It Might Be Trauma

Lilly was ten. When she was in school, she could dig into her work and her mind could entertain itself with whatever the subjects were; she loved school. It was when she came home that the problems began. Her father had a temper that would erupt easily. Lilly could not know what would bring it on. Her mother didn’t know either. Her mother’s response was to beg her father not to hit the little girl. Her father might push her mother out of the way as he came after Lilly. Lilly knew that she could find a hiding place in the back of her closet. Her father would stomp off if he didn’t grab her before she fled into hiding. That’s why, as she got just a little bit older, she found the greatest refuge in school. She could always find some reason to stay late — library research, a team practice, helping a friend. When Lilly reached adulthood she got a very well-paying job on Wall Street. She was pretty happy there until there was a shuffle in her department and a new boss took over. He had a temper. Lilly could not understand for the longest time why his temper would send her home crying and shaking on the railroad. She was ready to quit her job. Was Lilly suffering from trauma? Joe remembers living in a happy family. He, his three brothers and sister got along, played, did their school work, and generally lived uneventfully. At 18, his mother received a scary diagnosis and before the family could gather their wits about them, she died. Things...

What’s Love?

How is it possible to love someone you never met, never saw, and know nothing about? It happens every day to hundreds of thousands of people. Just ask a pregnant woman how she feels about her unborn baby. Even more strange is how is it possible for a couple who is adopting a child they did not know to love that child? But they do. Why do grandparents fall madly in love with babies that they did not carry for nine months and do not get up to feed in the middle of the night? All the answers are the same: Beyond being a feeling, love is a decision. And just what are you deciding about when you decide to love that baby? Obviously, you are not governing your feelings by the loudness of the crying, the night’s sleep lost, the colic or the colds. Actually, some people are governed that way. They don’t react well to their babies’ cries; they take it out on the children and are called abusers. Which proves my point even more: You can focus on the good or focus on the bad. The choice is yours and the feeling follows. Take that and apply it to any close family member. Do you focus on the things that annoy you or the things that charm you? There are pitfalls and positives with both. Pitfalls of Focusing On The Good You would think that we ought to always focus on the good. That’s what giving the benefit of the doubt means. And that is absolutely correct. What’s more, we should overlook the injury our friend...

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...

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...

Anger: Abuse That Shoots Yourself In the Foot

You’re angry. Boy, are you angry. She didn’t do things the way YOU wanted them. A lot of good that anger’s going to do you. I mean, did you think that because you’re angry, she’s going to say, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” Did you think she will turn to you with eyes full of love and affection and stroke your back? Were you expecting your anger to turn a hostile environment—that YOU created—into the warm, loving one that you long for? Who are you kidding? Oh, did I say these things before in an earlier post? Well, I guess I have to do that again. For all of you who are tired of hearing me remind you that anger is one of the most worthless emotions and we could all do well to leave it at the door, just skip this post. But there was someone out there who needed to hear this again. I just know it. And by the way, repeated anger is abuse. No two ways about it. “Worthless emotion?” you’re saying. “Why? Isn’t it a natural expression of feelings?” Anger may be natural. So is poison ivy. It’s certainly not helpful. It’s decidedly unhelpful. The angrier you get, the more you push away those you love, the more you muddy up the waters as to what, exactly, you want, and the more hostile an environment you create. Everything you want gets pushed that much further away. Is that what you want to do? I don’t think so. Instead, learn to see the world from your partner’s place. How about trying one simple exercise the next...

Compassion Training For Abusers

“Boy, your last post must have been about me,” someone said. “For me, as soon as we’re in an argument, it’s all about winning at any cost. I can be sarcastic, do the put-downs, yell, whatever it takes to win. And you know what? I don’t want to be an abuser any more. What can I do?” I assured this individual that I’ve met so many, many people with this same complaint that I could not possibly have had just one of them in mind. Why We Have To Win The problem is that when the argument begins, people with this issue slide back in time to the fights with their father or their mother, the arguments that escalated into intense power struggles. The only way out of being humiliated, injured (physically, emotionally, sexually or verbally) and lost was to strike back, and if the strike was really powerful and the parent was devastated, then all the pain would be over for the moment, until it would start again. Those original fights were struggles for survival. At least, that’s how they felt. Losing would mean not losing the argument over the topic at hand; it would mean losing their sense of self, their identity, their ability to hold their head up and live one more day. That’s the reason they take over so quickly when people are starting to argue with their partner: Since it’s all about survival, their fight-or-flight mechanism kicks in and the thinking brain disconnects. How can this sudden takeover of the brain be stopped? How We Teach Children To Be Compassionate The answer is compassion....

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...
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