When you think your child is a criminal, or maybe just bad.

Parents say this to me in whispers and then draw back into themselves waiting to be judged.  They just KNOW that I’m either going to rip into them about the name calling or agree that the behaviors are so bad and therefor the parenting must be equally BAD!

Instead, I ask some questions about how that child interacts with the world.

  • Does your child accept adult authority? (No)
  • Does your child ask questions about why things are right or wrong? (Yes)
  • Is your child loud and outspoken when they feel the situation is unfair? (Oh yeah)
  • Will your child repeat behaviors that you’ve yelled and screamed at them for? (yup)
  • Do you ever feel like you have a little mobster in your house and it’s all about quid pro quo? (you scratch my back, your back gets scratched.)
  • Does your child attempt to talk to you as a fellow adult? (Yes)
  • Do they like to negotiate even when they’ve got nothing? (lawyers, every one)
  • Do they follow some rules and toss others that they are fully aware of? (and they can even tell you about the rule they ignored.)
  • Can they tell you the negative consequences that may happen but still seem oblivious to them? (You’ll notice they sing song out the negatives while rolling their eyes)
  • Do they tell you when they feel you have broken a rule? (With unholy glee.)

If you recognize your child from these questions, I’m going to guess they think about the world differently than you do and that you are extremely frustrated with them.  I can help. You have a Transactional Child. Their world is made up of;

  • What’s in it for me?
  • Why is it right or wrong?
  • What use is it?
  • If I’m supposed to listen to you, what makes you the expert?
  • Why are you in charge and not me?
  • Does this make sense?
  • Is this consistent?

Your child does not adhere to rules because it’s the right thing to do.  That phrase doesn’t even mean anything to them.  They adhere to rules because the consequences for breaking them are logical, consistent in when and how they happen, and fair.  But now you’re ready to tell me that you’ve been doing that, all the time, and it doesn’t work!  And I’m going to tell you to get out of your own way.  It is a brutal truth that a transactional child will never get the point if your emotions are clouding everything up.

If you are handing out consequences while angry, then your child is receiving two different messages.  The first one is how stealing all those cookies leads to a cookie drought in their immediate future.  Important stuff.  The second message is about your anger.  Guess which one is more important to your child.  The anger.  You might as well be talking like one of Charlie Brown’s teachers.  Even if your child can parrot back what you’re saying, she isn’t getting it.  She’s dialed into your emotional state and desperately trying to remain still so you don’t get any worse.  If that doesn’t work, she may start acting out since there’s no hope to calm this down anyway.  Because if all is lost, why not go out in a blaze of glory?

Try to imagine this from your child’s point of view.  He eats the cookies, all the cookies.  Your emotional response is frustrated, you ask him questions he can’t answer and you talk about being disappointed.  All of this is confusing and hurtful, but has no logical connection to the particular action of eating all the cookies.  Then he does it again.  Now you’re ANGRY, you yell things he’s not really listening to, you point out other members of the family that are angry at him and you wonder aloud if he will be a good person when he grows up.  He did the same action each time.  You did not.  Even if there were logical consequences for the misdeed, he can’t see them through the cloud of different emotional reactions.

Emotions cloud the connections.  Every. Time.  If you can get this, you will make your life 10 times easier and it can happen overnight.

So let’s revisit the cookie incident.  Little Janie sneaks into the kitchen at night and eats all the homemade cookies.  She wakes up the next morning with a terrible tummy ache and you know immediately what happened. And now, you will be the better mob enforcer.

Just here to do a job. Nothing Personal

The enforcer from the movies who makes sure everybody knows, it’s nothing personal.  This does not ruin your day, because you are just here to hand out consequences without emotion and then move on.

“Janie you ate all the cookies and now you feel crummy!” “Oh dear, and now you’re lying to me about it when I already know what happened.  That must be very frustrating for you.” “So here’s the deal kid, you stole all my cookies.  So now I’m going to take one of your Polly Pockets for every cookie of mine that you took.  I don’t really want your Polly Pockets and I’m not even sure what I’ll do with them, I’m still taking them.  You stole your brother’s cookies too.  He gets to pick a small toy of yours for every cookie of his that you took, because that’s fair.”

In order for this to work, you MUST sound calm.  Try for Mary Poppins about to go out for her day off.  I know you’ll want to make this important by infusing it with lots of emotions.  DON’T!!!  No matter what emotions your child throws around, remain calm and serene.  Stick to consequences that are logically connected to the bad behavior.  Make sure the consequences are small enough to be immediately enforceable and easy for you to carry out.  Hammer of God! only works for God.  If you aren’t Him, keep the consequences small and the voice tone to Fred Rogers.

Most parents think I’m crazy until this works.  They also think it sounds MEAN.  Because no matter what your child feels, you need to still be calm, serene, and OK for the rest of your day.  Emotions cannot be consequences if you want a healthy relationship with your child.  If you’ve accidentally taught them that your negative feelings are the end product of their behavior, they’re going to throw that back at you now. Hey!  Dad yells and throws his emotions at me when I do stuff he doesn’t like.  I can do that too!

Consequences work, loud important emotions just get in the way.

Kids like yours do not think about the world in terms of right/wrong and chains of command.  So when you tell them, “Because I said so!” You just made no sense to them. What will work, every time, is calmly delivered consequences that logically fit the bad behavior.

Stay tuned next week when I’ll explain why so many of these kids repeat negative behaviors and how to counteract that too.  This will actually be a series of posts on dealing with the child that thinks in transactional terms so you can both keep your sanity.

Stay calm, and be sure to ask any questions you have in the comments below.

 

Attributions: @markheybo Norwich Street Art; Why do you do this?, floodllama Mobsters, Jeremy Rivera Mr. Rogers in a Bear Suit.  All from Flickr with a CC license.

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!

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 ruin your child!

Now I’m aware there are good kids out there being raised right.  I also know there are children who get raised by loving parents doing everything right and the kid still hares off into all sorts of crazy.  There’s also some children out there being raised by well-meaning but not terribly effective parents.  The kids who are terrorizing the rest of the school and making life hard on everyone.  So forgive me if I sound cynical, pessimistic, or really sarcastic.  I’ve listened to too many kids talk about being; raped, bullied, beat up, ostracized, stalked, slandered,  poisoned, drugged, and run over by their peers.

Think I’m exaggerating?  I’ve been a therapist for 17yrs.  You do not want to know what I’m leaving out.

And the kids doing some of the worst behaviors were not physically abused, sexually traumatized, or raised by drug addicts.  These are “nice” middle and upper class children who were more subtly allowed to get warped.  You cannot take all the credit or blame for your child.  He or she has their own choices to make.  But if you are doing one of the following, I can pretty much guarantee problems will be coming for your family.

In the hopes that you will be able to see yourself in some of these and save yourself from the outcome, here’s 10 easy ways to completely ruin your child (and by extension your happiness, any hope of decent grandchildren, and the future of the species.  No pressure.)

  1. Give them EVERYTHING!  Never even suggest they work for what they want.  The good stuff should always be free and a fit should get you what you want.  When this ceases to work because peers and bosses do not find this behavior attractive, your child can experience depression at a much higher rate and be unable to take effective steps to help themselves.  When you’ve never had to help yourself, you don’t know how!
  2. Let them watch adult themed shows with sex and violence.  They’re going to deal with that eventually.  Give them a head start!  Seeing so much death, destruction and confusing sexual innuendo will help your children feel overwhelmed by their surroundings and unable to reach for real intimacy.  They will be more sure that bad things are going to happen and feel less able to take care of themselves.  As a bonus, if they get into porn they will fail to develop any real skills for sexual intimacy and be even less likely to make you a grandparent!
  3. Don’t allow your child to fail.  Failing and surviving will give them skills that might actually get them out of your house.  Fear of failure will paralyze your child into a fetal curl in your basement.  Children figure out that failure must be the worst thing that could happen when you NEVER let them even get close to it.  They will continue to rely on you to save them as long as you are willing to take away their right to learn and grow.
  4. Tell your children they’re smart, constantly, without ever commenting on or asking for hard work.  Your kids will expect problems to be easy and think hard work is what stupid people do to make up for being brainless.  When your child inevitably hits the moment that brain power alone won’t get them through, they won’t even attempt perseverance!  They’ll give up and move back into that sweet cocoon you’ve got set up in the basement.
  5. Helicopter in to rescue them from any discomfort they may face at school, with friends, at church, or on sports teams.  The ability to withstand discomfort and be graceful under pressure takes practice. Don’t allow your child any room to grow in this area and they will still be whining about how people don’t treat them nice when they’re 35.  Better yet, they may feel justified to give in to road rage, screaming fits in public, and any other number of embarrassing public acts.
  6. Completely ignore any issues they have at school, especially bullying and sexual harassment.  Better yet, tell kids it’s their fault and related to the way they look.  Unbalanced reactions that reflect your own need to avoid conflict or prove how right you are, are sure fire ways to screw things up!  Be sure to act surprised when the school calls about your child attempting to seriously hurt someone, the failing grades, etc, etc.
  7. Have an extreme reaction to their emotions.  Either pay so much attention to feelings that they are the center of the universe and a reason for everything, or discredit all of them and act like John Wayne crawling through cactus.  This can include being scared of your child or making sure they’re terrified of you without any mitigating attempts to show love and acceptance.  Your child will learn to either over-emote to an unappreciative audience, or be the unassailable tower of solitude and emotional distance.
  8. Don’t ever teach them any of your values in an attempt to let them find their own.  Obviously, we all slavishly followed what our own parents said.  When you give a child something concrete not to do, they know right where to start their rebellion.  Without guideposts of some kind, your child will just keep right on going with their behavior until they can get hurt.  They’ll also be confused by the multiple choices of belief systems about their own self-worth, their place in the universe, and the worth of other human beings.  Of course they don’t need some way to evaluate all this information and come up with a working model for themselves.  Just let them founder around!
  9. Let someone else do all the work, say a grandparent, without having the power or the long term stability.  That way your child can grow up confused about who’s in charge and acting out against everyone.  If you do this sporadically enough, your child won’t even be able to trust that relationships last and bad behavior doesn’t mean abandonment!
  10. Pick a favorite out of a group of siblings and do a LOT of comparison.  This way everyone can be turned against each other, you’ll completely ruin any attempts at cooperation or group cohesion, and all the kids will suffer equally whether or not they got picked to be the golden child!  The repercussions can last into adulthood as your children perceive all situations as a winner take all grabfest with no room for cooperation!

 

These are all the worst case scenario. Doesn’t mean they can’t happen.  If you see yourself doing one or several of these, get some help.  It’s easier to stop if you have someone helping you be accountable.  And just so you know, number 9 was my issue during my son’s first year of life.  I let him be raised by a caring friend who finally got tough with me and made me rethink the whole set up of my life.  It was NOT pretty!  But I can’t thank her enough for getting in my face about the issue.  Correct these, hold yourself and others accountable to raising children right, and remember that you won’t be perfect.  Just keep striving for effective.

See you back here next time for the blog on ways to make your child resilient and able to live through any of the above!

Spring Cleaning out your life.

Spring is coming (here in the north we’re expecting it in less than 4 months) and it’s time to clean out your house.   And for every action in your house or apartment, there’s even more important work to do on your heart and soul.

We call the eyes windows to the soul, a place we see out, and others have a chance to see in.  But have you looked at your windows lately?  If you haven’t cleaned them in a while, you’re not seeing the world clearly and people may have a distorted view of you.

A few items we clean off the windows.

  1. Bugs.  These poor guys are just flying along minding their own business and run into your house.  In the emotional world these are the natural, daily, events that hit us and we don’t even think about them.  Snow and rain on the day you wanted to wear your new spring shoes or play a pick-up game in the park. Sudden changes in your day, too much traffic, and the annoying mosquito person at work, can all build up without any of us really noticing.
  2. Bird Crap!  They really don’t do it to you.  It’s not personal and they’re not aiming at your windows more than your neighbors.  It just seems that way.  Bad stuff happens in your life.  Things that can seem pointed, and like the universe really is out to get you, can leave long smears of frustration and disappointment .
  3. Rain drops & sprinklers.  The things that should clean, but may leave residue in the smallest most persistent ways, can also fog your vision.  Think of these as memories of good times, old habits that don’t seem that bad, and expectations that used to fit you.
  4. Eggs, doggie bombs, & paint balls.  Yep, sometimes it is personal and someone is out to get you.  This is the long standing feud at work or home, the 16 year old  who screams at you every time you ask where the homework is, and the driver who flipped you off after cutting into your lane without a turn signal.  People aren’t always nice.  Heck, some of them aren’t ever nice.  If one of those has made you the target of their unjustified wrath, you have some nasty to clean off your windows.
  5. Pollution.  We live in a world that is filled with too many choices, too many noises, too many people, and too many stresses.  It’s all around us.  Just being here in this day and age is a stress that we overlook and underplay.  It leaves a residue that can be hard to focus through but builds up so gradually you may not even realize it’s there.

 

If you clean all of this and have nothing clouding your vision, what could happen?  You could give yourself a chance to see clearly for the first time in years.  Maybe you’re not the bad things you’ve been labeling yourself as.  Maybe you’re a stronger person who needs to finally appreciate yourself.  Get out of the shadows and stop letting bad people and bad experiences influence the rest of your life.  Yah, we’ve all had stupid days and done shameful things.  Clean that off the windows and stop letting it color your world.  Give yourself the ability to focus beyond where you are and look out to where you want to be.  Clean the inconsequential bugs and residue off your eyes and see a better future for yourself.  What you can see, believe and plan for, you can achieve.  First you have to see.

How to get those windows clean!

  1. Vinegar.  It smells.  It cuts through bird crap and wipes away residue.  It is the sometimes painful experience of questioning all your assumptions and expectations.  Sit down and write out what you expect from life, what are so mad about?  Are your expectations realistic?  Are they part of the problem?  Do you assume you’ll always loose and aren’t worth winning?  Be strong enough to face your old world view head on.  Then give the reasons it’s not right anymore.  Write those on sticky notes and book marks, have them as your screen saver on your phone and computer.  Remind yourself daily that you are a new person.
  2. Get help.  Windows by yourself are overwhelming.  My mother would make all of us kids do this together for a great bonding experience of whining and accusing her of having brought us into this world for slave labor.  But at least we weren’t alone.  Ask people how they see you and really listen.  Look especially hard for the positives you’re missing and the negatives that are holding you back.  When you find a friend or mentor you can trust with these questions, leave the door open for more information from them.  Friends that will tell you the truth without judging you, are worth their weight in gold.  Keep them close no matter how uncomfortable it can seem.
  3. Put a sheet over the windows.  There are days when you know the proverbial crap is hitting the fan.  It’s really ok to take a break.  Close your eyes and let the breeze feel good.  You need enough rest to feel rested or you won’t have the energy to do more than exist.  This can also mean an information fast.  Turn off the news.  Don’t read the paper.  Give yourself a week long break from incoming information so you can have some time to process what’s already banging around in your head.
  4. Put up some protection.  If you build in overhangs, put up sun coverings, or just redirect the sprinklers, you are narrowing what will get splattered on your windows.  In life, you may need to narrow your choices down to a manageable number.  Give yourself 15 minutes in the grocery story and stick to the list.  Only look at the items that are already in your price range.  Our brains get overloaded by too many choices and it begins to affect our view of the world and ourselves.  People are more depressed these days partially because they believe they could be happier and should be.  Everything is out there, why can’t I find it?  Well, because it’s now hidden in a mountain of other options that are visually overwhelming and emotionally draining to sift through.
  5. Clean something.  The act of cleaning up a section of your house, the top of your desk, even your windows, will help you see a physical difference that you made happen.  When you clean, you physically enact what you’re trying to do mentally.  It allows your mind-body feedback loops to work in your favor.  And we all tend to think better in a visually calming environment.  Take one small area and make it calm enough to look at and feel good.  You’ll see more options for yourself and open up a space for new thoughts about yourself.

 

I hope this spring brings good things to your life, light to your eyes, and new beginnings you can be excited about.

Help! My family won’t support my parenting.

 

You put your child on a gluten free diet and your grandfather took her out for pizza.  You tell your parents “we’re trying a new church as a family” and they take your children aside to warn them about how Mommy & Daddy are going to hell.  You’re so grateful for a diagnosis that helps you deal with and explain your child’s behavior; until your family starts casually mentioning all the ways you did things wrong in pregnancy and how your parenting is really not helping.  You tell your teens, “No drinking!” and your sibling takes them both out for a beer.  If these sound outrageous, be very thankful you haven’t had to deal with an unsupportive family.  Read on to help a friend who has.  Oh, and every one of these examples is true.

It’s not just controlling &/or self-absorbed family members who will act this way.  Normally sane, functional people will become grandparents, aunts, & uncles and promptly turn a corner  onto the dark side.  Having children of your own changes all the dynamics in your family, but your family may not cooperate.  Children are a sign that the future is coming and it’s time for everybody to grow up.  Older family members may even see your children as a sign of age creeping up.  Various family members may be threatened by your independence, the way you respond to your children instead of them, or even the way that children force you to finally stand up to family members.  Who’ve often had it coming for YEARS!  We’re all more willing to do the hard stuff and go through the conflicts if it’s for the sake of our child.  If there are changes that need to be made in the way your family acts towards you or continues to treat you, children will bring that problem to a head.   When in doubt, choose your kids.  They need you more than family members have a right to interfere with.

Another issue that may effect multiple family members is denial.  If your child has issues that you are dealing with, the rest of the family may feel threatened.  Nothing says get your own poop in a group faster, than a close relative attempting to do just that.  Guess what?  Lots of people have poop all over because they do NOT want to deal with it.  These folks are convinced that pretending it’s not there is working.  They don’t want to hear about their behavior, it’s effect on anyone else, or the slightest hint that they could actually change the way they’re not dealing.  You’ll tell these family members about your child’s autism diagnosis and they’ll say, “I’m not autistic!”  These are also the grandparents who yell at you for insulting their grandchildren and tell you it must be the bad parenting.  They will also make multiple comments about “their” grandchild being just fine and you’re wrong about that diagnosis.  Like you made the diagnosis without the benefit of Dr.s or anything!  Obviously, this is crazy talk.  Treat it appropriately.

There are two types of non support that tend to come from the folks who raised you.  You deviate from the way you were raised and they get upset.  They’re either taking your every motion personally or they’re just so self-absorbed they can’t see the use of new techniques.  Either way they will be a pain.  You probably know already which you’re dealing with.  The personalizers have been martyring themselves at Sunday dinner for years now.  When you tell them about what you’re doing with Jr, they make it all about them.  “You never did think I was a good mother.”  “Why do you need all these new fangled ideas?  Wasn’t how you were raised good enough?”  When your martyred parent refuses to follow your rules, and feeds your child a combo of sugar and caffeine that acts like kiddie-crack, you will hear a variation of, “You think I would hurt my own grandchild?!”  Yes, you do.  And no amount of playing nice is going to cover that up, nor should it.  You make rules to protect your child.  If people won’t follow those rules, they are potentially harmful.

Self-absorbed parents are going to take your parenting personal if they notice it at all.  The most likely scenarios are you insisting they give up a bad habit while around children, not use corporal punishments like spanking, or follow new food rules.  This grandparent will defend themselves for about three seconds, “I’m fine, what’s the problem?”.  After that they tend to go on the offensive.  “I never had this issue as a parent, what’s your problem?”  “That kid just needs a good beating to toughen them up.”  “I’ve been smoking for 45 years and I’m still alive, you just believe everything you read ’cause you’re gullible.”  These guys are not changing for you, their grandchildren, or the chance of peace on earth.  They don’t care because they don’t see any options besides their own.  Don’t reason with them unless you just needed the frustration.

Here’s the list of things you can do in order of effort you’ll have to put in and the likely negative response from family members.  Some of you are going to need to jump straight to the end and just plow into the opposition.  Your children are worth it and the peace of your future is worth it.

  1. Reassurance.  Your parents or other loved ones may just need to know that you love them and appreciate what they’ve done.    Some people worry that any change in you means a change in your feelings towards them.  It’s needy and a little annoying, but relatively easy to deal with.  Tell them, “I love you, I am so glad you are my, parent, brother, sister, cousin, etc.  I will always appreciate that my family has given me the strength to parent like my children need me to.”  You will need to overtly state that your parenting is not  a negative commentary on theirs.  (Unless your parenting is a direct attempt to be as different from them as possible and you’re still angry.  Skip down to #3 and come back to this one if you ever get less angry.)
  2. Educate.  Older family members or more conservative ones, may not like the changes because they don’t understand, or adhere to an older set of solutions.  Tell them about the process you’ve gone through to come to this point.  How many diets, dr.s, diagnoses, etc before you found something that worked.  Point out ways that your child is doing better or your family is doing better because of the changes you’ve made.  Let them know they don’t have to agree with you, but you’d love for them to understand how you came to your decision.  Remember that you took a while to change and your family will too.  Don’t be put off by total disbelief or disdain.  We all react to new ideas pretty negatively the first time we hear them.  But somewhere after that 5th to 25th time, we’re sold.  Bring it up calmly and drop it quick.  Multiple exposures works, but slower than you will want.
  3. Recruit your children.  Diet changes, religious decisions, and other major issues are not something you’ll want to force down your child’s throat.  No matter how young they are, relentlessly point out the positives by your words and your actions.  If you change the way a child eats, do it for the whole family and treat it as an adventure.  Laugh more.  Be OK with making mistakes and draw your children into preparations so they feel important.  Get your children involved and give them ownership of the changes.  Relatives who come in trying to mess with what you’ve done will listen to your kids more than you anyway.  You will benefit from having kids who try to cooperate rather than sabotage, and who are happier overall.
  4. Set boundaries.  Of course you should already have boundaries and rules in your home.  I’m talking about the formal process of laying out the rules and consequences for non-compliant family members.  Let them know you are serious, you are acting in the best interests of your child, and the specific expectations you have for that relative’s behavior.  If you are married or partnered, this needs to be done as a team or the relatives will figure they can get what they want by going to the other guy.  Yes, it is the same behavior your 4yr old uses to get a cookie from mom after dad has said no.  We tend to go back to what worked when we’re under stress.
  5. Recruit help.  This can mean getting some other family members on your side or just opening up about the situation to some supportive friends.  It can also be a time to suggest family therapy so a professional gets looped into playing the referee and you don’t have to.  Be prepared for anger and bad behavior if your naughty relation figures out you’re getting the rest of the family on your side.  Be prepared for the same reaction if all you wanted to do was educate the family.  The people who are most likely to undermine your parenting are also most likely to be paranoid and wildly defensive.
  6. Limit the interactions.  You’ve done everything you can and your parenting is still not being supported.  This is a safety issue.  When your child is 15 and wants to get in a car with a drunk driver they NEED your voice in the back of their head.  Your children will face multiple situations that could kill or permanently harm everyone involved.  If they think you’re stupid and not worth listening to, they are less protected and more likely to get hurt.  Please don’t think that your parenting is anything less than life or death.  Respecting you is a safety net against stupid/dangerous/harmful behaviors.  Do not let anyone mess with that.  It is totally within your rights and responsibilities as a parent to tell your mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, uncle or aunt that they are no longer welcome in your house.  It’s better to tell them to go away now, than to blame them at the funeral.  If you do chose to have some contact with these people, do it in settings that you feel comfortable with and get support.  Have your partner, your friends, your worship community or a mental health professional present.  Don’t go it alone if you can’t tell them off alone.

 

Not all families are born.  We have to make them around us sometimes. Whoever they are, put people in your children’s lives that are respectful and helpful.  Everyone will benefit.

How to Grieve When You’re Still Angry

Or hurt, disgusted, confused, maybe even scared.  People die.  The relationships they created go on past death to strengthen or haunt those left behind.

You will grieve the person that should have been there, and the one you had instead.

You’ll grieve what you didn’t get from them.

You’ll grieve for the other people they hurt, and maybe feel confused about the people who are missing someone you don’t really recognize.

If you had good memories too, you’ll probably be torn.  You may want to categorize the good times as lies, or manipulation.  It’s alright to enjoy good memories.  You don’t have to know all the motives behind the good times.  You’re not weak to accept that everyone wanted to be a fireman or an astronaut when they were little.  Nobody wanted to be an abuser, a cheater, a liar, a disappointment, an addict, nobody was born seeing only the negative.  Seeing a few positives is a way to salvage a little bit of the person the deceased wanted to be, when they were still young enough to hope.

There is no right way to feel.  Someone died and you still had negative emotions about them.  Even if you had logically realized you would never get closure from them or make changes to your relationship, your emotions may only catch up now.  So many clients over the years have been stunned by how death & funerals bring issues careening back with a bang.  Even if you had gained peace and forgiven the deceased, it’s normal to remember old hurts and disappointments like they were new.  Our brains can work like filing cabinets.  You open up the cabinet to file and new pain, it makes sense to file it with all the other painful memories.  It doesn’t mean your peace wasn’t real or your forgiveness wasn’t truly meant.  The file cabinet is open.  It will take some time to close it.

Think of grieving as the way you turn your sadness and loss into a part of your story you can understand and use later.  And for everyone who’s going to tell me that they hated that so-and-so, there wasn’t any loss there; you lost what you think you should have had.  Grief is not a logical process and what we’ve lost may just be our hope or illusions.  Doesn’t matter.   We’ve lost them and it hurts.  Now you sift through that hurt and putt the pieces together into a new pattern that helps you make sense of your own story.  The sifting is all about the questions you ask yourself and the other people who’ve known about your relationship with the deceased.  The questions don’t start out pretty. Don’t try and make them pretty.  If you had a negative experience with the person, bad things happened.  Understanding can’t come if you don’t ask the ugly questions. Why me?  Why did he hurt me?  Why weren’t you there?  Did you ever love me?  And you’ll need to acknowledge some rough emotions too.  I hate her.  I never forgave you and I wish you could hurt more.  Why did you ruin everything?  He always loved my sister better and I was so jealous I hated her.

Each of these questions and statements are OK.  They are normal parts of sifting through the pain you felt from the bad things that happened and the good that didn’t happen.  Write down the answers you come up with and accept your emotions.  You might know how to reject yourself if you’ve had some good examples of that.  You don’t have to do it anymore.  You can accept the good, bad, ugly, crazy and awesome about yourself.  None of your emotions define you, they’re a part of you.  No matter how angry or sad you are, that’s not ALL you are.  Think of each emotion, each answer to a tough question, as a piece of tile you’re making a mosaic out of.  Your story will be the whole picture you make.  You wouldn’t want every tile piece to be pearly white perfection.  No one wants to look at a boring picture.  You need dark spots and bright moments to tell a story.  Don’t try and edit your life into bland.

When you’ve accepted that negative feelings don’t make you a bad person, you can move on.  You can ask yourself the questions that really can define who you are.  What did I learn?  How am I stronger?  What will I pass on to someone else?  These are the questions that accept you have survived and you’re strong.  Not perfect.  Not saintly or martyred.  Strong.  You survived to tell your version of events and you can do that without feeling defensive or scared.

 

Picture: Jennanana Flickr photo stream

People are trying to Control you

And they have so many ways to do this.  You might think that controllers only yell and directly order you around, but they can be so much sneakier than that.  You may not even know where someone else is taking over your life.  So before we can talk about how to deal, we need to learn how to recognize.

  1. “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine”  Sure they are.  Because they are sucking you dry for everything they need with guilt, recriminations, and their own omnipresent NEED.  Any need you have gets compared to theirs, which is worse, so much worse.  You should feel guilty, and that’s how you usually wind up; Guilty and giving in.
  2. “God hates sinners”  This one is about how some people misinterpret religion as a method of control.  Yes, God did set out some rules and asked that we follow them.  He did not, however, set up your boss, sister, mother, grandmother, boyfriend, etc. as His personal representative looking out for your spiritual well-being.  When you start hearing about what God wants in your life, think seriously about whether or not He would actually use that person as a messenger.  And remember, Jesus really didn’t like Pharisees.  So if your messenger is stuck on their own rightness, has no humility and is awfully concerned with the speck in your eye, that’s not the Spirit speaking to you.  It’s just some control freak who happened to read the Bible.
  3. “I just want what’s best for you.”  Funny how that always manages to be what the other person wants and not what you had planned.   These are the same people who keep telling you to “Think!”, “Why can’t you think for yourself?” & “I won’t be here for you forever.”  If you’re a 15yr old high school student, these statements might actually be OK for an adult to say to you.  Once you’ve gotten old enough to live your own life, those are attempts to control you and they need to be seen as such.
  4. “Don’t worry about a thing, I’ll take care of all of it.”  Yes they will, and you will be selling your independence to them every step of the way.  It’s always tempting to let someone else take care of things, we all want to be rescued.  But a rescue can turn into a lifetime of childlike dependence and associated depression.  If you don’t know anything you’re specifically responsible for, something is wrong.  We need responsibility.  We need to know that we are capable and competent adults, able to withstand failure and deal with success.  If someone takes that from us, no matter how well meaning they are, we will resent them deeply, no matter how dependent we are.
  5. “I’m in charge because I’m right!”  These people are filled with a sense of their own righteous direction and have left no room for doubt.  You cannot have a discussion with them about an issue.  It will immediately become an argument that they treat as warfare.  They will measure your maturity on a scale of how close your beliefs are to their standard.  They have no shame in telling you, often, that you will believe like them when you; grow up, gain spiritual wisdom, see the truth, gain more experience, &/or get a real job.  These folks will roll over the top of you and anyone else in their way, and they will think they are doing you a favor!  These are the same zealots that have “converted” pagans by the sword, starvation, and abuse.  And then they celebrated themselves.

These are some of the main types, but they can combo into endless variations of you not being in charge of your life.  And you WANT to be in charge of your life.  The alternatives are not pretty.

Look for next week’s post on how to be in control of yourself, so these controllers can’t touch you.  Good Luck and God Bless.

 

Photo by Thomas Hawk, flickr stream

Stop Attracting Crazy People!

If you look around and your friends take advantage, your family takes you for granted, and your job is in Hell’s waiting room, the common denominator here is you.

There is a way out if you’re willing to change.

  1. Put yourself in at least the top five of your priority list.  If you’re not important to you, no one else has to take you seriously either.  You’re probably worried that some people will say you’re self-centered and selfish if you don’t kill yourself trying to make everyone else happy.  The kind of people you DON’T want in your life will tell you horrible things so they can continue to take advantage of you.  Take that as a good sign you’re moving in the right direction.  Write down a to do list.  Ask yourself how many of the items on that list help you and only you.  Make sure there are at least two items, each day, that are all about you.  Do this daily and consider it a multi-vitamin for mental health.
  2. Take time for you each day where you turn off your electronics and don’t let anyone bug you.  We have an incessant world where every second is bombarded with needs and wants.  Turn it off.  Take a walk.  Sit in the sunshine.  Call it prayer, meditation, anything that reminds you to listen and find some calm.
  3. Say the word No a lot more often.  You will never have space in your day if you say yes all the time.  Crazy people love to hear yes.  They will bug you till you crack,  & scream about how you don’t love them when you say no.  Then they’ll shower you with praise and promises they won’t keep the second you say yes.  Which is how they’ve trained you to say yes, all the time, or else.  Take your life back from this madness.  Say no.  Say it often.  Practice saying it with confidence and a smile.  The people who don’t like to hear this word will eventually go away if you keep saying it.  No is like scrubbing bubbles for your mental bath tub.  People that are calm and mature can hear no and stick around.  Immature narcissists will have a breakdown when they figure out you mean it.  This is great!  Say no and watch the crazy people run!
  4. Stop complaining.  No one wants to hear it except the predators looking for their next powerless target.  This is like putting blood in the water every time you do it.  Predators look for people who feel powerless and have little to no concept of responsibility for their own future.  When you announce to the whole world that you hate your job, have no plan to change that, and you will never get what you want; the people that could actually help you are backing away.  Your next ex-spouse is circling closer, posing as the rescue ranger you’ve always dreamed of.
  5. Stop blaming.  Sure it’s someone else’s fault.  Now what?  Are you really expecting the person that hurt you to come back and make it right?  Yes absolutely, they should.  But they won’t.  Ever.  Once again, you are signaling powerless and helpless  to the very people you don’t want in your life.  Accept that you were hurt, life is not just, and you will have to do the repair work whether or not it’s fair.  Anything less and you are a wounded fish waiting for that shark with the big teeth to come find you.
  6. Stop waiting.  You’ll start eating vegetables next week.  You’ll walk during lunch if someone will come with you.  You’ll plan that vacation you’ve dreamed about your whole life…..after all that other stuff.  You think waiting is smart and proves you’ve overcome your need for instant gratification.  No.    Waiting is just you letting your fear of change turn your life into the longest line at a government office.  If you are moving towards the things you want in your life, you will attract other people doing the same.  Other movers actually help and encourage you.  Waiting for a rescue sends out a signal that you are alone, helpless, and a sitting target in the water.   And we know the kind of person that attracts. Start playing the Jaws theme, here comes the teeth.

 

Photo by leasqueaky  from flickr.com

Why Do I have Irrational Anger Over Simple Conversations with my Parent?

QUESTION: My mother sends me e-mails that drive me crazy and the worst part of it is I don’t know why. I see her name in the in box and start getting frustrated. I’m sending you the latest e-mail. Please tell me why I get so upset!

ANSWER: If this communication was from someone you just met and you were this upset, the issue would be yours. But it’s from mom. So we know you have a long history that can supercharge each and every word she writes.  What’s really frustrating about messages like this is how normal they seem to someone who doesn’t know the history. If you show it to a friend, you may hear that you’re over-reacting, or that your mother just seems concerned.

So the first thing is to trust yourself. Even if you can’t verbalize the reason this bothers you so much, accept that there is a reason.  Go look at yourself in the mirror and repeat the following, “I am a sane, intelligent adult. There is a reason I am so upset by this and I am going to find it.”

Now review your history with your mother. What messages did you get about your abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and personality? Sit down with a piece of paper and write this out.  What did she tell you about your future? Can you be successful without her? Were most of her statements to you negative or positive? Actually write this down so you can see it on paper.

Negative statements sound like, “You’re going to get pregnant by the time you’re 16!” “You always make the same mistakes.” If you brought home six A’s and one C, you got punished for the C and were never rewarded for the A’s.

Positive statements sound like, “You are going to make the right decision eventually, I trust you.” “I see you learning from your mistakes and I know you will be a stronger person.” “I am so proud of you for all the A’s you made.”

If you haven’t had positive messages from your mom, then you are naturally adding in all the negatives to what she wrote. So take the original message and write out what you actually hear her saying.

I think it might go something like this. Your mother’s hidden messages are in parenthesis.

 

Hi Rebecca  (I hope you appreciate that I‘m taking the time to write to you),

Golly (I am either an innocent abroad or being completely sarcastic by using this word) I am so concerned about you  (because you are failing at your marriage and I told you not to get married in the first place),  you are so in my prayers  (because I know only God can help you now since you won‘t listen to your mother & it makes me feel better to bring God on my side. He‘s on MY side you know. He‘s seen everything you‘ve done and He‘s not happy with you either).

The emotional part must be over the top (I told you that you‘re unstable, but will you listen to me and get the kind of help I would approve of? You‘re probably going to break down and expect me to come rescue you),  but even the logistics and keeping your job going during this transition has got to be so hard  (I‘m still amazed you‘ve managed to keep a job and I don‘t really believe you‘re that successful. You must be ready to break down and let all that go finally. You should just admit you can‘t make it on your own and come live with me. I am so much better at taking care of you). I am so relieved your cousin is coming to help you  (At least there will be SOMEONE there who knows what they‘re doing. Not to mention that your cousin will tell me everything so that I can tell you what you did wrong later).

Love to you.  (I won’t actually say that I love you since you don’t appreciate that anyway. I just have to throw love your way and hope that some of it sticks to your ungrateful hide).

Mom.

Golly, that sounds like something you’d be upset about, now doesn’t it?

Trust yourself. Write out the historical messages. Rewrite the original message to include the hidden messages.  Now you can decide how to respond, without fighting yourself and what the message really means. Happy writing!

You can do these same methods for any seemingly innocent message that drives you to crazy with the radio turned up too loud.  Don’t show the amended message to the person who sent it.  They will deny all of it and start the crazy making messages about how oversensitive you are.  The writing exercise is to help you understand what you are responding to, so you don’t feel overwhelmed when it happens.  Remember, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  If you’ve never had your feelings validated by this person, that won’t be starting now.  Validate your own feelings and then decide how you want to deal with this person.