Boundaries Articles

Breaking Free from Your Victim Story

Monday, August 25th, 2014

fitnessjog“You can either be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure. It all depends on how you view your life.” -Paulo Coelho

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 “I would be happy if my partner would only treat me better? He/she won’t let me do that, think that, feel that…”? Underneath these statements is the same negative belief–I can’t change because…

If you believe that your self-esteem or happiness (or lack thereof) are caused by how your current or past family members treat you then you are falling into the role of “the victim” whether you like to think that way of yourself or not. Any time we blame someone else for our problems, we are telling ourselves a victim story.

file000255429846Don’t be afraid to admit it. We all do this sometimes. Some people seem to do it constantly. The problem is that once we get lost in this hopeless narrative, we become more depressed, angry and fearful. If someone else can readily manipulate your mood state then you are like a puppet on a string. Someone else is in control. Pause to think about this for a moment: Who have you allowed to become your puppeteer?
Having a victim mindset vs. being a current victim of crime
Of course, there are times when a person is a very real victim. There are numerous websites and blogs to describe the psychological effects and treatment of victims of domestic violence, child abuse, rape or assault, embezzlement or theft, not to speak of the aftermath of war, terrorism, or poverty.

This blog is not attempting to address recovery from trauma (a very big subject indeed with countless books on it) but to examine how a victim mindset can plague anyone long after the trauma has ended.

Holding fenceIt is certainly true …


Drowning in Love: What’s Too Much of a Good Thing?

Monday, February 17th, 2014

_MG_0606Definitions of smothering love: To express your love for someone too much; to cover someone or something completely; to insulate, to overwhelm.

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs around. Especially here, especially now, in our rapidly moving, constantly changing modern world. Most parents seek out this job willingly and joyfully with the best of intentions. Doesn’t everyone want to raise happy healthy children who grow up into competent independent adults? Of course. So what goes wrong?

It is easy to pick out the parents who are not doing their jobs. These are the parents who have too many problems of their own to contend with–like substance abuse, severe untreated mental illness, domestic violence or highly conflictual marriages, inadequate physical and emotional resources–so that they are clearly unable to provide the nurturing and supervision that all children need. Anyone can understand why children raised in unsafe and chaotic environments are at risk for developing emotional or behavioral problems.

But what about the kids who come from loving homes with well-meaning parents who shower their kids with attention, affection, guidance and opportunities of all kinds. Can you ever love a child too much? Probably not. Can you smother a child with too much love and attention? Yes indeed.

file9541282977224Children (And Adults) Need Both Closeness and Distance

Parents today are far better informed about the importance of forming strong secure attachments with their infants. Babies need to know that their caregivers will meet not only their survival needs but their needs for touch, empathy, and connection. But with every passing year, children also need the freedom to explore independently in order to develop a sense of autonomy.

Finding the balance between the two is an exquisite dance of moving apart and then moving together again, like breathing in and breathing out, stepping forward and stepping back, leaning in and letting go. In my experience as a family therapist, I am seeing more and more parents struggling with the desire for too much closeness, and as a result producing kids–particularly teens and young adults–drowning …


Honesty Rules: 10 Steps to Get There

Monday, November 4th, 2013

file1331246481918If you ask parents to name the most important values that they want to instill in their children, honesty is almost always high on the list. The same is true of qualities that we look for in a mate or close friend. In order to build trust, we need to believe in someone’s word. How many times have you asked a loved one, “Please, just tell me the truth…”

If your goal is to build honesty and discourage lying in your children, what’s the best way to do it? If you do catch your child in a lie, what should you do then?

The answer is not so simple. Indeed, it depends a great deal on the age of your child, the type of lie being told and the motives behind it. In the last blog, we explored the when, where, and why and just how often kids lie. The first step in dealing with lying–or any other troublesome behavior–is to know what is normal given the age of your child. Bright, lovable (normal) kids lie–first as a way of avoiding punishment but eventually learning how to lie to be liked and accepted by others and to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

Step #1: Remind yourself that children who tell lies are not bad–they are simply afraid of getting in trouble or making someone angry at them.

Take a deep breath and wait until you can respond calmly. Blowing up at your child can backfire. It gives the behavior a lot of attention (even if it’s negative).file0002043339321

Step #2: Don’t press your child to confess or act like a private investigator trying to catch someone.

Usually you know that your child has done something wrong and then has lied about it. For example, your older child takes a toy away from the baby and then denies it; or your daughter eats cookies before dinner when you told her not to; or your son has not finished doing homework but starts playing video games which is against your rules.

Step #3: …


Nipping Narcissism in the Bud

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

file0004545897“When science discovers the center of the universe, a lot of people will be disappointed to find they are not it.” ~Bernard Baily

How Do You Know If Someone Is A Narcissist?

The following adjectives are often used to describe someone with too much narcissism: selfish, arrogant, entitled, show-off, big shot, bossy, self-absorbed, egomaniac, attention grabber, manipulative, high maintenance, proud, vain, above the rules, better than others, full of himself. You know the type. Does anyone you live with or work with come to mind?

I am not talking here about severe narcissism, known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is a serious mental disorder estimated to occur in .5 to 1% of the general population. I want to focus on what happens when a healthy sense of self develops into an unhealthy preoccupation with one’s own desires, needs or interests.

Striking a Balance Between Self-Love and Selfishnessfile9541242059988

Like any other trait, self-centeredness falls on a bell curve–most people have a chunk of it. In fact, having too little can be as problematic as having too much. One of the crucial tasks of childhood is to develop an ego. Learning to acknowledge and express your needs and wants is crucial in order to become an adult capable of setting boundaries and taking care of yourself.

The goal is to find a balance between love of self and love for others, between self-compassion and empathy. With enough ego but not too much, you see yourself as no better or worse than anyone else. You acknowledge your unique skills and talents, realize you have things to teach but also things to learn, and can own up to your flaws and frailties, making you feel part of the human family rather than somehow above it.

Since narcissism does not appear to have much of a genetic component, it is primarily reinforced by our parents, our extended family and our culture. Obviously, if you are a new parent or have young children, there’s a lot you can to do prevent raising a spoiled …


The Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Entitlement?

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

file0001348598223Fasten your seat belts and prepare for some disturbing trends showing up in America these days…Think about what these statistics and stories all have in common…

Spending More than We Earn

Americans spend 1.5 trillion dollars on their credit cards each year. Sadly, over 40% are spending more money than they are earning. Studies show that people spend far more money using credit cards than they would spend if they were paying with actual dollars.

In the ten years between 1997 and 2007, consumer debt went up a whopping 75%. In that same time period, the median household income did not increase at all, but that didn’t stop the trend toward spending.

Daniel Indiviglio, in the Atlantic, described American’s recent love affair with debt. He compared the average debt of an American in 1948 to someone in 2010, while taking population and inflation into account. His startling findings showed that debt went from $1,186 per person in 1948 to $10,168 in 2010, not including mortgages or home equity loans.

The False Promise of the Job Marketfile2461263253373

This trend is not explained simply by the rise of materialism but is also due to the trend towards sending more kids to college than ever before. The expectation that a college degree will secure a high paying job is, unfortunately, no longer a promise that can be fulfilled.

According to a recent poll conducted by Forbes Woman and the National Endowment for Financial Education, 59% of parents are still financially supporting their adult children aged 18 to 39 who are no longer in school. In order to do so, these parents are making significant sacrifices such as taking on more debt, delaying retirement, and denying themselves vacations, homes, and privacy. What message does this send to our next generations of adults?

file8811271718203Trying to Look the Part

In spite of economic trends, more Americans are choosing to do cosmetic surgery (rather than reconstructions after accidents or illnesses) than ever before. …


Healthy, Wealthy & Wise? 5 Myths About Rich Kids

Monday, August 26th, 2013

file0001246104116

“The love of family and the admiration of friends is much more important than wealth or privilege.” -Charles Kuralt

Myth #1: Kids from wealthy families have fewer emotional and behavioral problems.

It is well known from decades of research that children growing up in harsh, dangerous and impoverished neighborhoods are at considerably higher risk for emotional and behavioral problems. What is less well known is that children from well educated, upper middle class families are similarly at risk. The numbers are striking, the trend disturbing, and often fly in the face of stereotypes about so-called “troubled families”.

A research team led by Dr. Suniya Luthar, Professor of Clinical and Developmental Psychology at Columbia University’s Teachers College, has been exploring the links and potential causes of the problems of affluent teens since a study in 1999 uncovered the frightening facts. Comparing 10th graders from low-income inner city families with high-income suburban families, Luthar’s data revealed that the wealthy children were even more vulnerable their low-income counterparts.

Specifically, these kids reported greater use of substances, including alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana. The suburban girls reported startlingly high levels of depression (22% compared to national norms of 7%), and both boys and girls reported higher levels of anxiety. In short, we now know that there are comparable risks at both ends of the socioeconomic ladder. What might explain this?

Myth #2: Wealthy parents spoil their kids and bail them out of their problems.file7181257716971

Although it is true that some wealthy parents use their money or influence to get their kids off the hook, this is the exception not the rule. Stereotypes of overindulgence and overly soft parenting are inappropriately projected on the rich in the same way that stereotypes of laziness have been projected on the poor. The truth is there are good and bad parents in all income levels, cultures, races and neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, if parents believe that they will be blamed for the problems in their children, they will be hesitant to turn to mental health professionals for …


Sleeping Your Way to Greater Health and Happiness

Monday, July 15th, 2013

my_photography_199“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” ~Irish Proverb
Honestly answer the following questions:
Do you have to set your alarm in order to wake up in the morning?

Do you wake up your kids–before they would get up on their own–to be ready for school or camp?

Do people in your family wake up cranky and out of sorts?

Do you ever fall asleep watching TV, at the movies, or listening to a less than exciting lecture?

Do you or your kids crave sugary foods or caffeine in the afternoon because your energy is lagging?
WARNING! These are all possible signs of sleep deprivation.


Untying the Mother-Daughter Knot

Monday, June 24th, 2013

file8921282615452“It can be the best of relationships and the worst of relationships–often at the same time. The bond between a mother and daughter is one of the strongest, but it’s also among the most complicated.” -Deborah Tannen

 

A family of four comes in for counseling–a mom and dad and their two teenage daughters. Although the dad has always been very involved in the girls’ lives, coaching their soccer team, involved in carpools and homework–all the emotional tension revolves around mom. Dad can say almost anything in the session but mom has merely to glance at one of the girls and her daughter erupts in anger. Why is this such a familiar scene?


6 Parenting Tips for a Better Summer

Monday, June 17th, 2013

file0001556978583Depending of where you live, your kids have either been out of school for long enough to be making you crazy, or you’re looking at the calendar, wondering just what you’re going to do with all the time between now and when school starts again. Face it, summer is a mixed bag. For working parents who don’t get time off in the summer, it means an extra set of 30 hours to figure out how to keep your kids safe and occupied. (Families with a stay at home parent are now the minority–sixty per cent of families have both parents working outside the home.) So if you are feeling overly burdened, and more stressed than excited about summer, you are in good company.

So what’s a parent to do with all the free time kids get in the summer?  Here are some tips for more than just getting the kids out of your hair…
Tip #1: Remember that it is not your job to keep your child from ever experiencing boredom.
Boredom is an inevitable part of life, especially for children. It is also an important teacher. If you allow your kids to feel bored and you don’t immediately jump to “fix it” then your kids will learn how to find something to do for themselves. This is a skill that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. If your kids don’t know how to amuse themselves when alone, they will become more and more dependent on others to entertain them. Most of the greatest inventions and works of art were only completed by individuals who could spend countless hours alone.
Tip #2: Kids are hard-wired to learn.file2661347287141
Just watch a baby or young child. Children, in their healthiest states, are active, inquisitive, curious and playful. No one needs to beg them to play or to explore. Even if parents never applauded when their baby took a first step, you can be sure that toddler would keep walking nonetheless. This inborn motivation is critical to our survival, and underlies human …


The Bond–or Bondage–of Intimacy

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

file000960252474

1. Do you spend time alone on a regular basis? When you are alone, are you comfortable or do you get anxious?

2. When your partner wants to spend time alone, do you feel rejected, scared or unloved?

3. Do you get jealous or upset when your partner spends time with other friends or family members?

4. Are you afraid that when your partner is out of sight, you are no longer in his or her thoughts?

Autonomy is the Foundation of Intimacy

If you are puzzled about what autonomy has to do with the capacity to be alone then keep reading. Autonomy gives us the ability to make choices according to our own free will. Without it, we feel like victims. If you cannot tolerate being alone, then you will choose to spend time with anyone but yourself. You will sacrifice your autonomy, your very sense of personal freedom, in order to feel connected.

If you feel that you cannot survive being alone, then fear will be in the driver’s seat. When run by fear, people choose partners who aren’t good for them (or are even dangerous) just to avoid being alone or rejected. On the other hand, if you know that you can be alone—and take care of your own needs—then you can risk being the unique individual that you are. You are able to let your partner come and go, both physically and emotionally instead of desperately clinging on for dear life.file0001946946654

The Balance Between Closeness and Distance

Most people value their relationships above everything else. Half of my clients come to therapy longing to find a healthy relationship, and the other half seeking to improve an already existing one. We are, by nature, social animals. But living in close quarters with family members is anything but easy. Part of what makes the dance of relationship so difficult is the ongoing tension between closeness and distance, connection and autonomy.

Unfortunately, too many people fall prey to the myth that intimacy is only about connection. Authentic connection is a big part of it, of course, since …


How's Your Family Really Doing?
Don MacMannis, Ph.D. & Debra Machester MacMannis, MSW are the author of How's Your Family Really Doing?.

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