How To Stop Being Angry

     “I am not getting angry over nothing!” Mordy said to Jeff just a bit too heatedly. He really felt defensive and he wondered how he ever allowed himself to confide in his closest friend that he and his wife were having problems. The fact that Jeff didn’t respond with complete sympathy to Mordy’s case did not persuade Mordy to take a closer look at himself. After all, getting angry over nothing, by definition, is “over nothing” and he felt completely justified in his irritation at his wife. He thought that would be obvious from the story he told to Jeff. Now, he was quite annoyed at Jeff’s response which suggested he examine himself more closely for his contribution to the problem. Besides, he wouldn’t say his level of anger was over the top, anyway. It was just “a little” anger. A Little Anger That one is not so clear. Anger can build up to hatred; just ask enough people who have been through a divorce and they’ll shed some light on this. Mordy fumed to himself. “Humph,” he grunted, “I have plenty of cause.” Herein lies the problem. Don’t we all say that? Don’t we let ourselves off the hook every time, figuring the whole issue of getting angry over nothing doesn’t apply to us, and that we don’t have anything to reflect over? We, on the other hand, are perfectly justified in being angry. After all, just take a look at what was done to us. Really? I invite you to consider the concept of victim thinking. Mordy had just been in the hospital, recovering from major surgery. Anna had...

How to Counteract Mental Abuse: A Case Study

Here is the story of Laurie and Nate. [NOTE: I’m sure you realize that I do not use real people’s stories here. I know you’ve seen on TV and online all sorts of horrible “true life” stories, some even by therapists. This is unethical. It’s taking advantage of people when they’re down. I realize that many programs provide therapy in the background and that is excellent. But if you Google some of the people’s names you will find that they did not have good outcomes from all that self-revelation on national TV. In one or two cases, people even committed suicide. In any case, the ethics of my profession don’t permit it and I am in full agreement with them. So when I get real live testimonials, I don’t use a name at all. In my case studies, I make up composites of what I have heard over the years and then add my imagination.] Laurie was 26 when she married Nate. She was shy, yet people thought she was outgoing because she put on a front of friendliness. It’s not that she didn’t feel friendly; she genuinely liked people. It’s just that she never would be certain that they would like her in return. But she had discovered that if she showed her true feelings of liking people, they would usually like her back. So that worked. Nate was different. He didn’t care at all if people liked him, but this never came out in dating. In dating, he seemed very kind and considerate. He also donated money to charity which really impressed Laurie. She thought he was...

Why People Blame Others Instead of Taking Responsibility

Dear Dr. Deb, I have been following your columns for a while now and I have to say, they are a little bit “fluffy.” I don’t mean to be rude, but you make everything come out so easy, as if all problems can be solved in the course of one column. And life just isn’t so simple. For example, my husband actually went on Amazon (at my urging) and bought your book, The Healing is Mutual: Marriage Empowerment Tools to Rebuild Trust and Respect—Together. He tends to blame others instead of taking responsibility so I thought reading your book would help. He read it, or says he read it, and didn’t like it. He didn’t like the idea that you mentioned the word, “abuse” somewhere in there. He said the following: “Anyone can say they’re abused. Maybe they are just too sensitive.” How can you help someone like me who is knocking my head against the wall trying to get through to my husband? —Frustrated   Dear Frustrated, You are correct that my columns can’t tackle the essence of individual problems. All I can do is write general principles that seem to work for many people. The same would be true of reading self-help boks. They are good for some people; others need a therapist. In the case of my book, I’m guessing that your husband didn’t actually read it because there is a chapter in it called, “My Partner is Hypersensitive.” Had he read that, he would not have made the comments about people being “too sensitive” since that is the very thing that chapter addresses. Had he...

Playing Victim Is Emotional Abuse

There are people who don’t allow the feeling of compassion in. That may seem amazing to you: If someone else said they are hurt, how can you not feel badly about it? The answer is that they come from worlds away where tears don’t stir emotions; they are hardened – except, perhaps, to themselves. Interestingly, they feel their own pain but have never been able to leave themselves behind in their dealings with others. They play victim. That means they feel they have a license to strike out and hurt others. That’s emotional abuse. Here’s how it works: This is what people like this believe about their loved one when the loved one cries and says he or she is hurt: they must be manipulative. they are just too sensitive and they will react badly to anything. they are really hurt because of something else and it is convenient to blame me. –Anything to not look at themselves Evan and Alice A year ago, Evan thanked Alice for the lovely tie that she gave him for his birthday, but was not as enthusiastic as Alice would have expected. He explained that he really would have preferred a new golf club. Alice was taken aback by this as he knew that she objected to his devotion to golf at the expense of time spent on Sundays with the family. She didn’t say anything and hoped he would forget that he had mentioned it to her. Now, a year later, his birthday was coming and Alice didn’t know what to do. During the year, she had gently mentioned her objections on...

The Relationship Between Negative Self-Talk and Grandiosity

Remember Kerry? We wrote about him a couple weeks ago. He and his brother-in-law had a flare-up because Kerry used some very sharp language to make his point. He felt entitled to “express” himself. His wife, Penny, was exhausted with a lifetime of this sort of thing. She used to quarrel with her husband and that certainly didn’t work. Then she tried to reason with him and learned, much to her surprise, that he could not apologize to her brother because he would feel it was “weak.” She disagreed; she told him that admitting mistakes is a sign of strength because it takes a strong person to do that. I asked how readers think that the story will end. Some people think that Kerry will never change. Here is my problem with that: You have to have tried everything—and I mean everything—before you can be sure that your conclusion is correct. Most people give up too easily. When You Criticize Your Child Kerry might possibly be able to change if he can heal from the original pain that caused him to become so adversarial and sharp-tongued. Kerry grew up with very critical parents. As he said, “They never had anything positive to say.” When that happens, the child is always on the lookout for criticism. He expects it. So, if the best defense is a good offense, then Kerry mastered the art. The problem, of course, is that it causes the very problem it was meant to avoid: attacks. Not only that, it certainly loses the good will of others. This is made worse because Kerry bears a painful...

What Motivates Mass Murderers?

Wait! Don’t rush to say, “Silly question, Dr. Deb. Mass murderers are crazy. That’s all.” Let me explain why I pose the question “What Motivates a Mass Murderer” by asking you another question: Would you rather be able to take control of your life or would you rather think that your own life is in the hands of whim and chance? The more you understand human nature, the more control you have over things that come your way. Here’s a list of things that you can get control of that you never thought possible just by learning what motivates a mass murderer: 1. why you, your spouse, or your kids lack self esteem 2. why you, your spouse, or your kids are angry more often than you wish 3. why you, your spouse, or your kids feel lonely, isolated from humanity 4. why you, your spouse, or your kids never seem to get things right 5. why you, your spouse, or your kids seem to have things going well yet are unhappy 6. why you, your spouse, or your kids seem to be distant and unreachable, hiding behind a wall 7. why you, your spouse, or your kids just can’t seem to agree on anything Put these questions aside for a moment. We’ll get back to them all. If you study the lives of mass murderers (I discuss the Columbine murderers in my book) here’s what they have in common: They are lonely and isolated. Their only “friends” are people who feel the way they do. As children, they were never validated. They were not told, “We love you...

What To Do If You Are Being Gaslighted

In the previous post, Small Lies Are Emotional Abuse, I described the devastation to the psyche when someone twists around who you think you are. It is emotional abuse; it is mental abuse, and the fact that the process is subtle makes it more, not less, devastating. Why would someone need to do this? Why would someone be so attached to a distortion like this? I can think of two similar possibilities: Strong Belief In a False “Reality” Creates [False] Security 1. This individual grew up in a home where reality was distorted. He or she didn’t have outside sources of information to figure out how the world sees things. When I was researching my dissertation, someone said that he grew up in a home without a dining room table. The family watched TV at dinnertime, sitting on chairs facing the set. He thought that was how everyone did it. 2. This individual grew up in a home where there was very little conversation about feelings or perspectives of others so there was no way to get outside opinions on whether his perspectives were on target. In either case, the person must figure out how the world works without much help from those who’ve been there. That’s a scary place. Tiptoeing on a tightrope, the person feels very insecure. What can give him or her some sense of security? – clinging tenaciously to his ideas! The very act of shedding doubt creates the desired security. This, by the way, explains why people with paranoia cling to their mistaken realities; it also explains suicide bombers and other people on the...

Small Lies Are Emotional Abuse

There’s a subtle type of emotional abuse that it could take you years to uncover: Taking the truth and twisting it around. It’s not a bold-faced lie. It’s a little lie, a subtle and surprising twist — and that’s why it shakes the ground under your feet. It’s a small lie. Supposing in your lifetime that literally 456 people have told you that you are pretty. Yes, the first two were your parents. But there were 454 others that were less biased in your favor. In fact, to help defray the costs of college while you went for a degree in biochemistry, you did a little modeling. It was fun and you made a few dollars. Now, just supposing you happen to be married to someone who, in a moment of anger because of something you didn’t even do, decides to say to you: “And you’re not so good looking, either.” Small Lies Are Worse Than Out-and-Out Lying You’re devastated. Not because you care so much about looks but because the attack is so gratuitous—and so off the mark. It’s this last piece, the part about being off the mark that I’m classifying as the worst of the emotional abuse. You see, we know that the ground is under our feet and the sky is up because over years and years we have taken these two things as given. There are lots of givens in our lives, things we wouldn’t dream of questioning. After all, “everyone says so” and “that’s the way it is.” Things like mom is sweet and dad is distant or uncle Ned is outrageous and...

You Were A Spoiled Brat — Here’s How to Grow Up

At three years of age, Ron was a terror. He basically got what he wanted, not by crying for it, but by waging war. He could not be grabbed fast enough to discipline. He stuck his tongue out at his mother when she tried to teach him right from wrong. He sassed her by poking his rear end out of his pants and laughing before he ran away. At five, he was kicking his parents if they tried to discipline him. They gave up. They told themselves, “He’ll grow out of it.” That was a big mistake. Why would he grow out of it? He had no incentive to do so and got whatever he wanted by being a terror. Why Spoiling a Child is Child Abuse Ron was smart, and school came easy to him. As he got older, he thought going to class once in a while, taking the test cold, and acing it was funny, so he did it for laughs. He got away with the absences because he played football; he made a name for the school. Ron was also a good-looking boy. Although they seemed like assets, his smarts and his looks were really curses because they enabled him to get away with things. He never learned responsibility. Vivian, a lovely woman he met in college, fell in love with him, intelligent and attractive as he was. And he had that air of certainty and all-knowingness that women find appealing. He had learned to be “nice” by observing that if you act in a particular way, you usually get what you want: that’s charm,...
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