Stonewalling–Is That A Man Thing?

It is normal to be upset when upsetting things occur. “Normal” doesn’t mean good or healthy, just what is expected under the circumstance. So, for example, someone, let’s call her Caroline, might scream because her husband had been attacking her relentlessly, even waking her up at night to do so. Phil, her husband, might be jealous and that could be “normal” in that it makes sense under the circumstances. His jealousy was a result of his insecurity which was a result of his relationship (or lack of one) to his parents growing up. But all of that doesn’t make it good or right. What Is Stonewalling? What about Ben? Ben is a nice, friendly guy. He’s good to his friends, gives a hand when needed, plays ball with his sons. But when he and his wife argue, he is cold as ice. She can yell at him and he remains calm. Why is that? No, Ben has not had years of meditation or yoga. Ben had a rough beginning, spending nearly all his time at home waiting for the inevitable beating from his father. There was some point his father needed to make and he would hit harder and harder to make it. Although there was no escaping the beatings, Ben learned that he could still “win” the battle of wills if he could somehow let his father know that his point was not taken. The cooler Ben would be, the more furious his father was, and amidst the pain, Ben felt good inside. So for Ben, experiencing pain while being unfazed became a desirable combination. Any threat of...

Is Jealousy Normal?

I wrote a post about someone, Caroline, who was hysterical after her husband, Phil, accused her of having an affair when she was not. He was relentless in his attack, even waking her in the middle of the night to “discuss” it. Her over-the-top reaction was normal under the circumstances. Next, “Caroline” wrote me that she was thrilled to find out that she was normal because her spouse really gave her good reason to yell. Uh-oh. So I wrote another post explaining how I felt about screaming and anger in general. Now “Caroline” wants to know if perhaps her husband is not normal for his jealousy. Why Jealousy Is Self-Defeating Let me be clear that jealousy is not good. It’s not helpful. Not only doesn’t it improve the relationship, but it’s one of those things that creates a self-fulfilling prophesy: It is guaranteed to push away the very person whose love you want. But is it normal? How To Raise A Child To Become A Jealous Adult Let’s take a look at Phil’s early relationships to see whether it would be normal for Phil. Phil grew up with hard-working parents. His mother was a high-powered corporate attorney and his father owned a successful business. There was always a nanny around who made sure that Phil ate and had clean clothes. He was not deprived of toys. He was smart and picked up two foreign languages from his nannys. As a small child, when he saw his parents, he whined for their attention and they brushed him off with cool statements to “grow up.” He never knew what was wrong...

Why Lashing Out Backfires–Even When You Are Right

Last post told Caroline’s story. She was falsely accused, attacked, actually, and awakened in the middle of the night for “discussions” until she finally lost it. I contended that under such circumstances, her behavior was not at all crazy, but normal. “Thank you, so much Dr. Deb,” Caroline [I’ve made up that name] wrote to me. “Now, I feel normal. I was so badly treated, that of course I screamed. Sheesh, anyone would scream.” Not A Free Card And I’m sitting here thinking, “Uh-oh, now people think I just gave them a free card to scream when they’re provoked.” So please allow me to clarify myself. Part of our wiring is to express emotions. It is normal that some of those emotions may include outbursts of hysteria or out-of-control behavior. However, that does not make any of these behaviors good, right or acceptable. Not only that. These behaviors are harmful because they hurt the other person so much, dangerous because they escalate, and self-destructive because they always end up shooting the person who exhibited them in the foot. You’re Helping Youself Lose Your Battle — And The Relationship What I mean is that when you lose it and lash out at someone, it is guaranteed that now you will for sure not get the very thing you wanted. It makes the whole job of straightening out whatever the problem was even harder. That’s because it (1) “proves” to your spouse that the problem is you, not him (or her), (2) makes your spouse angry with you in return, and (let’s have a drum-roll here) (3) it doesn’t even address...

Normal Reactions To False Accusations

This poor woman sat in my office weeping; she thought she was going crazy. We’ll call her Caroline. Here’s what happened: Her husband, we’ll call him Phil, decided that she was having an affair. She insisted she wasn’t, but he refused to believe her. Attacking a person with false accusations is abuse. He started questioning every second of her day; it became a grilling. Not only didn’t he let up, but the stony silence of dinner was replaced after she’d fallen asleep at 2AM with more grilling. Needless to say, Caroline couldn’t readily fall asleep after that. She finally drifted into a disturbed sleep around 5 only to be awakened by her alarm an hour later. In the morning, she came unglued, shouting and screaming. The children were frightened and Phil rushed to “protect” them from their “crazy” mother. This was the last straw. Now fear was added to distress and anger. Fear of losing her children. She called me for an emergency visit. “You’re not crazy,” I told her. “Your reactions are consistent with a person under stress who is deprived of sleep, and who feels there is no exit.” How many people out there think their reactions are crazy? How many of you are worried about this? Being calm in the face of attacks, especially false attacks, is highly unusual. That level of calmness tells me that either a person has been doing yoga meditation all his life or that he is emotionally cut off from his feelings. Now, that would be something to be concerned about. In other words, it is normal to become upset, and...

Verbal Abuse Scale From 8 to 10

This is Part III of the Verbal Abuse Scale 8 – “You S.O.B” This is overt name-calling. There’s no other label to pin on it but verbal abuse. And there is never any excuse for it no matter how frustrated you are and no matter how badly abused you have been by the person you’re giving it back to. 9 – “Nobody would want you” This is an example of a put-down that has the effect of attempting to raise the abuser’s self-esteem. The abuser believes he or she is a nothing so to compensate, he tries to lower your self-esteem. There are many websites discussing verbal abuse and they all have this one tiny point wrong. They claim the abuser wants to control you when he does this. This is incorrect. As you can see from the statement, if he says “nobody” would want you, then “nobody” includes him. If he really didn’t want you, he has no need to control you! This backwards logic even evades the speaker himself. He assures himself that he doesn’t “want” this person, gets a divorce goes to court, and then seems glued to the legal system. Why? Because he’s still connected. He does want her! He thinks he hates her but he cannot let go. The real underlying reason for his statement and behavior is his clumsy and hurtful attempt to raise his own self-esteem out of the gutter. If it’s in the gutter and he can convince himself that “nobody would want” his spouse, then hers must be even lower down than his. This gives him a hair’s breadth of...

Verbal Abuse Scale From 4 to 7

Part II of the Verbal Abuse Scale 4 – “What you accused me of is dumb.” This is much worse than #1 because it is an overt statement, not implicit, but explicit that the person you’re speaking to is dumb. Don’t use pejorative language on your loved ones! Although you did not say the person is dumb, her thinking process had to be dumb. That’s a put-down. 5 – “You don’t know what you’re talking about” This statement is incredibly rude. It is not merely name-calling. It also goes beyond the “you” statement of #3 for the following reason: “You always do [this or that]” is a behavior, but to not know what you’re talking about says something bad about your mind, your knowledge, and your Self! It is a more global sort of put-down. Now, let’s go one more. 6 – “You don’t know what you’re talking about” (regarding person’s field) Suppose a person is a stock broker and a client says the above statement to him in reference to stock-picking. Can you see how that would be really insulting? In fact, even without the level of harsh language, just the concept alone draws blood. For that reason, the following would also be included in #6: “No, you’re wrong.” Remember who is speaking to whom. It’s not any husband and wife talking to each other; it’s a person out of the field disagreeing with someone inside the field. This line of discussion is a no-go. A better approach would be, “I really don’t understand your field so well, but from my own experience, I don’t see it the...

Verbal Abuse Scale From 1-3 (Out of 10)

There was a humorous article in the newspaper about how a person manages to secure table reservations at restaurants when the hostess has been telling other people that there will be nothing available for three weeks. The gentleman in question says, “I want a reservation, please, for two people, tomorrow at 8.” (WSJ, 12/7/2011, Gardner). The speaker pointed out that normally you would say, “I would like.” His version, “I want,” is more forceful, maybe even rude, so he then tempers it with the “please.” This got me thinking about how helpful it would be if we could have a rudeness scale from 1 to 10 with each succeeding number on the scale representing a more and more aggressive statement culminating in full-scale verbal abuse. The above sentence would be, say, a 2 because the “I want” is rude regardless of the “please” but the whole thing could be a lot worse. This post would be really long so I divided it up into three parts. This is Part 1. Here goes: 1 – “Do you think I’m stupid?” It’s not overtly rude. However, you are accusing someone of thinking that you are stupid. Since “stupid” is one of those inflammatory words, it’s a bit aggressive. A more toned-down approach could be, “It sounds as if you don’t have much faith in my judgment.” 2 – see the restaurant reservations story above 3 – “You always put your foot in your mouth. Why do you embarrass me like that?” While the speaker might be embarrassed, she is nevertheless unjustified in being aggressive in return. “You” is rude. It’s critical...
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