Tag Archives: control

My Girlfriend Is a Bully

Avoid people who don’t care what they do to you.

Picture a large, ugly, brutish ogre who frequently pummels people over the head with a club. More than likely, he’ll be catered to because doing so will make things a trillion times more pleasant than the alternative. Standing up to him will have the same effect as throwing gasoline on a roaring fire. Better to shrink down and become docile than incur greater fury.

Not all bullies look like ogres. Some are pretty. Alan’s girlfriend, Vicky, fits that description, and yes, her hot-headed tirades trigger an impulse to appease.

“I have to watch what I say around her,” he said. “She’s quick to take offense.”

So Alan treads cautiously, taking care not to ripple the pond.

This inclination to avoid making waves is exactly where bullies get their power. Defusing that power involves overriding our built-in response to fear—our natural impulse to steer clear of trouble.

The automatic flight or fight response, writes Albert J. Bernstein, Ph.D., author of Emotional Vampires, was necessary for our primitive ancestors. “Without it, they wouldn’t have lived long enough to become our ancestors,” he said. To assure survival, the rules were plain and simple: “If the danger is smaller than you, kill it and eat it. If it’s bigger, run away before it eats you.”

According to Bernstein, bullies take full advantage of this instinctual fear response. So it’s understandable why bullies would use intimidation, aggression and anger as tools to gain control over others. It works!

Bernstein points out that “When regular people get angry they distrust their own feelings and hold themselves back.” But, he continues, this isn’t true of bullies. They “lean into their anger,” using it to their utmost advantage.

Vicky believes it’s high time Alan marries her, so she’s applying pressure. Her bullying tactics aren’t always thunderous. Sometimes she tones down the anger and uses sarcasm—a subtler form of aggression. She’s also been using guilt-inducing digs. So the question weighing heavily on Alan’s mind is whether he should marry her or run away before she devours him.

In our counseling session I tried to give Alan some things to chew on.

“Do you really want to be in a relationship where you have to shrink down in order to make it work? Is ducking and placating a life you want?”

Alan shook his head. “That’s not living,” he said. “She would have to change.”

I continued, “The next question is, will she? Is she likely to?”

The odds are against it because Vicky rarely takes a good, hard look at herself in the mirror. Instead, she’s a classic blamer, pointing an accusing finger.

How can we be self-corrective if we’re not self-reflective?

If Vicky were to turn her life into a play, the cast of characters would consist of villains and she would be the victim. In her mind’s eye, she’s constantly being wronged. Consequently, she feels justified to lash out, sometimes unmercifully.

Typically, such “victims” are blind to the wounds they inflict on others. In fact, if those wounds are brought to their attention, they’re likely to respond by saying: “But look at what you did to me,” or “How do you think I felt?” So instead of heart-felt compassion, the victim becomes defensive—feeling wronged one more time.

Alan has a kind heart. Casting him as a villain is not only erroneous, it’s an insult to his innate goodness.

Defeating bullies, Bernstein points out, takes place in the arena of our own mind.

For Alan, this means he must first become convinced of his basic goodness and that he doesn’t deserve Vicky’s degrading treatment. Having mastered that, he will naturally stand up against her demeaning assaults. He won’t shrink, he won’t skirt trouble—he’ll defend his integrity head-on.

When Alan changes his dance step, Vicky will invariably be challenged to do the same. If she doesn’t, he’ll be faced with a choice, and hopefully he’ll make the right one.

 

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2017

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Nope … the Ring Won’t Change Him

 

Steer clear of people who fail to take an honest look at themselves.

Do you really want to be with a person who can’t be reasoned with, who doesn’t take an honest look in the mirror, and who flies into a rage at the mere drop of a hat?

That was the question I asked Brenna, a client contemplating marriage to a man who matches this description. She’s also fairly certain he has a drinking problem. Combine alcohol with his other troublesome traits and we have a person who’s impossible to live with—at least peacefully.

“If you choose to marry this man,” I warned, “you’re in for a difficult ride.”

I explained that the overuse of alcohol impedes a person’s ability to reason, self-manage and grow. Where, then, does self-reflection, self-restraint and accountability come from?

“Are you going to take on that task for him?” I asked.

Brenna does that now—extensively.

“The other day he tripped and blamed the dog for being in the way,” she said. “When I heard him shouting at the dog, I told him he shouldn’t take his frustrations out on an innocent animal.”

His angry outbursts are frequent and they’re usually aimed at her. She gave several examples and pointed out that “he thinks he’s totally justified, and never apologizes.”

“So how do you feel around this guy?” I asked.

“I’m always on edge—nervous about setting him off.”

“Do you really want to live that way?” I asked.

Brenna thinks that by marrying him, he’ll change.

“I feel I should give him a chance,” she said. “After all, everyone has imperfections.”

“This doesn’t fall into the same category as facial warts or accepting a husband’s failure to put the toilet seat down,” I said. “This is about someone being mean to you day in and day out.”

“But he could change,” she said.

“Brenna,” I said, “why would someone be motivated to change if they’re given the reward—in this case, marriage—before they change?”

“… I don’t have an answer for that one,” she said.

Brenna needs a strong dose of reality: People don’t change unless they elect to do so. Getting married won’t magically rectify a preexisting condition.

Valerie, another client, is a good case in point.

Like Brenna, she thought her boyfriend would change for the better after they tied the knot. She thought having a ring on her finger would end his crazed jealously.

But she was in for a rude awakening.

“One day, I was headed out the door to go grocery shopping,” she recalled. “What I had on—how I was dressed—was the farthest thing from my mind. But my husband noticed, and he wasn’t pleased. He was sure that I was meeting someone, so he followed me without my knowledge.”

It wasn’t until she filled her grocery cart that he appeared out of nowhere.

“There he stood glaring at me,” she said. “In front of everybody, he grabbed me and dragged me out to his car. When we got home, he cut up all my clothes and threw them out the window. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone.

“The next day he said he was sorry and swore he would never do it again,” she said. “I bet I heard that same story a hundred times! He would change for a short time, but then it just got worse.”

Periods of remorse don’t qualify as real change, not as long as the bad behavior returns and continues.

Valerie eventually left her husband.

“I finally woke up and realized he was sick,” she said. “It wasn’t me.”

Sometimes abusive relationships involve more extreme violence.

One client, Holly, told me how her boyfriend became enraged and struck her in the head. A few days later, he called—irritated. “I haven’t heard from you!” he accused.

“Why should I?” she said, “You hit me!”

His recollection about that evening was fuzzy—he had been drinking. But he did recall hitting her.

“There must have been something you did to provoke it,” he countered, immediately deflecting the blame to her.

If Holly’s smart, she’ll get out now. If she chooses to endure it, she can expect more of the same. Her boyfriend shows no motivation to take stock of himself or accept blame. He hit her, but wants to blame her for it.

People are reluctant to end bad relationships, even abusive ones, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because the other person wouldn’t understand, wouldn’t take it well, or he may change someday.

The raw truth is, unless partners display genuine insight into themselves, and show real improvement over their toxic behaviors, they’re not likely to change.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2017

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Husband and Doormat

I-am-not-a-doormat - touched up

The problem with walking on eggshells is that it imprisons you, and nothing gets better.

That was my response to Naomi in our counseling session. She habitually succumbs to her hot-tempered husband.

“I’m careful about everything I say because, well, he gets ugly if I tell him what he doesn’t want to hear,” she said.

He routinely undermines her self-worth with hurtful, sarcastic remarks. But instead of objecting, Naomi immediately self-censors how she feels.

There’s a price to muzzling ourselves: a restricted voice—unspoken words held captive in the throat—is a form of confinement. If we can’t talk freely, we aren’t free.

Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist, would agree. In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, he equates freedom with the ability to articulate grievances. Our founding fathers understood that basic truth when they wrote the constitution.

“When did you become a slave to his moods?” I asked. “And why is degrading treatment okay with you?”

Naomi lowered her head …. and after some tears and lots of sighs, she opened up about the many years of putting up with his abusiveness.

A pattern, though, took root way before Naomi met her husband—when she was a small child. Her one sibling—a sister—kept the household in constant turmoil with her explosive outbursts. Naomi was frequently the target of her sister’s rage and hostility.

“My parents catered to my sister in order to keep things peaceful,” she said.

And they coached Naomi to do the same. When her sister was offensive toward Naomi, instead of being supportive by prompting her to stand up for herself, they hushed her.

“They would tell me to not make waves,” she said.

In fact, Naomi was reprimanded if she fought back or defended herself. Anger wasn’t allowed, even when it was unquestionably justified.

“I was supposed to be understanding,” she said.

Clearly, Naomi and her sister weren’t held to the same standards of conduct and selflessness.

This sent a distinct message to Naomi: the difficult people—those hard to live with—are to be excused.

In this seedbed of her early formation, Naomi naturally concluded that her feelings should always take a back seat, and that she’s expected to quietly endure harsh treatment.

This early programming set the stage for the dynamics in her current relationship. In effect, Naomi married her sister. And now her parents reside inside her head, instructing her to “not make waves” and to tolerate her raging and demeaning husband while ignoring her emotional wounds. A clear-eyed, critical stance toward her husband’s behavior leaves Naomi feeling guilty, causing her to second-guess whether her feelings and observations are accurate, acceptable or even normal. My work with Naomi has included helping her question her programming instead of herself.

“What did your parents need to do differently?” I asked.

“I should have been allowed to assert myself with my sister,” she responded. “They should have let me fight her, stand my ground and say how angry she made me feel. Instead, everything was suppressed. I was never able to speak up to verbal abuse.”

Since her feelings weren’t validated as a child, Naomi has to learn how to do that for herself as an adult. Trusting her emotions is an important hurdle. She is learning just how important it is to be able to honestly assess how others treat her, and how to do it without feeling guilty. Sometimes, subjecting another person to critical analysis is absolutely called for—and necessary for both parties.

I asked her, “Now, what does your husband need from you?”

She seemed surprised by the question. “He needs . . . he really needs me to be myself. He needs me to be honest with him, or he’ll treat me like this until the end of time and we’ll have no chance of really being together. We’ll be ‘husband and doormat’ until we’re old and gray . . . .”

A few sessions later, Naomi told me how she had successfully stood up to her husband after he made a rude comment. She told him she didn’t deserve being talked to that way. And as one could easily predict, he flared up. She, on the other hand, felt bad about upsetting him.

In so many words I said this to Naomi:

He’s upset because you’ve given up your doormat status. Remember, he married a doormat. He didn’t opt for a partner who stood up for herself. So understandably, he’s not in a jubilant mood upon running headlong into your integrity. He’s going to fight back at first, hoping to return things to how they were. Consider his fury a clear sign that you’re evolving.

She smiled, and I could see the relief on her face. Clearly, a new day is coming for Naomi! 🙂

Hopefully, Naomi’s husband follows suit and does some evolving himself. If not, she probably won’t stick around. That’s because once we perceive things through clear eyes, and once we become our own advocate, it’s impossible to go back to tolerating the status quo.

Something to keep in mind:

Don’t automatically assume when someone’s angry at you that you’ve done something wrong. Maybe, just maybe, you did something right.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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Fishing with My Little Brother

 

fishing

Everyone knows dads come in all shapes and sizes . . . but they also come in assorted forms. Lots of children are fortunate enough to have a man—who isn’t their biological father—step into that role. They may either supplement what Dad is doing or, perhaps, fill in the gap where Dad is literally missing. That man might be an uncle, brother or grandfather, or he might be completely unrelated to the child.

I know such a man. Don is a Big Brother to Logan. His father is completely absent from Logan’s life, so Don—along with other key male figures—has the opportunity to significantly leave an impact.

Recently, Don told me about an outing he had with Logan. The two of them headed for a pond with their fishing poles. When they got there, Don prepped Logan by saying: “Today, you’re going to become a fisherman.” Pointing to the bait, he said: “Which one do you think would work best?” Logan chose. Then with some basic instruction, Don coached him on how to bait the hook.

Don explained to me that it wasn’t their first time fishing together, “but it was fishing at a whole new level. I let him fish. I gave up control. My former pattern would have been, ‘No, do it this way.’ That avenue would only rattle Logan’s confidence and reinforce any fear of failure he might have. So I got out of the way and let him have his own experience.”

Logan’s attempts were clumsy at first. “But that didn’t matter,” Don said. “We grownups need to remember the first time we baited a hook . . . it just wasn’t very pretty.”

Within two minutes, Logan caught a fish. The first words out of his mouth were, “I feel really good about myself!”

“I felt happiness for Logan,” Don said, beaming. “I’m positive the reason he felt good about himself was because he mastered something on his own.”

What made that afternoon so special was the fact that Logan challenged himself to try something new. And Don facilitated it by being patient and by having faith in Logan.

 “I’m learning that there’s a difference between doing something with someone and doing something for them,” Don said.

“That’s how confidence is built.”

So true. After catching the fish, Logan asked: “Can I take the fish off the hook?” Ahhh, confidence in action.

“Logan’s success brought joy to both of us as well as a sense of connection and achievement,” Don said. “You know . . . I feel really good about myself, too.”

Hmmm. Looks like making a significant impact runs both ways.

For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters, see http://www.bbbs.org/

 

 

 

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Love is the Force

dad and daughter

“I want her to know she can come to me.”

Ben was referring to his twelve-year-old daughter, Madison. He sought my advice because 1) he’s concerned about her grades and 2) he realizes his approach is alienating her.

When Ben talks to Madison about her grades, he doesn’t talk. He yells and puts her down.

“Suppose your boss wanted you to do better at something, ” I asked, “would he get very far by getting upset and criticizing you?”

Ben sighed and said: “I get what you’re saying. I think I take after my dad. He was never physically abusive but he would be up my a** with his tone.”

A closed heart . . . an angry, critical approach only creates resistance and defensiveness.

What’s more, it creates separation and bad feelings—our relationships suffer.

I suggested he try approaching his daughter differently: “I’m noticing that your grades are slipping. What’s going on, hon? How can I help?'” The attitude of kindness that accompanies those words will give Ben his best shot at making something positive happen.

An open heart spawns trust and a close bond. Parent and child become partners instead of adversaries. It says: “Hey, I like you, and we’re together in this.”

Another client, Kim, was equally frustrated with her teenage daughter, Nicole’s, tepid response to a family outing. Kim was pushing, and Nicole was tuning her out. To break this deadlock, each would need to go beneath the surface and see the other’s true feelings—the pain. Such is the pathway to compassion—the only avenue for resolving differences. Interestingly, Kim’s true feelings centered around grief. Click here to read about our session.

By far, the single most important task of any parent is to build a strong bond with their child. Without that foundation, parents are handicapped in their ability to guide and discipline effectively. They may get obedience—which is usually no more than a mere superficial display—but they won’t get the respect and cooperation necessary for influencing a child’s life for the better.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

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Love Can’t Thrive in a Cage

imprisoned-heart-19209730

 

“If you really love me, you’ll be true to yourself!”

Say that to your partner and watch their jaw drop to the floor. Why? Because we usually get the opposite message: “If you really love me, you’ll do what I want. You’ll do back flips—on the ceiling!—to please me.”

Has anyone ever tried to guilt you with a statement like that one? What did it evoke in you? A warm fuzzy feeling? Doubtful.

Have you ever said that to anybody else? Did it feel like an act of love to you? Probably not. That’s because it hails from feeling deserving and entitled.

Click here to read about Dane and Paula … two people who were unhappy in their relationships for this very reason.

Shoulds and love do not belong in the same universe.

Thich Nhat Hanh sums it up perfectly: “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”

 

 

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Meet Your Roommate

roommate

 

Suppose you had a roommate who constantly scrutinized and critiqued your every move starting with the moment you got out of bed: “You should have gotten up earlier. Are you ignoring  today’s schedule? Your hair’s a mess . . . as usual. Don’t forget to contact Jonathan today. He expects a call, you know. You’re such a slacker.”

How long would you continue to live with such a roommate? Briefly. You’d throw that person out on the street in no time flat!

That’s what Michael Singer, in his book The Untethered Soul, believes we would do. But . . . BUT . . . he points out an exception. We’re not very likely to boot out the roommate who takes up residence in our head—our “inner roommate.” Our inner roommate says all the same things as any given external—actual—roommate . . . and more! We’re told what to do, what to fear, what to second-guess, and how to think about this person or that person.

Not only does our roommate devote its time to judging us, it judges everybody we know and everybody who streams on and off our path throughout the day.

According to Singer, “It has something to say about everything you look at: ‘I like it. I don’t like it. This is good. That’s bad.’ It just talks and talks. You don’t generally notice because you don’t step back from it. You’re so close that you don’t realize that you’re actually hypnotized into listening to it.”

I can only agree. Call it a dictator we bow and pay homage to.  We listen to it and give it more power and authority than it should have.  I discussed this very thing with two of my clients, Dawn and Doug.  You can read about our sessions by clicking here.

“There’s almost nothing that voice can say that you don’t pay full attention to,” Singer states. “It pulls you right out of whatever you’re doing, no matter how enjoyable, and suddenly you’re paying attention to whatever it has to say . . . . That’s how much respect you have for this neurotic thing inside of you.”

Singer’s correct. We honor it over our own will, in fact. And therein lies the key to change and freedom. We must switch our allegiance from our inner roommate to our will.

 “Your will is stronger than the habit of listening to that voice.”

—Michael Singer

The first step in accomplishing that is to become aware of its existence. The very act of awareness sets you apart from the voice and places you in the role of observer versus blind captive. As an observer, you have control. As your roommate babbles on, you critique it rather than the other way around. And in the process, you think and act on your own beliefs, tastes, and opinions. You determine your own course of action.

Identify with the true you … the observer.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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