Tag Archives: Relationships

Vilifying the Victim

Have you ever noticed people often have the tendency to attempt to vilify someone they have wronged? Think about it – how many people do you know that have cheated in a relationship, only to explain away their behavior by making their Ex out to be a bitch or an asshole or frigid or whatever? It’s almost as if they need to depict this person in the worst possible light in order to justify their own behaviors.  There seems to be a need to vilify the person who they have hurt in order to alleviate their own guilt about the wrongdoing.

It’s like they have to decide between two choices:

  1. I did a horrible thing which makes me a bad person.

-or-

  1. I did a horrible thing, but he/she is a bitch/asshole so I am justified.

When I was in college (many moons ago when the dinosaurs still roamed the Earth), I had a brief “thing” for/with a college friend. This “relationship” was never going to go anywhere (he was wholly unsuitable for a long term partnership and he, honestly, never thought of me that way anyway), but there were feelings involved. One night while we were all at a party, he drifted away with one of my good friends (not my best friend, but the one with whom I spent most of my time – an important distinction). I didn’t realize it until the next day, but he had never gone home and had spent the night with her. At the time, I was temporarily “devastated” – upset, perhaps more so, by the perceived betrayal of her friendship than by the loss of any “relationship” with him. Now, everyone could have gone their separate ways quite easily, but I quickly learned through the grapevine that she was angry with me. She was telling anyone and everyone she was going to kick my ass” (not the most mature way to express her anger, I know).

At the time I was flummoxed (I really like that word – flummoxed). But now, eons later, I can recognize what was going on. She wasn’t comfortable being the person who had slept with her friend’s crush – this was not consistent with her vision of herself, so she needed to distance herself from our friendship. I needed to be a horrid bitch in her eyes, so she wouldn’t have to be one instead. I have no idea what happened to her after college, but, hopefully, she no longer wishes me ill.

Consider this the next time you feel someone who has done you wrong has unfairly turned the tables on you with regard to blame/responsibility. Chances are – it’s not about you. It’s what they need to do to live with themselves. It doesn’t make it fair, but maybe it, at least, explains it. Maybe you can pity them rather than fear them and you can gain comfort in knowing you probably didn’t do anything to deserve it.

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Jillian Barberie just recommended leaving a woman to be beaten

OK – I need to vent a little. I was driving home after dropping Charlie off at dance class (a full-time job, I swear) and I was listening to talk radio killing some time. Here in Southern California there is a station KABC 790 AM which airs various talk radio format shows. At this particular time it was “The Drive Home with Jillian Barberie and John Phillips”. Jillian was sharing how she and a friend were at El Pollo Loco in the greater So Cal area over the weekend and had witnessed a man beating on a woman, screaming at her in Spanish. She further shared her conviction he was on drugs and was upset the woman had used up his supply. Jillian then shared that her friend had wanted to run out to her car so she could use her cell phone to call the police and get help for the woman. Jillian explained how she had talked her friend out of it and told her not to get involved. She made some reference about how she knew the woman would just get back together with him anyway (in fact they were probably already back together now) and it would be such a waste of time to make a report. She complained about the pain in the ass it would be to have to put her name to the report and maybe testify.

I was absolutely horrified by this response and John Phillips’ seconding the notion she should pretend to see nothing (“like a referee in professional wrestling”). Really? What if this woman is killed? I understand we need to consider our own safety – no one is saying you have to let loose a flying tackle on the guy and risk your own life. But – call the police. Try to get help. Maybe he is her boyfriend and maybe she will take him back, but that should never stop us from doing the right thing. Our moral compass is not supposed to be based on outcome, but on doing the right thing because it is right. The end.

Do you remember the story of Catherine Genovese? In the 1960’s, Catherine Genovese was walking home from work when she was attacked by a man with a knife. She screamed repeatedly for help, but no one came. When lights turned on in neighboring apartments, the perpetrator ran away, afraid he would be caught. He then noticed no one coming and returned and killed her. It was later noted that no less than 38 people heard or saw some part of the attack and did nothing. The police were never called until she was dead. (The attack itself lasted over 30 minutes.)

If we followed Jillian Barberie’s example, we, too, would have stood by and waited for her to die without lifting a finger to come to her aid. I don’t care if the woman at El Pollo Loco ultimately went back to her abusive boyfriend (assuming that is even who he was), but I would have had the comfort of knowing for one night I did what I could to help and keep her safe. After that, it is up to her.

Relationship Reincarnation

Have you ever noticed some people keep going back to the same jerk over and over again? The jerk can be the same jerk even if he (or she) is in a different body. You’ve seen this, right? Maybe your friend consistently dates guys who cheat on her. Maybe you are only attracted to people who are emotionally unavailable or are total commitment phobes. Maybe your brother is only into people who are emotionally needy and cause him to run in the other direction. They are consistently unsatisfied in these relationships, but keep getting drawn back into them again and again.

This reminds me of part of the theory of reincarnation. The idea is people keep getting reborn to the same life until they resolve whatever problem/issue is keeping them from moving on. There are a number of religious and/or philosophical doctrines which follow these tenets. Basically, people are faced with a life challenge and, if they do not overcome it, then they will be reincarnated as a human to face the same challenge again. This happens until they finally overcome it and are able to move on.

I see relationship repeaters the same way. They don’t need to die and be reincarnated per se, but, instead, the relationship is reincarnated – over and over and over again. These individuals are doomed to repeat their relationship until they are able to identify their specific challenge and conquer it. This will enable them to move on and find a healthier relationship in the future. In my teen years and early twenties, I repeatedly dated “the player”. (I blame this on “Daddy issues” – mine is a bit of a man-whore and so were the guys I was dating.) Maybe I was trying to fix my dad through my relationships. Somehow I needed to “fix” him and turn him into a relationship-valueing guy. Huh? Gross. It finally came down to recognizing I didn’t need to find a guy to change, but rather a guy who was already relationship-quality.

What I want for you is to recognize when you are in a repetitive cycle – are your relationships on a self-destructive loop? If yes, take a moment to work on why you are being drawn back to this same type of person. What is the challenge they are representing to you? Do you need to learn how to accept healthy love? Do you need to learn “drama” isn’t necessary to feel excited about someone else? Are you learning you don’t have to “make” someone love you to have worth? Whatever it is – work on sorting it out. Hopefully you can break the cycle before you are too many incarnations into it.

You CAN and WILL survive the end of your relationship.

I hope this doesn’t sound heartless… I really do hope it doesn’t, but you need to know you will survive whether or not your relationship does. I say this coming from a place of a happy marriage of almost 16 years. I think it would monumentally suck if he was to leave me, but way down deep, I know I would survive it. Why? Well, I’d survive it because I would have to. I have a child. I have a job. I have friends. I have family. All of these things are things that would help me to get through and also would be reasons to make myself get through it.

You might be asking why it is important to know this about yourself. Well, if you feel the loss of a relationship would be something you couldn’t bear, it might cause you to act in a certain way. When you feel something HAS to work, you probably start to feel a bit desperate. This changes the way you behave.  You will do or say anything to maintain the relationship even if it is not in your best interest. Think of all the horrible things people have put up with in relationships: infidelity, abuse, neglect, substance abuse issues, criminal activities, I could keep going, but now I am just depressing myself. You need to know there is a line that if crossed, means you are out. You need to know that, though it may suck (big time), you could get out if you needed to. You would also survive if they used the escape hatch on your relationship.

This doesn’t mean, by any means, you are less committed to your relationship – I have no plans on going anywhere – just that you will not stay “no matter what.”  You can and will leave if the relationship becomes unhealthy and/or dangerous. If they leave you, you will find a way to move forward and rebuild your life. You can and will survive this.

Internet Shaming

I am not all about shaming fellow parents based on their parenting decisions as a rule – we have all been there and have all made some not-so-great choices here and there, but I do have to question when a parent chooses to post those decisions on the internet. Have you heard about the dad from Missouri who posted the note sent home regarding his 8-year-old second grader’s lunch? (You can read the article – and letter – here, if you are curious: https://gma.yahoo.com/dad-posts-meddling-note-sent-home-teacher-over-215755494–abc-news-parenting.html). Supposedly a cafeteria worker reported to the little girl’s substitute teacher that the little girl had four chocolate bars, a bag of marshmallows, Ritz crackers, and a pickle in her lunch. The teacher did not believe this was a healthy enough lunch and wrote a note home requesting the child bring a healthier lunch to school the next day. Now, I see a lot of overreaching here on the school’s part here:

  1. She is a substitute teacher. While she is still a concerned adult in the child’s life, the teacher should have been the one to contact the parent when the teacher returned to the classroom. This sub did not know about any existing agreement that might have been in place or how best to interact with the family.
  2. When contact was made, it should not have been accusatory – the implied message in this note was that these parents suck at providing an appropriate lunch for their child.
  3. Finally, it was assumed that what the cafeteria worker reported was 100% factual. I’m sure she was busy working and may not have been able to watch this kid the entire time.

The father (a physician) noted the child also had four pieces of ham and a piece of string cheese – no sandwich because the family does not eat much bread. OK, here is where I go after the parents a bit. We have all made questionable parenting choices – my daughter’s own lunch (and dinner and breakfast) has been far from nutritiously sound on occasion, but I don’t post about it on the internet as if I am doing the right thing. I am often embarrassed when these situations occur and I would hate for anyone to know about it. (Who hasn’t had the occasional “frozen yogurt for dinner” kind of night?). The father also comments that his daughter is a very independent second grader and packs her own lunch – well, maybe this is a sign she could use a little more guidance. I think it is great for kids to take on responsibility, but, perhaps, she could be selecting from a more limited pool of available options – i.e., which type of fruit to take or what type of lunch meat.

There are better ways to address the teacher/school/principal/school district than to post a letter on the internet. It seems to me the school, though misguided, well meaning. Is this a new thing we are doing as a society now? Are we posting other people’s mistakes for the world to see rather than dealing with the problem directly? Oh crap, did I just do that? What do you think? Who was out of line?

Rationalizing Death

Have you ever noticed how we try to rationalize death? It’s as if we can control it somehow if we can explain it away. If I can understand why it happened, I can somehow avoid it happening to me and mine. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work. If you read my post from a few days ago you know that a little girl who was competing at the same dance competition as my daughter, Charlie, passed away suddenly after suffering an asthma attack at the competition. (https://psychobabblechat.com/2015/01/27/a-little-girl-died/) Her passing has impacted my daughter, her friends, and our family in a variety of ways, not the least of which is my daughter’s current awareness that children really do die. This made me think about my own somewhat similar experience from my own childhood. When I was in junior high, a classmate was diagnosed with some form of cancer. I don’t remember what type, but within a year or two, Jackie (Hebeka, I think) had passed away. From what I can remember, she had been out of school for some time before she died. I went to the visitation with some friends to pay our respects and I remember it being a surreal experience. It was an open coffin and she was just a kid. But I also remember thinking, “Well, she had cancer and I don’t have cancer, so I am OK”. It was really important to me at the time that I know I was OK and not going to die.

My daughter had the same reaction. See, Charlie has asthma – an extremely mild form of asthma, but asthma nonetheless. You should have seen her face when I explained that this little girl had passed… from asthma. She immediately asked if the little girl had severe asthma (I assured her she had) and asked for reassurance that her own asthma was mild (I again assured her it was). Isn’t it amazing how it is our natural inclination to try to explain death and, often, try to use that explanation to provide comfort that we (are our loved ones) are safe.

How many times have you heard a conversation like this?

Betty:                    “Did you hear about Ben?”

George:                               “No, what happened.”

Betty:                    “He died on Monday.  Heart attack.”

George:                               “Wow. That’s terrible. I just saw him last week and he seemed fine.”

Betty:                    “Well, you know he didn’t take very good care of himself.”

George:                               “That’s true. Poor Judy.”

We are always looking for a reason people have passed away as though this somehow protects us from sharing the same fate. They died because they smoked or drank or sped or didn’t exercise or ate like crap or had cancer… or had asthma. Maybe it is a way for us to focus on the logical side of our brain rather than feel the emotions related to the loss (sadness, fear, anger, etc.). What do you think?

Challenge for Challenge Sake

When I was much younger, a teenager really, I would seek out relationships with men who were unavailable. I don’t mean they were taken already (I was not a total bitch), but these were guys who didn’t want relationships or were just really bad risks. Now that I am much, much (quiet, you) older, I realize I was seeking out these relationships for two reasons:

  1. I was not emotionally ready to be in a “real” relationship and dating crappy people reduced the likelihood of anything serious ever happening. The guy known as a player, the one who is drunk all of the time and the guy who is a borderline criminal are unlikely to settle down anytime soon.
  2. I was excited about the challenge. If I could “break” them and make them change then they must really be into me. The sad thing is I broke a couple, but then I didn’t want them anymore. This is the danger of being after the challenge – once the challenge is gone, so is the spark.

Fortunately, I reached a point when these reasons were not the way I chose my relationships. When I was ready, I chose for much better characteristics – fun and friendship, attraction and chemistry, loyalty and passion. What I am realizing, though, is the tendency to focus on things only because they are a challenge – not just relationships. We do things just to prove we can. In and of itself, not tragic, but it is important to know why you are doing things. I ran the LA marathon in 2004 just to prove to myself that I could. There was no other reason. It was a challenge, I faced it and I never need to do it again (it was hard). If I had approached that marathon expecting some other outcome, I would have been terribly disappointed.

Know why you are acting. If it is a challenge, for challenge sake, know it and accept it. If you want there to be a higher purpose behind it – identify that goal and determine if it is a realistic one or not. If it is – great, if not – it is time to reassess and change your game plan.

Unanswered Prayers

I’ve talked about my daughter before – her name is Charlie and she is almost 10 years old. She is awesome and I love her, but she has recently taken a turn for the dramatic (could it be teen hormones already?). Anyway… I was tucking her into bed the other day and she looked at me and asked, “Why doesn’t anything ever go my way?” (Like I said, a flare for the dramatic). We had a long talk about what it was that was bothering her and resolved her current crisis as best we could at 9 PM. I even added a little reality check about using words like “never” and “always”.

Everything seemed good, but it got me to thinking – we (all of us) have a tendency to assume not getting our way is always a bad thing. We assume if something else had happened, everything would have been better. Let me give you an easy example- a client was recently in a car accident. It wasn’t anything too traumatic, but there was car damage which is always a hassle. My client was in my office complaining how she keeps getting screwed by life and if she had only left 5 minutes later (or earlier) the accident could have been avoided. I think it is perfectly natural to feel this way, but it is important to remember things could have been actually worse. Maybe a different, more serious car accident would have occurred. It is impossible to know. We can waste so much time focused on what “might” have happened.

There is even a song about it. Do you know Garth Brooks’ song “Unanswered Prayers”? Here is a peek, if you aren’t sure (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/the-13-greatest-country-songs-for-thanksgiving-20141125/garth-brooks-unanswered-prayers-1990-20141125). It’s all about a man who goes back to his home town and sees his high school girlfriend with whom he had so desperately wanted a future. The relationship had not worked out and both had moved on. When the singer looks around, he realizes how not getting what he wanted actually helped him to get what he really needed after all (wife, kids, happiness). The ways that not getting what we want actually serves us is not always so transparent or direct, but it is important to try not to spend too much time on what might have been at the detriment of what actually is.

My stepdad died about 12 years ago after a painful bout with pancreatic cancer. I was living on the West Coast while he and my mom were in Michigan. I got a call one day I should come home because the doctors determined he did not have much time left. I booked a flight for the next day, but he passed before I got there. For a fairly long while I was torn up about not having had an opportunity to say goodbye. I had this dramatic vision of a Hollywood deathbed goodbye where we shared our feelings (all good) and he peacefully went to “sleep”. I felt cheated of this. Over time, I became aware that his deathbed was likely nothing like this. He was not conscious and communicating. I was spared seeing him so ill. My last memory of him is not him sickly and weak, but up and about and teasing me. I was not cheated, but was spared. I did not get what I wanted, but it was for the best.

So, here is my takeaway – if you get frustrated about something that happened (or didn’t happen), remember it may have been in your best interest. Even if you can’t see how it is good for you, try not to dwell too much on what could have been (or should have been) and, instead, focus on what is. Try to make your “is” as good as you can.

You are a Survivor

I’ve noticed something lately. I used to think people were “playing the victim” to be manipulative or to get attention and/or sympathy, but I think there is more to it. When you are the victim, you don’t have to change – you are doing nothing wrong. The bad thing is happening to you because someone else is doing something mean or evil or wrong or mean to you. They are the ones who need to change their behavior or be punished. You just get to be you.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of times someone is doing something to you that is horrible and undeserved and you did absolutely nothing to bring it on. That sucks. I get it. But, and here is the big but, you decide what you are going to do about it and how you are going to recover. You get to decide if you are a victim or a survivor. There is a lot more power and control over your life as a survivor than as a victim.

If a man beats a woman – that is terrible. He is a reprehensible human being and deserves to be punished within the fullest extent of the law (and maybe a little bit more). This woman has experienced something tragic and painful and, undoubtedly, feels scared and betrayed. Labeling her as “the victim” means she has no power over what happens to her next. It limits her. If she views herself as a victim, she may feel vulnerable. If she is a survivor, she can stand up and get out of the relationship. She can heal her body, mind, and spirit and rebuild her life.

If a child grows up in a home rife with abuse, he or she can be a “victim of child abuse” or a survivor of child abuse. Can you imagine how people selecting those two different labels might view themselves and their experiences? One is empowering while the other seems to minimize their power.

This isn’t just about abuse. We can become so firmly entrenched in bad or unfair things that are happening to us that we don’t look for a way out. The weight of the “bad” holds us down and almost smothers us. It is important to look around you to see if there is any way to make the situation better and, if not, how to find an exit strategy. A client of mine recently told me about the difficulties he was having with his supervisor at work. He felt she was unjustifiably critical of him and often ignored his requests for assistance. He reported feeling trapped by her and saw no way to “make her change”. We began to explore their interactions (through his report, of course) and he discovered he has a tendency to be defensive, argumentative and passive-aggressive with this supervisor. We discussed how his style of communication might be contributing to her treatment of him. This was not all on him – at least it didn’t seem so, but once we could identify how he was exacerbating the situation, we could problem-solve ways to (hopefully) improve their relationship. My client had been so stuck in his self-identified role as the victim of his mean supervisor he had not been able to recognize his own behaviors. He could not change what he did not recognize. When we become so firmly entrenched in our position as the victim, we cannot acknowledge changes we might make to improve the situation.

Let’s sum this is – if you are in a problematic relationship, look for ways you might be able to make It better. If this isn’t possible, look for your way out. Life it is too short to be miserable. You are a survivor.

So… Your Friend is Transgendered – Now What?

I have gotten a number of emails, phone calls, tweets and general comments over the past couple of days about the tragic suicide of a transgendered young woman, Leelah Alcorn (born Joshua Alcorn). Much of the focus of discussion has been on this young woman’s suicide note (you can link to it here if you haven’t read it or want a refresher http://lazerprincess.tumblr.com/post/106447705738/suicide-note), her transgender status and/or her Christian parents’ refusal to accept/acknowledge that transgender status. I’ve been listening to criticism of her parents and debates over whether or not transgender is real. I don’t really care if you think transgender is legitimate or not (though I can tell you as a mental health professional it is), but what I can tell you is this young woman was in immense pain.

We need to do a better job of taking care of each other – especially our children who may not have adequate coping skills to manage life’s challenges. I am not going to jump on the bandwagon and rip her parents apart. If what has been has said about them is true, I do not agree with their parenting choices and wish things had been managed differently, but that isn’t what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the need to keep an eye on one another.

What can you do if someone in your life is dealing with transgender identity (even if the person isn’t talking about suicide)?

  1. Talk to someone. I am not saying “out” them, but if you need to process through your own thoughts and feelings – talk it out. You can maintain their confidentiality while working things through. You may not know what to do to help. Ask for help! Talk to a teacher, a parent, a school counselor, a priest, I don’t really care who, but talk to someone until you get guidance. All too often, we avoid things that make us uncomfortable – you can’t do that here. This is too important.
  2. Be there. Talk with your friend or family member about what all of this means for them. Even, as in Leelah Alcorn’s situation, you are not “supportive” of transgendered identity, there are still “safe” topics of feeling lonely, sad, and isolated. This is still the same person they were before you learned they are transgendered. If he is a good friend, she will be, too.
  3. Refer to support groups (not just for your loved one, but for you, too). Knowledge is power!
    1. http://community.pflag.org/transgender
    2. http://www.glaad.org/transgender
    3. http://www.transgender.support/
    4. http://susans.org/
    5. http://www.iamtransgendered.com/SupportGroups.aspx

These are but a few of the online, national organizations available to provide information and support, both to the individual and to their loved ones. There are also countless programs available within your own community. When I worked at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA), I became acquainted with their amazing program (http://www.chla.org/site/c.ipINKTOAJsG/b.7501767/k.5FBA/Transgender_Services__Adolescent_Medicine__Case_Management__Health_Education.htm#.VKSWvCvF_EY). Check out what might be available in your town.

  1. No matter what you might think or feel about transgendered individuals, do not make fun of, attack verbally or physically, or shame them. Doing any of these behind their backs still sucks – it’s just more cowardly. Remember life is hard enough for each of us without some jerk making worse. Don’t be that jerk.

Did I miss something important? What else might you recommend? As always, I am open to suggestions.