Martha’s Intimacy

I wondered how Martha managed to find a fiancĂ©e if she evidenced such low self esteem and recurring depressive episodes. She’s even suicidal.

In-session, Martha’s self esteem was manifested always to an extreme to be based on what she thinks others think of her.

Constantly, she felt uncertain, helpless, and frightened on the inside. She disguised her low self esteem by efforts to impress others.

Despite her fears, Martha risked a romantic relationship. Eventually, she became “in love” and entered a “survival pact” with her boyfriend.

The trouble was, when she chose a mate, that Martha did not communicate her fears to her partner. She feared that her partner would not love her if she knew about her feelings of worthlessness.

Martha’s partner saw her as confident and strong. Yet she expressed misery about it. She privately expected and felt she must be what he thought about her.

In effect, Martha had actually put the other person in charge of her self esteem.

Therapist and author Virginia Satir writes,

“I have talked about choosing rather than acting from compulsion. When you feel that you have to live according to someone else’s direction or live so that you never disappoint or hurt anybody, then your life is a continual assessment of whether or not you please other people.”

In the context of intimate relationships, Satir further explains, if one has or both partners have low self esteem, each behaves as if he/she were saying …

“I am nothing. I will live for you.”

“I am nothing. So please live for me.”

With this unprocessed, will a relationship survive? Is it realistic? Can it be functional?

You Are Who You Create Your Self to Be

Self.

Psychology refers to the human self in varied ways. Personality. Identity. Psyche or soul. Deep core.

Since we all age, does the passing of time affect who or what you are? Will you be the same self/person 5 years from now? 10 years? 20 years?

Depends.

Several days ago, I was in a “graduation.” A patient, Anthony, finished our long-term therapy program. And all his family members gathered together for a joyous celebration.

One of Anthony’s close cousins remarked publicly, “He changed. He is not the same person I know. Something happened to him.”

Anthony’s body still has some similarity and continuity with what it was before. But he developed a new, different set of beliefs, attitudes, and behavioral manifestations.

He was seen not to be the same self/person he used to be. For Anthony, therapy facilitated a life change.

When I took my old car before to the mechanic for repairs, he made some replacements. Some parts of my car were changed that made it look new and run better.

Whether via therapy, some other kind of healing experiences, or a negative traumatic event (e.g. stress, depression, abuse), you may not be the same person you used to be.

Either for good or bad. For better or worst.

It’s a matter of what parts of the self are chosen to change. It’s nature, degree, and dynamics. Depending on how much the parts, connections, and interactions produce the different changes.

You alone can make that choice. The self/person you want to be.

As Stephen Richards writes, “You are essentially who you create your self to be, and all that occurs in your life is a result of your own making.”

Bullies and Victims

Hollywood actor, Tom Cruise, battled the effects of childhood bullying. For many years he struggled with anxiety panic at home and at school.

Cruise says of his father, Thomas C. Mapother III:

“He was a bully and a coward … the kind of a person who, if something goes wrong, they kick you. It was a great lesson in my life – how he’d lull you in, make you feel safe, and then, bang! … Big bully comes up, pushes you. Your heart’s pounding, you sweat, and you feel like you’re going to vomit …”

Bullies have a strong urge to dominate. They lack empathy. Untroubled by anxiety or guilt over the suffering they inflict on others. They blame others for their offenses.

Males are more prone to physically bully. Females bully by picking on appearances, social status, and relationships.

Generally, bullies attack – through damaging, manipulating, or controlling relationships and situations.

How about the victim?

Some victims of bullies are “blind.” They refuse to defend themselves. Offer healthy boundaries. They allow themselves to be bound by the bully to isolation, humiliation, and despair.

A case in point is Martha, one of my clients who is repeatedly abused verbally and physically by her husband. For years, she displays pain, which fueled further attacks from her bullying spouse.

It impresses me how much Martha readily acquiesce too quickly to her husband’s demands. She’d just cry and cower. She’s so submissive before she’s picked on and bullied.

Dealing with bullies is not avoiding conflict. Running away, pretending bullying or abuse is not happening, hiding it, or being afraid to talk about it is actually destructive.

Facing bullies is taking responsibility to speak up to them. You walk tall so they don’t perceive you as weak or easily manipulated.

You set and state limits on bullies. Healthy boundaries so they know your thresholds. You don’t volunteer to be a victim.

You remove yourself from a relationship in which a bully tries to control or own you. You don’t allow bullies to undermine your sanity … or that of your children, loved ones.

Face bullies. Protect yourself. Seek support. Be brave.

What “Infantilizing” Does

When 27-year-old Pamela left overseas, she felt crippled. She’s unable to run a washer and dryer, iron her clothes, cook simple foods, or reconcile her budget. Back home, she never learned to do chores around the house or other basic practical stuffs. Her Mom did all for her and she got used to it.

“Infantilize” is a psychological term which means what you may be thinking now. In less technical terms, it refers to a parent’s act to “baby” his or her child even past an appropriate age.

Parents, mostly mothers, who overprotect their children have been found to produce fearful, dysfunctional kids.

As Dr. Sylvia Rimm, author of “Smart Parenting: How to Parent so Children Will Learn,” wrote of the power wielded by children who are too dependent as a result of overprotection. She writes:

“Because they are kind and caring and the children’s symptoms of power (tears and requests for pity) are very persuasive, parents … continue to protect them, unintentionally stealing from them their opportunities to cope with challenge.”

Of course, parents often mean well. They certainly don’t intend to harm their children. But despite good intentions, their “infantilizing” paralyzes the children. It robs them of the joys of struggle and achievement.

Struggle is psychologically and emotionally good. Resistance, delaying of gratification, and challenges are good. When our children don’t have to struggle or experience obstacles, they don’t grow up. A child crippled with such will find life cruel and depressing.

It’s not our children’s fault! They were not brought into the world to raise Mom and Dad! We parents influenced them first. We made the family rules while they’re growing up. We may say our “infantilized” children didn’t do anything wrong. We did.

Next step? We parents begin with courage, honor, determination. Resolute spirit. Bountiful wisdom and faith to take corrective action before it’s too late. Let our children learn to tie their own shoes. Don’t bail them out every time.

Are your kids (still) running the show? Are they truly growing up or regressing?
Posted by Dr. Angelo Subida at 8:20 PM No comments: Links to this post

De-Selfing

In a group therapy session, a woman was asked what she enjoyed doing. Her name was Maria, who shared:

“There is not anything I enjoyed doing. My whole life was taking care of my husband. I wanted to do what he desired. I was always there for him no matter how I felt. I listened for hours on end to his problems. I really lived for him. And now I have no life.”

“De-selfing.” It’s a term coined by author Harriet Lerner in The Dance of Anger, which is eventually adopted as a clinical concept in mental health. It refers to a state of under-functioning or over-functioning because too much of one’s self or basic integrity – thoughts, feelings, behaviors, ambitions etc – are compromised or harmed under pressure from a relationship.

A common result of “de-selfing” is a host of mental and emotional disorders or symptoms, such as depression, addiction, personality disorder, obsessive compulsion, suicidal ideation, among others.

Maria, based on her story, had a long-standing habit of “de-selfing.” She lived through her husband and failed to care for her self. She ignored, neglected, or minimized her own needs in order to be what she misperceived a good wife is.

She missed essential self-nurturing that’s vital to her own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. When she suffered a loss from her husband, she found her self empty, having “no life.”

If you are like that group therapy member Maria, who had completely replaced her own well-being with that of her husband, taking care of your self must now become a priority for you.

It’s your way of rebuilding your self-esteem … your whole life as a matter of fact. You may feel discomfort at first while you’re changing this life-damaging “de-selfing” habit, but it should gradually lessen over time.

Treating your self well is not selfish, as you may have been taught or conditioned to believe. Rather it is basic self-respect – a nurturance of life that is so foundational to your total health, well being, and relationships.

Performance-based Love, Anyone?

We live in a world where love is mostly conditional – based on looks, performance, or possessions. A lot of people, particularly mental health patients, grow up believing that something is terribly defective at the center of their being. So they hide who they really are in the hope of receiving love. Feeling unlovable and lonely, they set up defenses against sharing their true selves, their innermost feelings, with anybody.

Fyodor Dostoyevksy, author of the classic “War and Peace,” describes the feeling when he wrote, “I am convinced that the only hell which exists is the inability to love.” Because people who have never experienced unconditional love always feel a profound emptiness, they perceive all relationships or activities as getting what they’re deprived of to fill a vaguely understood void within. They give love only on the condition that they get something in return.

As a psychotherapist who have journeyed with countless individuals, I feel that all mental health disease is ultimately connected to a lack of love. Or, to a kind of love that is basically conditional or performance-based. This is very exhausting to the body’s immune system. Such kind of psychological and emotional need is capable of producing physical symptoms or sickness. This is strikingly borne out of the stories too of numerous patients who go to the hospital for treatment of whatever medical condition.

Unconditional love is a healing key. In my sessions, when I’m able to get people to accept themselves as they are, lovable despite externals, they become able to heal fast and give to others from within an inner strength. This is true, especially when they realize that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18) and the source where they can get it. They understand that unconditional love multiplies itself whether or not it’s returned. As Walt Whitman wrote:

“Sometimes with one I love I fill myself with rage
for fear I effuse unreturned love,
But now I think there is no unreturned love.
The pay is certain, one way or another.
I loved a certain person ardently and my love was
not returned,
Yet out of that I have written these songs