When High Standards Become a Weapon

    High standards are good, right? They help you set lofty goals and then you can achieve them, right? Often. But not always. Not when they are used as a whip for not reaching them. Not when they are used as a barrier to keep away people who — oh, no! — have flaws. Especially not when those people who have the flaws have hurt you in the course of being flawed. In other words, high standards can be a great source of self-flagellation and pain. Let’s take Daniel. His parents wanted him to excel at school — and he did. He was lucky that he was smart because if he wasn’t smart enough to get the A’s, he would have heard about it like his sister did. She heard and heard and heard. His parents never let up on her because they wanted to extract the A’s that weren’t forthcoming. In fact, the more they shook her up, the harder it became for her to focus and the worse her grades got. But Daniel learned a powerful lesson from it: He was better than Rosie. Thank God. He worked hard, though. He definitely did not want to ever get to play the role in the family that she played. That would be just awful. He couldn’t imagine it. And it was convenient for him, especially being the younger sibling, not to imagine how she was suffering. It was far more convenient for him to just go along with his parents’ diagnosis: she was lazy, maybe stupid. She didn’t try hard enough. She did it to punish them. All the...

Women: Are You About to Give up on Your Marriage?

Your marriage is in tatters. You cry nearly every day. Or you are just about ready to have an affair. You cannot stand it anymore. Your husband ignores everything and nothing works: Being nice, not being nice, being a listener, not being a listener, nagging, not nagging. And you are sick of reducing yourself to HIS level, being just as bad as he is. That’s not you! And you do not know what other choices there are. What they really need is a 2 X 4! Well, I mean the verbal equivalent. Actually, I don’t. I would never want to encourage you to be abusive in retaliation. That is the LAST thing you should do. So by 2 X 4 what I REALLY mean is something powerful. Something that will make your spouse stand up and take notice. But by powerful, I DO NOT mean to dish it back. a) That doesn’t work; it just escalates things. b) It is really a sign of weakness, not power. Real Power is being able to get someone to do what you want without hardly saying or doing anything. Let me give you a fantastic example of that kind of power: My father (May he rest in peace). In my whole life til he passed away (I was 27), my father never raised his voice. Not one time. He did not yell. I don’t remember him being angry at me more than once. But he had power over me. Whoa. You know why? Because we had a relationship. Real Power Comes from The Relationship I adored him and wanted to please him....

A Simple Tool To Reconnect

Mary Smith walked into the office of the Marriage & Family Therapist resolved to maintain her dignity. She would not cry; she would not allow herself to be put on the defensive, and most of all, she did not want to point fingers. She knew that being blaming never got anywhere. She just wanted some answers. Her husband, Simon, reluctantly came with her. He didn’t see the need for this and Mary had had a hard time explaining her reasoning to him. She had told him she was unhappy and she could see that he was stressed, too. Simon had argued with her that neither of them was crazy and “What else do you go to a shrink for?” Mary had tried to couch the reason for the appointment in terms of happiness: “Of course we’re not crazy,” she said, “I don’t think that’s why people go for help. They just go for help because they need it.” Mary exhaled a long sigh. Their conversations were so exasperating. When would they ever be on the same page? In spite of her bravery and her resolutions, Mary was nervous as she sat waiting for their turn to go into the therapist’s office. Here, they would be sharing their personal and private lives with a total stranger. Did the stranger know enough to help them? Did the stranger have the wisdom and experience to read between the lines? Would the stranger make them feel guilty for the occasional mean remark that one or the other might have made? Would they really get the help they so badly needed? The therapist greeted...

A Simple Trick To Stop Fighting

    Robert woke up grumpy. Why shouldn’t he? He and Evelyn went round and round til past 1 AM, not resolving the issue even at that late hour, and they both went to bed in a grouchy mood. Maybe she could get over it quick, he thought, but he couldn’t. Nevertheless, on his way out the door for work, he took out the garbage, more out of habit than anything else. Evelyn’s reaction to his helpfulness was, “What’s the big deal about taking out the garbage? He should do that,” although in the interest of not inflaming the fight further, she didn’t say anything. She was still annoyed about the fight—she did not get over it—and this was compounded by his grumpiness. In fact, his helpful act was totally undone by the bad mood. As a therapist hearing this story, I would have some trouble trying to persuade Evelyn to appreciate his help. After all, if Evelyn is still in a bad mood herself, I would never get through to her. What do I do to help this couple? We Have To Recognize The Good That Others Do This concept in the present case makes more sense than “gratitude.” Evelyn can’t “appreciate” Robert’s taking out the garbage. As she herself says, it’s something he ought to do. She certainly would not deign to show him gratitude for this un-special, every-day act. However, the landscape changes when we replace the word “gratitude” with “recognizing the good.” You see, I’m only asking Evelyn to catalogue a behavior, to make an unemotional assessment of Robert’s behavior: Is taking out the garbage a...

Do You Choose Happiness?

    One time, I was having an argument with the speaker standing in front of a crowded assembly. The argument was taking place in my head rather than out loud as I didn’t quite have the energy to actually engage in a discussion right then. I thought that perhaps it would be an even better idea to present it to you to see what your thoughts would be. The speaker was making a case for happiness and I certainly can’t argue with that. He reminded us that wisdom requires that we be happy. He shared research that happy people get the job done better than unhappy ones and noted that the last decade and a half of research in “positive psychology” has led to many fascinating outcomes supporting this. He argued that people try too hard to get to the next goal and then the next, thinking mistakenly that when they only reach their goal they will be happy. This is not true, he admonished: Happiness comes from the process of living your life, not from getting to a goal. I couldn’t argue with any of that. Then he said that happiness is a choice. Some people choose to be unhappy. And that is where I part company. I could immediately think of two classes of people who are unhappy but not by choice: People who have serious troubles in their lives and people who are stuck in a cage of unhappiness that they don’t know how to get out of. In fact, I completely believe that these two categories cover every single person who is unhappy and that there...

I Hate My Partner!

Forget about love being gone. You’re way past that. You hate your partner and you want out.  You hate your partner because he/she: stifles your identity; you feel crushed; you no longer know who you are is cheating says things that really cut, often insisting he/she didn’t mean to hurt you neglects you; you feel invisible controls everything until you have no energy left to stand up for yourself I am here to tell you three things: First, your feelings are normal. Second, underneath your hate is love. Third, you have the power to transform the relationship. FIRST, YOUR FEELINGS ARE NORMAL If you believe in evolution, you could say that we must survive. In order to survive, we must protect our Self. In order to do that, we must reject whatever is toxic to that Self. That means that if we perceive that we are being mistreated, that’s a good first step. It identifies the toxic substance. To perceive it and then reject it makes perfect sense. That’s basic survival. From a spiritual perspective, it’s even clearer: Your soul has been injured and as the Talmudic statement goes, “Words from the heart enter the heart.” This is true for kind words and mean ones. They are potent healers and they can be incredibly corrosive. Corrosiveness kindles hate just as healing kindles love. This is how our most basic emotions function. SECOND, UNDERNEATH YOUR HATE IS LOVE Love is composed of many things. Hate is also composed of many things but “the absence of love” is not one of them. A feeling cannot be the absence of something–with the...

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...

DrDeb’s Book Review: Difficult Conversations

“Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen are from the Harvard Business School, of all things! But that is precisely why we can benefit from listening to what they have to say. Let me explain. We can be sloppy with how we talk to our loved ones. We feel we have to be “honest,” right? And then what happens? Well, I don’t have to tell you: It generally doesn’t work out so well. But business! Ah, that’s a different thing. When money is on the table, everyone wants to be careful. Not only careful as in “diplomatic,” but careful as in “getting the outcome that I want.” Yeah, in business, we are usually smart. If we want to make a sale, we nurse the customer. But with our families, we are just as liable to shoot ourselves in the foot, unfortunately. So what can these three people tell us about conversations that we didn’t already know? A lot, apparently. I have to tell you *I* was impressed because they break down conversations even more than I thought I did. (Yup. That’s right. I don’t have to have a big ego about this.) As a manual of how to work with people — or your family — it is great. Let me give you a bunch of great examples, pages I dog-eared just for you. “When Blame Is the Goal Understanding Is the Casualty” (p. 64) “Even in situations that require a clear assignment of blame, there is a cost. Once the specter of punishment – legal or otherwise – is...

You Can Control Your Emotions!

  I was on the main avenue in my neighborhood a few years ago after I’d moved in looking for a store. Not being from here for very long, I just didn’t know all the shops and where they are located. I crawled along riveting my head from the road to the store numbers when that old familiar, grating noise intruded: beep-beep-BEEP!! And I had that urge that I always get – to rush out to the the beeper and ask, “So…I’m looking for an address and I’m a little confused….How, um, how, exactly, does your beeping help me find my address better so I can get out of your way?” Of course, I never do ask that question. For one thing, I don’t want to be shot because who knows just how irritated and aggravated that person is who is behind that steering wheel? And that really is the second and most important reason why I never have done this and never will: It’s because I know that the beeping comes from the emotional place in the brain and rational questions can’t “reach” an emotionally overwrought person. People use their horns as an expression of emotions that have gone out of rational control. In fact, people often use their mouths as an expression of their emotions when they ought not to. It’s those darn emotions that get in the way of brains that work so very well otherwise. Think about all the emotional things that deter us from living happy lives: Worries over what is beyond our control like someone who is sick, fears of failure when failure really...
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