Silence…Not Always Golden

(I’m not suggesting to not ‘hold your tongue’ briefly rather than use sarcasm or say something deliberately hurtful.)  I am referring to using the ‘silent treatment’.  It’s no treatment at all in the sense of restoring or dealing with a relationship…with a child, friend, partner or spouse or parent.

Long ago, a woman told me that when she did something wrong, as a child, her mother did not speak to her, for a week!  She did not always understand why her words and/or behavior, were not acceptable.  Silence was her mother’s go-to punishment. She felt unloved and, therefore, unlovable.  Many problems, in that and other relationships ensued.

We all feel upset with friends and family at times.   Ideally, we can discuss our reactions about something they said or did.  We let them know we were hurt and why.  We reach out to them to have a dialogue.  Communication fosters relationships.  If one person just drops out, the friend simply does not exist any more.  That hurts and there is no way for the discarded friend’s  thoughts and feelings to be heard.

Some couples engage in loud disputes and even throw or break things…not great. At the other end of the spectrum is silence.  Often, with couples, one person has to talk and the other keeps their feelings inside.  Disputes result in a traumatic tango…it takes two.  Something occurs between them and one partner withdraws.  The more s/he pulls back, the more the talker needs to hear and be heard.  The silent one recedes even more and the talker feels placed on the other side of a thick wall, as if s/he did not exist.

Extended silence does not resolve differences. It shuts them down so there is no way to resolve a disagreement.  Those who make up, letting the past be the past, without discussion,  move forward without understanding.  History does repeat itself, especially in relationships.  There are areas in which our personalities either “fit” or don’t fit.   Other situations will engender those differences and we need to know how to settle them in a way that enables us to move along  more  smoothly on the bumpy road of relationships.

Are you the silent one?

  • Are you silent to punish?
  • Do you feel you would lose the verbal match?
  • Are you self aware of how you feel in situations?
  • Do you prefer ‘just the facts’ briefly?                                                                      Do you dislike talking about your feelings?
  • Would you prefer to not hear details of others’ feelings?
  • Are you a man, or woman, of few words in general?
  •  Has  this  affected .your relationships?

What to do if you have answered ‘yes’ to the above.

  • Acknowledge that the above is your style.
  • If it has affected relationships, reflect.
  • Do you want to alter your response to disputes?
  • If yes, share with those with whom it is an issue.
  • Seek counseling                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   IAre you the ‘talker’ ?:
  • Try not to feel as if you don’t exist to him/her.
  • Share that you feel abandoned with extended silence.
  • Acknowledge your need to connect and share feelings.
  • Ask if s/he needs some time to gather her/his thoughts.
  • Learn if s/he prefers another way to communicate.
  • Suggest .counseling to learn  a better  way.                                                                                                                                                                                                  Extended silence is not a viable way to settle differences whether it serves as a defensive mode to protect you from a verbal onslaught or to quietly bully. It will cause more problems than it settles. Dare to share !

 

 

Coming Apart From A Narcissist?

Let me introduce you to the narcissist.  Narcissism is a personality disorder, which is a maladaptive and deeply ingrained pattern of behavior and personality style. It can develop from our genes, early childhood and teen experiences and the environment in which we are raised.   In general, the narcissist has a sense of grandiosity and entitlement which can cause him/her to be manipulative, critical, envious of others, and demanding.

Narcissists feel easily slighted, exaggerate their talents, expect special treatment, want the best of everything (because they deserve no less ! ) and are swift to blame others.They are arrogant, to various degrees, need constant attention, and lack empathy.  If they fall short, they are fragile and experience vulnerability and humiliation.  Under the bravado and charm, is a core of insecurity, often unconscious.  They look down at those they consider to be inferior.  There are legions of narcissists on our public stage  in all fields..

Are you in a relationship with someone who only seeks to fulfill his/her needs?   Does it seem that their attention to you, and others, is a means to appear giving but is more about getting attention or having their way.  Their charm may have  attracted you but, as time passes, you observe that it is superficial and geared to serving their own interests.  What is underneath that public charm is not so pleasant.  You will be told that you have stopped being interested, proud and supportive and that is why your relationship has deteriorated.  It’s never their doing. If your partner cannot recognize or acknowledge any part of their contribution, don’t expect any cooperation.  Once they can no longer seduce you into their web, they will accuse you of all the problems in the relationship (please note: we all have some input).

If you admit to some your shortcomings, and that doesn’t make any difference, it may be decision time…to stay or leave.  Such decisions are painful and deserve deep consideration.  If you cannot tolerate your situation and decide to come apart, be prepared.  Try to avoid ‘pressing’ certain buttons that may encourage more abuse.  Do not be reactive to your partner’s behavior  Focus on protecting yourself, your assets and, if applicable, the children. It will not be easy early on but eventually you will be freer to pursue your own goals.    In addition to family and friends, a counselor and good lawyer are critical supports to help you extract yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reunification Therapy

Court ordered reunification therapy takes place when there is, or has been, a high conflict divorce. One, or both, parents may not be following their Parenting Plan and a child [or children] protests being with one parent.  Reunification therapy is an attempt to undo damage and help parents and children move on, in a more positive manner.

Unlike more traditional therapy, there is great resistance by family members who are being alienated or encouraging it, to engage in reunification therapy.  They miss appointments, come late, feel they are not heard and are not open to hear any view different from theirs.  They only want to hear that the other parent is terrible and needs to be avoided.  There is no motivation to change their feelings and views.  It is difficult for them to acknowledge anything decent about the other parent whose foibles are greatly magnified.  In such cases, the only person who wants the therapy is the alienated parent, who is suffering and wanting to be a parent again.

When doing reunification therapy, it’s important to see the alienating parent quickly and understand their personality and their dilemma and try to help them understand they are being ‘heard’.  Their willingness to alter their behavior is crucial to helping their children be allowed to have and hold their own feelings about their other parent.  If I am accepted, even begrudgingly, by that parent, it is more possible to have a good resolution.  If there is more than one alienated child, a younger child will frequently absorb the feelings of an older sibling and imitate their behavior so it is beneficiall to see them individually.

Reunification therapy is not a quick fix. As a therapist, I need to work with other professionals.  I am asked to speak to or write family members’ therapists, attorneys and the court so this process is not confidential.  There may also be a parenting coordinator, court ordered to help the parents follow the Parenting Plan in a way that benefits the children.   I educate the parents about the importance of parent-child relationships and the emotional damage to children when that is curtailed and a parent is being vilified.   The alienated parent needs to understand that s/he has likely made some mistakes  that interfered with parenting and is helped to rectify them.

Therapy with the children is listening and understanding their complaints about the alienated parent. There are often kernals of truth in their criticism but they need to recognize their exaggeration.  The alienating parent encourages the child’s magnified negative vision of the other parent, his/her , and the child remains, I see a somewhat different version of the child. Although the child uses the alienator’s exact words and phrasing [usually not age appropriate] the s/he is less strident and, eventually, more open to even share some positive memories of the alienated parent.

Joint sessions, with the child and alienated parent, begin with non-threatening games, perhaps some they have enjoyed in the past. As their encounters are less awkward, I initiate some other [not board] games such as guessing the other’s favorite food, vacation, color, etc.  These  exercises often involve  sharing of memories which is especially rich when the child becomes aware that their parent does remember and realizes they were and are important to that parent.  We then move on to more conversation and ways to ameliorate their situation.

It is difficult for the alienating parent to feel the child is slipping away and more willing to be with the other parent. More work is needed for that parent to understand  and accept their child’s need for both parents.  Sessions wind down as the alienated parent and child relationship beings to resume.  This is hard work – for all – but so incredibly important.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alienation By Parents

 

I want to talk to you about a heartbreaking topic –  children who become alienated from a parent [and likely his/her extended family as well].

Parental alienation occurs when one parent continually demeans, criticizes and marginalizes the other parent and, often, their family.  Unfortunately, we see this too often during contentious divorce.  The child is privy to hearing faults and misdeeds , real or perceived, of the alienated parent.  Children hear such statements as “he/she left us” instead of the reality that the parent was left or “he/she doesn’t love us any more”.  In the extreme, there may be false allegations.  The alienating parent makes no effort to speak privately about their partner/spouse to family and friends when they only have bad things to say.  The saying “Children have big ears” especially rings true about listening in on conversations when their life is being turned upside down.

The children may be said to be “busy, out, or asleep” when the alienated parent calls or comes to spend time with them.  They become a ‘weapon’ used to hurt the other parent.  They are often asked to carry messages from the alienating parent.  “Why are you not giving mommy money for us?”   “Why do you have a girlfriend [boyfriend] and spend time with her/his children?”   “If you loved us, you wouldn’t have left.”

The alienating parent may have no awareness of the harm s/he is doing to the children.  He/she is overwhelmed by devastation and feels s/he is protecting the children from the other parent.  The alienator projects his/her rage at the other parent and believes that the children feel that anger on their own.  Alienators do not believe that they initiated that rage and then cultivated it.  Hopefully, the alienated parent does not engage in the war and loves the children enough to become informed about alienation and how to get help.

The alienated child becomes’ ‘parentified’, feeling that they need to protect and defend  the hurt and angry parent. The child often parrots the exact words of that parent, using words or phrases that are not uttered by their age peers.  The child’s comments about the ‘bad’ parent are strong and all encompassing.  There is no admission of anything good about that parent.  Most children have negative and positive things to say about their parents.  After all, we are all human. An alienated child sees NO good in the ‘bad’ parent.

The harm to children is multifaceted. They are in great pain.  Not only do they lose contact with a parent (and their extended family), they are learning that when people come apart, ‘war’ is inevitable and warranted.  That angry feeling and behavior can seep into their personality and affect friendships and future relationships if they part ways. At a time when the family is coming apart, children lose half of their primary support.  Even if the alienated parent was not as active, in parenting, as the other, they usually want to have contact with their children.  Sometimes those parents left the household in order to avoid their partner/spouse and keep the peace.

When doing parent/child reunification therapy, I work with both parents and the children to help them understand that they will all benefit from working through their differences.  Parents learn to move on with their lives and realize how much their children will be affected and limited if the present situation  continues.  They come to realize that there are major benefits for their children if they can alter that situation.  War destroys.  Working together peacefully builds.

 

 

 

 

 

Divorce and Grandparents

When couples dissolve their relationship, there are extended family members who do not want to lose their relationships with the children. Why should children have to lose those family members they have bonded with and love?  At the grandparent phase of life, you may be  taking stock of where you have been, what you have done and what’s really important.  Maybe you are on the last leg of your journey and more focused on the basics, being connected to others, especially your family.  What could be more important than children?

Chances are you celebrated when your children found the person they wanted to share their life and start a family, providing you with grandchildren.  Love at first sight and ever after!  From their first cuddly days to tottering about, then talking, entertaining and adorable, always interesting.  We’ve all seen many pictures of and heard stories about grandchildren by doting grandparents.  As grandchildren mature, many have a special relationship, confiding in their parent’s parents, experiencing them as a safe haven when things are tense at home.

Why then, when there is a divorce, deprive children of those close relationships as their household, as they knew it, is dissolving?  The security and continuity of talking with and/or seeing grandparents can be soothing and supportive as parents struggle with coming apart.

In a contentious divorce, extended family may be brought into the fray, creating two sides.  Children then have to navigate between both sides of their family, perhaps hearing negative comments about one of their parents.  Or, they may not even be able to see  grandparents as the battle wages.  When parents are engaged in divorce war, children suffer immeasurably.  Their world feels turned upside down and they don’t know when it will end or what else will happen.

Grandparents need to stay out of the negativity, supporting your child by being helpful but not engaging in verbally bashing the children’s other parent.  You can offer  sage, neutral, advice and assure them that things will settle down and life will go on.  Grandparents can serve as a safety net as children’s parents seem to be teetering on a high wire.

When there is a respectful dissolution of a relationship, or divorce, parents tend to recognize and appreciate what their own [and their spouse/partner’s] parents can provide to them and their children.  Grandparents are a valuable resource, in fact, priceless.

 

 

 

Divorce: Well-Adjusted Children

 

children suffering from stress anxietyDivorce is a wrenching experience for all family members. Parents are sad at the end of something they thought would be ‘forever’ when they first came together.  Children lose their family grouping, in the way they always knew.  Now there are two homes, changes in lifestyle, maybe new people in their lives and other adjustments. That’s  not a reason to not continue to raise well adjusted children.  It takes some special attention.

  • Know your children, their needs, fears, quirks, strengths and weaker areas. Keep that information in mind as you parent.
  • Listen to them before you speak so you know the best way to approach things.
  • Individualize them. Pay close attention to their personality, their relationship with both parents, etc. – to share certain information, individualized.
  • Be aware of yourself and how you look when you are speaking. Pay attention to your voice, your facial expressions and your body.  The body speaks too,hopefully, in sync with what you are saying.  You don’t want your body and face to be announcing doom while you are saying that things will get better.
  • Don’t limit what your children have to say.       Hear it all – the sad, the bad, the mad  It will give you important information about they are feeling and what they need. If they can speak, and be heard, about their hurt and anger, they are less likely to act out those feelings.
  • Let them know you are deeply listening by repeating your understanding of what they are saying. They can correct you if wrong and appreciate when you are on target.  It feels so good to be heard and understood and not shut down.
  • Speak to what you hear them saying and empathize so they know you are right there with them.
  • Be consistent with most of your household rules. A little loosening lets them know you understand but trust they will be OK to carry on as usual. Dropping all rules and tasks sends a message that nothing is the same.  Continuing rules offer structure, so important when other things are changing.
  • Be the best that you can be…real, maybe vulnerable, but strong and up to the
  • challenge. Remember, they do as we do. You are  one of their main supports and role model.

Be sure to utilize your own supports and be kind to yourself. Life does go on and life, after divorce, is a new chapter.  You have a lot to do in the writing of it.

 

 

 

 

Building Memories

Building Memories

How far back do you remember? What are some of those memories – big moments?  Small moments?  Traditions or a one of a kind experience?  They are all  important.

I recently enjoyed a ‘cousin’s weekend hosted by the adult child of a first cousin. The younger adults and their young children look forward to this annual weekend summer gathering.   The older adults drop in to enjoy seeing all of our children sharing their children just as we did over the last few decades.

There are expectations – Will aunt Carol bring her delicious tarts? Uncle Jay will likely fall asleep on a couch.  Will little Soleil swim this year?  There is acceptance, sharing and love.   Members feel part of something that offers a respite from the travails of the everyday world.  Family group traditions help us feel grounded.  Even if you are not close with all of your family members, you gravitate to your favorites.   There is predictability and that feels safe even if it’s not always ideal.

I recall hiding under a long holiday table, with other little cousins, waiting for the grown-ups to find us. Now we talk about when we played house and the grass became spaghetti and little stones were meatballs. When we share about “back then,” we each have some specific memories that others have forgotten.   We may also have different perspectives of some of the same situations that expand our views.  There is something special in

having people who your memories… that you don’t have with anyone else.  You are part of something bigger than yourself and connected.  We thrive on connections.

As soon as we are old enough to recall, memory building takes place. Each memory ‘brick’ adds to children’s emotional foundation. Bed and meal time routines, vacations, how we celebrate occasions and holidays help form our children and affects how they will create and maintain friendships and relationships. We grow up and move on to different lives in other places but there remains a sense of belonging and safety in returning to our past.  As children grow, such memories are imprinted in their mental album.   Siblings share memories that no one else has which may prove to be a great comfort, especially during trying times.

We are a conglomerate of memories. They can add to or subtract from our level of self-esteem.  They can transform into emotional symptoms  – or – give us strength to overcome adversity. Think of all of the special ‘bricks’ you provide for your children.  Consider having a family evening for sharing memories.  You may learn about experiences that you didn’t give a second thought to but were meaningful to your child.  There may be some delightful surprises!

 

 

 

 

Siblings: Rivalry and Revelry

What is the hardest thing to share, especially when you are very young? Your parents. They are the people you count on when you are not yet independent.  Parents provide the various kinds of sustenance to survive and thrive.  Children are housed, fed, protected, indulged, entertained, educated and loved.

The first child, once dubbed “the royal experiment”, has had it all – time, attention and love. Then, along comes a tiny interloper who has even more needs. So, #1 needs to share what was once all theirs.  At times, they need to be more patient, more quiet and more independent. What’s more difficult to share than one’s prized possession?  That’s what we are to our small children.  Although it’s our doing to bring a sibling into our home, it’s easier for #1 to pick on someone smaller –   hence, sibling rivalry.

For some children, it’s easier when the newborn just eats and sleeps.  Depending on the age and personality of the first child, they may be uninterested in the little bundle or want to hold and play with the new arrival.  As time passes, things change.  With each new phase of development that the baby achieves, it can be more fun…. or not, for the first child.  For example, a newborn is not going to interfere with big brother’s possessions but a crawling, and then, walking toddler will want to imitate their older sibling and play with their things.  Aging up, younger children want to hang out with the older sibling and his/her friends.  Imitation is flattery but #1 may not see it that way!

When handled well, rivalry has benefits. Children act on their wants and needs,  and eventually learn to negotiate and work out a solution. These abilities will come in handy as they mature.  Parents can help teach those skills, indirectly and directly.  Children observe parents and imitate.  They watch how parents cope with differences, with their spouse, their own parents, friends, etc.  Do they yell or use the ‘silent treatment’?  When parents are able to have a respectful discussion and come to a compromise, observing them is a learning experience for their offspring.  More directly, parents can help their young children by explaining the differences in the abilities of each of them [to the other] when they are having a problem.  “Your sister is too young to know when she hurts you”  or “ Your brother really needs some quiet time to be able to really talk…”.

While there may be resentment in needing to share, there is also the opportunity to have a sibling who is closer in size, dependence, levels of energy and enjoyment than the adults. There will be things to giggle about that grownups just don’t get.  They may also learn to team up with each other in order to bargain with parents. Although we see the rivalry, most older siblings would defend and protect their younger siblings if they were bullied.  Parents are relieved and entertained watching their children play well together and be affectionate.  It’s comforting to imagine their future adult friendship when we are gone.

We cringe at the rivalry and rejoice in the revelry. Both are essential.

 

 

 

 

Children and Frustration

Children and Frustration

Life is frustration, among other things.  Nobody gets everything they want and there are many things we simply have to wait for.  We all need the ability to delay gratification.  You begin a job and need to wait to prove yourself to ‘move up the ladder’.  Most of us eat dinner before dessert.  It’s hard to wait nine months before you get to see your beautiful baby and so on…we  bide our time.

When a newborn is hungry, s/he gets fed quickly but, as time passes, the baby learns to delay a little. Just hearing a soothing voice that the bottle or something is coming can help.  That’s the beginning of delaying need.  Most young children prefer to skip dinner and go straight to the goodies but parents help children learn to be patient, an essential  lesson in life.

In order to succeed in delaying gratification and tolerating frustration, children must learn that they are not the center of the universe and sometimes other things and people, come first. That reality is introduced quickly when there are siblings,  also clamoring for attention.  Day care and school are arenas where learning to wait one’s turn takes hold.

child behavior problemsParents who try to fulfill their child’s every wish, to avoid tantrums, set up a pattern.  When children carry on and then get their way, they learn that is how to get what they want. Those who can’t tolerate frustration often become demanding and self-centered. Compromise is not in their vocabulary because they are unable to consider the needs of others.  Their solution is to be demanding and manipulate to get their way.  That entitled way of looking at the world will likely present problems in personal and professional relationships.

It’s hard for a parent to say “no”.  We derive pleasure from seeing our children delight in our offerings.  We want them to have everything and yet…we adults need to remember that “no” and frustration are gifts.  The no is a healthy breeding ground for learning to be patient, have longer-term goals and to care about others and their needs.  That is our lasting gift of their success in life.

 

 

 

 

 

Kids…Frustration…A Good Thing

child behavior problemsLife is frustration, among other things.  Nobody gets everything they want and there are many things we simply have to wait for.  That means we all need the ability to delay gratification.  You may begin a job and have to wait to prove yourself to ‘move up the ladder’.  Most of us eat dinner before dessert.   It’s hard to wait nine months before you get to see your beautiful baby and so on…

When a newborn is hungry, s/he gets fed quickly but, as time passes, that little baby can wait a little. Just hearing mother’s soothing voice that the bottle is coming can help.  That’s the beginning of delaying one’s need.  Back to that dessert.  Young children might prefer to skip the healthy dinner and go straight to the goodies and the whining begins.  Parents help the children learn how to wait, an important skill in life.

In order to succeed in the life skills of delaying gratification and tolerating frustration, children need to learn that they are not the center of the universe and, at times, other things and people, come first. That reality pops up quickly if there are siblings, who are also clamoring for attention.  Day care is another arena where the reality of learning to wait one’s turn takes hold.

Parents who try to fulfill their child’s every wish, to avoid tantrums, are setting up a pattern.  We need to remember that “no” and frustration are gifts to our children.  They can be the breeding ground of learning to be patient, have longer-term goals and consider the needs of others.If a child tantrums and get results, they are going to learn that’s how to get their way. Those who don’t learn to tolerate frustration can become demanding and self-centered. They often have problems with intimate relationships as well as friendship.  Compromise is not in their vocabulary as they are unable to consider the needs of others.  Their solution is to be demanding and manipulate to get their way.  Their entitled way of looking at the world can present problems in personal and professional relationships.

So, the next time you have to utter a reasonable “no”, don’t feel you are a meanie but simply a mindful parent, setting a precedent for a patient, caring person.

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.