co-dependency

Are You Settling for Crumbs in Your Relationships? 5 Strategies that Will Help you Get the Dinner you Deserve.

Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you meant what you promised.

Anon.

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People are perfectly imperfect. There’s no getting around that. 

And while our imperfections and peccadillos will inevitably disappoint those we love from time to time, most people, in good faith, don’t mean to mistreat or rather, “misfeed” others.  Most, like to treat those they care about “well”, by metaphorically feeding them delicious dinners, either made for or paid for with love. Sometimes, however, those who allege their unwavering loyalty and undying love, and promise you that highly coveted meal over and over again, always seem to come up short. 

Instead of delivering that paid for in advance, five -course fancy feast, they show up to the table time and time again with, well, you guessed it: crumbs.  

And while they chronically apologize for coming up short, citing climate change, their chaotic lives and even their ADHD as the guilty Grinch that stole dinner, getting crumbs when promised a real meal over and over again feels crummy.

You can beg, bully and even try to black mail the one who promised you that meal into living up to their word. This may result in an occasional serving of small appetizers and aperitifs, but those tactics won’t get you the dinner you deserve. 

Crumbs are crumbs and their trails don’t lead to the dining room.

So, what tactics can you employ to get what you need when you’ve consistently asserted your dinner request and still only get crumbs? 

  1. Try saying “thanks but no thanks”, and direct that person to feed those crumbs to that which would appreciate them most: the birds

2. Refuse to give or accept crumbs for yourself or anyone else by choosing to live up to your word and walking away from those who choose not to live up to theirs. (Who knows, maybe they will “get woke” and follow.)

3. Make sure to treat yourself to many gourmet gatherings of faithful friends who serve food without fodder.

4. Know that you never have settle for crumbs again.

5. Make sure to enjoy your dinner.

Bon Appetit!

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7 Simple Lessons on Happiness from a Defiant Dog Named Ben.

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We can not solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it.

Albert Einstein.

Seven Years ago in August, I adopted a rescue puppy named Ben. He turned eight a couple of weeks ago. Not treated well by his first owner, he and his brother were surrendered to a shelter. The original owner reclaimed Ben's brother, leaving Ben alone and feeling abandoned,  when he was first adopted by another.  He had difficulty adjusting to his first adoption and was returned to the shelter the very next day.  I was fortunate enough to adopt him that very next day. Though it's been a tough road at times dealing with his severe separation anxiety and reactive aggressive behavior, he's given me so much joy and I admire his defiance, which is perhaps better called " resilience".  While I could make a list of dozens doggy behavioral lessons on happiness that Mr. Ben has taught me, here are seven simple ones.

 1. Take time each day to play .

Ben Loves to play. Every morning after his walk and breakfast, he searches for a ball for me to throw to him. If he can't find one, he then grabs one of my shoes instead. Catch or catch me if you can has become a big part of our morning routine.

Adults need to be silly, laugh and play. It releases endorphins and actually can help them to be more productive at work and more at ease with others. Woking too hard or always being on the go, stresses the adrenals and leads to anxiety and depression.

2. Take time to rest.

Ben loves to go for walks- short ones though. Once he tires out, he just plops himself under a shady tree.  He has no particular exercise agenda (unlike his owner) and he listens to what his body needs.  When he needs to slow down or stop, he does.

Just as people need to take time to play, they also need to sleep and take time out in their days for rest. Believe it or not, just ten minutes of mediation a day or a fifteen minute power nap can be a wonderful reset for one's mind, body and soul.

3. Ask for what you want.

There's a park that I often take Ben for walks. At the beginning of the loop there’s an inlet to the pond, and oooohhhh how Ben loves to swim. We have a routine when he goes swimming: I throw out a stick for him to fetch – and off he goes…paddling with a mission, head above water and tail wagging the whole time.    Each time we approach the inlet, without fail, Ben runs down the sandy beach, wags his tail and waits. That's his ask.  Ben doesn't assume I know what he wants, (though I do), so he makes sure to ask me each and every time we approach the pond.

When people come to therapy, particularly when they are having difficulty in their relationships, I notice that they often assume the "other" should always be attuned to what they want and deliver on it.  It's an assumption that can cause a lot of strife and disappointment when expectations aren't met. I encourage people to ask from their hearts what it is they want rather than expect the other will just know.

4. When you can't get what you want, find a way to come to terms with it.

There's a rule in my home: if Ben goes in the pond – he then goes in the tub for a bath. This doggy momma doesn't have time for a fluff and buff bath routine every day, so Ben doesn't always get to go for his much coveted swim.   Though he always asks, when I know he’s not going swimming on a particular day,   I say “no” and then keep walking.  He waits for a few seconds with sad eyes hoping I will change my mind, but soon finds a way to let go, and follows me for the rest of his walk.

People can't always get what they want from another. Yet some have a hard time tolerating when things don't go their way.  Certainly one can always ask again from their heart, but if another doesn't want to oblige, it's best to respect theit wish. If the other obliges because they feel guilted or pressured, then resentment will build over time.  

 

5. Make sure your actions match your words and surround yourself with those who do the same.

When I ask Ben if he wants to go for a walk, we take one. When I ask him if he wants to eat, I feed him.  Imagine what it would be like for him if I only followed through on what I said only some of the time? Would he feel loved and secure?

No, he wouldn't.

When someone follows through on what they tell the other they intend to do, it says that they are a person of integrity and that the other matters. It shows that they care. When they don't, the opposite is true on all counts. Now, no one's perfect and life happens. When things get in the way and force a change of plans, explain that to the other and find a way to make it up to them. It feels good to make other's happy and others feel happy and respected when people in their life do the same. It builds trust and deeper intimacy and It's win win.

6. When someone's actions don't match their words,  know it's not about you.

Dogs take everything personally. Their limbic brains are much bigger than their human companions and they don't have a prefrontal cortex that helps them use logic and resort to higher reasoning. One of the reason's Ben has anxiety and PTSD is because he didn't know that his former human had problems and took them out on him.

Here's where humans have dogs beat. Yes, it hurts when people don't do as they said they would and sometimes, one may never know the reason why they didn't. Learning not to personalize  others behavior and lack of follow through can help build one's self esteem. It can also create enough space for one to calmly ask the other what happened rather than react harshly -which will only shame or push the other away. If necessary, not personalizing an other's behavior can then make it easier to walk away from those who's actions consistently don't match their words .

7. Above all else: "To thy own self be true." 

Dogs are incapable of being inauthentic. They show us who they are all the time. Their sometimes bad behavior also lends a clue as to what happened to them. When a stranger approaches Ben and he feels uncomfortable, he growls and barks. He can't pretend he feels what he doesn't and he won't warm up to someone until he feels safe, secure and happy with that person.

This lesson is much harder for humans. It's not easy to live authentically as choosing to do so may  mean letting others down. A mentor once told me that at some point in the life span, everyone must choose between the following seemingly impossible dilemma, which boils down to this: "If I choose what others want for me, I betray myself and if I choose what I want for myself, then I betray others." 

While there are those who believe it's "nobler to suffer", I believe Shakespeare's Polonius had this one right. To thy own self be true. The human heart is filled with wisdom and when one follows it, they follow the ultimate lesson on human happiness- which in the long run, has a positive trickle down effect on those around them.  The same holds true for when they don't. When people follow their hearts and learn to disappoint others in a compassionate and loving way, it actually IS in everyone's best interest because it allows them to do the sameInauthentic living never amounts to genuine happiness.

So there it is, seven simple lessons on happiness.  

The irony is, none of those lessons are easy.

 Most have to make time to play and they often don't believe there's enough time in the day to do that.

Most need to take time to rest and they are worried that they won't get everything they need to get done if they do.

Many need to learn to ask from their hearts what they want and accept that sometimes they can't alway get it. This requires the courage to be vulnerable and grieve the disappointment.

While most want to have their actions meet their words, sometimes they can't and then they  avoid explaining to the other the real reason they didn't. This avoidance only leads to hurt, distrust and more avoidance: not down the path of happiness. It's also hard not to take another's lack of followthrough personally, because it really does hurt.

Yet, when people master the last lesson: To thy own self be true- the hardest lesson of all, all the other lessons fall right into place. If they consistently practice lessons one through six, then lesson seven becomes easier too.

When all of these lessons get practiced consistently, then one can truly say that "life is good!"



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Are You in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship? Tips to Help You Understand What Implicit Contract you May Have Signed.

“You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you”- Carly Simon

 

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Narcissistic abuse has become a hot talking point these days.


 If you follow social media, particularly Facebook, you may find many articles about this such as “ How to spot a narcissist” , “gas lighting” ( a manipulative technique where someone tries to tell you that you are crazy and are imagining their abuse rather than take any responsibility for it) and even “10 signs that your partner is a psychopath”.  While these essays do have some meat to them and offer sound advice on self care, trusting your instincts and maintaining no contact once you end the relationship, they don’t get to the heart of the matter, which is why people get ensnarled in these relationships in the first place.

“Karen” had been in therapy with me for two years. Her husband “Jack” who was once the love of her life, had for many years now, been showing her his darker side. He often neglected her, raged at her when he was upset and seldom showed any genuine interest in Karen’s wants and needs. When she would withdraw her attention from him and begin to contemplate leaving the relationship, he would then change his tune and start following through on the many promises he made to her. This in turn, offered her some intermittent moments of hope and happiness and she would re-engage with him. Yet once she did, little by little he would switch back to his old behaviors. After a while, she would then start to withdraw again and he would then start to pursue her again.  He offered her just enough of what she needed to get her hooked into riding the rollercoaster of his moods and maltreatment, yet again.  This was their relational contract.  

The contract didn’t start out that way though and generally speaking, in this kind of relationship, they never do.  Karen told me that she and Jack were once very much in love. “We had a chemistry like no other” and “he always felt like my soulmate” she would say, which I am sure is all true. This kind of chemistry however, allowed for the classic “bait and switch” where overtime, and unbeknownst to her, she came to implicitly agree to be in a connection with him that ultimately, was all about him.  Never did she imagine herself to be sounding board for his dreams and disappointments and a psychic punching bag for his rage.  Always trying to fix him or "therapize" him, she lived with chronic knots in her stomach.  Obsessed with how to get things back to the way they used to be, she came to therapy after her friends and family expressed concerns on how her self confidence and joie de vivre seemed lost.  She agreed that it was.

So how did this implicit contract get signed?

Karen grew up in a disorganized household.  Her father, who adored her, traveled for work so he wasn’t around much of the time and her mother, who was a trauma survivor herself, would often rage at Karen when she was a little girl. Karen shared with me her memory of her mother screaming at her for some unknown reason as she didn’t remember doing anything “wrong”.  Her mother’s affect was so intense that Karen remembered wanting to faint in an attempt to get her to stop her and to win back her mother’s love.  “I just wanted her to hold me” she said as she wept silent tears.

As a four year old, Karen did not know how to stand up for herself or even run away. Those are not skills that any small child has. Instead, she developed a belief that it was her job to take care of her mother’s emotional needs. By doing this job which was necessary for her own sense of survival, she denied her own feelings and burdens of fright, anger, loneliness and abandonment that arose during and after one of her mother’s tirades. When she was older and did try to protect herself, her actions were then met with more rage and more neglect.  In many ways, her relational wings were clipped.

So how did this type of trauma manifest in Karen’s intrapsychic system? First, she developed both a panic and fainting disorder as her fight/ flight response lived in constant overdrive for many years.  Second, she found herself in a string of bad relationships, until she met her husband, so she thought.

A couple of days before a session I had with Karen, I learned that a former client I treated for many years when working at a methadone clinic, had overdosed and died. He too grew up in an extremely disorganized household. He was from Medford, Ma or as many homegrown “bean towners” prefer to say: “Medfa”.  A talented artist who dropped out of school because of drugs, he knew how to stand his ground and he never back down from a fight, even when he probably should have.  Unlike karen, who didn’t know what to say when her husband mistreated her,  my former client had just the perfect vernacular of hysterically funny and vulgar push back lines for when someone mistreated him.

He was on my mind during a session with Karen which ended up being a turning point in the therapy. She was trying to find a way to stand up for herself in anticipation of her husband’s next outburst.  I began to tune out as she practiced and played with polite niceties such as “when you do that, I feel….(blah blah blah)”.  Then suddenly, I got hijacked by intense countertransference and interrupted her. I said, just as my former client would have, “No, the next time he acts out, you tell him to go choke on a big fat D**k!”

Silence filled the room.  

Then a spontaneous eruption of laughter between the two of us took up the space and remained there for the rest of the session.

My former client would have been very proud. Karen took his lead and said something to that nature to her husband a few day later when he started up again.  It worked.  Stunned by both her words and assertiveness, he apologized and told her that she was right, he did need to go back to therapy.

Whether or not Karen’s husband can earnestly engage in treatment and learn to become more relational remains to be seen. His declaration could be yet another bait and switch move where he offers her just enough of something that appeases her so that she will get back on the rollercoaster with him, because he can’t tolerate losing her. In narcissistic alliances however, the loss has little to do with the loss of the actual person. It’s more about the loss of an object that supplies the other with a drug like fix.  If a person does leave the alliance, the other may quickly find another empathic partner who will take the previous one’s place.

These alliances are not always so black and white though.  There often can be a continuum of relationality that some people have.  He or she may both genuinely care for the other and see them as an object at the same time.  This is when it gets really confusing. Depending upon where the person is on the narcissistic continuum will have much to do with whether or not this relational dynamic can change. That is why therapy is a must to survive something of this nature.

If Karen and Jack do end up entering couples counseling, which they will need to should they want to remain in the relationship, they may be in constant contract negotiations for a long time.

Yet there’s a creative genius behind Karen’s relational patterns. The four year old parts of her (frightened, angry, lonely and abandoned)  that got pushed aside when dealing with her mother’s abuse for years kept desperately trying to find ways to have their story seen and heard by none other than Karen.  One of their tactics was to find just the perfect partner to contract with who will help them re enact their story.  They are the parts of her and of you for that matter if you can relate to Karen’s story, who signed the invisible implicit contract in the first place.

The good news is, once you see what these parts are up to, you can then take a front row seat to their show, just as Karen did.  With a little curiosity and a lot of compassion that allows these injured parts to grieve and heal in their own time and space, you will be able to rip up that contract and get off the rollercoaster for good.  And if you start to waffle when your partner makes desperate attempts to lure you back in, try imagining yourself saying the crass words of my former client: “Go suck on a big fat d**k”. Allow that energy to fill your body with courage. Next take a long slow deep breath, find some stillness and pause. Then, calmly look your partner in the eye and say these two words.

Good bye.

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