How do I deal differently with a father who is critical of so many things I do, say, etc. He yells a lot and tries constantly to control all aspects of my life. – Debbie, Age 18
You must learn two lessons if you are to associate with people given to criticism. First, you must learn to be an “emotional matador.” You must not become a target. You become a target by expecting or hoping that your father (the bull) will satisfy your need. Listen to the tape “How to be an Emotional Matador,” or attend the seminar of the same title. Matadors take bull fighting seriously, but not personally. Your father is your bull. Listen beyond his words. They tell you about his venerability. Second, you must learn about criticism. People who have yet to learn to process their emotions become emotionally constipated. Eventually, they can not hold back their emotions any longer. Finally, these trapped emotions begin to leak out in the form of criticism. Emotional constipation can take years to develop, but when it does–watch out. Personal constipation rarely has to do with others. Take your father’s criticism seriously, but not personally.
I haven’t dated in two years because I feel like anyone who would want to go out with me must have something wrong with them. What is your opinion? – Nigel, Age 27
Regarding your first statement, you’re right. The only person who would want to spend time with you is your therapist. Now, to the point: the right attitude is one that builds a healthy self-respect. Your job is to begin building a life you can respect. Like any construction project that takes shape gradually by stages, start by giving yourself sufficient rest, healthy meals, small daily rewards and affirmations. Be sure to buckle up in the car, believing that you deserve to survive. Keep your commitments; don’t compromise your convictions, and pursue what you believe. Build each day upon another. Soon, you will be able to stand back and admire the new life you have built for yourself. I suggest you then hold an open house and let others have a look at your handiwork. Those who accept your invitation to come in are likely to be the ones you should ask out!
How can one identify a perfectionist in five minutes? – Lois, Age 49
What is the best way to support my husband during angry outbursts due to his feeling unloved in childhood? – Linda, Age 31
Learn to support yourself during times when your husband cannot. The worst thing for your husband would be for you to take personally what he says during his angry tirades. Take it from me – I’ve listened to countless people who couldn’t control their emotions. The pain they caused others they later turned against themselves. Do yourself and your husband a favor – don’t become a target. During seminars on this subject, I advise people not to focus on the pain that others cause you, but the pain they must be in to treat you the way they do. In order to hear their pain, you must get some distance. Otherwise, you will be so caught up in your own suffering that it will become impossible to remain objective. Suspend your need for them to approve or acknowledge you or your needs. If for that moment you are “needless,” they can’t hurt you by being unavailable or unresponsive. Listen to “How to Be an Emotional Matador” which will teach you eleven ways to avoid becoming a target. Remember, just because your husband chooses to throw darts doesn’t mean you have to hold the dart board.
I am a controlling person when it comes to my environment and surroundings. As a result, I suffer anxiety attacks. For example, if I go somewhere with someone, I must drive. I cannot sit in the middle of a row, I must always have a way out. What can I do to be less controlling? – Kristi, Age 32
You are allowing your behavior to speak for you. Your behavior says that there was a period in your life when the people in your environment were out of control, either through being controlling themselves, or chaotic. That experience so frightened you that you pledged never to experience what you did ever again. You’ve become overanxious and protective to a fault. Remember that the original trauma was not related to driving or sitting on the aisle, and since it is not the cause of the turmoil, it cannot bring about the healing you desire. Only when the event at hand is connected consciously to what occurred in the past will you know what must be done to protect yourself. Ask yourself what you would do differently if what happened to you originally were to recur? Understanding what you would do if the situation were to happen again frees you from the symbolic rehearsals of needing to drive or sit on the aisle.
Should I stay with my live-in boyfriend with whom I’ve just had a baby? He says he would marry me if I wanted. He is a sex addict who struggles with pornography and lust. He is presently in a recovery program for Sex Addicts, Adult Child of Alcoholics, and Alcoholics Anonymous. He is also in therapy. He had a terrible childhood. He still lusts after women on the street. How long should I wait for him to be recovered. My background is my mother was an alcoholic and my father left us when I was 2 years old. Also, I am extremely jealous. – Kathy, Age 29
Your live-in boyfriend’s compulsive behavior is certainly more obvious than your own. You may already be familiar with the statistic: “Children of alcoholic parents are four times more likely than the general population to become alcoholics or marry an alcoholic.” People who grow up in dysfunctional homes tend to deal with their conflicts as their parents did whether you become an alcoholic or marry someone who is the result is the same. We medicate through compulsive struggles to make people do what they should. We medicate to avoid the pain. Such dysfunctional avoidance, in the end, creates more problems than it ever solves. There are many brands of medication in life. Not until you begin to get under the symptoms of your co-dependency will you begin to experience relief. Don’t blame him for the clarity and courage you lack.
How can I know the difference between reacting and confronting? – John, Age 28
Timing. A reaction is a response to an action that has taken place. Often, a reaction is an emotional defense. No one likes to be singled out. Few of us like to be wrongly accused or hear what we wish were not true. In response, we react. By contrast, confrontation is taking the initiative. By confronting, we prove ourselves willing to be responsible by addressing what concerns us.
I have heard you say, “there are no victims.” Could you clarify that? What about abused babies? Aren’t they innocent? – Janna, Age 36
I suspect that you were not abused as an infant, instead you are using that example to make your point. The truth is that most of us who were abused, tolerated, or were an accomplice by keeping the painful truth a secret. Perhaps we were sexually abused as a child. Even if we kept quiet for fear of being further abused, we were to that extent an accomplice. Regardless of our justification, we must learn to forgive ourselves for our part, regardless how small. As I have said, the most productive way to forgive ourselves and facilitate healing is to not repeat past mistakes. With that background, let me amend the statement that prompted your question. There are victims, those who fail to grasp their need for self-forgiveness, thus victimizing themselves over and over again. As the saying suggests, “If you are abused by another, shame on them. If you are continually abused by another, shame on you.”
I allow my son, age four, to express his feelings of sadness and anger regarding my husband’s and my separation. But his expression isn’t going to change things and I have the feeling this will leave him feeling “powerless.” – Diane, Age 31
Your question suggests that your son will feel powerless if after having expressed himself, he doesn’t get his way. If that were a truism, then you must always fulfill the needs of the articulate. I suspect that underneath this story, the story-teller feels uncertain about her own power base, causing you to project your feelings upon your son. You may have felt that no matter how articulate you were, it never mattered or changed a thing in your marriage. As a result, you may feel powerless and question whether you will be able to raise your son successfully as a single parent. I suspect the question of whose being left feeling powerless is you. Regarding your son, you are to be commended for encouraging him to express his feelings. Some of his feelings can be fairly painful to express and for you to hear. Remember, power resides in the person who is able to express themselves, whether or not they get their way. His fear is most likely that his life will continue to change without his having an opportunity to participate in its future. Look to provide him a role in minor decision making. Remember, divorce is a tough affair for people at any age. Question: Whose as sensitive to you as you appear to be with your son?
If a person was unloved during their childhood, can others make up for a lack of love another experienced earlier in life? I try and do what I can, but it never seems to help. – Sharon, Age 43
No matter what another person does for another, it will not change what happened. People in our past who were supposed to be loving and weren’t cannot be forgotten by the current efforts of others. Losses must be mourned. The unloved person must identify the history of their unloved feelings. There was a beginning to all of this. Name the names, not the titles, identify the root, feel the pain, understand the context, process the hurt, learn all there is to know, and then let it be. People who feel unloved have a chance now to have their unfulfilled needs met in their adult life. They will miss the present opportunity for fulfillment by holding onto and struggling with what can never be. Don’t generalize your experience. Reality has proportion. Feeling unloved cannot be made up for, it has to be understood, processed, then released. All of life has to be accounted for and no one should expect fulfillment of every unmet need from one specific relationship. That’s unfair to everyone involved.