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Archive for August, 2015

I sometimes read books written by therapists in hopes that they might provide some insight into humans. Most of the time I end up disappointed. Most of their advice I’d categorize as either obvious or terrible.

Take, for example, the book on how to handle divorcing a narcissist: Will I Ever Be Free of You? The book focuses a lot on parents who are very manipulative and will use children as weapons to gain advantage over their ex. The author advises that when your ex starts dating, you should never say anything bad about either the fact that they’re dating or about the person they are dating. But you should listen to and validate your children’s feelings about it. With that advice, she just handed a blank check to every parent to spend at the manipulation store.

Let me give an example:

Parent to child: was mom’s boyfriend there this weekend?

Child: yes

Parent: how do you feel about that? [letting the child know they should be feeling something]

Child: I don’t know

Parent: It’s okay if it bothers you. I know divorce can be difficult. [letting the child know they should be having negative feelings; encouraging them to express those feelings, whether organic or artificial]

Child: I don’t like him

Parent: What don’t you like about him? [parent trying hard to restrain excitement that the child doesn’t like him, while encouraging complaining]

Parent: Do you think you would feel better about this if she hadn’t dated so soon? [letting child know that their mom starting dating unusually fast (whether it’s true or not)]

Parent: I understand why this bothers you, but you need to do the best you can and give him a chance [letting the child know that it is a very, very difficult situation and most people would be unhappy, so the child really should be unhappy]

The conversation ends with the parent hugging the child and giving them a lot of attention. The child is rewarded for being sad.

The parent, meanwhile, can say that all they did was listen to the child and validate their feelings. They did not say anything negative about the other parent or the person the other parent is dating. Plausible deniability. In fact, it’s so easy that this manipulative parent might even convince themselves that they are just looking out for their child.

Now, consider the following alternative advice: “Unless the parent is dating someone who is hurting, physically or verbally, your child, you should not validate any negative feelings they have about that person or about your ex dating. In fact, you should make it clear that you will be upset with your child if they are not very welcoming, because your child were raised to be kind and welcoming of anyone who is kind and welcoming to them.”

Child: I don’t like mom’s boyfriend

Parent: Has he been mean to you?

Child: No, but I just don’t like him

Parent [sounding annoyed]: Well you better be nice to him. No child of mine is going to be unkind to people who are nice to them. If you are sad about the divorce, that’s one thing, and I’ll be glad to talk about it with you, but if you aren’t welcoming of new people that mom or I bring into your life, I will be very upset.

Child gets the clear message that they have no interest in hearing their complaints about their mom’s life, unless it involves something very serious. They also get the message that dad is, not only fine with mom dating, but will truly encourage their children to welcome these changes.

The child also gets the message that they are being a little whiny, that their life isn’t *that* hard, and they need to grow up a bit. While this might sound harsh to some, it’s important for children to not feel like they are justified in having a bad attitude towards people who haven’t been mean to them.

Therapists need to be better about teaching people the difference between listening to your child who’s sad about unselfish things (normal insecurities etc) versus telling them to knock it off when they are looking to you to validate their selfish feelings and behaviors. I think people feel like you need to either always listen and validate or never listen and validate, but you can do one sometimes and the other at other times. I feel like this is not well known.

I also feel like so much of psych got anchored by Freudian ideas about talking out feelings, just like evolution got anchored to genes.

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