Invisible You

By Jonice Webb
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This comment was posted on the Ask Dr. Webb Page of my website.  It describes an experience that many can relate to: the feeling of being overlooked.

I have a question about invisibility. I was at a study group and afterwards everyone was chatting with each other except me. I had this overwhelming feeling of being invisible. It brought me almost to tears. Then, just this past Saturday I was standing with my husband and other men when a lady I knew came up, stood right next to me and asked where all the wives were. I said “I’m right here” and she replied “I didn’t see you.” I’m not sure of what to make of this.

Are some people overlooked more than others? Yes.

Is it because they’re less interesting? Less important? Less vivid? No.

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4 Subtle Family Dynamics That Can Ruin Your Holidays

By Jonice Webb
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Do you look forward to seeing your family at the holidays, but then often come away feeling vaguely disappointed, confused, angry or guilty?

If this is true of you, then you need answers to what is truly going on in your family.  And you need them quickly since The Holidays are here. Is it possible to make this year’s family gathering less disappointing?

Yes.

As a psychologist I have found that as adults, family dynamics have the power to make or break our holidays. And that family dynamics have the most power when they run under the surface, unseen and unknown by the family members themselves.

The bad news: it is often very difficult to change your family dynamics. The good news: it is usually not necessary to change them. Being able to see what is really going on between family members is enough to make you less vulnerable.

Here are Four Subtle Family Dynamics that can ruin your holidays:

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When the Narcissist Becomes Dangerous

By Jonice Webb
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Recently at a dinner party, talk turned to the current news story about Bill Cosby. As the only psychologist at the table, everyone looked at me as one person asked with intense curiosity, “How could anyone victimize women all those years, and still live with himself? How could you sleep at night?”

Since I don’t know Bill Cosby, I can’t speak for him; nor do I know if he is guilty of the accusations against him or not. But generally, in an actual situation like this, there is an answer to the question. The answer is one word: narcissism.

In many ways, it seems like it would be fun to be narcissistic. Wouldn’t it be great to go through life feeling superior to other people, and with unwavering self-confidence? Yes!

But as we all know, there is a dark side to narcissism. That unwavering self-confidence is as brittle as an eggshell. Narcissists don’t move back and forth on a continuum of self-esteem as the rest of us do. Instead, they run on full-tilt until something taps that protective shell of self-importance hard enough. Then, they fall into a million pieces. Under that fragile, brittle cover lies a hidden pool of insecurity and pain. Deep down, the narcissist’s deepest and most powerful fear is that he is a nothing.

With his brash, self-centered ways, the narcissist can hurt the people around him emotionally, and often. His deepest fear is of being exposed as “a nothing.” So he will protect his own fragile shell above all else, even if it sometimes emotionally harms the people he loves the most.

Why is the narcissist in such fear of being a nothing? Because she was raised by parents who responded to her on a superficial level, lauding or even worshiping certain aspects of her which they valued, while completely ignoring or actively invalidating her true self, including her emotions. So most narcissists grew up essentially over-valued on one level, and ignored and invalidated on another (Childhood Emotional Neglect – CEN).  CEN on its own does not cause narcissism, but combined with other essential ingredients, it plays a part.

Some narcissists need to do more than just protect their shell. Their need to be special is so great that they also need to feed it with accolades, acknowledgment, or their own personal version of specialness.

This is when narcissism becomes dangerous.

There are four characteristics of the narcissist which can work together to make him a danger. They are:

  1. The need to protect his inflated sense of self can make him desperate.
  2. The need to feed his sense of specialness can drive him to violate others’ boundaries.
  3. Lack of empathy for others can make him incapable of seeing when he hurts others.
  4. His belief that he is special can make it easy for him to rationalize his actions.

Most narcissists do not pose any real danger to the people around them (except perhaps emotionally). The risk comes from #2. What’s his Special Ingredient? What does the narcissist need to feed his specialness?

Does he need to have a “special relationship” with young boys, like Jerry Sandusky (severe boundary violations)? Does he need to be seen as a mentor to Olympic wrestlers like John DuPont, as portrayed in The Foxcatcher (exploitation)?

What does the narcissist need to feed his specialness, to what lengths will he go to get it, and is his specialness extreme enough to enable him to rationalize his behavior? Those are the factors which determine a narcissistic person’s potential dangerousness.

Jerry Sandusky said that he felt his special relationship with boys was helpful to the boys. John DuPont appeared to rationalize that his money and privilege would make his minions better wrestlers.

If you have a narcissist in your life: a parent, sibling, friend, spouse, or ex, it is possible to manage the relationship in a healthy way. Your best approach is to walk a figurative tightrope. Have empathy for the pool of pain that lies beneath the surface of your narcissist’s blustery shell. Understand that he or she is protecting herself from the hurt that she experienced in childhood. But at the same time, it is vital to protect yourself as well. Keep your boundaries intact.

Do not let your compassion make you vulnerable.

To learn more about the effects of emotional invalidation in childhood, see EmotionalNeglect.com;or the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Photo courtesy of Flickr



Ten Steps to Learn Self-Discipline

By Jonice Webb

2249643039_fc3f8dc6b0_oHere’s a brief recap of last week’s article, Self-Discipline Season Has Begun: 

  • Struggling with self-discipline is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw
  • Self-discipline is made up of two parts: making yourself do things you don’t want to do; and stopping yourself from doing things that you want to do.
  • Each of these two parts is a skill, nothing more and nothing less.
  • Since self-discipline is a skill, it can be learned!
  • In the best-case scenario, we learn these skills from our parents, when they discipline us throughout childhood.
  • Many parents, even those with the best intentions, fail to teach their children this skill well enough (an aspect of Childhood Emotional Neglect).
  • If you did not internalize the Two Skills of Self-Discipline in childhood, you can teach them to yourself as an adult.

Meet Josie.

Josie is walking toward the dessert table at the office Holiday Party. “This party is boring,” she thinks, “but at least that double chocolate cake is here.”  As Josie starts to put a second piece onto her plate, another little voice in her head says, “Wow, really? Can’t you exercise one little modicum of self-control? Has anyone else eaten two pieces? What is wrong with you?!” 

Continue reading… »



Self-Discipline Season has Begun

By Jonice Webb

Almost everyone struggles with some aspect of self-discipline, but never more than during the holidays. After all, from Thanksgiving to mid-January, we see-saw back and forth between over-indulging in treats, and making resolutions to exercise in the New Year.

Then, when we fail to carry it all out as pledged, we kick ourselves when we’re down.

I think that most people see self-discipline as far more complicated than it actually is. When you boil it down, self-discipline is actually composed of only two ingredients:

  1. Stopping ourselves from doing things we want to do, but shouldn’t.
  2. Making ourselves do things we don’t want to do, but should.

Notice anything about those two ingredients? That’s right. They’re skills. Skills, and nothing more.

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What No One Tells You About Personality Disorders

By Jonice Webb

teenager photo

16-year-old Bruce is feeling lonely and bored on this Saturday. After buying a soda and candy bar for breakfast at the convenience store, he stops by his only friend Joe’s house to hang out. A couple of hours later, he starts to feel annoyed by Joe’s “childish” sense of humor. After several irritating jokes from Joe, Bruce loses his temper. “Grow up you loser. You’re boring,” he blurts suddenly on his way out the door, leaving a surprised and hurt Joe behind him.

Bruce walks slowly around the neighborhood, bored again. “Maybe I should go home and play my guitar,” he thinks. But then realizes that his mom may be up by now, and he doesn’t want to run into her. No telling what mood she might be in. So he decides to try to sneak in and up to his room by going in the back door. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

“Where the h—  have you been you  lazy little punk?!” his mother yells from the kitchen when she hears his footsteps. Bruce turns on his heel and goes straight back out the door. Back to Joe’s house, he knocks on the door, walks in and says, “What’s up?” as if this morning’s hurtful insult never happened.

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4 Things Psychologists Know That You Should Know Too

By Jonice Webb

6c0884b45700731b3f15f369_640_psychologyIt’s fun being a psychologist. Just as an engineer is fascinated by the true mechanics of electrical circuitry, we mental health professionals are intensely curious about the human brain.

What people feel and what those feelings mean; why people do what they do; it’s all of interest to us. In the process of doing our job day after day, we can often pick up on patterns and connections that give us flashes of a bigger picture. We see causes and effects and develop insights, understandings and intuitions that tell us basic human truths.

Sometimes new research studies come out that make us say, “Aha! I knew it!” Below are four such psychological principles. All four are the common knowledge of most mental health professionals. All are currently being studied and proven, and all are immensely useful information that everyone should have.

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Seven Steps to Speak Your Uncomfortable Truth

By Jonice Webb

Abigail needs to tell her adult son Mark that she thinks he has a drinking problem.

Simon needs to tell his wife Lisa that he’s afraid he doesn’t love her anymore.

From time to time, we all find ourselves in a tough spot. Something looks wrong or feels wrong, and we need to say something difficult. Something painful that may hurt someone we care about, but which nevertheless must be said.

Abigail and Simon have some tough decisions to make. Do they speak up and risk hurting their loved ones? How do they say it? Would it be better to just keep it to themselves? At least then they wouldn’t cause anyone pain.

Many people in these situations choose the last option. Sometimes it feels easier and kinder. Unfortunately, that is typically the worst choice. Uncomfortable truths seldom disappear on their own. And they have far more power to hurt when they remain unspoken.

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Do You Have Emotional Integrity?

By Jonice Webb

15545463016_4c286ce689_mHere is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of Integrity: The quality of being honest and fair; the state of being complete or whole; incorruptibility; soundness.

What, then, is Emotional Integrity? It’s knowing what you feel and why, and being able and willing to share it with others, even when it’s painful for you.

So general integrity involves being honest with others. Emotional Integrity involves being honest with yourself: facing uncomfortable or painful truths inside yourself so that they don’t harm the people you love. It’s more about your internal choices than your external ones. It’s the opposite of what we think of as denial. It’s the opposite of avoidance.

It is entirely possible to be a person of good integrity while also lacking Emotional Integrity. We human beings have a natural tendency to avoid difficult things, like painful feelings, conflict, problems, or our own weaknesses. It’s somewhat built into us to take the easier route. It’s not always clear to us that the easier route carries its own threat; a threat to our Emotional Integrity.

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What Everyone Should Know About Emotional Affairs

By Jonice Webb
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Photo courtesy of Flickr

As a couple’s therapist, I’ve worked with many people whose marriages are threatened by an affair. When it comes to affairs, there are two types: sexual and emotional. In my experience, these two types of affairs are different, and happen in different kinds of relationships.

While sexual affairs are often born of anger, emotional affairs are frequently a result of loneliness.

Before we go on to talk about emotional affairs, one large caveat: none of the reasons I’ll talk about in this article are meant to excuse or justify affairs in any way.

Always, without exception, the healthiest way to deal with marriage problems of any kind is directly with one’s spouse, not going outside the relationship. If the problems are not fixable, it is vital to work it through and to end the marriage before getting involved with another person, either physically or emotionally.

That said, here are the Five Reasons People Have Emotional Affairs:

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