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...

Men’s Key Ingredient to a Happy, Healthy, Loving Marriage

You did know there were problems. For sure, there were problems. But you honestly did not know they were THIS bad. Your wife left. Or threatened to leave. Or saw an attorney. Or served you with divorce papers. Or had an affair. Or you find yourself paying attention to other women. What’s going on?? How did this happen?? I can tell you that it did not happen out of the clear blue sky. There were warnings. You either didn’t see them or didn’t understand what they meant. Or didn’t want to. The truth is — and I don’t care how long you’ve been married — you don’t know women. You do know that you love your wife. Or loved. Or thought you did. For sure, that is something you know. But you don’t even know why. Or maybe you do. But you still don’t understand her. And you are feeling a combination right now of panic and hopelessness. Maybe also anger. All that is normal. I get that. I get that for two reasons. First of all because I am a therapist and 50% of the people who call me for private therapy are men in your situation. And I’ve helped them! (Please see my About DrDeb page to get an idea of my interesting history and experience. Please see the blog post What’s the Difference Between Therapy and Coaching to get how I work with — and help — people.) The second reason is that I’m a woman. So I understand women. The thing is, we are really not that hard to figure out. We’re just different and...

What’s the Difference Between Therapy and Coaching?

Therapists are struggling to help people but the internet — and your neighborhood — have become filled with coaches extolling the benefits of *not* being therapists. Really, the argument is as silly as trying to convince everyone that the only ice cream that tickles the taste buds is chocolate. Some people prefer vanilla, some chocolate, and luckily there are probably around a hundred other flavors to accommodate aficionados. Everyone can get to choose. So here is a quick and painless run-down of the different approaches to helping people. First of all, there is no such thing as “a” kind of therapy. There are probably hundreds of therapy approaches — like ice cream flavors — and it is important to know one  approach from the other. After all, you are a consumer (or you could become one.) You might want to take a look at my article, What You Need to Know About the Different Therapy Approaches and my video, Marriage-Friendly Therapy, or some oldies but goodies on this site on the subject of a holistic approach to therapy. One notes that holistic therapy is More Than Behavior, More Than Feelings; the other wonders why therapists should look at peoples’ deficits rather than their strengths in A Different Way of Viewing Problems. If you’re not in the mood to read all that, suffice it to say that all psychotherapy is not talk-talk-talk. You’d be thinking of psychoanalysis, if that’s what you thought it was. Freud, the inventor of psychoanalysis, believed people need to talk to discover their real feelings at the core of their problems. And I have known people...

5 Tips to Get Kids to Do Homework

Here are my 5 tips for parents to get kids not only to do their homework but get into the homework-doing mood. Tip #1: Homework Should Fit The Goldilocks Principle Goldilocks had it right: whether it’s porridge or homework, the best is the one that is not at either extreme, but somewhere in the middle. If the homework is too easy, your child will get an unrealistic idea of what life has in store. Think about it: Imagine the kid who slid through school and now goes out for a first job – and is actually expected to put in time working! Kids who end up at Harvard find the same thing. They had it easy all the years in school and suddenly they’re faced with other children who also did: They’re meeting their match. Uh-oh, they have to work! And if it’s too hard, well, they might just quit on you. Where do you draw the line? How do you find the perfect sweet spot? Parents have to not only use their judgment on that, but they have to be really honest with themselves when they do. They have to be sure that they are not drawing the line at either the “too easy” or the “too hard” extreme because of their own emotional needs. Parents can get into doing that. They want to be the child’s “friend” so they complain to the school that the homework is “too” hard. Maybe it’s a wee bit too hard, but not so hard that it can’t be done. Or parents want to push their kids excessively so they call anything...

Stop Being Needy Before You Start Dating

What do you think is the biggest dating mistake? Its being needy. What I mean is this: a person getting into a relationship has to be prepared to GIVE. Being a giver – as I’ve said before on this blog – is crucial. The reason is simple. If both people in the relationship are needy, then each is always expecting something/wanting something from the other. Neediness is like a bucket with holes in the bottom; you can never put in enough. WHY NEEDINESS IS LIKE A BUCKET WITH HOLES Let’s answer this important question by taking a zoom lense into a home with little children who are well-loved. Jimmy, 3, is building a lego tower and the whole thing won’t stay built. Down it comes! Jimmy doesn’t really know whether that means he is just stupid and incapable or whether that’s what is supposed to happen based on the laws of gravity. Jimmy hasn’t interacted with the world enough to really know. So, his dad, watching, says, “Good job!” Jimmy is puzzled. “But it came down!” he says. “Oh, yeah, that’s okay,” his dad answers. “When you put that many bricks on, it will come down. But you built it up real nice.” Now, Jimmy knows two things: he gets gravity and he gets that he is doing things the right way. Whew! He decides to put on fewer bricks next go-around to see what happens. Jimmy’s dad has done something really important for his development. By giving him simple feedback, he’s given his son the confidence to experiment without feeling shame or concern about his own capabilities. Now,...

Three Reasons for Fear of Commitment

We live in a singles world – and instead of being happy about their freedom, these singles are, for the most part, lost and lonely. If the obvious solution is to get hitched, the obvious question is: Why aren’t they doing just that? Why are they afraid of commitment? Here are three reasons. Children of Divorce Research shows that ten years after divorce, adult children may delay commitment in order to avoid putting future children of theirs through the same experience they had. They search for lasting love and faithfulness. They can still remember traumatic moments from their parents’ divorce (http://www.jabfm.org/content/14/3/201.full.pdf). In other words, adult children often search fruitlessly for the ideal relationship that their parents didn’t have. The task is doubly hard for them because their family of origin didn’t teach them what they need to know about happy homes. In fact, if roughly 50% of first marriages end in divorce, 75% of second ones do. What do the children learn from this? Children in Conflicted Homes There is a significant proportion of homes in America that remain intact in spite of abuse, affairs, and neglect. Parents worry that a divorce will harm their children, but without two people on board to create a harmonious home, the children are harmed anyway. Here’s an excerpt from my own published research: “Cummings and Davies (1994) have been observing young children from non-violent homes in laboratory situations for twenty years. They catalogue the following behaviors in response to witnessing laboratory anger between adults: ‘crying, freezing (motionless tension for an extended period), facial distress, distressed body movements (e.g., covering of the ears),...

4 Strategies to Get Kids to Listen

Eli is quite clear that he is a pretty important person. At six and the youngest of four, he’s used to those around him just stopping short of bowing down to him. Answering his every wish goes without saying. When he was two and oh-so-cute, he was irresistible. Now that four years have passed and he’s a normal school-boy with homework and schedules, cuteness has to take a back seat to responsibility, sharing, and kindness. He may be a child of the King, but he is definitely not the King. The problem is, he doesn’t know that – yet. How can his kindly and loving parents get this kid to listen and cooperate while maintaining their sanity? As my children were growing up, I tried four strategies that worked very well and I am happy to share them with you. Strategy #1: Have a sense of humor. You can tell me that certain people are born with a sense of humor and others are a bit more serious. Listen, I get that. I was always the serious one and that’s because I came from such a serious family that they didn’t even see the value in having newspapers with comics. They bought the Sunday Times and when I complained that there were no comics, they kind of waved me off. In spite of this, there is an easy solution to learning to take everything more lightly. Just look around you at people you know – people with children who are challenged medically or mentally, people who have lost a loved one, people with deficits they can’t overcome – and...

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...

Work-Life Balance: Dr Deb Has a New Problem

My youngest son, when he was still living with us, shocked me by saying that there were no family dinners during the week in the years he was growing up. Here I was, the mommy-cook to end all mommy-cooks, the person who would experiment with various recipes multiple times in her single years just to prepare for that wonderful day when she would get married, being told that she didn’t have family dinners. I was in school and juggling that work with my family obligations. The Importance of Family Dinners I checked with my husband who reminded me that the children stayed for after-school when I was in graduate school so that already took care of one or two meals during the week. But this wasn’t good enough for me. Suddenly, all those years that I had spent working so assiduously on my dissertation came into focus. For me, it had been all about my progress toward my personal goal, but what about being there for my children? When I started my doctorate, my youngest was only five. Worse yet, my husband didn’t know how to cook, wasn’t about to learn, and could live on pizza. Furthermore, he was a marshmallow when it came to discipline and didn’t keep the same watchful eye on homework that I would have had. “Don’t worry, ma,” my son told me that eventful day, “I’m okay!” Well, that’s very nice to hear now that he is an adult, but still. . . . Did I do the right thing? Nursing Creates a Bond that Pushes away Work This point was brought home to me when...

Don’t Send Your Teen to the Missing Persons List

Regarding the horrible revelation in Cleveland in May, 2013 when 3 women who had been held captive for ten years were rescued, several news outlets reviewed how the missing-persons list works. “Hundreds of thousands of people are reported missing each year,” the Wall Street Journal stated, “the vast majority of whom turn out to have run away, FBI data show.” Those numbers are misleading. Millions of children run away every year Actually, the data is worse. According to the National Runaway Safeline which obtained statistics from peer-reviewed journals, “between 1.6 and 2.8 million (that’s not a typo) youth run away in a year. 47% of runaway / homeless youth indicated that conflict between them and their parent or guardian was a major problem.” “Over 50% of youth in shelters and on the streets reported that their parents either told them to leave or knew they were leaving but did not care.” “32% of runaway and homeless youth have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.” Why do they run away? Why do they get into drugs, sex, and cutting? Is there a connection among all these youth problems? To get an idea of the answer, let’s look a little closer at the history of two of the three girls who were held captive for a decade and how they came to be kidnapped. First, let’s look at Amanda Berry, the brave girl who orchestrated their escape. According to news reports, she had piercings in her ears and eyebrows and liked Eminem’s music. What do runaway children want? For those who wouldn’t know Eminem from an Oreo, Wikipedia explains...
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