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Brian Murray, LMHC, NCC

Big problems arise in marriage or relationships when miscommunication leads to anger, defensiveness and arguing. It can be frustrating being in a relationship when this pattern continues to happen or increases in frequency and intensity. Often couples struggle for answers and they don’t know what to do or where to turn for answers. 

Anger is a powerful emotion and when used appropriately can actually be beneficial. In a constructive manner, anger can motivate an individual or couple to recognize a problem that needs to change. Adversely, destructive anger leads to a break down in the relationship such as stonewalling, isolation and avoidance, or worse when it becomes abusive. 

Unfortunately, most people do not have the ability to stop themselves and think for a minute when experiencing anger. The anger hijacks the brain and gets in control of the communication process. An angry spouse can be difficult to handle and process as the anger often evokes anger in the other person. Tension escalates leading to argument.  So what can be done about it? 

Here is a list to consider if you find yourself or your partner experiencing anger. 

  • View anger realistically. Anger is only a feeling experienced by the other person. It cannot jump out of the other person and into you.
  • Define your boundary. Do not let the anger signal you to do something. People without boundaries respond automatically to the anger of others.
  • If the anger intensifies after you have set a boundary, remind yourself that the other person is angry at you for setting boundaries and their anger is something they will have to work out. 

A few key things to keep in mind. A boundary is not a hard line that you draw with another person and dare them to cross it. A boundary is a limit you set with yourself on how far you are willing to engage with another person’s behavior. 

If another person begins to make you angry, chances are you did not set your boundary when you reached your limit. Know your limits, and know when you need to break contact or move away from the other person before getting caught up in their emotions. 

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Haughty, that’s the word. Haughty is defined by Merriam-Webster as “blatantly and disdainfully proud having or showing an attitude of superiority and contempt for people or things perceived to be inferior.”

Interestingly, synonyms include a long list including; proud, vain, arrogant, conceited, snobbish, stuck-up, pompous, self-important, superior, egotistical, supercilious, condescending, lofty, patronizing, smug, scornful, contemptuous, disdainful, overweening, overbearing, imperious, lordly, cavalier, high-handed and the list goes on.

That’s a lot of name calling for one person The difficulty with all these descriptions is when it’s time to counsel a narcissist. Name calling is a shaming practice and should be avoided. Yes, narc’s have a hard exterior shell and defend themselves well, usually with anger, but underneath that shell actually lies a very emotionally vulnerable person. This is why their ego defenses are so high. They build a high wall around their inner self to keep everyone at a safe distance.

To an outsider or someone who is in relationship with a narc, this shows up as lack of empathy and callousness toward others. They keep themselves elevated as this lofty place provides for them a place of comfort.

So where does this come from and how do they develop this? Ofte it stems from a difficult childhood. Abuse or neglect teaches the child that the only person available to them for safety and trust is themselves. So they begin to develop an internal fascination with themselves that turns into an act of self love. External relationships no longer matter unless the other person reflects the narc’s way of being. If you don’t match them, you are no concern to them.

Being in relationship with a narc is exhausting and confusing. Most narcs don’t realize there is a problem until they find themselves very alone one day and then ask themselves where everyone went. This is often the first time that a narcissist asks an insight related question for themselves. If they are able to figure it out from here they may stand a chance to heal. If not, then they may have a very long and lonely end of life experience.

Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, is highlighted by strong emotional issues. They become especially prevalent surrounding relationships. At the core, the person with BPD has a deep fear of abandonment, identity issues and is often prone to self-harm practices and suicidal ideation. People who are in relationship with someone who has BPD are often manipulated into staying into the relationship because the radical behavior of the disorder. Feeling trapped and bound by guilt and manipulation, people often stay in the relationship with a BPD longer than they should.

As a therapist who specializes in working with BPD, I have noticed that there are quite a few intriguing behaviors that borderlines commonly have that are not listed as a symptom in the DSM-5. The first is they have a history of sexual trauma. Almost every borderline I have treated has this somewhere in their history, usually in childhood or early adolescence. The second has to deal with the concept of love and healthy attachment.

I have often said that borderlines love too hard. They want to be in a relationship with someone so bad they are willing to threaten to kill themselves. This is an example of an unhealthy attachment. We can’t expect to have a healthy relationship when we are working from a position of fear.

Borderlines often reveal that most of their behavioral difficulties began after they suffered some sort of sexual trauma either through intercourse or molestation. For some reason, it appears that most of them never put this together in their minds. They get so wrapped up in emotional survival that the idea that they feel this way isn’t tied to what happened to them. Their identify of who they are as a person has been completely altered.

In therapy I don’t turn my clients into victims. Things happen to people and then we choose how to continue to react to them. With borderlines and other trauma clients, I cannot do that. Trauma has a cause and effect on the brain that must be treated at its core root. The memory of the trauma event builds a tie-in to the motional center, henceforth, borderlines are very emotional especially when a relationship issue triggers their fear that someone is going to do something bad, like leave them. Internally, they are freaking out.

At this level, Borderline Personality Disorder cannot be treated simply by helping someone change their thoughts that lead to better emotions. The trauma has to be treated in order to disconnect the emotions from the trauma memory.

Because this is happening at the subconscious level, a psychoanalytical approach is required. This approach comes in many forms such as schema therapy which is one of my favorite approaches. Schema identifies which mode a person is operating from. There are 18 modes and a borderline can be one or all them. Therapy can then be tailored to address these specific modes. Most borderlines are operating from multiple modes which create a complex dynamic that even the most savvy therapist can struggle with.

However, with any successful plan, put first things first. Before the mode is addressed I prefer to address the existing trauma as this is often the culprit. If the trauma is resolved, then we’ll see which modes got resolved with it. The result of treating the trauma is like the clearing of a storm. At this point it is safe to say that that the client was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, comorbid with borderline features. An organic borderline doesn’t have trauma and so schema must be worked out which becomes a long haul for client and therapist alike. I utilize Accelerated Resolution Therapy for the trauma which proves very effective with quick results, typically within 1-5 sessions. This is enough to disconnect the memory from the emotion.

Another popular approach for treating borderlines is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT. While I am also trained in DBT, I still prefer the schema approach as it uses a reparenting approach instead of a soothing your feelings approach. It’s rare that I see a borderline come from a decent functional family, sexual trauma or not. Reparenting can be one of the most useful tools to help borderlines attain healthy relational attachments. It also helps them understand and gain insight into their behaviors. When we gain insight into why we do what we do, we gain power over the problem.

Sometimes when getting married people may unknowingly get involved with some kind of controlling manipulator. So what does a controlling person look like? Controlling people often manipulate others…

Source: Warning Signs You Are Married To A Control Freak And Know When It’s Time to Get Out!

People who suffer from Narcissism, whether it be Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Narcissistic behavior, often have trouble understanding and relating to people who practice healthy self compassion. People who have healthy boundaries and know how to place limits with themselves and their engagements with other people propose a unique challenge to a Narcissist. The first and most glaring problem for a Narcissist are people who don’t place them on pedestal to be admired. This lack of admiration often comes across to the Narcissist as a form of disrespect. Self compassion has it’s own language that differs from the Narcissist and it doesn’t include constant admiration of others.

Self compassion identifies needs as an independent person and stays focused on fulfilling those needs. A Narcissist stays focused on getting their ego admired by others and when they don’t feel this is happening they begin to manipulate others to get the attention they so greatly crave. This is where narcissism, in it’s own language, begins to strive for what is called narcissistic feed.

When the Narcissist doesn’t get this “feeding” of attention there are several things that can happen. Usually the biggest problem is anger. When manipulation doesn’t work then control by anger is often the quick default reaction. This anger can be presented in many ways with the most prevalent form being passive-aggressive. This form of behavior is manifested in many ways such as talking to other family members and friends behind their back trying to make them look like a bad person (also known as triangulation). Money, which is a big deal to most Narcissists, is often used to as a control weapon. Belittling your interests, comments, opinions, jobs etc. In other words, everything you have to say or do is “one-upped” by a narcissistic comment. Remember, nobody is as great or knows more than a narcissist. This is their grandiose thinking at work and nobody is greater than them, according to them of course.

I overheard a conversation once with this expression involved “a Narcissist cannot share a stage.” In other words, if it’s not all about me then there is no room for others. Narcissists are extremely worried and concerned about how they are viewed in the eyes of others. This is why anxiety and drug/alcohol use is such a prevalent problem for many of them. It’s the worry that gets to them, not their behavior. A Narcissist will ruin a relationship unless they are certain that all the attention is focused on them. There are no relationships with a Narcissist, only spectators. If you believe you are caught up in a relationship with a Narcissist, stop admiring them and see what happens. Practice some self compassion and put limitations on your engagement with the Narcissist and chances are things will begin to turn ugly.

Healthy people are interested in what you are interested in and want you happy and healthy. But when that level of interest stops with a Narcissist chances are you will be of no use to them and anger related problems begin to manifest. The Narcissist will begin to think you are the bad person, the one with the problem and may perceive you stopping your admiration as disrespect and resort to name calling and control measures to get you back in line with their thinking.

So what can be done about it? 

It is impossible to help someone who doesn’t acknowledge the need for help, especially with men of which most narcissists are. Men often live believing counseling is for wimps. Often healing with a Narcissist is the result of having to overcome a major addiction problem or they find themselves very alone in the world after destroying their relationships with family and friends. Look at their path, do they have a history of wreckage everywhere they go? It is then that they may (and may is rare) begin to self evaluate and start the process of trying to understand their problems.

Self examination for anyone with a personality disorder is a very scary proposition. To look inside of themselves and to truly see who they are as a person has been described as peering through a hole that leads into an empty formless abyss. The identity is missing. The ability to have healthy happy relationships is missing because of attachment issues. Emotional maturity is missing. These things must be formed, usually early in life. This is why they work so hard to manipulate others and work on things outside of themselves. Sitting quietly and doing some self examination usually involves mirrored observation and loathing in self love, not deep hearted evaluations of how they hurt someone. If a Narcissist is sitting quietly it is usually because they are secretly scheming their next move. Their thinking is usually in the form that it’s others and not me that has a problem; and I must shape them in line with my way of thinking.

In the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, they mention that the most effective way to deal with difficult people is to set boundaries for yourself. Don’t focus on the negative behavior of the other, this is often just a drama trap. The way to stop dealing with a Narcissist is to set some limits on how much you engage with that person. This is an active choice anyone can make for themselves. A quote by Dr. Henry Cloud “you get what you tolerate.” This doesn’t mean to challenge the Narcissist, (trust me you won’t win, you can’t tell them anything) but to challenge yourself to self-compassion and care. This form of healthy self respect is hard for the Narcissist to understand and will begin to struggle to make sense of it, and like I said before, they may try to twist and manipulate, especially if they are not used to it. Stick to your limits, don’t get emotional with them, and especially don’t take anything personally. Chances are in the long run they will give up and go get their “attention feeding” elsewhere.

Disclaimer: This article is meant for educational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional psychotherapy treatment. 

Advocacy: Psychotherapy is conducted by an appropriately trained professional with an advanced degree in a counseling field (Master or Doctorate) with recognized and approved state licensing credentials. Always check a counselor’s license. 

We all need to be good at whatever it is that we are. Think with compassion. When people are trained from the formative years, to fear hell fire and all that would lead to the said fire, you just can’t expect them to let go of that so easily. And if anything at all, only compassion and love is going to set people free from that type of a fear. You can’t argue them out of it; you can only love them out of it. – C. Joybell C.

When you think of the word love, what comes to mind? What gives it meaning? In the mental health world I have noticed that this word does not come up very often and especially in the context of offering a healing intervention. I think the reason for this is people seem to experience love when they feel happy when their problem gets resolved. I have never read a treatment plan that involved “love thyself.”

I have discovered that there are two common roots to most people’s issues; fear and worry. This is a common thread especially for anxiety and is responsible for producing the feeling of fight or flight. If a bear chases us in the woods, this is appropriate. But when we fear the world and worry about situational outcomes it can become exhausting and manifest into long term stress. The body is not built for long term stress and anxiety. The fight or flight response is meant to be short term. It signals us to get out of our predicament and do it quickly by running and if we can’t run then we have to stand our ground.

So what does love have to do with fighting or fleeing imaginary bears? Well, for clarification, the imaginary bears are a metaphor for things in our lives that cause problems and discomfort. There are two ways to deal with this and it has to do with how love is observed, either as a noun or a verb. Love can be an object of desire and/or an action of desire. For example: I am in love with you…and/or… I love you.

If we practice self love then as a person I can say that I love myself. A word of caution: this form of love is very different from malignant narcissistic self love. Narcissists play a game of manipulation to turn attention to themselves, both positive and negative, and get very jealous when your attention is not on them. This is about self esteem. Narcissists can appear to have high self esteem but this often their grandiosity at work, “look at how wonderful I am.” Self esteem is a foreign concept to them and if you have a fair amount of it yourself the narc will often get jealous and try to manipulate your attention from yourself back to them.

This is about seeing yourself as someone of value, honor, dignity and respect. This is healthy self love, and because of this healthy self love your actions produce positive outcomes. It involves practicing self compassion and doing the things necessary that indicate recognition of the intrinsic value you hold of yourself. A narcissist does not understand this, rarely recognizes it in other people (lack of empathy is a symptom) and begins to scheme up another way to get the attention back on them (drama).

I was listening to a story once about a young man talking to a guru ( I think it was Stephen Covey but cannot confirm) who was struggling to make a decision to leave his wife. He was talking about how he did not understand how to tell his wife how much he truly loved her and no matter how hard he tried he felt that she was not reciprocating. He felt defeated and invalidated and so he tried more and more to express his love. As a result, he felt she was not part of the relationship and after a few years of heartbreak he was contemplating on getting out, he was feeling tired and defeated.

The man was asked by the guru to explain his love for her. He said he was in love with her. The guru responded “then LOVE her.” Huh? It’s an action, it’s a verb. We can say it all we want, but then what?

It’s like this, we cannot ask of love from others, it must be shown, thus reciprocated. It is an action. To love ourselves requires action and this is how we get out of our problems. We can’t sit and worry. To overcome our fears and worries is paramount to being our true selves and when we give ourselves permission to be that person it frees the heart of the burdens that keep it caged up. When we love life, it loves us back and our own personal light shines forth.

So how does a person overcome worry and fear? It requires us to have the courage and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to others and the world around us. Do not be afraid to go out and jump into life’s playground. With it comes a whole host of things that most people worry about. Suffering, pain, defeat, the what if’s, etc. and on it goes. But without entering life’s playground, we miss out on the good stuff too, the good stuff is found in the same places as the bad stuff. It basically depends on where the focus is, on the negative stuff or the positive stuff, or is there a healthy balance between the two? This is why love can be joyous and love can be difficult when we love enough to allow ourselves to just be ourselves.

A few quotes for the road:

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ― Lao Tzu

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 

I’m watching a Batman movie the other night and found myself psychoanalyzing the movie, particularly the main character. What is it about a superhero that people find so intriguing? I think identifying with a superhero is reminiscent of a quote from Henry David Thoreau, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I find Batman perhaps the most interesting of all the superheroes. Batman leads a life of two identities that would make Sigmund Freud proud and perhaps provide for a strong argument for the basis of Freud’s id, ego and superego. The id plays the villain, Bruce Wayne plays the ego and Batman is the superego. Bruce Wayne sees the moral problems of the id and must turn into the superego (superhero) in order to counterbalance the issue.

But wait a minute, isn’t this behavior of playing the superhero a type of codependent behavior? After all, isn’t rescuing someone in distress a type of controlling behavior? I think it all depends on how you look at the situation and the motivation behind the behavior. What is driving it, working behind the scenes? Yes, I am overthinking this, but there is something at work here, a dynamic at play that affects many people who seek counseling. Batman can be used as a metaphor of how people hide their problems and mask their true identity. What a lonely place that must be, always hiding and afraid to be truthful and out in the open of being your true self. I wonder what it would be like for Batman to stand in front of an A.A. meeting and peel off that mask. Oh, the vulnerability of true identity can be terrifying.

This is not an attempt to tear down Batman or deconstruct his character, I love the creativity and full richness of the story lines. Kudos to the creativity of the writers. This amounts to nothing more than a therapist’s musing of the psychological observations I have made.

The superhero, in my opinion, is a type of person who is caught up playing a role that is trying to fix, rescue or control an outcome for others. In modern terms, it’s male codependence. For the superhero it’s about more than just a person, it’s all of humanity. By the way, who decided that Batman knows best for everyone? Yes, there is evil in the world that creates destruction on a widespread scale and there are those who come together for the greater cause of mankind to lessen those evil schemes. But there is a common theme found in superheroes, something must be done and that something must be done by me.

I guess for me and my psychotherapeutic mind, this is about a man who hides in a cave and does not allow his real identity to be shown. I found myself confused when I began to think about who the main character is, Batman or Bruce Wayne. Perhaps it’s both and Batman is just a part of Mr. Wayne’s identity, or vice versa. When he (Batman/Mr.Wayne) emerges into public he comes into view as one of two identities. I’m having trouble trying to figure who the real person is and who he wants to be, Bruce or Batman.

If this man were to sit in front of me during a therapy session I suppose my best question to him would be two-fold going straight to the core issue, “what is it about your parent’s death (they were murdered) that causes you to do what you do today, and how has this affected your identity as a person?” I cannot help but wonder if this is not really a question of identity, but a boy who is lost and angry. Batman never resolved his anger of his parent’s death and has swore to himself to uphold justice wherever he finds it. In some circles, this might be even construed as being passive-aggressive. Mr Wayne, please get therapy for your unresolved anger because people are becoming too dependent on you for helping them out of their perceived predicament of helplessness.

I admire the author’s of Batman and how the story originally developed in the 1930’s. I cannot help but wonder if they realized that they may have been creating a story from their own psyche or that of another. There are countless stories throughout history of someone who was wronged and vowed justice or revenge in return. Yes, Batman and superheroes for that matter are all fictional characters, but they represent something that is very real and that is the projection of human behavior. A feeling of being wronged put back into being right. Does that include destroying bad guys? Or is this an issue of unresolved anger?

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