Anger provides a mixture of motivational benefits, some healthy and some short sighted and self-destructive.
On the positive side, anger creates a sense of power and control in a situation where prior to anger these positive, motivating feelings did not exist. The feelings of control and righteousness that come from anger can motivate you to challenge and change difficult interpersonal and social injustices. If handled correctly, your anger can motivate others to help you win your cause. Anger can provide you with a rest from feelings of vulnerability, and a way of venting tensions and frustrations. It can provide the energy and resolve necessary to defend yourself when you’ve been wronged. If you are a long suffering victim of domestic abuse, for example, and your anger finally reaches the boiling point so that it enables you to leave your abusive relationship, anger has been a truly positive force in your life. If you are a dedicated crusader working to further a truly moral cause (such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s drive for civil rights, or Gandhi’s drive for Indian independence), then anger gives you the strength to carry on, and the will to persevere.
There are negative motivational sides to anger too. Anger can create and then reinforce a false sense of entitlement, an illusory feeling of moral superiority that can be used to justify immoral actions. For instance, anger-motivated aggression can be used to justify terrorism, or to coerce and bully people into doing what you want them to do against their will. Angry people are likely to subscribe to the philosophy that “the end justifies the means” and then use unspeakable means of working towards their goals that defeat their purpose. If you are a terrorist like Timothy McVey (who bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995), a bully like television’s Tony Soprano (lead character in the HBO drama “The Sopranos”), or a ‘school shooter’ like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (who murdered fellow high school students in Columbine, Colorado in 1999), anger has led you to the dark side.
It is important to recognize that the effect of anger can be either positive or negative. If years of unresolved anger reach the boiling point and motivate you to leave an abusive relationship, your anger has saved you from additional abuse. On the other hand, if you use your anger to frighten others into doing what you want them to without considering their needs, you are allowing your anger to coerce and control others and you are no better than a bully.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
he other day I was approached by an acquaintance who was offering me a great opportunity to be a part of a great organization where a lot of money could be made with very little work. He got my name in passing and was good at following up leads. During his call to schedule a time to meet and discuss this opportunity further, I found myself in a dilemma. While this may indeed be a good option to explore further and the guy offering this was a new acquaintance, there was no way I was going to add anything more to my schedule, especially another job. So what to do?
A little into the call I simply told him “no”. I was not interested in adding anything more to my life. A few years ago I would have gone into even more of an explanation and justification of my answer in hopes to not hurt his feelings or our relationship. But I have discovered that the art of saying “no” is often enough in itself. No explanation is usually needed unless it is requested and the relationship is higher on the importance list.
Saying “no” is easy when it is a telephone solicitor or via email. As the degree of contact and the importance of the person rises, saying “no” is more difficult. However, it is important to be able to tell even the important people in life “no” if you hope to have more authority and power over your life. Being able to take charge of your life may mean that everything and everyone will not fit into your dreams and goals. It’s time to face the fact that some things and people are energy drainers. You dread the conversations with them when you meet in the hall at work. You see their name on the caller ID and your insides tighten, but you still answer the phone (even though your voicemail works fine).
Let’s begin to employ the art of saying “no” more frequently. For some of you that may mean this week you only tell two people “no”. Which would double your normal rate. Start small and work your way up. This week, when faced with something you really don’t want to do, say so. When given the wrong order at the restaurant, speak up. This is an easy way to learn how to say “no” which will increase the likelihood that you will be able to say it to more people, even those towards the top of the importance list.
Saying “no” allows you to stay on target with your values and goals. I do not recommend saying “no” just for the sake of saying “no”. Say it to take charge of your time. To take charge of your family. Your marriage. Your job. Your recreation. And say “no” without a long drawn out explanation, which often turns into excuses. Say “no” confidently. It will empower your spirit and your life!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Every person seeks happiness. You hear it all the time. “I just want to be happy.” “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This last phrase points out an important aspect, the pursuit of happiness. There is no guarantee that it can be obtained. One of the common things I see is people spending most every waking moment seeking happiness. As if it is something out there to be gained or discovered. Perhaps this is a major contributor to the status of society.
Watch television for more than five minutes and you will see this idea confirmed. If I can only get the car, house, boat, job, relationship, salary increase; then life will be complete. I will lack nothing, at least until the next can’t-do-without product is available for purchase. The average adult now has more than 4 different careers in their lifetime. My father-in-law had one job from the time he was a teenager until retirement. Forty-two years at the same job. That’s almost unheard of now. It seems our society is more into the thought that if this job won’t bring about happiness, the next one will. If this relationship doesn’t bring about happiness, then a relationship with him or her will. If life in this tax bracket isn’t satisfying, then the next bracket up will be. It’s the same story over and over. Something out there will complete my life. It will fill the void.
What if the key to happiness rests internally? What if happiness can be learned?
This starts with the idea that happiness is up to me. My perspective of things will influence the results. My expectations affect the outcome.
So what is it about my life that brings me happiness? If I change my outlook from happiness being something out there to it resting internally, ask this; what am I grateful for in my life? What are my successes or wins lately? When I focus too much on what else is out there, I neglect the things we currently possess. Going to the other extreme is also unhealthy. Spending too much time focusing on what used to be produces blurred vision about what is.
Focusing too much on the future or too much on the past, I will miss a lot of what is going on now. I think I have told every one of my clients at some point to slow down. We live life at a fast enough speed as it is. Sometimes speed only produces uncertainty. Did you realize that of all the species on the planet, humans are the only ones that when lost, speed up. All other animals will slow down or even sit down until they get their bearings before proceeding. Do you know where you really want to go? What is your vision for life?
If you have trouble answering the preceding questions, that’s where you should spend some time reflecting and searching. Take an inventory of your current life. What are the things that you enjoy? What are the things that drain you? Enjoy the things going on in life right now. Happiness can be learned, and it starts with what’s going on inside you now. Happiness is not something out there, its inside. Resting deep within your soul waiting to be tapped into. By slowing down and seeking what you really want, life will begin to be more aligned and then more full.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Ashley was 19. She had been away at college her freshman and sophomore years when her life unraveled again. In high school, she had struggled for several years with escalating depression, drinking, and marijuana use, and the painful feeling that her mother was ashamed of her. Her parents did not recognize the seriousness of the situation until she began to scratch and then cut her arms with sharp objects, at which point her mom got scared and sought help. During senior year of high school, her mom forced her into treatment, and with intensive individual, family and group therapies she become sober and psychologically stable.
Before leaving for college, Ashley was much better. She felt strong, proud of herself, and grateful to her parents for the ways they changed and learned to support her. Ashley even seemed to rise above her past – becoming an informal spokesperson for treatment and sobriety and seeking out ways to help friends and others in trouble.
At college Ashley initially participated in the support system set up for her, but then her attendance at therapy became sporadic. She became absorbed with campus life and seemed to revel in her independence. Ashley told her parents she felt “fine,” and announced that she no longer needed any anti-depressants and had gone off them.
Towards the end of first semester, Ashley tried to avoid her parents’ calls. When they did speak, she was short with them, refusing to talk about school or therapy. When Ashley came home during winter break, she spent much of her time sleeping and staying in her room on Facebook. Though having agreed and intended to get a job, she became too anxious to follow through the process. When her grades arrived, she could no longer hide that she had failed a course and was on probation. Ashley felt ashamed but promised her parents she would do better next term and go to her therapy appointments.
Unfortunately, the same cycle occurred the following year, culminating in a mounting emotional crisis towards the end of spring semester which she attempted to hide from her parents. When they questioned her over the phone about how she was doing she told them she didn’t not want to talk about it and wanted space. Her parents complied and backed off. When she was home over the summer, however, the signs that she was sinking became harder for her parents to ignore. (The warning signs of her depression included poor grades/failure at school, avoidance, inertia, withdrawal, staying in bed too much, weight gain, lack of motivation, irritability, depressed mood.) Though her words stated otherwise, Ashley had again fallen into the danger zone.
Ashley’s mom, Laura, was a successful surgeon. She struggled with tremendous guilt over her role in her daughter’s emotional problems and failure to heed warning signs that Ashley was in trouble until things were so bad that Ashley started cutting herself.
Laura recognized that, due to her own upbringing, she had been unable to be available emotionally to Ashley and, on top of that, was perpetually disappointed with her. She came to understand that she had tried to mold her daughter into someone more conventional and ambitious, pressuring Ashley to be more like her, thereby giving her the message that she was not good enough.
Ashley’s dad, Tom, was an easygoing guy who generally aimed to please. He loved Ashley very much and gave her whatever she wanted, but did not comprehend what was going on with her psychologically. Tom did not like conflict and feared Ashley’s anger. When she went to college and pulled away, he worried that if they upset her, they could lose her and she might no longer want to come home or no longer want a relationship with them.
Ashley’s mom made remarkable progress in her own therapy during Ashley’s senior year of high school, propelled by motivation and willingness to be honest with herself. This progress was noticeable and quite important to Ashley. By taking explicit responsibility for her own mistakes as a mom, learning to accept and appreciate her daughter as she was, and acting as a supportive presence and guide, Laura played an important role in her daughter’s recovery and helped mend their relationship. Before Ashley went off to college Laura felt good about herself as a mom for the first time, and her relationship with her daughter became more solid than ever.
Once Ashley went off to school, however, Laura began to feel pushed away and their relationship changed. She sacrificed so much to help her and it now seemed to have been wasted effort. As she became aware of Ashley’s failures at school, she wondered whether her daughter was just a slacker, capable of doing better but manipulating the situation to get away with whatever she could. Feeling angry, defeated, and unappreciated, Laura commented that being a mom was a thankless and hopeless job. She wanted to give up and, pulling away in anger, she decided she would stand back and not do anything.
Laura took it personally when she felt her daughter pull away, becoming consumed by an emotional reaction which obstructed perspective on what was really happening. For all of us, executive functions go “off line” when we are triggered into dysregulated emotional states and over-reaction. When this happens, our capacity to respond flexibly, think clearly, and react with good judgment is compromised. When the part of our brain that allows for reflection is deactivated by intense emotion (often originating from unprocessed experiences from our own childhood), instead of being thoughtful about how to respond to children’s needs, we are driven to react automatically and reflexively, as Laura did in her hurt and anger.
When a child’s distress is not taken seriously, and responded to appropriately by the parent, it can fuel an increasingly dangerous situation in which the child feels unconsciously compelled to continue “upping the ante” until the parent shows that they feel something empathically on the child’s behalf. Laura’s failure to recognize Ashley’s state of mind and step in to help led to her daughter’s continued escalation and deterioration, just like in high school when Ashley’s experience of not being “seen” in her pain perpetuated her self-destructiveness. During family therapy in high school, Ashley told her mom that she had felt out of control and driven to cut herself to produce physical evidence of her suffering – desperately hoping her mom would “get it.”
Another problem here was that when Laura was able to step back from her anger, she felt scared and helpless in the face of her daughter’s fragility. She feared that if she took action to set limits, Ashley would be forced to face the truth about her own limitations and might then want to kill herself. The truth was that Ashley was, of course, already aware – at least unconsciously – of her limitations and forced to be alone in it. She needed her parents or someone to step in and take charge.
Attempting to shield children from what they know intuitively to be true usually backfires, impeding the possibility of growth and causing them to feel shame, confusion, and aloneness. Projecting her own anxiety onto Ashley and colluding in a family-wide denial, Laura in effect reinforced Ashley’s sense of shame – and left her feeling unseen again.
Having the courage to face children’s limitations with them and offer help lends courage, builds coping skills, and is reassuring. Despite fears to the contrary, shame is actually decreased when parents are not afraid to face their children (in an non-judgmental way), and do not feel compelled to pretend or hide what is really going on.
What Ashley wished and protested she could do – and even intended to do – did not match her capacities. She demonstrated that she was unable to function in an environment with unlimited freedom and limited structure. She required a setting where help and supervision were built in, where she could not get lost and hide, and fall so hard. And, most of all, she needed her parents to recognize this and not be afraid make hard decisions with her.
Ultimately, Laura phoned her daughter’s therapist who was able to help make explicit what the realistic choices were for Ashley and her family. When presented with limited options for what she could do going forward, Ashley not only seemed relieved but, interestingly, selected the plan with the most structured and contained environment, (a therapeutic residential environment combined with college). This choice was telling and startled her parents – who been too caught up in their own emotions to recognize that, behind Ashley’s protests and demands for independence, was a cry for help and limits. As in this example, setting limits involves using adult judgment to protect children, based on what they can safely handle. Limits and consequences are often confused with punishment, but limits are not “reactive” or delivered out of anger, and differ from punishment in that there is no intent to retaliate and “teach a lesson” or cause the child suffering.
Not long after Ashley was accepted and decided to go to this program, she returned home to get ready. Three days prior to her planned departure, however, Ashley began desperately pleading with her mother that she changed her mind and really did not think this was the right plan for her. She no longer wanted to go. Laura could feel tension from her anger building inside her and a voice in her head saying, “Oh my God, not again – I want to run away.” However, having worked on understanding what happened between her and Ashley leading up to then, Laura was able to step back from this reaction. She was prepared and determined not to make the same mistake this time. However tempting it was, she knew it would be a bad idea to insist or close in on any decision with Ashley in this conversation – as she would have in the past out of anger and her own need for reassurance.
Laura calmed herself by reminding herself that things would be better if she could truly listen and not retreat, be reactive, punitive, or authoritarian. With this approach, Laura learned that her daughter was scared about the road ahead, and worried that she would lose all her friends. Laura was able to be empathic, while holding a calm, confident, but unspoken resolve about what her daughter needed, in effect, creating a sense of security for her Ashley.
At the end of the conversation, Laura matter-of-factly asked Ashley if she wanted to do some packing for the program together and Ashley nodded in agreement. She thought to herself, “Hmm – clearly she still actually intends to go”. To Laura’s surprise, even though she had not given in to Ashley’s begging, her daughter experienced her as supportive and protective, and eventually calmed and settled down.
Afterwards, Laura invited Ashley to go out for a walk. Ashley complained that she was still in her sweats and was “too fat and ugly” to go out. Laura responded by putting on her sweats too and showing up unobtrusively at the entranceway to Ashley’s room. Ashley looked up at her mom and the two of them headed towards the front door for their walk, quietly in step with one another.
Tips for Parents
• Respond thoughtfully and collaboratively with your teen to signs of trouble including: behavior changes, withdrawal, unhappiness, inertia, self-harm, repetitive cycles of academic or other failure, drug/alcohol abuse, shame/hiding. Seek consultation.
• Listen to teen’s behavior, not just their words. Understand behavior as a communication to you – and think about what the message might be. Try the following: If your teen’s behavior told a story, what would the title be? In this case, for example, the title of Ashley’s story might be, “I’m too ashamed to admit it but I’m out of control. Help!”
• Recognize that often through no fault of their own, teens’ best intentions may not carry over into their actions.
• Notice your own state of mind. Be honest with yourself and your teen about whether you are reacting out of your own needs, fears, anger, helplessness.
• Recognize that anxiety and worry about teens’ reactions (for example, whether they will be mad at you),should not be the primary determinant of what to do, or the gauge of whether you are doing the right thing,
• Differentiate between letting your teen have autonomy and reacting (in kind ) to their pulling away.
• Recognize when your teen is unable to make good decisions – and step in.
• Remember the power you have to affect your teen, even if privately you feel powerless or not needed.
• Recognize that, though they will say otherwise (and that’s ok), teens feel protected by limits. No one likes feeling out of control without anyone strong enough to help them.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
There are many events ripe for unearthing family dramas, often featuring a popular story line about competing loyalties. Though there are variations on the plot, the focus here will be on this dynamic as it plays out with men and boys and their mothers. Many men, caught up in powerful family dynamics from childhood, are plagued this time of year with having to choose between their mothers or their wives, as practical decisions regarding shared holiday time take on added meaning and consequences.
Holidays typically recreate old family dynamics as adult children reunite with parents, creating pressure from the original family system to replay the same patterns as before. This pressure invites conflict as new boundaries, competing with earlier ones, are tested and challenged. How the scene unfolds, and the outcome, depends on the level of differentiation achieved by the man from his mother, and the security of the boundaries he has established around his marriage and new family.
Loyalty binds are part of a common dysfunctional family dynamic which occurs when mothers use their sons to make up for previous loss, and lack of connection with -or anger at- their husbands. In such families, mothers often have a history of unresolved trauma, loss, or insecure attachments with their own mothers. This leads to a parallel and compensatory style of attachment with their sons, whereby instead of the mother tuning in to the child’s emotional states, the reverse occurs, requiring the child to adapt to the mother’s needs,
“Good enough mothering” involves a delicate dance of noticing and attuning to the child’s own rhythm, and adjusting one’s own rhythm to be in sync with the child’s need for closeness or distance, stimulation or retreat. Healthy attachment requires mothers to be secure enough to allow their children to safely differentiate from them without pulling them back in with the threat of anger, withdrawal, and/or guilt. Unresolved issues from the mother’s own childhood, particularly around separation and loss, can impede her capacity to allow the child’s needs and rhythms — not their own — to guide attachment.
As the child becomes an adult, a mother with this anxious, insecure attachment style may refuse to let go, secretly needing to remain the primary love attachment. This may not become apparent until her son finds a romantic love partner and devotes himself to her, allowing a competitor to enter the scene. The situation is then often enacted in full drama around family events and holidays when the mother’s explicit demands, and [unspoken] expectation of “loyalty” (e.g. exclusive love) from her son, conflicts with his role as a husband.
Jason’s mom required a possessive, symbiotic union with her son to guard against experiencing buried feelings of loss and abandonment. Losing her hold over Jason as he shifted his loyalties to his wife was the ultimate threat to her sense of security and control. When Jason married Kelley, the split he felt as a boy when he had to choose between his mom and dad – was recreated between his mother and his wife. This split became most apparent during their first holiday season together, when Jason’s mom made him feel guilty about how he divided his time, accusing him of abandoning her, and directing hate and blame towards Kelley
Jason’s parents divorced when he was a very young boy. Growing up, when he was at his dad’s, his mom called him frequently, asking him if he was ok – even when he was happy – and reassuring him that he had other people (her family) who loved him. She communicated to him in a variety of explicit and implicit ways her hurt and betrayal over his dad, which made Jason feel responsible for taking care of her.
Jason coped by developing a pattern of emotional detachment and blunting his feelings with both parents, so as not to let on that he was having too good a time with either. He experienced muted enjoyment with his dad in particular, often acting as if he were less excited than he was, especially when his mom phoned him, which was often. He felt particularly protective of his mom – the “abandoned one, ” often hiding the nature of his relationship with his dad, though it was secretly vital to him, and feeling guilty for leaving her alone. Jason’s father, in turn, took his son’s blunted reactions at face value, worrying that Jason did not like him or enjoy their time together, often pulling back in reaction or becoming angry.
Jason was in the dark about how he felt because both parents imposed their own feelings onto him. No one helped him understand what was happening or gave him a safe space to experience his own natural reactions, which went underground. Without help articulating their own and other’s states of mind through words and emotional resonance, children do not develop a “sense” of themselves. This self-awareness or inner wisdom is needed to guide us, allowing us to gauge what it happening in our relationships, and make decisions that are true to ourselves.
In place of authentic experience, Jason developed an adaptation to relationships in which he was detached and “other directed”. His reactions were driven by fear and dread of his mom’s unhappiness. When she was angry or hurt, through a process of “projective identification,” he took on her feelings as if they were his own, experiencing the weight of her depression, and the related feelings of guilt and badness she projected onto him.
Projective identification is an unconscious psychological process occurring in relationships whereby one person’s disowned feelings are put into the other. The recipient identifies with these projected feelings as if they were his own and both enter into a shared delusional cycle. In this case, Jason experienced his mom’s rageful accusations of abandonment as an emotional truth, feeling depressed, guilt-ridden and mad at himself for not looking out for her.
Using guilt, as Jason’s mom did, to control others in relationships disregards boundaries and disrespects the other person’s autonomy. This approach to relationships replaces mutuality and negotiation with greed and emotional blackmail, presuming a lack of faith that others would give of their own free will. It is typically an unconscious process whereby the guilt-tripper feels self-righteous, entitled, and innocent of any misdeed. Emotional manipulation through guilt can be costly – breeding resentment, limiting authentic engagement, and hijacking initiative and genuine desire.
In cases such as Jason’s, the lack of differentiation between mother and son is so complete and unconscious that the man may be unaware of the source of his resentment, easily displacing it onto his wife, usually a safer target than mother. This pattern leads to unintended collusion with the mother, causing the marriage to become divided until the man “owns” his unexpressed conflict with his mom, and recognizes that she is the source of his anger. An absence of anger towards his mother, or the inability to come forward with it is likely a sign of re-experiencing a once adaptive, but now instinctual, response to danger experienced as a child for any such emotional separation from mother.
Jason needs to see what is really happening in order to disentangle himself from his mother’s projections and find a space to think and feel for himself. Awareness of his internal conflict and anger over the emotional burden and manipulation he has had to bear will allow him the courage to set limits with his mom. Standing up to his mom will reduce his fear and avoidance, creating a space for him to act of his own volition and desire and choose his wife as his primary loyalty and partner in life.
Tips for the woman:
• Stay aligned with your husband
• Communicate feelings and requests clearly, without anger, or acting out
• Don’t demonize or bad-mouth his momRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Sabrina, 18, was a freshman away at college. Shortly after she arrived at school she found out that her parents had just split up. Sabrina also soon discovered that her dad had been having an affair since she was in high school, and was still involved with the other woman.
Sabrina came across as superficially tough and apathetic but her hurt and desire for connection were just beneath the surface. She said she had no idea why she felt so bad – so depressed and anxious – and that there was no good reason for it. However, when the topic of her dad came up, Sabrina became visibly distressed. She was adamant that she didn’t want to talk about him, didn’t want to have anything to do with him, and “didn’t care” – but often ended up talking about him anyway. Also, Sabrina frequently commented that if she met her dad’s girlfriend she would “punch her in the face.”
Sabrina’s attitude towards her dad was a change of heart from how she felt towards him growing up. Even though he wasn’t around all the time, she felt a strong connection and identification with him. In this regard, she talked about how she was never a “girly girl ” like her sister, and how she and her dad were both good at math and science.
Sabrina always did well in school until she went off to college. She was caught off guard this year when she began feeling homesick and out of her element – lost in a large school in the engineering department. Sabrina was noticeably hard on herself, hating that she was “weak and pathetic” and criticizing herself for not being able to focus on her work or get better. Her depression made it hard to concentrate and she found herself constantly ruminating, “What if I fail?” and worried about disappointing her parents. The pressure led to a repetitive spiral of poor grades and increasing panic, guilt and shame. Sabrina became uncertain of what she was good at or interested in, losing her focus and direction.
Sabrina didn’t tell anyone what she was going through and felt lonely and isolated. She didn’t want to talk to her dad and felt protective of her mom, fearful of burdening her. Sabrina mostly pretended things were fine, though occasionally dropping some conspicuous hints to her mom about wishing she (Sabrina) were dead.
Sabina’s mom, Deb, was in the throes of grief and depression following the breakup of her marriage. She wanted to help Sabrina and seemed loving but, at the same time, needed her daughter to be ok and was generally oblivious to what Sabrina was going through. Deb often gave quick advice or geared the conversation to her own problems, not taking seriously Sabrina’s expressions of desperation about whether she could survive.
Sabrina’s dad, Sam, was a high achieving, very successful engineer He held Sabrina to similarly high standards, confident (as she had been) that she would flourish in a related field. He seemed to love Sabrina more than anything but was somewhat emotionally immature – clueless about how to manage their relationship. Though he frequently came across as critical, reactive and not easily empathic or tuned in to feelings, he also seemed ingenuous, and was himself easily hurt.
Sam expressed his love and caring for Sabrina by giving her money and advice. On the one hand, he seemed to feel guilty when he recognized how much he hurt her by having the affair. But – on the other- he was mad about her ongoing anger towards him, arguing self-righteously that he, also, was entitled to happiness. Sam was very focused on wanting Sabrina to meet his girlfriend and be friendly with her – which would help his life be less divided. “Why should Sabrina be mad at her? And how long do I have to let her be mad at me? Plenty of families go through this. This can’t be all my fault. She’s just manipulating me into feeling bad. Sabrina’s problem is that she likes to blame everyone else but herself for her problems and failures.”
Sabrina was shocked, confused and devastated at the news of her parents’ divorce and her dad’s affair. She experienced her connection with her dad as having been severed, Disoriented by the thought of her dad as disloyal, she no longer could -or wanted to- identify with him and was too hurt and mad to let herself feel any connection to him. But the angrier she was, the more badness, guilt, and depression she felt. In addition, because the affair was secretly going on while she was still at home, she also felt she could no longer trust herself and her own instincts.
Children internalize how their parents see them and their expectations.
Sabrina’s adjustment to the pressures and challenges of college was impacted by the breaking apart of her relationship with her dad, an important part of her identity. Growing up, she internalized her dad’s positive view of her, as well as his criticism, high expectations, and easy disappointment in her. This relational pattern, combined with Sam’s inconsistent presence at home, was a recipe for a strong but insecure attachment to her dad even before the current episode. With this fragile foundation, Sabrina was especially vulnerable in the wake of rifts and loss in relationships.
Children come to experience themselves through the eyes of their parents – shaping their attitude towards themselves. Sabrina’s anger and disconnect from her dad, particularly in a context of failing grades, thwarted her ability to hold in mind the sustaining support of his positive view of her. She became progressively anxious and immobilized in the face of academic demands – taking on the role of “critical dad” with herself.
On the surface Sabrina blamed her dad for what he did and said she’d never forgive him. However, she was also quick to defend him and insist he was not the cause of her problems, maintaining that there was just something wrong with her. Sabrina initially refused to have me talk with her dad or allow him to join a session to begin a dialogue with him. She said it wouldn’t make a difference anyway because he would never apologize for what he did, or for anything – for that matter, acknowledging that an apology could be something that might help.
Anger and indifference may be self-protective.
Sabrina’s opposition to trying to work things out with her dad allowed her to maintain a self-protective posture of anger and indifference. Despite her protests, however, she eventually gave in to the part of herself that longed for connection, and agreed to allow me to talk with both parents and participate in sessions with each.
In family therapy with her mom, Sabrina told her mom how she felt. With help, Deb was able to recognize the importance of tolerating her daughter’s pain, and was able to be present with her in her distress, rather than deflect it. This helped Sabrina feel “seen” and comforted, lessening her desperation, but still not making up for her broken relationship with her dad.
Therapy With Dad
In individual sessions, Sabrina’s dad seemed eager to understand his daughter and repair their relationship. At times, he struggled – retreating to the original story he told himself about her being at fault. However, like Sabrina, Sam easily felt bad and guilty, making him want to run away. Both Sabrina and her dad tried to ward off the self-loathing and pain that accompanied their guilt, vacillating between feeling bad about themselves and then using anger at the other to escape these feelings.
Sabrina’s shame and self-recrimination, however, was a reaction to the internalized critical voice of her dad, not the result of any actual wrongdoing.
In Sam’s case, unlike Sabrina’s, there was “legitimate guilt “ – a built-in response of conscience designed to alert us that we did something wrong and betrayed our own morals. When guilt turns into self- loathing or self-punishment, however, it loses its utilitarian, evolutionary function by turning us inward towards our suffering – rather than outward towards making amends in relationships.
What should dad do to make things better?
Sam needed to bear and “own” the legitimate part of the guilt he felt, instead of projecting it in the form of blame, or sinking into despair.
Doing so would allow him to begin to truly take responsibility for his actions by accepting the consequences – his daughter’s anger at him. In this way, a space would be created for Sabrina’s feelings and the burden of her guilt for having them would be lifted.
Sabrina needed her dad to feel bad about what he did, not primarily so that he could be punished and suffer, but as a way to get him to “know” her experience of hurt and rejection– which she had no other way to communicate.
Through the unconscious process of projective identification, Sabrina tried to get through to her dad – making him feel bad and pushed away, the way he made her feel. Once Sam was able to recognize this behavior as a communication he needed to receive, rather than react to, Sabrina became noticeably calmer and more contained.
As he understood these dynamics, Sam felt more empathy for his daughter and was able to apologize for what he did and express regret. He realized that Sabrina’s anger did not mean she really hated him, or that he had to suffer and couldn’t allow himself to also be happy. This awareness, along with recognizing that accepting her feelings was the only route towards mending their relationship, freed him up to tolerate however his daughter felt towards him, even if it was unpleasant.
Sam learned to notice Sabrina’s anger and respond by telling her that he “got” that she was mad at him and why– and that, in spite of it being difficult for him, he was ok. Concurrently, he began working towards allowing himself to feel remorse without self-recrimination.
Sam also recognized that he had imposed his own standards for himself onto Sabrina, pressuring and constraining her. He owned up to having been critical of her and pointed out to her that he could see she learned this from him. He told her he thought she was now treating herself the way he had treated her – demanding that she meet expectations, or suffer demoralization. Taking ownership of ways he treated Sabrina allowed these powerful patterns – now in an orbit of their own inside her – to potentially free up and become available for change.
Sam struggled to accept that Sabrina was a different person from him. He wanted to embrace that, let go of needing her to be someone else, and help her develop in her own right. Sabrina in turn began spending more time with her dad. Though reluctant to trust him, or seem forgiving or praiseworthy of his efforts, she was noticeably less resistant to him and less tormented within herself. With this progress, Sabrina was able to accept help from her dad and address the other issues in her life.
Tips For Parents
• When your child is mad at you, or says he/she hates you, remember that these are states – not permanent conditions or truths.
• Take a leap of faith. Reassure yourself that teens will likely “come back” to you. Remember that this will happen sooner if you can accept, and be interested in, how they feel and not need them to feel otherwise or lecture them about your own feelings. (How teens handle their anger, however, is another issue and is “your business” in terms of what is acceptable or not.)
• Try not to be reactive or defensive – this will likely escalate or prolong how your teen is feeling. Recognize that hurt is often underneath anger. Try to manage your own feelings of rejection and anger.
• Know that equanimity in the face of your teen’s anger is privately comforting and sustaining to your teen. This composure is a reminder that the relationship will not be destroyed if they are angry and that your love is not contingent on their reassuring you.
• Consider your teen’s perspective and your role in the situation. Take responsibility for your part and apologize. Remember that you are a role model.
• Prepare yourself for your teen’s anger towards you and practice. Picture “holding your own” – reminding yourself that this is difficult but that you can tolerate it, and that your teen’s feelings now do not mean she will forever hate you.
• When your teen’s anger is received as a communication (vs acted upon), and then you as a parent understand and articulate it back to him/her, the feelings can be “digested” rather than harbored or acted out.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Some struggles that women experience are common to many women, and can therefore be attributed or understood in this larger context of what it means, biologically and socially to be female. A counselor informed about these issues is in a better position to understand women’s experiences and know how to help them. Psychotherapy can help women achieve their personal goals and improve themselves. A counselor can teach assertiveness, decrease fears that may impede success and happiness, and work with women on developing better and more sustained self-esteem.
In our society, women are often in the role of protecting and caring for others emotionally. Women may fear success and competition (which can manifest in self-sabotage) and have difficulties with anger and aggression. Women often experience stress related to the burdens associated with caretaking, compounded by stress resulting from their caring being devalued, unnoticed, or unacknowledged. Many women rely on external validation from others in order to feel good about themselves. Women are often accustomed to tuning in to other’s reactions to determine how they should feel and how they should act. Therapy can help women develop a positive sense of themselves and direction from within, rather than relying on other’s opinions of them, as well as develop the strength to follow the path they choose.
Women may suffer from depression, anxiety, self-destructive or self-sabotaging behavior, pressure to overachieve, perfectionism, sexual problems, body image problems, sexual identity issues, and destructive relationships to food. Women are too often the survivors of sexual/physical abuse (past or present), rape, emotional abuse, and re-victimization. They may struggle with feeling a lack of empowerment, choosing the wrong partners, staying in destructive, empty, or depleting relationships, being overly accommodating, and feeling afraid to leave unhealthy relationships.
Psychotherapy can help women manage the feelings associated with these struggles; recognize, understand and change self-defeating patterns, heal past pain, discover and foster inner strength, and learn new ways of behaving in relationships that allow them to get what they want and feel good about themselves.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Yesterday I sat with a couple who were so angry with each other and so hurt, they could barely speak. I know them well enough to know that they love each other deeply – so seeing them in this much pain was hard. Sitting with them, I felt my own heart tightening in my chest in response to the stuckness they each felt. When we are hurt, we naturally want to retreat or retaliate – it’s just a normal part of being human. But in our couple relationships, neither of these strategies leads to resolution. What we really need, is to soften, to find more understanding and compassion for ourselves and each other. But often, that’s the last thing we want to do.
I also know that they come from families where the adults had all the power and control. Their parents used anger and shame to intimidate them into “behaving.” When we grow up in families where there is anger – especially scary anger – and shame was used to control our behavior, we are more likely to dig in to the retreat/retaliate strategy. It’s what lets us feels safe. Revealing the hurt under the anger feels too vulnerable, weak or helpless. We feel like we are in a power struggle, and if we show softness, we will lose.
Yet, at the same time, digging in doesn’t feel good. It’s safer, yes. But it’s lonely. We don’t like feeling disconnected from our partner – our primary source of love, nurturing and care. When this happens we’re in a terrible bind. We can’t get the closeness we want, because it doesn’t feel safe. That’s where my clients were when they came to see me yesterday. Ouch.
So the goal of therapy, in my mind was to begin building little bridges between safety and closeness. I know that safety has to come first. So I started with the partner who seemed to be the least triggered/traumatized, in this case, the husband. We spent a long time just exploring the feelings and sensations he was noticing in his body, while his partner watched and listened.
He identified tension in his shoulders and neck, tightness in his jaw. These are the places where we naturally feel our anger. Our jaw muscles tense, at the ready to growl and bite. Our shoulders store energy in case we need to hit or punch. It’s our biology. I asked him to stay with the process of noticing. He became aware that his stomach was tight, usually a sign of anxiety/fear. He also felt a heaviness in his chest, a sign of sadness/hurt/longing.
As his awareness moved from the sensations of anger/protection to the more vulnerable sensations of fear and sadness, I checked in with his wife. “What are you noticing in your body, as you listen to him?” I asked. “All the same things,” she answered, describing similar sensations in her own body.
I knew this was a bridge, and I pointed it out to them. “Wow. So you guys have so much resonance with each other, even when you’re upset, you are feeling each other.” They agreed, making eye contact for the first time in the session (maybe the first time in days).
Each of their faces softened just a little. In their eyes was more of the hope and longing, and a little less of the stony coldness they had at the start of the session. I pointed that out too. “What are you seeing in his face now?” I asked.
“He looks a little sad, a little… less angry.”
“What is that like?” I asked, “to see him less angry?”
“It makes me less angry.”
I turned to him. “What is that like – to know that when you soften, she softens too?”
And so we began to move into an upward spiral. As they expressed more of their vulnerable feelings, what they saw was that they didn’t “lose” as they would have in childhood. When one partner saw the sadness, pain and fear in the other, he or she was moved to compassion. At the end of the session, they were holding each other and passing the tissues back and forth.
“But we won’t be able to do this at home!” They both shared, near the end of our time.
“That’s okay. I said.” Some little part of you knows that you have this in you, even if it’s not accessible right away. You’re building muscle. No one expects you to get it on the first try, or even the tenth try. Be patient with yourselves. Know that in the heat of the moment, you won’t be thinking straight. But after a fight, when you’ve calmed down a little, you may feel an urge to say to each other, I was feeling really hurt (or misunderstood, or criticized…) when we were fighting, and I didn’t know how to tell you. It’s always okay to repair the rift later on. In time, you’ll get better at doing repair sooner and sooner.”
Couples therapy isn’t just a place to air grievances and get advice. It can also be a sandbox where you get to try new things, notice more about yourself and your partner, and develop new ways of thinking and being with each other. If you get locked into anger with your partner, and you don’t know how to get out, if fights fizzle out but don’t lead to resolution and more understanding, if each fight erodes more and more trust and love, then it may feel really good to try therapy – especially with a therapist who understands the biology of attachment and the fundamental foundation of safety in relationships.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is ask for help. When we ask, we run the risk of being told, “no,” having our needs dismissed or invalidated. As a result, we may become fiercely independent, determined to do it all ourselves. Or we may become bossy and demanding, hiding our vulnerability by voicing our needs as demands. Either way, if it doesn’t feel safe to ask for what we need, we can’t be close to our partners, and ultimately, that’s what we really want.
If you find yourself in one of these two roles, it may be time to try something new – something like, “Sweetheart, I’m feeling overwhelmed (or tired or unmotivated…), and I need your help with something.” If this approach feels scary, it may be useful to sit with a therapist who can help you get the words out and help your partner practice listening so that it really IS safe to ask for what you need.
It may also help to preface the conversation, preparing your partner that you’re about to do something hard, and need him/her to be kind. Maybe even showing him/her this posting as a way of introducing the topic. Though it may be uncomfortable for both of you at first, knowing that you can ask for what you need and that your partner will listen without judgment can make you both feel closer and more connected.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Anger is a force that can move an organization forward to improve, or, it can be a force that destroys the organization’s ability to fulfil it’s purpose on an everyday level. Managers play a critical role in determining which of these results will come about. The way the manager deals with conflict and anger will set the climate for employees.
There are a number of different anger/conflict situations that managers will face at one time or another. Each of these situations is slightly different, and may require different sets of skills.
■one employee angry or in conflict with another
■employee angry or in conflict with manager (you)
■one employee angry at someone in another organization
■two factions that habitually square off
We are going to look at employee angry that is directed towards you as a manager.
The Anger Iceberg
You should be aware that the anger you see is much easier to deal with than the anger that goes unexpressed by employees. You should also know that the large proportion of employee anger is not expressed directly to the “boss”. It is this anger that is destructive to your organization since it will surface covertly through activities such as back-stabbing, un-cooperativeness, rumour spreading, and poor performance.
One important management/leadership task is to be alert to cues that indicate that there is anger sitting below the surface, unexpressed. While it may be frustrating to bear the responsibility of identifying and dealing with the “iceberg under the surface”, it is an important part of building a positive climate where conflict can be resolved. If you wait for an employee to broach the subject, when it is clear there is a problem, you may be sacrificing a great deal.
We are going to focus on how employee anger that is out in the open can be dealt with so that there is a potential for increasing the level of respect and harmony, and by extension, productivity.
1. Conflict/Angry situations become negative and destructive when they are not dealt with promptly and effectively. When the situations are dealt with properly, there is a tendency for a team to get stronger and better.
2. While angry employees may appear to want a specific issue addressed, they are looking for something else that they see as equally or more important. They want to be heard. If you don’t provide a means for them to be heard, they will find other more
subversive ways to be heard (and you won’t like it much).
3. Staff will watch very closely to see how you handle anger directed at you. Even if you have a private discussion with an angry employee, staff will know about it. Your ability to lead will depend on your behaviour, and the interpretation of your behaviour.
4. Most people react to anger directed at them with a fight or flight reaction. That is there is a gut reaction which, unchecked, results in “firing back” with an aggressive manner, defending oneself, OR, avoidance. Only in rare occasions will these gut reactions result in dealing with anger effectively.
Tips & Techniques For Dealing With Overt Angry Behaviour
1. When an employee expresses anger, deal with it as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean in two weeks! By showing a desire to make time to discuss the situation, you are showing that you are concerned, and value the employee and his or her perceptions and feelings. Many performance problems reach crisis proportions as a result of delay in dealing with anger.
2. Certain situations require privacy for discussion since some people will be unwilling to air their feelings at a public staff meeting. However, if anger is expressed in a staff meeting, you can develop a positive climate in the organization by dealing effectively with it in public. One technique is to ask the angry employee whether they would like to discuss it now, or prefer to talk about it privately. Let them call the shot.
3. Always allow the employee to talk. Don’t interrupt. If they are hesitant to talk, encourage them by using a concerned, non-defensive tone and manner, and gently use questions. For example:
“You seem a bit upset. I would like to help even if you are angry at me. What’s up?”
4. If an employee refuses to talk about what’s bothering them, consider adjourning by saying:
“I can understand that you are hesitant to talk about this, but we would probably both be better off if we got it out in the open. Let’s leave it for a few days and come back to it”
Then follow up on the conversation.
5. Respond to the employee’s feelings first, not the issue underlying the feelings. Use empathy first by saying something like:
“It sounds like you are pretty annoyed with me. I would like to hear your opinion”.
6. Before stating “your side” or your perception of the situation, make sure you have heard what the person said. Use active listening.
“George, if I understand you correctly, you are angry because you feel that I have not given you very challenging assignments, and you feel that I don’t have any confidence in your abilities. Is that right?”
7. If the employee’s perceptions do not match your perceptions express your perceptions in a way that tries to put you and the employee on the same side. Your job is not to prove the employee wrong (even if they are). Trying to prove the employee is
incorrect is likely to increase the anger level even if you are right.
“George, I am sorry you feel that way. Let me explain what I think has happened so you can understand my thinking. Then we can work this out together.”
8. A technique used by expert negotiators is to establish agreement about something. Before getting into the issues themselves, lay the groundwork by finding something the two of you agree on. Again, the point here is to convey the message that you are on the same side.
“George, I think we agree that we don’t want this issue to continue to interfere with our enjoyment of our work. Is that accurate?”
9. At the end of a discussion of this sort, check with the employee to see how they are feeling. The general pattern is:
a) Deal with feelings first
b) Move to issues and problem-solving
c) Go back to feelings (check it out)
Ask the employee if they are satisfied with the situation, or simply ask “Do you feel a bit better?” You may not always get a completely honest response, so be alert to tone of voice and non-verbal cues.
If it appears that the employee is still upset or angry, you may want to let it pass for the moment. Allow the person to think about the situation away from you, THEN follow-up in a day or two. This is important because someone who is angry initially may “lose face” by letting the anger go immediately. Or, the employee might just need time to think about your discussion.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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