“Isn’t it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down builds you up?” -Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens
Just a few days ago, I was meeting with two teenage girls and their mom and dad. The parents wanted counseling to help them lessen the conflict and emotional volatility of their communications. The younger daughter, soon to go into eight grade, suddenly announced that she wanted to change schools in the fall to escape a group of horrendously mean girls at her junior high.
As the parents were alternately upset, speechless and defensive, the older sister chimed in with enormous empathy, having been the recipient of similar attacks a few years prior. Although I was sad to see the suffering of this close family, I was relieved that both girls were openly sharing their painful experiences, enlisting the support of their parents in the process.
“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” -Ursula K. LeGuin
In thirty-five years of counseling couples and families, I have continually been reminded about how little most of us are taught about specific tasks and principles for building and maintaining happy, loving relationships. There seems to be a myth afoot: once married, the relationship grows on its own.
Unfortunately, without some form of guidance from a mentor, minister, therapist or close friend, often what grows are bad habits and distance.
“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” -Henry David Thoreau
NEWSFLASH!: The United States gets the gold! We have become the nation with the highest level of anxiety in the world. According to a recent study by the World Health Organization, 31 percent of Americans are likely to suffer from an anxiety problem at some point during their lifetime. The silver medal goes to Columbia with a lifetime risk of 25.3 percent, and the bronze to New Zealand with 24.6 percent. “The United States has transformed into the planet’s undisputed worry champion,” writes Taylor Clark, author of “Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool.”
Articles have been written by psychologists, politicians, pundits and other bloggers trying to explain the reasons for this downside of American mental health. I’m more interested in what we can do about it. We will undoubtedly need to tackle this problem from many different angles. This is only one.
Since prior generations of Americans did not reportedly suffer from such epic levels of fear and worry, is there something to be learned from our familial history? If you are one of the worried masses, could it be time to simplify your life?
“The most important thing parents can give their children is love. The second most important thing is discipline.” -T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.
Many parents today could use some serious coaching on how to create healthier boundaries with their kids. Just spend some time at a park where lots of families hang out and you’ll know what I mean.
You will notice moms and dads asking kids to do something (or stop doing something) ten times with no obvious results. You will observe others screaming in frustration as the child does the opposite of what was requested. It is easy to be judgmental, but how many of us grew up in families with healthy boundaries? Where was the instruction manual that should have come with the baby blankets?
Since we know that a lack of clear boundaries often results in behavior problems, it is crucial to begin creating healthy boundaries when they are still little. Children naturally experiment and push boundaries as they test their wings, develop their own sense of self, and learn about how the world works. It’s what they are supposed to do. So don’t judge kids for pushing back or take it personally.There is really no reason to be angry at them when they do so–they are just doing what kids do.
Here’s some practical tips on setting boundaries…
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Are you frustrated because you have to tell your child to do something ten times before she listens? Are you exhausted because you are doing more than your fair share of the housework? How often do you say things out loud or to yourself like: “He makes me feel stupid,” or “I’m depressed because she is always criticizing me,” or “No one really cares about what I need!”
If you believe that your self-esteem or happiness (or lack thereof) are caused by how your family members, friends or co-workers treat you, then you are falling into the role of “the victim” – whether you like to think of yourself that way or not.
Feeling victimized is a red flag warning. Something needs to change, and the sooner the better. What often is helpful when trying to break free of victim-like thinking is to examine where you need to set clearer boundaries.