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Posts from June 2012

"I'm Codependent and Damn Proud of It!"

Codependency Man Tied Up in Rope


Codependents Unite!

Have you ever wondered about the origin of all of your "destructive" codependent behaviors? Could it be that you were just born that way? Maybe there is a genetic predisposition toward crazy-making behavior and you were just unlucky enough to inherit it.

I don't think so.  I think it is more likely that you were born just fine, with the same reasonable probability of sane adult relationships as the rest of us. Something must have happened to you sometime between the day of your birth and the day of your first date. Hmm... what could that have been? Maybe you grew up in a home where the grownups were not all that grown up, and you needed to learn how to cope with emotional upheaval. 

It Makes Sense To Be Codependent

  • If you came to believe that your misbehavior was what caused your dad to drink too much, then it made sense to feel overly responsible for everything around you.
  • Similarly, if you got in trouble for being messy, it made sense to become obsessive in order to prevent being yelled at.
  • If every time you expressed a feeling, you were told you were wrong for feeling that way, it made sense to just stop having feelings.
  • If you ever expressed a need or even a preference for something, it was probably ignored as unimportant or worse, you were made to feel wrong, it made sense to just stop having needs, let alone, expressing them.
  • If you grew up in chaos, constantly experiencing bizarre behavior, it made sense to learn how to adjust to anything and then not ever really learn what normal is.
  • If you felt like your world was unpredictable and out of control, it made sense to become super controlling of yourself and everything around you.
  • If people yelled alot in your home, with lots of arguing and verbal threats, it made sense for you to avoid conflict at all cost.
  • If you never had your world validated by anyone else, it made sense to stop trusting your own reality and then defer to everyone else.



You Were Brilliant!

I'll bet it never occured to you to think of yourself as brilliant. You came up with all of those creative ways to take care of yourself, to protect your sense of sanity, emotional safety and self worth. You survived that experience. Sure, you came out of it a little battered and bruised, but you deserve to be congratulated for all your strategic reactions that brought you to today. Congratulations!


The Bad News is...Codependency

The bad news is that what was once adaptive in the war zone is now maladaptive during peace time. All of those defensive strategies that protected you while under attack are now destructive traits that prevent you from enjoying intimate relationships. You are so well defended, people can't get close to you. You are so reactive, it is difficult for you to respond. You are "loaded for bear" in relationships when all you will probably ever run into is a raccoon. Your solutions from the past are now the problems in the present. 


Let's End With the Good News...

The good news is that you can reframe your experience and recognize that these problematic codependent tendencies you have today originated in some pretty brilliant maneuvering. You are not just "an unhealthy person with alot of work to do." Before you go trying to stop being codependent, give your inner child a hug and a congratulatory "high five" for getting you here today.  You can remind yourself that that was then and this is now. You can heal your emotional pain and relax those automatic reactions into thoughtful responses.  You can grieve the losses, understand all the dynamics, forgive what needs to be forgiven, and finally enjoy the freedom to make a different choice.

Now, say it with me, "I'm Codependent, and damn proud of it!"



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"I Wonder If You Could Help Me With Something..."

Friendship Two Women Friends Hugging

Do you need to say something to someone that might be hard for her to hear?

Do you need to ask someone to change her behavior for you?


These can be awkward situations. It is difficult to break disappointing news or to communicate any kind of message that might result in the receiver feeling embarrassment, guilt, conflict, or anger. Yet, sometimes, honesty requires it and healthy relationships demand it.


I recall a man who did a beautiful job of this. I had just moved into my first house and I was in the backyard with the gate open to the alley. My new neighbor approached me and I felt a little apprehensive for some reason. My guard was up as I anticipated what could possibly be the problem. As he neared, he smiled and said, "I wonder if you could help me with something." I instantly melted; my heart opened up, and I could feel myself being receptive to whatever he was going to say next. He then explained, "When you dump the concrete water here in the alley, it pools in this spot right in front of my garage and then I end up tracking it into my garage floor.  I wonder if you could just dump it a little closer to the fence." "Sure,"  I happily replied as we introduced ourselves.  As I walked back to the house, I reflected on how badly that whole incident could have gone if he had just yelled at me for being so careless and inconsiderate.


I think that many of us are good people. We identify with being generally helpful, kind to others, and responsive to their needs. Even the nicest people, though, will probably contract into a defensive posture when threatened. If you want others to be open and responsive to you, don't give them any reason to feel defensive. Be respectful and validate the legitimacy of their position. This can be very disarming and it helps them to feel emotionally safe. By validating the other person's reality, you increase the likelihood that they will be able to validate yours.

Man & Woman At Odds
"We Need to Talk"

Of course, never ever start a conversation with "we need to talk." Nothing good ever comes after that phrase. As soon as we hear it, we shut down in preparation for some kind of attack. We become well defended and resistant, ready to attack back. This will make it much less likely that you will get your needs met. So, it serves your interests much better to use a gentler introductory statement that leaves the listener more likely to stay or even become open to hearing whatever you say next.


I suggest you put the phrase, "I wonder if you could help me with something" in your back pocket and try it sometime. It is an "I" statement, which is the gold standard in the communications and counseling worlds. It implies ownership and self responsibility which helps the receiver to not have to feel confronted or attacked. Did you notice that my neighbor's last sentence was also an "I" statement?, "I wonder if you could just dump it closer to the fence." That is much better than "You should" or "Why don't you."



Of course, here is the small print. All of the above is all very nice. And, you need to know that it may not work at all. It is so frustrating when you do everything right and then the other person doesn't cooperate with the reaction the self-help book said they would have.  This leads me to another topic that we will get into sometime: We cannot change or control anyone. Using the above suggestions will do only two things. 1) It will increase the likelihood of a positive response, and 2) You will know that you conducted yourself with kindness and class. And that is priceless.


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Increase Your Self Esteem in 23 Seconds Flat!

Weekend Self Esteem Workshop Simplified Down to 23 Seconds Flat

  Happiness Woman Making Snow Angel


Fill in the blanks of the following statements, and then read out loud.

1) My ____________ is too big, but that's OK,

 I'm still a Child of God.

2) My ___________  is too small, but that's OK,

I'm still a Child of God

 3) With other people, I am not ___________ enough; but that's OK, 

I'm still a Child of God.

Believe it.

You are a real find,

A joy in someone's heart.

You are a jewel,

Unique and priceless.

Believe it.

God don't make no junk.

                                           Herb Barks

  Self Concept- Valentine Candy I'm Me



The "secret" to increased self esteem is not about generating a Personality Trait "Pro" list that is longer than your Personality Trait "Con" list. It is not about deciding that you have enough good qualities so that you deserve to have self love.

Your self esteem is a psychological concept with roots in spirituality. It is a precious and private choice to decide that you are "deserving" of self love just because you are a human being and you exist on the planet. That's it.  Sure, you have things about you that could use some attention. Have some personal integrity and gently attend to those things. That's all. Have the gentle intention to be a better person.

If atheism or agnosticism is your thing, no problem. Making a "precious and private choice to decide that you are "deserving" of self love just because you are a human being and exist on the planet" still works.

Beyond that and in the meantime, love yourself warts and all!  Don't try to believe that you don't have any warts or that your warts don't matter. Accept that you have some just like the rest of us and love yourself warts and all! God does. And if you're good enough for God, well then, who are you to disagree with God? There is a picture of you in God's wallet.

Remember, "God don't make no junk!"


Joy Man in Street Silhouette



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Depression: Before You Reach for the Prozac

Note: This is Topic #3 of a 10-part series called The Fine Art of Misery. 

*On a serious note: please know that this series is intended to be a spoof, a lighthearted invitation to look at how we sometimes create our own misery. It is by no means meant to be disrespectful or minimizing of many people's true pain, particularly around depression and anxiety.


Depression Pills
Believe it or not, some people don’t naturally come by feelings of depression.  They are afflicted with a sunny disposition.  Don’t despair.  A proven technique to generate an internal state of depression is to start on the outside and work your way in to the inside.

Begin with your physical appearance, then concentrate on your outward behavior, and finish off the process with the big guns as described in our last column: your inner thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs (Stinking Thinking: The Sweet Smell of Successful Misery).  This systematic approach will slowly but surely destroy your life spirit.

How to Appear Depressed

  •   Wear drab, dark clothes that communicate that you are invisible or otherwise deserve to be invisible.  Browns, blacks, grays, and navy blues are best.  Be sure your clothes are over-sized, wrinkled, and not clean.  A low slung hat or hairstyle that hides your eyes is a particularly effective touch that will keep you feeling invisible and unworthy.  It telegraphs to the world your morose and sullen nature and has the added benefit of calling attention to yourself as a misunderstood outcast.  Some people will be merely intrigued; others will feel sorry for you and that’s exactly the effect you’re after.
  •   Manage your facial expressions.  Always wear a frown on your face and do not make eye contact with people.  Use your face to express only minimal emotion; boredom, superior disdain and chronic irritation are best.  The well-timed rolling

Continue reading "Depression: Before You Reach for the Prozac" »

Students' Lives: Giving New Meaning to Daytime Drama

Students To the Student Sign

I love teaching Psychology at a large urban community college. Somehow, the best college students in the city manage to get registered for my classes. It's uncanny. I have been amazed by the trauma and drama that they encounter in their complicated lives. And yet, they manage to work around weekend incarcerations, eight hour waits in Emergency Rooms, restraining order violations, pregnancy complications, car thefts, sudden deaths in the family, relationship break-ups, cancer diagnoses, and house fires - to hand in that two-page paper on time on Monday morning. Truly, I have been amazed by their resilience and determination. Sometimes I wonder if they have had so much chaos in their lives, that they have become accustomed to crisis being the norm. They seem to take it in stride with such casual acceptance.

I will never forget the phone call from one of my students who had just missed her morning class. We exchanged pleasantries at first and then she matter of factly asked if she might be allowed to hand in her paper later today. I asked what had caused her to miss class. She calmly explained that the SWAT team had surrounded her apartment complex, and in fact, she is still on lock down and can't leave until the all clear is given. Apparently, the shooter is still in the area, and everyone is advised to lock their doors and stay close to their phones. So obviously, the thing to do is to call your Psychology instructor and see if you can hand in your paper a bit late after this pesky little incident gets resolved. Coincidently, I had watched this incident unfold on Breaking News that morning, so I knew this was not just a creative excuse to miss class. She got an A on that paper.

Drama Sign

I remember being a college student, though I attended a midwestern four-year residential college in the early 70's. I know how Life can conspire to make some semesters more emotionally difficult than others. The most I ever had to deal with was probably the occasional relationship break-up. But this is a different time and a different place and a whole different demographic. I am humbled by the adversity that my students overcome in order to achieve their dreams.

Just over a year ago, I turned on the morning news to recognize one of my recent former students being interviewed in front of the smoldering ruins of her burned out apartment building.  It was February, during that awful two week freeze that much of the country endured. She and many others escaped with just the clothes on their backs. She was now homeless; she lost everything in the fire. About a week later, I ran into her in the hallway at school. Astounded, I asked, "Are you still in school this semester? I saw you on TV." She smiled and cheerfully exclaimed, "Of course! I need to finish my program; I graduate in May!" Apparently, the Red Cross had placed her in another apartment building and no, she didn't want to ask her adult kids for help; she would be just fine.

No doubt. With that attitude, she will accomplish whatever she wants. I just know that I want to be like her when I grow up.

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"Guilt or Resentment: Hmm... Which Shall I Choose Today?"

Road Signs No Right Turn and No Left Turn

Do you ever feel like you are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place? Someone has just asked you for a favor and on this particular day, you want to say "no."

"Can you watch the kids for me this Saturday night?" 

You really don't want to. You like this person alot and you think it is a reasonable request. It doesn't matter what your reasons are; they are legitimate and you just don't want to say "yes" today. But, if you say "no," you will feel guilty. And, on the other hand, if you say "yes," you will feel resentment. You can't win. Guilt or resentment are your only options. I remember a client who once lamented, "Geez, I have to pick between those two every day!" So, what do you do?

Pick guilt. Seriously. I know it would be better if you could make a choice and not feel either of these. But you are not quite that evolved yet (keep reading this Blog; you will get there!), and you are realistically going to have to choose between these two unpleasant and frustrating feelings. Pick the answer that leaves you feeling guilty rather than resentful. In this case, say "no." Then swallow hard and resist the temptation to fill the awkward space with all kinds of real or contrived excuses that will legitimize you and your "no" answer.

Why? Because it is easier after the fact to deal with your guilt and let go of it than it is to deal with your resentment and let go of it. Guilt is a burden. But resentment is a bigger burden. You can deal with both of them and eventually let go of them (stay tuned; we will be covering how to do that in later posts). It is just that resentment is more insidious and difficult to untangle. A good talk with a good friend can reassure you and often help you let go of your guilt. A good talk with a good friend does not do much to help you release the resentment you have been carrying around.

So, go call a friend and ask him to remind you that you have a right to say "no" and that you are still a good and kind person.  You have a right to take care of your needs, and that means that you will sometimes have to say "no" to others, even though it is hard to do.

Oh, and by the way, can you watch the kids for me this Saturday night?

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Best Words of Comfort Ever: "You're Still the Best Football Player on the Block"

Kris Playing Football on Holstein Rd. BackyardFunny, how the most off- hand comment at the time can mean so much to a person and you never even knew it. This is one of those stories, and Joey, this one's for you.

It was the spring of 1967 and we were in the 7th grade at Sacred Heart School in Swedesburg, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. My best friend, Mary Jo (Joey) and I had sneeked up to the choir loft during one of the mid-week masses attended by the whole grade school. Only a few select 8th grade girls were allowed up there, so of course, we had to be there.  Sister Veronica Anne asked what we were doing there. We lied and said that Sister Camilla told us we should come up there now to learn because we would be going there the following year. Of course, we told Sister Camilla that Sister Veronica Anne had said the same thing. I have no idea what anyone was supposed to be doing in the choir loft; there was no choir at these mid-week masses. We just always needed to be doing what we weren't supposed to be doing and besides, Sister Veronica Anne somehow accepted our explanation and we were allowed to stay. Our two older sisters, Kathy and Jane, were perfect Catholic girls in every way, so the nuns always extended the benefit of the doubt to Joey and me. We got away with so many broken rules, the parish priest was quoted years later as saying, "Yes, Joey and Kris ran that school." I admit I am kind of proud of that.

So, here it was, just about Communion time, and

Continue reading "Best Words of Comfort Ever: "You're Still the Best Football Player on the Block"" »

The Eight Year-Old's Combat Field Manual for Surviving the Family War Zone

Military Child and Adult Color Illus
If you grew up in a home where your parents were strained, or worse, at a complete loss as to how to adequately provide a safe and nurturing home, you might have experienced inconsistencies, unpredictability, perhaps neglect, or even emotional and physical abuse. You might have intuitively known to follow these steps in order to protect yourself:

  1. Stop feeling feelings, especially the feelings of being carefree, happy and hopeful. Better yet, dissociate from yourself and "go numb."
  2. Start being hypervigilant. Watch very carefully, observe inconsistencies between words and behavior, analyze the true motivations behind everything you see, and definitely read between the lines when someone makes promises.
  3. Stop trusting. Do not trust your own feelings and don't trust others' words or promises.
  4.  Become suspicious and anticipate what is coming next; always be braced and ready for the worst.
  5. Never, ever relax and believe that a period of relative calm will last. It won't.
  6. Don't tell anyone what is going on in your home. It's too embarrassing and besides, we don't air our dirty laundry in public.
  7. Stop needing. Decide that you don't need anyone or anything; convince yourself and convince those around you. Today's need is tomorrow's disappointment.
  8. Start controlling. Control your feelings, your body, and your environment. Start to have obsessive-compulsive tendencies like counting or other ritualistic behaviors. Control others around you, become a perfectionist and feel responsible for everything that happens. Even the illusion of being in control is helpful.
  9. Avoid conflict. If anger or rejection is imminent, become a people pleaser.
  10. Rescue others. This makes you feel special and increases your self-esteem. When you are drawn to rescue wounded people, you are really just seeing yourself in them and trying to rescue yourself - the way you wish someone would try to rescue you. Maintain your victim status; others will feel sorry for you and this will feel like love.

These survival techniques will serve you well while you are in the family war zone. However, you may find that once you have left the war zone - gone away to college, moved to another town, or just otherwise left that family system - these defensive strategies become a bit problematic. When applied during peace time, with people who are open, trustworthy, and loving, you may find them complaining that they can't achieve intimacy with you. How in the world could they? You are so heavily defended by this point, authentic emotional sharing is pretty impossible. But at least you are safe from feeling pain.