Tuesday, November 15, 2011


A stable sense of who we are is a vital force within every human being. You will often hear people say, "I can't do that. That is just not me". We make choices based on how we perceive ourselves and feel secure when our choices match how we see ourselves. We feel secure when our responses are internally consistent. They match our predictions. The security of the match between what we say and what we do keeps our anxiety low and enables us to build self-confidence. We work hard to stay internally consistent. It makes us feel emotionally stable and healthy.

The opposite is also true when we confuse ourselves either by our internal reactions or our actions. We become highly anxious when our sense of self is threatened. We don't know what to believe, lose confidence in ourselves and our reactions, and our anxiety turns to panic. We can't make decisions, can't even make sense of any problem, and most importantly, can't solve any of the dilemmas that we face. We become riddled with hopelessness and helplessness and filled with anxiety. Failing to believe in ourselves, we turn to others to tell us what to do.

Emotionally healthy people realize that confusion is a fact of life. Life is neither stable nor secure. While we all may want to feel secure inside, that is often not the case. The Natural Self and Family Self are always battling for your attention. The idea of a "Real Self" is difficult to sort out amidst the many competing voices within. In fact, we can sell out our Natural selves out for the stability created by listening to the voice of the Family Self. We can feel internally calm when we listen to our parents rules and live our lives by their principles. Honoring our Natural Selves is harder. We must often stare down our guilt and shame to honor our anger. Even if you can push yourself to listen to your natural anger, there is a backlash of doubt grounded in guilt or shame. It is rarely easy and often a lonely experience.

There is a way to feel more stable inside in spite of all the confusion. It begins with a true recognition of what you believe in and how that differs from the way you were raised. Feeling like you have "two sides to yourself" is normal and to be expected. Identify the emotions that come from the Natural Self and use them to protect your Natural Self from harm. Natural anger, sadness and joy are the principle emotions of your real self. Shame and guilt are the emotions that tie your self to the family. When there is an internal conflict, look for the emotions behind your thoughts to identify the anger or the guilt. This is not easy as there is typically high anxiety associated with the conflict. When you can separate the two reactions clearly, follow the thoughts and actions that are consistent with your natural emotions. Lastly, be prepared for a backlash of shame and guilt. Ride this reaction like a wave. It will crest and fall over time. By riding through the backlash, you can stay the course, choose your reactions that represent you, and enable your Real Self to be clearer to others and yourself.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Many people use the phrase, "Trust your gut" to imply that an emotionally healthy person is strong enough to trust how they feel and stand up for themselves. I agree in part but with some reservations. If "trusting your gut" means trusting the emotions from the Natural Self (see prior blogs), then I agree. The emotions from the Natural Self are pure and are the voice of the truth within.

But that is not the only source of emotion. There is also the emotions from the Family Self that contain all the unhealthy elements and human weaknesses of the parents who engineered the rules of the family. The primary emotions of irrational fear, guilt and shame are part of your "gut" as well. Those are the emotions that can't be trusted and form the basis for unhealthy choices and imbalances in relationships.

The key to "trusting your gut' is discernment. Discernment is a process of examining one's emotions to determine where they came from. This is no easy task as it requires you to separate the competing emotions in the middle of the fear that gets triggered when the internal emotional battle begins. In addition to fear clouding the issue, the relative strengths of the emotions of the Natural and Family Self create another point of confusion. The emotions of the Natural Self like joy, sadness, anger, rational fear, are low level experiences. They don't feel loud inside. They are calm and natural. Emotions from the Family Self are loud and tough to ignore. They overpower the calmer emotions and scream loudest to be heard inside your mind. They confuse you with their strength because it is easy to believe that if you feel so strongly then it must be right. Difficult to discern at that moment is that what you may be feeling says more about how right it was to your mom and dad than actually how right it is for you. You would first need to check with the truer emotions that talk a softer talk to find out if there is truth in the stronger reaction. If they don't match, trust the calm voice within. It is often the source of truth. The other becomes loud because it is mixed with the fear of breaking the rules under which you were raised. It is a truth according to mom and dad and not necessarily yourself.

A third point of confusion that corrupts discernment is telling the difference between thoughts and feelings. If you are angry at someone, and say "I think you are a jerk", you can't defend it by calling it a feeling. I have heard many of my patients do exactly that. They defend a thought, a conclusion, or a character attack by saying "That's just how I feel and you can't deny me my feelings". The person is correct in that feeling states change over time and can't be treated like facts. However, it is equally confusing to defend a thought as a feeling. Calling somebody a "jerk" is not a feeling state like mad, sad, guilty or afraid. However, it is equally confusing to defend a thought as a feeling. It does not promote good communication or problem solving and typically results in more anger and hostility.

To summarize, trust your gut after you have discerned where the emotions originate. There is truth in your gut if the reactions come from the Natural Self. If not, ignore your gut especially the louder it screams. Truth never needs to scream. It stands alone and waits for you to listen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Most people believe that anger is a destructive emotion. In a prior blog, I made the case that natural anger is your best friend. It is the reaction that lets you know that a problem exists. Without it, you would not know when to protect yourself from harm. It is like physical pain. It lets you know that you have been harmed and need to defend yourself.

In a prior blog, I talked about the two sources of human emotion, the Natural Self based on reactions to what feels good or bad and the Family Self that is based on the way we were raised. I discussed that anger stems from the Natural Self and guilt/shame stem from the Family Self. The basis for guilt/shame is displeasing your parents. The problem is that the way we were raised is filled with our parent's own imperfections. The rules that we were taught can often be wrong or not apply to a given situation. The Natural Self's reactions tend to be pure and based on honesty. Anger is the voice of the truth within. If it feels wrong, it is wrong regardless of what we were told by anyone. What exactly is wrong needs to be discussed and confirmed by all people involved, but you can count on the fact that something is wrong.

The problem with the emotions from the Natural Self is that they can become confounded by memories that cause emotions to flood from history and join with the reactions in the present. Anger is a perfect example. At it's lowest level, you can trust your anger. If you hold it back, it mixes with old unresolved events and begins to build. When it finally explodes out, it has turned to rage. Rage is destructive for many reasons. It is no longer directed at solving the problem. Rage is directed at silencing the person and hurting them if necessary. Strong defensive reactions, attacking a person's character, interpreting others without their permission, jumping to false conclusions that are defended despite another's opinion are all examples of rage reactions.

When it dies down, rage easily turns to guilt and shame for doing harm to another. Each episode confuses the person even more about the validity of their initial anger. The bad style prompted by rage makes one lose the value of the content. They become more afraid of their anger, hold it back when it appears, and feed the process that ends in rage. Holding back the natural response only starts the cycle all over again.

Rage is anger gone bad. It is not natural and certainly not your best friend. Anger at its lowest level is your best friend. Trust it, respond to it, and you can avoid the rage that hurts us all.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Who would have thought that referring to your parents as your "best friends" would be a bad thing? Turns out that it is as it signals that the person's psychological development has stopped. The harm comes in that the person is unable to honor their own reactions when the parent's imperfections, insecurities or weakness show up. To not react the person must disconnect internally from their annoyance and find a way to excuse the behavior. Rather than give themselves the right to give voice to their reaction, they become overly concerned with protecting the parent from distress, and find a way to excuse bad behavior. In short, their guilt trumps their anger.

The normal development path follows a different course. Children idealize their parents because they are dependent on them for survival. They see themselves through the eyes and reactions of their parents. They feel good when they please mom and dad and feel distress when mom and dad disapprove of what they do. They learn to hide their own natural reactions and trust mom and dad's reactions more than their own. They are too young and vulnerable to trust themselves, especially without mom and dad encouraging and validating the truth in the child's reactions. The child learns to please to survive and protects the parents as a means to protect themselves.

This connection based on idealization over time gives rise to the process of learning that mom and dad are each imperfect people, only some good and some bad. Each is capable of giving love and equally capable of doing harm. During the adolescent rebellion, as a result of comparing one's parents rules and actions to their friend's parents behavior, the child starts to listen to their own reactions and challenge mom and dad. If the parent accepts the challenges, and validates the child's reactions, then the child starts to develop an independent sense of self. They feel strong in their beliefs in what they see. They learn to listen to themselves without discounting others and learn the art of negotiation and compromise.

Unfortunately, it doesn't often end this way. Many parent's succumb to their own insecurities, and take too personally the bad style of the adolescent. Being yelled at or ignored is not easy, and not a self-respecting style. A secure parent helps the teen to separate their style from their content. A statement ,"if you curse at me again, you lose the car and cell phone for a week" is followed by "Now tell me why you are so angry so we can work it out". An insecure parent will yell back, retreat, or severely punish the teen without caring about the problem that got the bad exchanges started in the first place. They will focus on the demand for respect rather than solve the problem. In this case, the teen feels ignored and they retreat, only to act out even stronger when the next problem emerges. This pattern leads to isolation and distance in relationships, the exact opposite outcome that neither teen or parent wants.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I have previously discussed the existence of the two selves, the Natural Self and the Family Self. Each of these selves serves a different purpose. The Natural Self exists based on reactions to the world, what feels good and what feels bad. The natural emotions that emanate from this self are the simple emotions of anger, sadness, joy and realistic fear. The Family Self is made to survive the family experience. The emotions that stem from this organizing principle are guilt, shame and irrational fear. Anxiety signals the existence of a conflict between the emotions of the two Selves. The individual must choose which set of emotions to listen to amidst the internal competing voices that represent these two poles.

There are many forms that the Family Self can take, and can be found in the roles that each of us play within the family. Children within a family survive by becoming either a Hero or a Scapegoat. Heroes do what the parents want and work very hard to do what is expected. They typically idealize their parents, and may even refer to them as their "best friends". They excuse mom and/or dad's weaknesses and justify being mistreated as "doing the best that they can". Scapegoats are typically thought of as the "problem children" who act up and cause their parents much heartache. They challenge the parent's directly and ask for accountability for what the parent does wrong.

Heroes sense of self becomes distorted by the need to see the good and deny the bad. Good and bad that register in the Natural Self cannot be heard or they risk becoming a Scapegoat. They mute the natural internal reactions and listen to their guilt and shame. This leaves them without an internal compass. They learn to rely on other's reactions to form their own. If the other is OK, then then are OK., replacing the reactions of the Natural Self with the reactions of whomever they attach to. They fear being alone because they literally lose their bearings for lack of an internal compass. When differences emerge, they get caught defending themselves or trying to convince the other of the truth in their position. They become dependent on another's reaction rather then believe in their own.

In this type of Family Self, the person has what I call a reflected sense of Self. The person must see themselves in the mirror of the other person's reactions in order to believe in their own reaction. They lose themselves in the reactions of others, leading to dependent relationships. Regardless of how miserable the relationship may be making them, they cannot leave because they fear being alone. With their Natural Self silenced to this degree, they feel all alone with nobody to show them the way. They live scared and unable to believe in themselves.

Monday, August 22, 2011


There are three areas of shared experience that are critical to the health of a marriage: time, money, and bodies. In order to be shared, these resources need to be managed with the "two heads are better than one" philosophy. Shared decision making is not to be confused with asking permission from your partner. It is a process to ensure that the right decision is being made at the right time. Done poorly, it can feel like a child asking permission from a parent. Done properly, you feel like your partner's input helps you to make the best decision.

Time is a resource that often causes much distress. When a couple combines their lives, what each does with their time has an impact on their partner who is often left waiting to find out what their partner is doing before planning what to do with their own time. Co-ordination of time is an act of respect that ensures the best use of time for a mutual benefit. Keeping your partner on a "need to know" basis prevents not only a shared experience but hijacks the potential to make a decision together.

Money is often managed poorly by a couple. Too often, the partner who makes the most money yields to the partner who makes less. For a stay at home mom or for most women who make less than a man doing the same job, this process leads to a loss of power and unilateral decisions. The idea is to make the management of money a shared experience so that both parties contribute to the discussion , regardless of who writes the checks. The family budget needs to be a family affair with both partners agreeing on the budget lines including equal individual expense accounts that bypass the joint decision process. This can be for an amount that the couple agrees upon whether that be $5 or $500. Whoever pays the bills is another decision and can be shared or handled by one party.

The sharing of bodies is an experience that celebrate a relationship or can lead to serious disagreements about sex. If the male approaches the female as a sex object, the female will most likely feel used and retreat. If approached with an attempt to understand what is going on in the wife's life, the introduction of sex feels mutual and satisfying to both parties. Conversely, if the female waits for the male to be the initiator, there is a transfer of responsibility for the health of the couple's sex life from the female to the male. The shared experience is diminished in this case and tension often builds.

To summarize, time, money and bodies are marital resources that demonstrate the couple's capacity for sharing and mutual respect. They are barometers of how well exchanges are being handled. Mismanaged without joint accountability, they will become the source of many marital arguments. Done well, these resources will feel shared and support a feeling of togetherness and well being in the couple.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


One of the popular misconceptions about emotional health is that a person needs to get over their past in order to be healthy in the present. The past to which they refer is the impact of their parents, the way that they were raised. Healthy people are thought to be people that have moved beyond their history to deal with the present in a reasonable way. Unhealthy people are thought to be stuck in the past, over-reacting with extreme sensitivity to issues that are not as important as they feel.

My 27 years of experience as a practicing psychologist has led me to believe that the past is always present and can invade every reaction that we have with other people. This position is consistent with psychodynamic theorists who have written extensively about this phenomena. The parental relationship creates the blueprint for many of our emotional reactions to events. The past is present everytime we jump to a conclusion before we check out what the other person meant. These jumps reflect assumptions that say more about our relationship to our parents than they say about the person in front of us. We go on "auto-pilot" and believe our reactions because the auto-pilot settings are programmed through out interactions with our parents at an impressionable age. Our emotions are stored in our memories and dumped into the present anytime a present circumstance reminds us of a past circumstance. In that sense, we are influenced by our past and cursed by it at the same time. We need history to prevent making the same mistakes, but are cursed by the strength of the emotions that come from history. It is not easy to be a human being.

I believe that emotionally healthy people recognize that the past is always present and look to separate the present from the past. This process requires us to process our emotions before we act on them. The key to being healthy is to start with the idea that our internal reactions are always dual. It is rare that there is a simple single reaction. There are almost always competing internal reactions. The problem is that each of the reactions are not equal in intensity and internal volume. Our guilt and shame can often overpower our right to be angry. We can often hide our mad behind our sad and call it "hurt". Our fears confuse us and make the process of separating our emotions nearly impossible.

This duality of emotion is our salvation and the key to being a healthy human being. By learning that the truth often lies in our anger and not in our guilt and shame, we learn to harness our anger and use it to solve a problem. We become stronger internally, learn to stand up for what we believe in and represent ourselves fully and completely. Healthy people know this is not an easy task, take on the responsibility and work to manage their emotions. Most importantly, healthy people understand that the past is a present trap into which they will fall if they are not eternally vigilant.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

MODELS OF MARRIAGE: Acceptance vs Intimacy

One of the most significant elements to a successful marriage is the level of intimacy that each partner wants to experience. Level of intimacy can be defined as the degree of emotional exchanges that occur on a daily basis between the partners, what one of my patient's called "emotional intercourse". Differences in this need can interfere with the level of satisfaction and ultimately lead to the end of the marriage.

In a low level of intimacy, differences in perceptions or level of emotional reactions to people or events threaten the bond. Each partner treats the other with the same distance as a roommate. Each "do their own thing", ask few questions, and can even be on a "need to know basis". There is extreme sensitivity to criticism and a demand to "accept me how I am." Differences are rarely discussed and there is little room to learn and grow together as a couple. Survival together is the goal without much "rocking the boat" that would threaten the relationship and expose hidden anxieties and insecurities.

In a high level of intimacy, differences are embraced as points of learning. Each partner starts with the idea that each person is some good and some bad. The bad is based on anxiety and is learned by the experience in the family of origin. Each partner helps the other to identify these fears when they arise and provides reassurances to challenge these fears. If necessary, each person challenges the denial of the fears and puts pressure on the partner to be different than where they came from. While there is a recognition that the person's emotional reactions will always be there as an "auto-pilot" response, there is mutual recognition that there are irrational fears at the heart of the defensive reactions. While they cannot change how they were raised and the initial emotional reactions to events, each can manage differently what they do with those reactions. In sum, each partner helps the other to prevent history from repeating.

Essential to the high intimacy marriage is the mutual commitment to learn more about each others emotions and reactions. Each person must be individually dedicated to personal growth and learning, especially from their partner. They both commit to the idea that "two heads are better than one". In order to learn, there must be a recognition of some personal weaknesses in order to accept the truth in the opinions of a partner This is especially true if they conflict with one's own view of one's behavior. Each strive to be less defensive with each other, as defensiveness is mutually viewed as evidence of irrational fears learned in the family of origin. Learning is lifelong, with each partner helping the other" to be the best that they can be". In the high intimacy marriage, each partner views the other as essential to this learning, a need that breeds a feeling of being each others best friend.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


This article continues the discussion of the "truth within" concept as it relates to the family. Listed below is the definition of the idea:
"The idea that the truth lies within each individual is a powerful concept. It means that each individual contains an element of the truth that makes them unique and important. It also demands that each and every person be given a voice and be heard for the whole truth to be understood. Each person contributes a piece and the whole truth cannot be trusted until it can contain the ideas of each and every person involved."

If we apply this concept to the family, it means that there is some truth in the reactions of all family members. This is true from the smallest child to the eldest member, true for a teenager as well as a parent, true for a grandparent as well as an aunt or uncle. The truth is not the sole possession of the parents, but is trusted to the relationships among all the family members. The mutual search for the truth does not mean that the parent abandon their responsibilities to set rules and boundaries for the children and do whatever the child wants. It means that there is an honest process between the parents to do what is reasonable, and to include the child's opinion in determining their final decision. All family members are equal in value but not equal in obligation or role. However, the process of arriving at a decision, if it honors the truth concept, is carried out in way that enables each person to be heard, and their opinion addressed. It is not dismissed as meaningless because it comes "out of the mouth of babes." Decisions are not made hastily or arbitrarily. They are made between the parents after discussion with the children to get their input. Dialogue is encouraged and the value of opinions and perceptions is validated.

This concept is radically different from the traditional view of the proper role of the child within the family. Obedience rather than truth is given the highest value in the traditional family. Children are considered good if they " do as they are told." Encouraging children to voice their opinion is seen as breeding anarchy and no respect for authority. Getting the opinion of a child is viewed as confusing the child and condoning breaking the rules. Good behavior is the goal regardless of why the child is being good.

If the family properly applies the truth concept, then the children raised in that environment will have less anxiety than children raised in a more traditional setting. Reasonable rules will prevail, with the weaknesses of each parent buffered by the input of all members. The reactions of the Natural Self will be consistent with the Family Self, reducing the anxiety that occurs as a result of the internal clash between the two systems.

Friday, March 4, 2011


I discussed the idea of the "truth within" as a core concept in understanding human behavior. The basic idea bears repeating before we talk about the application of the idea to a healthy marriage:

"The idea that the truth lies within each individual is a powerful concept. It means that each individual contains an element of the truth that makes them unique and important. It also demands that each and every person be given a voice and be heard for the whole truth to be understood. Each person contributes a piece and the whole truth cannot be trusted until it can contain the ideas of each and every person involved."

Healthy relationships, marriage and friendship alike, are based on trust. Trust is established by treating the other person with respect, honoring the need for emotional honesty, and validating their worth by valuing their opinion and perceptions. Another way to say this is that you honor the truth within that person, including when differences of perception or opinion arise. Differences are resolved by a mutual search for the truth, with the recognition that both parties position reflect a part of the truth. The integration of the competing ideas through negotiation and compromise mutually validate each person, and enhance the trust between them.

The opposite is also true. Relationships are damaged through discounting the other person's position. The phrase, "That is your perception" is one such form of discounting. While on the surface it seems to recognize the individual's position, on a deeper level it acts to discount the truth in that perception. There is no further discussion to find the why or the what of the position that would truly reflect the desire to understand. The comment ends the discussion. Beginning a response with the word "No...." or worse, "Your wrong..." is another example of discounting. No or wrong implies no value to their opinion nor any interest in understanding how they arrived at that opinion or perception. There is only room for one opinion, rather than making room for both opinions.

In a healthy marriage, there is mutual validation occurring on a daily basis. Each partner helps the other to find the Real Self and separate from the Family Self. They dialogue openly about their own emotional reactions, and the confusion that is created within. They point out their partner's reactions and ask for an explanation. They see what their spouse cannot see. They validate the right to be angry and give permission to feelings that can be suppressed due to fear. They help the other to sort through the reactions to find which one represents their Real Self.

When discussing marriage, the issue always arises about the fear of losing oneself in the marriage. Men often use the term "whipped" to imply that the man's fear of his wife's anger makes him surrender his wants and needs to her desires. In a healthy marriage, nobody surrenders. Your spouse helps you to honor your Real Self and not get lost in the fears, guilt and shame of the Family Self. Rather than lose yourself, you help to find and preserve your Real Self. Your partner becomes your closest confidant and supporter, your best friend.The Real Self is preserved rather than lost.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


The idea that the truth lies within each individual is a powerful concept. It means that each individual contains an element of the truth that makes them unique and important. It also demands that each and every person be given a voice and be heard for the whole truth to be understood. Each person contributes a piece and the whole truth cannot be trusted until it can contain the ideas of each and every person involved.

This idea forms the basis for the Real Self, a healthy marriage and a healthy family. I will address the impact of the" truth within" on the self in this section, and discuss the significance for a healthy marriage and family in subsequent articles. As a small child, the self is formed around pleasing the parents. Parents are the source of comfort, safety, and education. This training is imprinted in our emotional responses. Fear, guilt and shame register when we break the rules upon which we were raised. Because we are all raised by imperfect people with imperfect relationships, we are raised with imperfect rules, with truths that are not true. This is the basis for the Family Self. These imperfections register in the child and are challenged by the sense of internal truth in the child, the basic feeling of good or bad. This truth forms the basis for the Real Self. When the way we are treated feels bad, it is bad, even if another, including our parents, tells us different. We know that from the truth within us. This truth is protected by our natural primary emotions. Natural anger and sadness registers the clash between our internal truth and the way we are being raised. It tells us that a threat exists to hide the truth.

When we are faced with a situation or event, we react with our thoughts and feelings. Most of the time, there is no conflict between the information sent by the Real Self and the Natural Self. We feel our primary emotions of joy, sadness and anger and we think about an event a certain way that reflects these feelings. Our feelings trigger our thoughts and color our perceptions. When there is a clash between what we naturally want to do and what we have been taught to do, anxiety is triggered. The emotions that reflect the Real Self's truth and the emotions from the Family Self that reflect the world according to mom and dad compete to determine what we will do. In a nutshell, the battle reduces to a conflict between anger/sadness against guilt/shame. Anger becomes our protection and guilt/shame become the "enemy within".

There are two issues that interfere with our insight into our deeper emotions. For one, we are typically unaware of our deeper emotions and focus on our thoughts. We think about events and relationships, and talk to ourselves all day long but rarely have insight into the emotions that drive the thoughts. Secondly, we become confused about the origins of our emotions because they all exist within in and are incorrectly believed to reflect us. Without training, we fail to label those reactions that reflect the imprint of our family upbringing. We don't even begin the search because we automatically believe what we feel to be true and aren't used to discerning our emotions and identifying the source to decide the truth.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Change is a confusing topic. On the one hand, people will say that you should not try to change others but accept them as they are. On the other hand, you hear people refer to "the work" of marriage and the need to learn and grow together. The answer is to focus on yourself and to get distance from unhealthy people who promote denial. One issue is clear. You are responsible for your own change process. For example, if you don't like the way you are treated by family or friends, you need to tell them for several reasons. The first and best reason to speak up is to represent yourself. It is not to change the other person. Some change will occur if you speak your mind. First you are changing because you are choosing to have a voice rather than suffer in silence. Secondly,the relationship will change in one of two ways. One, the person will listen to you and respect your need and the relationship will improve. Second, the person may ignore you and continue to treat you badly. In that case, you can shift from giving voice to getting distance in the relationship. You can spend less time with the person, limit your contact, or as a last resort, end the relationship completely. Either way, if you change, the relationship changes.

Staying with the topic of personal responsibility, I have had patients tell me, "What good is it if I have to ask for it?" They seem to be saying that the need to ask means that the other person has not been listening and not anticipating their needs. They feel that their partner should know already what they want or need. They react with surprise when I tell them that I think that is unhealthy for two reasons. For one, I explain that the assumption that their partner doesn't care is not reasonable and there are other explanations for their not knowing what is needed. They could forget, be distracted, confused or lost in their own emotional distress. There has to be room for other's mistakes and weaknesses. The assumption that "they should know" makes no allowances for this humanity. The person must be a perfect person who correctly anticipates all needs at all times.

The second reason that this position is unhealthy is because the person has surrendered their personal power to ask and transferred the responsibility for their own well-being to the other. It is a powerless position where your ability to get what you need is based solely on the other person's ability to predict, rather than on your own responsibility to ask. Both the requirement of perfection and the loss of personal power are reasons to make sure that you always ask for what you want and not wait for others to figure it out.

There is one point to this phrase that does seem reasonable. If the person has to ask over and over again for the same thing, then there is a problem with nurturing in the relationship. One person is truly getting ignored and this is as unhealthy as not speaking up when you have needs. If the pattern exists, there is an answer to the question, "What good is it if I have to ask for it?" The answer is to challenge the relationship and be prepared to end it if the pattern continues. If you can't fix the problem, you can at least stop the damage.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Most of us have had the experience of watching our spouses lose themselves when challenged by their family.We witness how behavior from one's parent is tolerated when the same behavior from anyone else would be met with anger and demands.
It's like we become children when we go home again.

This transformation occurs because of the irrational nature of the bond between parent and child. The power of the parent is grounded in the dependency of the child. The child is a blank slate who looks to the parent as an idol that protects them from harm and teaches them about life. At an early age, the parent is a god who can do no wrong. The child follows the master, the imprint is created and is held in place by strong emotion. This is the basis for the Family Self.

As discussed in an earlier blog, the Natural Self is born out of the experiences of the individual rather than the parents. If the parent says something is right, and the person does not feel it is right, the emotional conflict pits the emotions of the Natural Self (joy, sadness, anger) against the emotions of the Family Self (fear, shame, guilt). The person must choose which path to follow, which set of emotions is the true expression of themselves. This choice is made even more confusing when all the emotions are experienced internally as belonging to the person and not seen as a reflection of the parental imprint. Separating those emotions to make different choices is the emotional work of the individual to believe in oneself.

Managing these competing reactions is extremely difficult in the face of family pressures. Due to the power of the bond, every interaction as an adult or child with one's family is significant. Each interaction serves to validate either the Family Self or the Natural Self. There is no such thing as a neutral reaction to the family. EVERY SINGLE CONTACT WITH ONE'S FAMILY MAKES US WEAKER OR STRONGER. Our spouses provide testimony to that power whether we see it or not. As a patient recently said to me, "I can't believe that my husband who runs a large corporation is so afraid of disappointing his mother, and he justifies it over and over again".

Helping your spouse to grow their Natural Self and believe in the significance of what they see or feel is vital to the health of a marriage. It is the basis for learning and growth of each partner. Supporting the Natural Self and helping to disable the Family Self promotes the well-being of each spouse. Of course, this process requires that both partners invest the time and energy to understand the difference between the two sets of reactions. In many cases, this awareness is limited and the two sets of reactions are fused together. For example, a person may feel guilty and believe that they have done something wrong because they feel guilty. They actually may have done nothing wrong other than to violate one of the rules that governed the family system. They can't tell the difference between feeling an emotion and believing what we feel. Processing life experiences together helps to illuminate the patterns and increase awareness of the differences between those reactions. This work of defining the two selves and the emotions that are attached is the most important task to maintain the emotional health of a marriage.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


There is a popular position in the general public that one sign of emotional maturity is taking responsibility for your behavior. The corollary to this position is to stop blaming your parents or the way you were raised for your problems. In fact, people who adhere to this belief wrongly blame therapists for promoting this position, and may even believe that psychotherapy promotes irresponsibility and denial of accountability.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Psychology theory is grounded in the idea that the relationship to one's parents form the blueprint for all relationships. That fact does not shift responsibility for behavior. It merely acknowledges the incredible power a parent has over a child, the strength of the imprint of the parent that continues throughout the life of the adult. We are not talking about traumatic events here, but the continued pressure to maintain a connection to one's family that is vital to life. This pressure exists not only on the child but is reinforced lifelong by the demands made on the adult child by the entire family throughout the duration of the adult's life.

As I have discussed in prior blogs, the source of anxiety for the adult is the emergence of the conflict between the Natural Self and the Family Self. When what we want to do conflicts with the way we were raised, anxiety is triggered followed by a wave of guilt/shame to get the person back in line with the way they were taught. Because we were all raised by imperfect parents, some of the rules that are imprinted within us are not rules of reason. They are rules designed to prevent the emergence of truths that may threaten to disrupt the marital bond. The rules are not rules of reason, and the guilt that supports them is not reasonable and irrational. The emotions that are triggered can be strong and overpowering. Breaking free of them is hard, but is essential to give voice to the Natural Self and the demand for truth and emotional honesty. The stronger the voice of the Natural Self, the stronger will be the person's self-esteem.

We all struggle as adults to give voice to this Natural Self. We all especially struggle in the face of the pressures that can be generated by parents and siblings alike. The conflict is created by the truth that the Natural Self realizes and the demands from the Family Self to make excuses or justify parental weaknesses to keep peace in the family. The family generates the greatest pressure on an individual because of the irrational strength of the parent-child bond. It is the greatest test for the person's belief in themselves. Pass this test and we can take on any relationship problem that we will ever face. Fail this test, and we doom ourselves to believe in our guilt and shame, deny our true selves, and live a life of high anxiety.