the bad things we do to ourselves and others are not the precipitating stimuli! That happens way before the bad behavior we want to stop.

Emotional habits are the same. By the time you’re trying to stop yourself from responding to your mother like an angry adolescent, you’re in deep and you might as well let it rip.

When we say the word habit, we tend to mean one little tiny part of a much larger cycle of behavior. He smokes, what a bad habit. Yes, but he also gets antsy at his desk, likes to get out of the office, needs to deal with stress, has a friend in the office that agrees with him politically on their smoke breaks, and likes the moment when the cashier asks him what brand he’d like and he remembers his dad asking him to pick by color. ALL of that is the habit, not just the moment he lights up.

Word on yellow wall

 

So if you have a habit of responding to another person in a way that hurts you or never gets what you want, start changing it by getting the rest of the picture. What are the triggers? Where did they start? What is the whole process? When do you start feeling the urge and what is happening right before that? What are the rewards?

Our brains are tricky. The reward can be something you’re actually getting, or just something you really believe you’ll get. If you’re doing an emotional habit because you need to feel loved by someone like your father, then you will not stop the behavior until you figure out how to take care of that need some other way. Even if NONE of the previous attempts have been successful.  You’re not stupid or crazy! You’re just trying to get what you need.  If you can admit what that need is, you can find a better way to deal with it, you can sense when it’s about to derail you and get back on track before old habits make the same old train wreck!

Ask yourself the same questions about triggers, process, urge, timing and reward when someone else is habitually hurting you.  What are they responding to and is it something you could change?  Or are they so caught up in their own habit that you need to accept the behavior won’t change and get protective of yourself?

But what if you’re changing and your own parents try to sabotage you?  What if you have family members that have always treated you badly?

When it’s your family and they are undermining all your efforts to do better/ get better.  That’s a habit on their part that probably starts in their fear.  If you change, will they have to look at themselves and the family differently?  What function does your behavior serve?  Don’t tell me it doesn’t.  I’ve seen way too many families that arrange themselves around one member’s addiction or bad behavior.  They do NOT know what to do if you make real changes!  Or maybe if you get better, you won’t need them anymore.  I’ve seen that drive a lot of sabotage.

Don’t take it personally when the other person has a habit. It will take at least 30 days of you acting differently for them to believe in your change, (if you’re lucky). After that it will take them a while to change how they react to you. It’s easier if they are trying to make changes. It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible if they’re not. Habits have triggers, if your behavior is no longer the excuse they’re using for theirs, you tend to get change. If you’ve changed and they can’t/won’t/don’t change, put it to them directly. “I’m loosing weight and feeling good so why are you putting out donuts constantly and asking me if I’m sick all the time?” If they don’t/won’t respond or change, you may have to change the boundaries in that relationship.  More painfully, you may just have to accept that is who they choose to be and make good choices for yourself about being in that relationship.  Sometimes, you need to get out.

 

A great book on this subject that I hand out to clients all the time is “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.  It’s a great place to start learning about why you do certain behaviors with no conscious decision making involved.  So If you’ve been frustrated by how people ask you later about why you made such a bad choice and you seriously don’t have an answer, read this book. Once you figure out the stimuli and the needs you’re trying to meet, you can take control and make habits work for you!

I look forward to any questions you’ve got!

When you want better, do something Scary

FearSo I’m  therapist, we’re usually the worst at taking our own advice, and I hear my clients talking about the horrible situations they’re stuck in every day.  I tell them to go ahead and take the risk, make the change, do that scary thing that’s been holding you back.  Then I’m not willing to do it myself.

For example, way back when this blog was started I was scared of the internet, computers, people reading my writing, no one even noticing my writing, etc, etc.  So I didn’t really set this up. Someone else did it for me so that I wouldn’t have to face my fears.  I knew just enough to get to my page and write a post with a picture in it.  That was it and it stayed that way for years.  Nothing grew, nothing got better with this blog.  I went along feeling bad that I wasn’t writing in it and forgot how to even get to my page to write a new post.  Sounds bad.  It was easy.

It is completely easy to avoid doing scary things and slide into a mediocre place that you swore you’d never occupy.  It can be just as easy to stay in a hole lined with your own excrement because you don’t know if it will get better, so why try?  Or maybe you don’t think you deserve better, you’re waiting for someone else to rescue you, you know you’ll fail, or any of the other things we tell ourselves.

Most people think I’ll tell them that all those fears are horse crap and to let them go!  No.  You’re smarter than that and so am I.  You, as a smart person who knows your life, have come up with an internal list of fears that have real meaning for you.  Now write them out, validate them, and plan your attack.

Seriously get a pen and paper and write out all the desperate fears and negative self-beliefs.  You may get a stomach ache while you do this.  I’ve had clients have asthma attacks.  I tend to feel like my stomach is being squeezed and my throat is burning.  Persevere.  This is where you build the tolerance to your own fear while validating that you have a right to be afraid.  Let’s say that again.  You have the right to be afraid.  The idea that we should go through life fearless, tough and never crying is the kind of crap that sells cigarettes and bad TV shows.

When you’re ready, because you may have to put down your list and take a walk, go through and think of a valid reason for each fear.  Because if they’re real, you are not crazy or stupid or whatever nasty thing you’ve been calling yourself.  So think of that reason.

Let’s go back to my fear list that I gave at the beginning of this post.  I’m afraid of computers because when I was younger I got yelled at and told how fragile they were.  I’ve been scared they’ll break from my cursed touch ever since. I validate that I have a right to be scared and I’m not stupid or a pansy or crazy.  Now I plan an attack on that fear.  I will have multiple exposures to my computer.  I will explore all those buttons.  I will thank the good Lord for YouTube and play videos that show me how to use the computer.  I will occasionally stop and cuss at the screen because anger feels better than fear.  I will go to Barnes & Noble to look at a “Dummies” book and reward myself with a latte.

I now have five different things I can do to face that fear and get past it.  Each one is simple and can be done in the next few days.  At that point I can look at the fear again and make a new plan as needed.

So when I go over this with clients I hear, “It can’t be that simple!” and “My fears don’t have simple solutions!”  Well, those are both fears, so do the same thing with them. The first one is usually about, “I will never be fixed.”  This one usually has to do with early messages you got as a child, topped with that romantic relationship that crapped on you. You have every right to worry about this when you’ve had bad messages about your worth and whether or not you’re damaged. Write out a for/against on if you need to be fixed. Read a blog post about self-esteem. Write out your usual negative litany of hopelessness and then try to read it aloud imagining you’re talking to a 10 year old.  Think of the funniest thing you can say about how damaged you are.  Write out what you would say to a friend in your shoes.  Once you’ve done all that, assess it again, repeat.

Real change on your deeper fears takes lots of repetition.  You’ve been afraid of some of this stuff for years. Every day.  For years.  You can afford a little time to overcome now. You really do deserve that.

As for me, here I am on my Surface.  I feel a little less nauseous every time I open it.  If I start worrying about how it will die and I will be at fault, I put another $5 into the replacement fund and carry on.  My fear is not gone, but it’s not holding me frozen anymore.  I hope the same for each of you reading this.

This is the simplified version.  If you have questions please comment and I’ll try to expand where you need it.  Thanks for reading and I hope to see you again soon.

 

Help, I need to Motivate myself!

Image result for reward for hard work

Because, cmon, motivation and discipline are words that other people use to tell me why I’m not perfect.  Only I know I’m not perfect and that’s not what I have a problem with.  My problem is how I need to get things done that I DON’T like doing.  The things that are either so boring I will be smacking my own head or so scary that my stomach clenches and I feel sick.  Either one will fill my head with sand and my whole body with weights.  That sounds great, let’s move more sloooowwwwllllyyy through a task that already sucks!

Or not.  But how you ask?  First off, acknowledge how hard/boring/scary/awful/awkward your task is.  Lying to yourself that this is going to be easy won’t make it go faster.  Most of the time when we rate a task under its actual difficulty level, we just get mean to ourselves later about how hard it actually was.  Skip that!  You have enough negative voices in the world around you.  Don’t set up a situation where you’ll get negative on yourself.  List out the reasons that this will be bad and then you’ll have more grace towards yourself whatever happens.

Break this down, WAY down.  Let’s say you need to make a phone call that will not go well.  You have bad news to give, the other person doesn’t like you, and they will attempt to argue no matter what you say.  If you look at that head on, it will always seem like a wall falling on you.  So break it down so far that you will have a number of success stories before you get to the actual call.  So the list looks like

  1. Find that phone #
  2. Write an outline of what I need to say, any questions I need to ask
  3. What’s my back-up, forward my outline to someone?
  4. What info will I need in front of me for this call?
  5. Get that info and have it on hand

 

Notice that I made the first thing the easiest.  Find that phone number and voila! I can check something off.  You’ll also notice that once I let myself in on how bad this will be, I start making a plan that matches that reality.  This list calls for back-up, getting my information together, and having a clear idea of what I have to say.  I see a lot of my clients prepare for the call they wish would happen and then get eaten by the call they knew was coming.  Acknowledge!  Validate!  If you don’t want to make this call/ start that diet/ go look for a new job, there is a good reason and lying to yourself won’t make it go away.

Now move.  Any movement on the task will be good.  Once you’re in motion it’s easier to keep going.  So pick the smallest easiest thing, get it done, feel that rush of checking it off, and then head into the next thing.  If the task involves some kind of performance (any moment you will be talking and feel judged) then practicing is movement.  Talk to yourself in the mirror, have the conversation in the car on your way to work, try out different approaches.  Laugh all you want, but I practice testimony in the shower.  Wherever, however.

Reward yourself throughout the process.  A list can be its own reward as you check off the tasks you’ve gotten done.  Gloat when you can put that checkmark there.  It will help get you through the process.  Also think about small breaks, allowing yourself treats, and calling friends when you’ve gotten something done.  This can feel weird.  A lot of us are more used to attempting motivation through shame and fear.  But those don’t work!  Write a list of activities under five minutes and small treats that you will feel good about.  You will be amazed at how much more motivating it is to reward yourself.

Now all of this will go crap-side-up if you get caught in perfection.  The only perfect things are statues, that don’t move, and therefore can’t get anything done. My favorite quote on this is from Tim Ferriss and to paraphrase it, “The half assed plan you’ll stick with always works better than the perfect plan that fails.”  My add to that is, “All perfect plans fail.”  When you can’t think of what to do next and you feel overwhelmed by even the little tasks on your broken down list, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, Half-ass that sucker!  It will give you the freedom to get moving.  And once you’re moving…you’re likely to keep moving.

How To Forgive Yourself

I was supposed to have another blog out last Wednesday about the difference between guilt and responsibility.  It would help with understanding how you can forgive. Because so much of forgiveness is taking responsibility for your future and not waiting around for someone else to take care of you, you need to know to taking responsibility doesn’t mean you’re guilty. But I’m guilty of saying I’d get it done and then not doing it.

I need to forgive myself. I would rather watch stupid movies on HULU then get to work. After I’ve accepted this fact, I can forgive myself, change my expectations, and move on.

Forgiveness is a verb. Here’s the actions I’ve taken so that I can do something better with my time than feel bad about who I am.

Change my expectations. It would be great if I was a workaholic who wanted to wake up in the morning and get going immediately. But get real, I want coffee, I’d like heavy whipping cream in it, and unless I’m listening to music, I’m not even awake yet. I’m the girl who makes it to the 5 AM workout but may come home and go back to bed.  To actually deal with who I am and make things happen, I need to accept I’m not who I wish I was. That is forgiveness.  I see the difference between what I wish and what I have, and instead of demanding that I become what I wish, I accept who I am.

Get moving. Once I know that I’m not that workaholic who’s going to turn out the Great American novel next week, I can set more realistic expectations for myself. I will be more likely to keep to expectations that are in line with who I am. Part of forgiveness, is to move forward. If I say I forgive myself, but I don’t do anything different, what have I really done?  I work best in short spurts, with a cup of coffee and a time limit.  I set up the situation to reflect this new knowledge.

Appreciate.  I look for successes no matter how small and pat myself on the back.  The process of forgiveness implies that I’m trying to like myself.  When I like people, I say nice things about them.  Can you say nice things about yourself?  Forgive yourself for how negative you are, by saying good things about you.  It’s a verb, not an emotion.  You’ll feel good later, get to appreciating now.

Do it now.  Later is where we put the dreams we’re willing to kill.  If you will forgive yourself later, you won’t actually get it done.  Since it’s a verb, you have to DO good things for yourself, and do them today.  If you are truly willing to forgive, how will you be kind to yourself right now?

Don’t forget.  Only God forgets what He forgives.  If you try that, it’ll be like wrapping your head around a tree.  Remember all you want to as long as you learn from it, change a behavior, appreciate your success, do or think something kind about yourself, and be done.

Just to be repetitive!

  1. Accept yourself  & make a new expectation based on what you learned.
  2. Change a behavior based on the new expectation.
  3. Appreciate every little success and search for good things about yourself.
  4. Do a good thing for yourself now.  Later is never.
  5. Remember the bad and keep doing the good.  You’ll verb yourself into better feelings about you.

You never have to forgive.

 

Because you can’t be forced to.  Let’s go over that again.  You, the person who got hurt, cannot be forced to let go of your pain.  You can hold onto the memory and the jagged edge of every bad thing that happened to you, and I mean it sincerely that you have a right to do that.

When other people get their sappy smiles and tell you to forgive whatever monster lived in your closet with a chain around your neck, tell ’em a story.  Whatever the worst thing you can say in a flat voice with no tears, that will send most do-gooders running with their tail between their legs.  Try not to cry. Some people who will tell you what you should do with pain are just waiting for tears before they swoop in and try to save you.  Most of the time, you won’t actually feel saved so much as used.

You got hurt.  You might be holding onto that pain as a way to remember and not make the same mistake.  The pain can also be used like an electric fence to keep people away and never face the same fears again.

But at some point, you look around and realize you are standing all alone holding a knife against your own throat and calling that safety.  Nobody can reach you.  You don’t ever let yourself forget the pain.  So there is no repeat of the old pain, except how you’re hurting yourself with it everyday.

People were not meant to be alone and constantly hurting themselves.  If this is you, there is a better way.  Here’s the kicker, you will have to forgive if you want that better way.  You cannot be forced into a decision that is so internal.  You must chose, of your own free will, to let go of your knife and your fence.

Don’t forgive to make someone else happy, it’s not real and you’ll resent so deeply it will be a festering wound.

Don’t forgive to tell an abuser that their actions were OK and you never really got hurt.  Forgiveness is an acknowledgement of how deep the pain really is and how badly the other person behaved.  Never deny your pain or pardon a person who has done nothing to earn that status.

Don’t forgive to look better at church or to feel accepted by a religious group.  Don’t poison your relationship with God to get closer to the other sinners.  This holds true whatever your higher power is and however good you feel about the other members of the group.

Don’t say the words when you’re just hoping that you’ll feel better immediately.  True forgiveness feels like crap at first.  It’s a painful process.  The only thing that makes it all worthwhile is how good you feel afterwards.  But do not lie to yourself.  This will hurt and you deserve the truth.

You also deserve a life that is bigger and better than whatever you are owed.  The person who hurt you owes you a debt.  To get something better, you will have to forgive that debt.  There is no room for the good things you deserve until you let go of what you are owed.  This is not just.  Forgiveness is showing mercy to yourself instead of asking for justice on those who have hurt you.  In the end, it is also a potential act of mercy on the hurtful.  That is where most people give up.  They would rather live in pain than be merciful to those who hurt them.

You can hold on to your pain and wait for the day that it can be used like a sword of justice.  But the chances of that day coming are slim.  Or, you can let go of the pain and get something better than justice.  Let mercy roll down and wash away your pain.

Forgiveness is NOT a free pass.

 

No one can force you to forgive.  You also can’t be forced into taking vitamins, staying away from abusers, and following your dreams.  Let’s get this straight right now.  Forgiveness is NOT for the other person.  It’s for YOU.

When you forgive, you no longer put the energy into the other person, into hoping for their pain, or wishing they would finally make yours right.  You put yourself in charge of the future and allow the past to stay where it will do you the least amount of harm.

Not everyone wants to be in charge of themselves.  It’s a harsh truth that being victimized  can leave some people in a bitter place of waiting for someone else to make it right.  That feeling can be somewhat addictive.  If you’re the victim, you’re always right, you’re always sure the other person is wrong, you never have to give up on what you’re owed.

It’s not actually a good life.  But it has a dark addictive pull.  Some people would rather be right than happy.  And if you only hurt yourself, that’s horrible.  But permanent victimization allows you to hurt everyone around you.  The most horrible behavior I’ve seen as a therapist has been justified by victim status.  Guys who wind up in an anger management group for knocking their wive across a room, all say the same thing. “She came after me!  I wouldn’t have had to do anything if she would have just shut up.”  Women who’ve abused their children or allowed one boyfriend after another to do it for them, same thing.  “He called me a b****, you would have hit him too.”  “I didn’t hurt my child, my boyfriend did and I’m being blamed!”  The worst behavior is always justified by how badly the abuser has been victimized.  And it’s crap.

No one ever had the right to abuse you no matter what happened to them.  You do not have the right to abuse anyone else no matter how crappy your day, your week, or your whole life has been.  Forgiveness is the verb that allows us to let go of how badly we were treated so we don’t recreate the cycle for someone else.  We make the effort to let go of what we’re owed, so that we can get what we truly want.  You need more than what you’re owed by the people who have hurt you.  You definitely ought to want more than that.

When you hang on to what you’re owed, you are more likely to take the payment from someone who wasn’t even there.  Let yourself become the victim and you will have a black hole sucking all the light out of your relationships with no end in sight.

Do you truly want what you think you’re owed so damn much that you will sacrifice everyone around you to that goal?  Will you sacrifice your own happiness because your need for vindication is so extreme?

Forgiveness hurts and it’s hard, and you will wish you didn’t have to do it.  And it’s the best hard thing you will ever do for yourself.  Imagine you had spend 5 years eating snickers and watching vapid TV with all your free time.  Now you really want to fit into a decent outfit and be attractive to the opposite sex.  You have 5 years of damage to undo and you will be sweating, screaming, throwing out foods that don’t help you, watching TV from an elliptical, and discussing how you let yourself go with friends and professional helpers.  In about a year or less, you will walk into a room and show off every painful moment it took to get you into fighting shape.  You will love every moment you hurt because it led you to feel this good right now.  It will be better because it took the pain to achieve.

When you forgive, you take on the pain of your life without any hope of someone else rescuing you from it.  You take on the pain that the other person will never accept and you feel pain that was never a fair or just payment for your actions.  You agree that you will take on all the pain for both of you and bear the entire load.  Because that is the ONLY way you’re ever going to be in a position to dump the whole thing overboard.  You can sit on that couch and feel the pain of rejection but not take on the extra possibility of failure, or you can lever yourself up and make painful changes that lead to that moment of freedom you’ve dreamed of.

We’re going to spend the next 4 days on the specifics of how to forgive.  I hope you’ve been convinced to at least think about this, for your sake and the sake of the people you actually like.

 

Picture from AlicePopcorn from flickr creative commons

Don’t be so responsible, at least not for everyone else!

Who are you responsible for?  Most adult women don’t know the answer to this question.  They think they do, but they are taking care of everyone else around them, not taking care of themselves, and then resenting someone else for the state of their lives.  Plenty of men are doing the same things and talking about how they can’t ever get out of a job they hate.

If you’re going to have a goal, you are the only one who can truly make that happen for yourself.  You are even responsible for who and how you ask for help.  But that’s help, not take over and make my dreams happen for me.

Prince or Princess Charming is not coming to make your better life appear.  You will have to take the responsibility for yourself and start letting a few other people’s needs slide.  That’s right, you need to get a lot less responsible.  Go nuts, let the dishes sit, mow the lawn after you’ve written your bucket list, let the other people in your life have the control.

Yes, control.  You need to control you, and let other people get into their own trouble or success as the captains of their own ships.  I’m not saying let your 3yr old make major life decisions.  But you’re teens could definitely do their own laundry.  And if they mess that up, let it be a learning experience.

Never be so dependable that you never get a chance at your own dreams.

Be less responsible, go play, go dream, let everyone else pick up the slack for once while you make something happen for yourself.

How to save your child!

Last post was on how to ruin your child, but some people do most of those and still have decent children.  How the heck is that happening?

Resiliency.  The ability to come through tough times with your better self intact and growing.  Some children seem to have a natural store of this, while others can get to this state with help and training.  So here are 10 ways to help any child withstand and thrive in their circumstances.

  1. Compliment specifically and describe actions not attributes.  Children think that pretty and smart are states of being that can’t be affected by their own actions.  Complimenting them on these doesn’t leave the child feeling empowered.  Make positive comments about actions children take.  This will point out to them how they change their own circumstances for the better.  When people feel powerless they get depressed, lazy, unmotivated, selfish, and scared.  Compliments about actions can be a protective layer against all the bad that feeling powerless can bring.  You can give a child that protective layer!  Make sure your compliments are about verbs not nouns or adjectives.  “I loved that you tried so hard!”  “Wow, you kicked that ball at the goal!”  Stay away from compliments that start with “You are…”  Those are attributes that children will usually see as unchangeable.
  2. Ask questions and listen to the answers. This works with any age child.  In my practice as a play therapist I shock parents all the time.  I tell them simple things their children have said and people sit back in stunned silence before saying, “She’s never said that before!”  No, she hasn’t, but she never felt that anyone had the time to listen.  Some children will not tell you the important things until you have spent several hours listening to their stories about the latest transformer cartoon they saw.  When children communicate with you they are looking for how you listen.  If you are waiting for the “important stuff” to actually start hearing the words, you will never hear anything important until it is too late.  Try this in small increments.  Spend at least 10 minutes listening to your child and commenting on what they’re saying without any statements of judgement or morals of the story.  Do that several times a week.  That child will tell you something surprising by the 3rd week, maybe sooner.  I have yet to meet the teen who really won’t talk.  They just need to talk about things you don’t find important, so they’ll know if you find them important.  Once they’ve figured that out, they spill their guts.
  3. Spend time.  Kids of all ages are used to being shuttled and cared for but the ones I’m meeting still crave time.  I see adults who don’t know how to let the kid pick the agenda and still remain in control of the situation.   When you know that you are the one in charge of safety and discipline, you can let go of the agenda control for a few hours and everyone will still be OK.  Occasionally let a child set the pace and pick the activity.  Go to the park.  Walk slower.  Look at the bug on the flower.  Watch really stupid Disney TV with your tween and listen to how cool it is.  Look for the perfect shoes for the all important first day of school (without sighing and looking like you desperately wish to be elsewhere).  Do this in lengths of time that you can manage and you’ll discover that it’s actually fun.  Children have a different time frame than we do and the world is still fresh to them.  Enjoy it, you’re relationship will improve and the child’s sense of well being will blossom.
  4. Praise hard work and make positive comments about perseverance.  Luck tends to happen more to the people who give it more chances to happen.  That comes about by hard work, multiple tries, perseverance.  If you want a child to succeed against the odds, praise every time he goes against the odds.  Being smart will not guarantee success.  But put the brains together with a good work ethic, and that kid is going to go places.  Know the value of your own hard work, say positive things about people that work hard, let your child know that work is good by your own attitude towards it.
  5. Give children jobs and insist they finish them.  It’s nice to talk about hard work, but if you’re actually going to compliment their actions, the kids have to have a chance to do the job.  They will not see this as a good thing.  You will hear whining, complaining, mouthing off, “You only had me for the free labor!”  Smile serenely and insist the job gets done.  Withhold the resources the child wants until the job gets done.  You don’t get paid for laying there, why should you teach your child that rewards come without effort?  You are NOT doing them a favor if you give money and rewards unconnected to hard work.  This is basically the same principal of empowerment.  What the child can change and feel control over, will be a protection against depression and negativity.  If a child realizes, “I can make good things happen for myself by my own effort.”, that child will be less likely to feel powerless and depressed.  Put children in a situation where they must work to get what they want.  This teaches them the power of their own actions and immunizes them against depression.
  6. Show gratitude in your own life and point out good things that come from bad breaks.  When you notice the good in your own life, your brain goes looking for more.  You prime yourself to find opportunities out of stresses, and you give yourself a cushion emotionally during bad times.  Do that when the little people are watching and they’ll be able to do the same things.  When kids around you say the negatives constantly, they are crying out for some guidance.  Ask them to stop, take a breath, and notice something good around them.  Don’t give them the moral of the story, don’t stop the rest of the whine down, just keep interjecting the new skill and showing your own command of it.
  7. Teach the difference between responsibility and guilt.  You are 100% responsible for your own life.  You’ve been that way since other people stopped paying for you and making all your problems go away.  Children will someday be 100% responsible, unless they’re constantly fighting the universe on this one yelling, “It’s not my fault!”  No, the guy who ran the red light and crashed your car is not your fault.  But he’s also not around to rehab your injuries, pay your bills, and make the situation better for you.  Guilt is irrelevant to your future.  Guilt is all about the past.  Teach kids to look towards the future and solve the problem for themselves.  Who created it is only important when you’re picking friends and figuring out who to stay away from.
  8. Encourage failure.  I am appalled at the number of bright, talented kids that show up in therapy due to their overwhelming anxiety and fear.  They are terrified of failure, won’t try anything new, won’t plan for the future, and often look for escapes in drugs, alcohol, and stupid behavior.  Failure is a fact of life that children will see as a hiccup or a complete breakdown, depending on your reaction to it.  How do you handle failure in your own life?  Your kids are watching.  Let children fail and encourage them to go for it!  When you help them avoid failure at all costs, you are teaching them that failure will kill them.  They’ll stay safely cocooned in the basement smoking pot to kill any motivation with that belief.  Teach them that trying and failing are GOOD.  Failure is how we learn.  Failure is where we consider and grow.  Failure is how we get better.
  9. Point out upcoming consequences and then get out of the way!  You know your child is heading towards an all-nighter and a bad grade in science.  Do you, A) Step in and make an award winning science project for them, or B) Tell you child that there isn’t a lot of time left and it will probably mean a bad grade if they don’t get started.  If you said A, you are enabling bad behavior that will haunt that kid for the rest of her life.  Point out the consequence in a calm tone of voice with no judgement attached.  Walk away.  Keep doing this until the child hits the wall they’ve been running for.  Ask them what they intend to do differently next time.  Repeat.
  10. Use consequences not anger.  Sometimes your child won’t have a natural consequence for his bad behavior.  You then have to decide what a logical consequence is and apply it.  Screaming, yelling, throwing things, withholding acceptance, silent treatment, and sulking are NOT logical consequences to a child’s behavior.  They ARE a child’s behavior.  If you use your emotions instead of consequences, your child won’t learn to make the connection between actions and consequences.  They may also be left more susceptible to emotional blackmail in later relationships.  Let children feel consequences, not your emotional need to avoid those.

 

There are plenty more ways to encourage resiliency in children.  These are just some of the easiest.  It’s a great topic to do some research on and then incorporate into your interaction with children.  It’s also, never to late to start these interventions.  It can be harder if you start later, but it’s still worthwhile. Good luck and go get started!

 

Picture by jaci XIII from flickr, some rights reserved.

How to deal with Grief

Just not the typical stuff that everyone always told you about.

This is about the things no one says and most people seem to pretend isn’t happening.  So in no particular order, here’s a list of what you might face and some tips to make the process less painful.

  1. Justification will get you into trouble and you will have a VERY good supply of justification.  Have any old bad habits that have died the good death? Grief resurrects those fast.   You will want comfort.  You will feel justified in taking comfort where ever you can.  And if you don’t set some boundaries and get some help, you’ll be having a relapse into the cigarettes, bad boyfriends, chocolate cake, and self-loathing you used to deal with.  Find a way to indulge that will be healthy for you.  Go to a movie, call in sick and lay in the park, have coffee with friends and take good care of yourself.  Do NOT say you’ll give in to a bad idea “just this once” and think that actually works.
  2. Crazy is attracted to vulnerable.  And we’re all vulnerable in grief.  I would like to think that if I’m grieving, crazy people will leave me alone and have a little respect.  That’s not happening.  Think of these people as vampires that want to suck from your tear ducts.  They are attracted to your pain because they like feeling needed, and they expect that filling any of your needs will give them a license to own your life and your time.  Your best friend being there for you 24/7 is awesome.  But you do not have to accept every offer of help from anyone that comes along.  Your grieving, not destitute.  Say NO and say it often enough to keep your sanity.
  3. One loss will be a reminder of every other loss.  You can’t just grieve them one at a time.  And you’re not crazy because you started crying over the death of your friend and wound up re-living the moment in 3rd grade when the other boys wouldn’t let you be part of their spy kids club.  Grief revives grief.  Expect to be awash in memories and remember to roll with it until that wave passes.  It does pass.  Trying to shove it all back and ignore it will give you an ulcer and probably won’t work anyway.  Sooner or later you will ride that wave.  Set aside some time and let it roll.
  4. You will grieve what you WISH you had, what you SHOULD have had, and not just what you actually experienced.  Death & Divorce are the final blow to our fantasies that change can happen and happily ever after might still exist.  You can hate someone and still wail uncontrollably at their funeral because of the wishes you didn’t even know you had.  If you had the lousy relationship or time was too short with a good one, expect to be raging angry and unbelievably sad.  Both emotions are normal and will need outlets that don’t get you locked up.  Find a place to scream.  Go run until you puke or fall down.  If you can’t run, find some other activity that will get you sweating and exhausted.  Once you’re worn out you’ll cry more and that’s part of the process.  Physical activity is one of the few sure ways to flush all the stress out of your system and give you a fighting chance at a calm tomorrow.
  5. Other people will be struck with a sudden case of stupid and that’s the platform they will attempt to help you from.  I put down my horse a few weeks ago.  I cry just typing that.  Just a few days after it happened someone helpfully told me about a stage 4 cancer victim and her struggle with pain.  Randomly brought that up and spent 10 minutes detailing the horror.  And then he said, “So it could always be worse.  I mean really, you don’t have that much to complain about!”  No, I don’t have stage 4 cancer and I’m very happy about that.  It doesn’t make the pain less that I’m not afflicted with a life threatening disease.  Actually, I just feel totally angry at that moron because he wants me to feel guilty about my pain and shut up about it already.  People will also make judgements about the length of time you should be crying, and how much grief you should be allowed to express depending on a formula of how “close” you were, how long you knew the person/animal/marriage, and how disrupted your life has been.  If you are a Christian or have Christian friends, you will also hear about God’s will.  Please don’t deck anybody.  Do feel free to walk away.
  6. There will be a series of lasts and firsts that have to be lived through.  The last time you saw them, the last Christmas, the last time in the hospital.  It’s like you’re looking through the back window of a car as it pulls away from some place special.  At some point you start looking forward and see your first landmark that you can’t share anymore.  Expect at least a year of firsts that send a shock through your life.  These can be large or small and it won’t matter what you need to get done or where you are.  Surround yourself with people that can hear that same story again, as many times as you need to tell it.  Encourage them to talk about themselves and their own lives even though you might not really be listening.  Connecting with people is important to your long term health but it’s going to feel impossible as you travel through your lasts & firsts.  Treasure people who will know how to do the work for you and re-pay them in kind some day.
  7. Guilt and regret will do their best to find you and kick your ass.  We don’t like the total lack of control that loss brings into our lives.  Guilt is a way of pretending you could have stopped the bad thing, if only…..  There are rare times when we actually caused the problem that led to the loss.  If that’s true for you, accept your responsibility and learn from your mistakes.  The rest of the time we’re fooling ourselves that we could have controlled a situation that was never in our hands.  Regrets are usually centered around the things we meant to do and never found the time for.  No one has any time anymore.  I’ve been to too many funerals where we all said, “It shouldn’t take a death to get us together!”  And then we don’t see one another until the next funeral.   If you are overwhelmed with regret, you have a problem with the busyness of your life.  You will either force a slow down, or live with the next set of regrets after the next funeral.
  8. Time is going to go a little screwy on you.  Your perception of time passing will speed up and slow down with your emotional state.  Other people will not be on the same roller coaster and may “helpfully” try to rush you or slow you down.  If you’re at least aware of what’s happening, you won’t take it as personally.  Wearing your watch may not help.  Grief can make everyday objects and concepts suddenly complex and disturbing.  Your brain will get overwhelmed by the amount of emotion it’s processing.  Make someone else be in charge whenever possible while remembering you’re still the boss.  Do not give up all decision making for funerals, burials, parenting plans, divorce proceedings, etc.  Delegate as you need to but remind everyone you’re still checking the outcome.
  9. Yes, you will be annoying for a while.  And your friends will love you, remember who you usually are, and stick with you.  It’s going to be your turn soon.  You’ll have to listen to someone else cry, hear stories about their family/marriage/pet, and hold their hand until they can go it alone.  When you let people help you, they are more comfortable asking for your help later.  Let people see the full melt-down.  You’re building the trust they’ll need to show you the same someday.

 

You’ve been here.  You’ve known pain and the moments nobody prepared you for.  Please take the time to share any other shocks from your own experience.  Someone else will benefit from your story.

 

The picture is called “Lost Tree” and is from flickr by h.koppdelaney