Don’t You Want Me

In the fall of 1982, I was a graduate student in Baltimore, Maryland.  Every morning, I got up early to go to my job that started at 7AM.  From work it was onto class at 4PM .  This was what I did every day for 6 months straight.  Part of my morning ritual was listening  to the radio en route to work.  It seems that I heard this song every morning:

Over 30 years later, this song is still playing on the radio. I hear this song today  differently than I did then.  This song has a therapeutic theme which I have heard many times.  For example-

How many of my clients :

  • have told me this story?
  • got involved with a controlling possessive person only to have to extricate themselves from that relationship?
  •   did not or could not get out of that relationship?
  •   have been with that “love of my life” only for their partner to drop them and move on?

It’s always interesting how people choose their partner.  In previous blogs, we focused in on the communication patterns that stirred up “old stuff”.  I  often wonder what each person looks for in a relationship and what “old stuff” is contributing to that decision.    I’ve worked with countless number of women who grew up in addicted families and married another addicted person.  It was a familiar match made in hell.  I’ve worked with men who had a cold, rejecting, hurtful, mother who married a woman who was cold, rejecting, and hurtful.  Some of these decisions were consciously made.  The person thought that their partner needed fixing or that they would get better.  Other times these discoveries were made in my office after the fact.  Regardless of the motive, the question that I hear is “why did I do this”?  “Why did I marry him/her?”.

Michelle Weiner-Davis is a therapist, and author of the book Divorce Busting.  Her approach is to save marriages  because of the costs, both financial and emotional, of divorce.  However, when people are married to the wrong person, or have a dysfunctional, magnetic connection to a partner, those marriages can not work.  The cost of staying is far greater than the cost of leaving.  Staying in bad marriages, strips self-esteem, self- worth and self- love.  People tend to deal with these partnerships through “quick fix band aids”–addictive behavior, infidelity,  or by developing physical illnesses or mental illness such as anxiety or depression . These costs are chronic, painful, and some times leads to worse problems.

The “Should I Stay or Should I Go” decision  is difficult and scary.  It requires weighing out the  advantages and disadvantages of staying or going.  If you follow the Divorce Busting     approach,  you stay and you work it out.  If you are in a dysfunctional, painful, empty relationship, you have a lot of thinking to do.  Don’t You Want Me Baby is a painful refrain full of rejection; it’s also a song of getting away and getting healthy.

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Fork in the Road

“Life is complex.
Each one of us must make his own path through life. There are no self-help manuals, no formulas, no easy answers. The right road for one is the wrong road for another…The journey of life is not paved in blacktop; it is not brightly lit, and it has no road signs. It is a rocky path through the wilderness. ”
M. Scott Peck

Many years ago, before the gps was invented, I got directions to go to a family party.  The trip was going well, and we were right on time.  Unbeknownst to me, the road  that we were on was about to end (this part was not in the directions). We were faced with two choices–go left or go right.  We sat at the stop sign, trying to figure out the best option.  Ultimately, we turned right.  This was was in fact wrong and proceeded to drive off course.  After driving around for a while, we eventually righted our course and arrived at our destination.

 Each and every day, many of us arrive at that stop sign with a left or right turn option.  It looks like this:

 

Every day, we can decide to change or not to change.  We talk about it all the time ” I should go to the gym” , “I should get a new job” ,” I should lose weight”.  We “should” on ourselves but ultimately don’t do anything.  Change is hard.  I think the decision process looks like this:

Our “”change/no change” slide tells the story.  On one hand, it would be so much better for me to change–I’d feel better, but it’s scary and unknown.  On the “no change side”, it’s familiar,  but  as Henry Ford said “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got”.  “No change” keeps us stuck!  The hardest part about this “stuckness” is that I know intellectually that making any change is going to be better, but because I’ve projected way way down the path it looks very scary.  Staying right where I am usually wins out.

Let’s look at a concrete example of this.  It’s the new year, and I’ve put on a few pounds from the holidays.  It’s time to lose weight. Let’s look at our change/no change view:

 

The “change” side speaks loudly:The pants are getting tighter, I hate how I look in the mirror, I know it would be medically better to lose these pounds, but to do this I have to sacrifice.  Am I willing to sacrifice my comfort, my ability to be “comfortably numb”?  Do I really want to exercise and not eat what I want?  Can’t I just work around this by getting bigger pants or not ever look in the mirror?   Day after day, I argue with myself.  My head is like a giant seesaw going back and forth between change and no change options.

We can continue in this state of ambivalence for a long time.  It can go on and on and on until we make a decision to do something.  Sometimes change occurs just by taking any type of action.  In our weight loss example, the action may have little to do with food or exercise.  It may be a decision to read or not sit on the couch endlessly.  Small change leads to bigger change.  Bigger change ultimately leads to the changes that we want.

In addition to doing something,  making a commitment to change sets up some accountability.  In our weight loss example, joining a program (i.e. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystems, Over -Eaters Anonymous) allows us to “put our money where our mouth is”(literally) and commit to the opportunity for change.   Another way that commitment can work towards change is by telling people.Tell your friends, relatives, co-workers,  and social media universe about your plans for change(i.e. I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year). Ask them to check up on you about your change.  This accountability strategy can give you a little oomph towards your goal. We will definitely feel embarrassed if three months from now, my support people ask about weight loss, and there is no change.  Guilt and shame prevention is a good thing!    If we pay money and tell people about our changes, we’ve started to tilt that see-saw towards the change side.

We are now a technological society.  We have  a gps to help us to find our way when we are lost.  There is no electronic device that can change our default ambivalence settings.  We have to decide daily that change is better than no change.  Change is do- able.  Change is possible.  Make change happen.

 

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Too Much Information

Too much information running through my brain
Too much information driving me insane
Sting 1981

Have you seen these posts on your social media?
At home depot
At target
Eating at bagel shop
At bank
Showering

Did you recognize some of those posts as yours? Have you asked yourself why we need to tell people where we are, and what we are doing?
If celebrities posted like we do about where they are , this would be exciting– Scarlett Johansson is at the dry cleaners.- drop off or pick up?. Tom Hanks is at Cluck U Chicken—wondering what he ordered? Bill Wilson just went to the Denville AA meeting(I’d pay to see that since he died in 1971). I haven’t seen TMZ follow me to the dry cleaners—(shirts, pants an occasional sport jacket if you really wanted to know).
It seems that the social media phenomenon is creating a group of people who want to be the next reality stars– the next Duck Dynasty, the next Kardashians or worse the next Ice Road Truckers, or Moonshiners? These reality “stars” tells us that anybody can get on a television show in spite of how little talent they have. The dumbing and numbing of society!
We’ve even lowered our standards of fame—it used to be 15 minutes, now 15 seconds will suffice! 140 characters of twitter gold and the entire universe can know your immediate thoughts on ARod, the NSA, Snow, the NFL or Obamacare. But do we really care? And what’s the impact of all of this connection on our real interpersonal connections. If I’m wired to the universe do I miss out on right here right now, in the moment, living?
Sherry Turkle, a Harvard psychologist, is a prolific writer about social media and society. She conducted a Ted Talk entitled “Connected But Alone” in 2012. Her points in this talk are worth paying attention to:

It’s amazing to me that we are creating a society of non-interpersonal communicators who are happy to tell us about  all of their low intimacy behaviors. If we do not have personal, intimate conversations with others, then we lack depth as people. It’s a new year and time to make some changes happen, so the next time you want to tweet or Facebook or text someone, how about using some old school technology—TALK.

Happy New Year-

change is possible

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Change Is

Observations and Reflections as the year comes to a close

 

“And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.”
Libba Bray, The Sweet Far Thing

 Change is :

1)      Change is fear

2)      Change is pain

3)      Change is love

4)      Change is acceptance

5)      Change is hope

6)      Change is feeling

7)      Change is action

8)      Change is living life

9)      Change is flexibility

10)   Change is enjoying life

11)   Change is dealing with inconveniences, hassles and things that aren’t fair

12)   Change is grief

13)   Change is sadness

14)   Change is peace

Most of all change is possible

 

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Couples Communication -What’s Old Can Be Used in the Present

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have seen many couples over the years. Not surprisingly, the ones that come to my office have conflicts with their partner. The issue that needs most work is  how the couple can communicate better.    One of the   patterns that couples repeat is reactive communication.  Through our sessions, we get to figure out why one or both of the partners are reacting so strongly.  Eric Berne, a psychologist, in the 1960’s, developed a type of therapy called Transactional Analysis.  Berne suggests that it is the transactions between people that get them to react in communications.  He hypothesized that all people had 3 internal states-Parent, Adult, Child and that these are triggered in couples communications.

Nick Davies, a  psychologist in Australia, does a great job of explaining these internal states in the following video:

Let’s take a look at the following slides to see specifically how this works: [click on the slideshare button in the lower left hand corner to hear the narration]

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The NHL and Parenting

I have been a hockey fan for most of my life. I was struck by The National Hockey League’s(NHL) speed, power, grace, and excitement. It is a sport with a regular season that goes on too long. However its claim to fame is its playoff series, a 16 win marathon that culminates in the celebration of Lord Stanley’s cup. It’s a sport played by professionals from 18-48 making it a sport played by both the youngest and oldest professional athletes.
The NHL also has a rather strategic way of policing its players who do not follow the rules. In fact, the league’s penalty system gives us a good model for parenting strategies. It disciplines its players immediately, for a specified period of time, and uses effective time outs (penalty box). It is also dishes out consequences based upon the person’s behavior.

The NHL has a very specific tier system which looks something like this:

  • Minor Penalty(tripping ,holding, high sticking, inference, slashing) 2 minutes
  • Major penalty(fighting) 5 minutes
  • Misconduct(usually towards referee) 10 minutes
  • Game Misconduct(major offense—hurting another player etc) Thrown out of game, possible suspension or fine.

When a player commits a wrong doing, it’s not only the player who is penalized, it’s his team. When a player goes to the penalty box for a two minute tripping minor, his team also plays shorthanded for those two minutes. Playing shorthanded increases the possibility that the opponents will score a goal making the penalty much more significant.

Could parents discipline their children using the NHL model? Yes! Good parenting is based upon immediacy and “making the punishment fit the crime”. The NHL has got that down perfectly. The NHL is already using a “time out” model, (penalty box), so that too is a good fit. Most penalties committed by children at home or in school are usually minor. They need some immediate consequences. A simple timeout, whether in a time out chair or sent to their room, will usually suffice as a consequence. The penalties and consequences could be adjusted according to the age of the child— a seven year old who doesn’t listen and a 15 year old who doesn’t listen could both be “minor” penalties. However the consequences of these “minors” would be different. This model also allows parents to identify appropriate consequences depending upon the infraction. A child who is bratty towards his sibling and one who steals from a store would need very different consequences. The NHL model also reinforces that yelling is counterproductive. There is only 1 reason to yell at a child, that is when they are in DANGER! I’ve never seen a referee yell at a player. He has pointed to the penalty box, asked nicely for the person to go, asked with a little more assertion, warned that the player will get a misconduct penalty if that does not go, and then gave them the 10 minute misconduct. No yelling to reinforce the consequence occurred.

The NHL also rewards good behavior. There are the Player of the Week, and Player of the Month awards. At the end of the season, there are the trophies for Most Valuable Player, Best Goalie, Best Defensive Player etc. The best NHL award is The Lady Byng trophy which is given to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”. Imagine an award for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct in a professional sport. It is these awards and trophies that players can aspire to in order achieve bonuses in their contract. Using this incentive plan is also a way for parents to help their kids change behaviors. If you give a child a specific goal to work for (i.e. getting dressed in the morning by themselves), then they can have good reinforcement towards that goal—praise, stickers etc. Once the behavior is learned, no more struggles! Incentives also work with teenagers. Since teenagers always need something—phone, ride, clothes, money, they too can be asked to change their behaviors in order to achieve what they want.

The NHL has perhaps the finest conditioned athletes in the world, but ones who need structure, discipline, consequences, and incentives in order for them to have maximum performance. We want our kids to have their own maximum performance. To have that level of achievement, they need parents to give them incentives and consequences. Once children learn new behaviors, they feel better about themselves. Over time, they become happy and healthy kids. When they are happy and healthy, then they can win their own “Stanley Cup”.

Watch this video to learn more about the NHL:

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