Do We Have To Be Honest With Children?

My school-age grandson was filled with the importance of the story he was telling me. He paused as someone flew a paper airplane over our heads and their mother had to put a stop to that. She made a remark; I made another one back, and before you knew it, my grandson’s conversation got derailed. “Gram!” He said, with a note of irritation in his voice, “you aren’t listening to me!” It is right here that we all have a choice to make. Do we protect our egos or take a hit? “You are right!” I replied, “I am so sorry. Go on with what you were saying.” Here are some wrong choices: “Can’t you see I’m talking to mommy?” “Oh, all right. What did you want?” (irritated tone) The worst choice, of course, is to not even hear him, to not notice his existence and just go on as if he weren’t there. How many of you are guilty of any of those? What these last three options all do is de-value the person in his own eyes. You see, to a child, your view of the world, is like God’s view. They don’t have a concept of questioning and critical thinking yet. They certainly may – and will – object to mistreatment, but they don’t know why they’re objecting. They don’t realize that YOU have actually done something wrong and that they have been ignored, dismissed, invalidated, and minimized. So instead of realizing YOU mistreated them, your response holds up to them a mirror of who they are. That’s not good because in this case the mirror...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...
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