Category Archives: Parenting

Getting your child to develop self-esteem:
“Honey, you’re so smart and talented!”

“Morning Lily” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Parents who praise their children too much, give constant advice, ask too many questions, or joke around all the time are not doing their children any favors. While parents who become fused with their children usually have the best interests of their children in mind, they harm their children by inadvertently serving their own insecurities. Such expressions of too much attachment result in children becoming dependent and incapable, or secretive, detached and rebellious.

We are talking about extremes of course. It is equally harmful to be excessively critical, indifferent, or humorless. This article, however, is intended for parents who tend to be too attached and involved in their children’s lives.

Praise for Self-esteem

In hopes of fostering their children’s self-esteem, parents sometimes praise and compliment their children too much, which can result in the following problems:

1. When a child gets used to a lot of praise, he or she can become dependent on external validation, losing sight of his or her own internal compass.

2. Too much praise can lead a child to feel inadequate because excessive praise actually expresses the parent’s anxiety over the child’s self-esteem. Expressions of support tinged with anxiety will then backfire.

3. The child sees that the parent is being disingenuous and trying to manipulate the child. As a result, the child loses respect for the parent.

4. Too much praise can result in children becoming fearful of being found out, that is, fearful of not living up to being as wonderful, creative, and smart as they are supposed to be. As a result, they stop trying.

It is generally nice to receive praise and recognition for a job well-done. Parents shouldn’t go to the extreme to ignoring their children’s hard work and accomplishments. But they should avoid trying too hard to make the child feel good.

Too Much Advice

Giving a great deal of advice is often an expression of excessive attachment. Parents who give endless cautionary advice cause their children to tune them out and ignore their warnings. These well-intended but meddlesome parents are the last people children will turn to when they really do need advice.

While it’s important to keep children safe (age appropriately), too much direction implies that the parent thinks the child has no common sense or judgment. This often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the child may learn to feel incapable of having good judgment.

Analogously, in the United States, we are warned of every potential hazard on roads, ski slopes, and at playgrounds. As a result of expecting to be warned about every potential danger, we often stop paying adequate attention to our surroundings to notice danger with our own eyes.

In effect, children develop better judgment when they have to practice using their judgment while growing up rather than counting on receiving warnings from others. Children learn best through experiencing their own mistakes and learning from consequences. Ideally, they are gradually given more and more age-appropriate freedom and responsibility, avoiding both extremes of being mollycoddled and being neglected.

Too Inquisitive

A parent who is overly interested in the details of his or her child’s life is often unknowingly trying to satisfy his or her own longings and needs. Perhaps the parent wasn’t a successful athlete or wasn’t as popular as desired. Perhaps the parent didn’t get the appreciation and attention craved for from his or her own parents. He or she can now attempt to live the desired childhood through his or her own child’s life.

However, too much interest in every detail of their children’s friends, activities, and grades causes them to feel invaded by the parents’ attempt to fuse with them. Again it causes them to become either compliant, incapable, and dependent, or secretive, detached, and rebellious.

It’s better for parents to live their own lives, while being open to conversation without pushing themselves into every detail of their children’s lives.

Too Much Joking

A sense of humor is a wonderful trait to pass on to one’s children. Too much joking around, however, broadcasts the parent’s need to be liked and accepted by the child. Too much jesting breeds over-familiarity that prevents the needed separation between the parent and the child. It also can result in a lack of respect for the parent because the parent appears incapable of taking him- or herself seriously.

Respect

Parents may think they are being loving by praising, joking, advising, or inquiring into their children’s lives. Yet these attempts at interacting with their children often reveal the parents’ unmet needs rather than respond to the children’s own needs. In excess, these ways of relating squash the healthy separation and respect between parents and children.

Ideally, we can strive to relate to our kids without trying to give them the childhood we wished we had. Instead, we can leave enough separation that will allow us to respect their differences in personality and desires, and allow them to develop judgment and independence, through which they develop self-esteem. Ironically, when we try a little less, our relationships often become more natural, connected, and respectful. When we stand back a little, we also allow more space for our children to grow and to move toward us, because they won’t dread being overwhelmed by excessive parental energy.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read Dr. Madeline Levine’s “Is Your Parenting Style Based On Faulty Thinking?”


GUEST AUTHOR Sam Vaknin: The Narcissist’s Disabled, Sick, and Challenged Children

"Prism" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Prism” by Mimi Stuart ©

Guest Author Sam Vaknin writes:

The narcissist regards his disabled or challenged child as an insult, a direct challenge to his self-perceived perfection and omnipotence, a constant, nagging source of negative narcissistic supply, and the reification and embodiment of a malevolent and hostile world which tirelessly conspires to render him a victim through misfortune and catastrophe. The precarious foundations of his False Self – and, therefore, his ability to function – are undermined by this miscegenation.

Relentlessly challenged by his defective offspring’s very existence and by the persistence of its attendant painful reminders, the narcissist lashes out, seeking to persecute and penalize the sources of his excruciating frustration: the child and his mother. The narcissist holds her responsible for this failure, not himself. She brought this shame and perturbation into his otherwise fantastic life. It was she who gave issue to this new fount of torment, this permanent reminder of fallibility, imperfection, mortality, impotence, guilt, disgrace, and fear.

To rectify this wrong, to restore the interrupted balance, and to firmly regain an assured sense of his grandiosity, the narcissist resorts to devaluation. He humiliates, belittles, and demeans both the unfortunate child and his suffering mother. He compares their failings unfavourably to his own wholeness. He berates and mocks them for their combined disability, frailty, weakness, meekness, and resourcelessness. He transforms them into the captive butts of his unbridled sadism and the cowed adherents of a cult-like shared psychosis. Serves them well for having thus ruined his life, figures the narcissist.

Casting himself as a compassionate proponent of “tough love”, the narcissist eggs his charges on mercilessly. He contrasts their slowness with his self-imputed alacrity, their limitations with his infinite grasp, their mediocrity with his genius and acuity, and their defeats with his triumphant life, real or imagined. He harps on and leverages their insecurities and he displays his hateful contempt for this mother-child diad with a fiery vengeance whenever he is confronted, criticized, or resisted. He may even turn violent in order to enforce the discipline of his distorted worldview and delusional exegesis of reality. By reducing them, he feels elevated yet again.

Bonding and attachment in infancy are critical determinants and predictors of well-being in adulthood. A small minority of children are born with dysfunctions – such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Asperger’s Disorder – which prevent them from properly bonding with or attaching to the primary caregiver (mother, in most cases). Environmental factors – such as an unstable home, parental absenteeism, or a disintegrating family unit – also play a role and can lead to the emergence of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Toddlers adapt to this sterile and hostile emotional landscape by regressing to an earlier phase of unbridled, self-sufficient, and solipsistic primary narcissism. Disabled and challenged children of narcissistic parents may well end up being narcissists themselves, a sad but inescapable irony.

Narcissistic parents of seriously ill children derive narcissistic supply from onlookers, friends, family, colleagues, and community by attracting attention to their role as saintly caretakers. They are demonstratively and ostentatiously patient, compassionate, suffering heroically, and dedicated to the child, its welfare, and ultimate healing. They flaunt the child’s sickness as a kind of a hard-won but well-deserved medal, down in the trenches with their tortured offspring, doing desperate battle with a pitiless enemy: the disease. It is an intoxicating part in the unfolding film that is the narcissist’s life.

But this irresistible craving for attention should be demarcated from the sinister affliction colloquially known as Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome.

Patients afflicted with the Factitious Disorder colloquially known as “Munchausen Syndrome” seek to attract the attention of medical personnel by feigning or by self-inflicting serious illness or injury. “Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome” (Factitious Illness or Disorder by Proxy, or Imposed by Another, or FII – Fabricated or Induced Illness by Carers) involves the patient inducing illness in or causing injury to a dependent (child, old parent) in order to gain, in her capacity as a caretaker, the attention, praise, and sympathy of medical care providers. Both syndromes are forms of shared psychosis (folie a deux or a plusieurs) and “crazy-making” with hospital staff as unwilling and unwitting participants in the drama.

Superficially, this overwhelming need for consideration by figures of authority and role models (doctors, nurses, clergy, social workers) resembles the narcissist’s relentless and compulsive pursuit of narcissistic supply (which consists of attention, adulation, admiration, being feared or noted, etc.) But, there are some important differences.

To start with, the narcissist – especially the somatic variety – worships his body and cherishes his health. If anything, narcissists tend to be hypochondriacs. They are loath to self-harm and self-mutilate, let alone fake laboratory tests and consume potentially deleterious substances and medications. They are also unlikely to seriously “damage” their sources of supply (e.g., children) as long as they are compliant and adulating.

As opposed to narcissists, people with both Munchausen Syndromes desire acceptance, love, caring, relationships, and nurturing, not merely attention: theirs is an emotional need that amounts to more than the mere regulation of their sense of self-worth. They have no full-fledged False Self, only a clinging, insecure, traumatized, deceitful, and needy True Self. Munchausen Syndrome may be comorbid (can be diagnosed with) personality disorders, though and the patients are pathological liars, schizoid, paranoid, hypervigilant, and aggressive (especially when confronted.)

While narcissists are indiscriminate and “promiscuous” when it comes to their sources of narcissistic supply – anyone would do – patients with the Munchausen Syndromes derive emotional nurturance and sustenance mainly from healthcare practitioners.

===================================

by Guest Author Sam Vaknin, who is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site.

Read Guest Author Sam Vaknin’s “Munchausen and Munchausen by Proxy Syndromes: Forms of Pathological Narcissism?”

Read Sam Vaknin’s “How Does the Narcissist React “http://to Illness and Disability?”

Watch “Authoritarian vs Permissive Parenting”


“I miss being close to my adult son.”

"Lady Liberty" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Lady Liberty” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

“My very close relationship with my son who is now 22 changed when he changed schools in 9th grade when he dramatically distanced himself from me. When he is with us during Christmas or summer breaks he is nice and family oriented but somehow always avoids spending quality time with me, never talks about private matters, and sometimes reveals that he blames me for things in his life that never occurred to me, like changing the school for him which put him through hard times or not taking his problems seriously enough. I feel his rejection of me and it hurts. We are slipping apart and I think I am not very able to deal with this. It sometimes makes my life feel worthless. Do you have any advice for me??”

Young adults separating from their parents

I’m so sorry for your pain. Younger children will generally idealize their parents, and when they become old enough to recognize their flaws, they can become disappointed, annoyed, and openly critical.

It is also very common for children to distance themselves from their parents when they are teenagers and young adults – this is natural and to be expected in a healthy child. They can become hyper-critical of their parents, blaming them for any struggles they face. They also can become hyper-sensitive to being judged or controlled by their parents.

It is a positive sign that your son is visiting you during Christmas and summer, and that he is polite. It is important to keep that connection even if it feels superficial to you. You may desire deeper connection and to talk about private matters with him, but you must resist pressing him in any way. When he is ready he will come to you.

If and when he does say anything about his life, try hard not to be reactive; do not judge or give advice unless he asks for it. Simply listen and try to be supportive. Do otherwise, and he will clam up and further distance himself from you.

Sudden change in child

It is possible that something bad happened to your son in 9th grade, either an event or simply unhappiness in being in a new school where he did not feel comfortable. As this was not your intention, it was not your fault. These transitions and minor traumas are part of life, and often prepare the teen for difficulties that are bound to occur in life. On the other hand if you do suspect that something horrible happened to him, you should ask him about it in a letter or in person. Otherwise let it pass.

Not a perfect parent?

No parent is perfect. As long as a parent provides love, consistency, and has reasonable expectations and consequences, the parent is doing a good job. No parent can satisfy a child’s every need, nor would it be the healthiest way to prepare a child for life. It is through one’s parents’ small failures and mistakes that a child learns to survive challenges.

A theory developed by Winnecott and called “good-enough mothering” (or good-enough parenting) shows that it’s better to be a pretty good parent with flaws than a “perfect parent” who anticipates every need of the child. It is the omissions and small mistakes of the parent that enable a child to gradually develop resiliency. Of course, abuse and great neglect do not fit into this category of “good-enough.”

Children criticize where it hurts – beware of your vulnerabilities

Ironically, children often criticize their parents for having the very qualities that the parents try hardest to avoid having. Better than anyone, children know their parents’ vulnerabilities. For example, if a child senses that a parent would hate to be seen as “rude”, then the child is likely to say to the parent that he or she is rude, even though the parent is indeed the otherwise. The child unconsciously knows the parent’s vulnerabilities and triggers and will exploit them in certain situations.

Thus, your son’s criticism of you for not taking his problems seriously enough may simply be his way of getting your attention because he unconsciously knows it will hurt you. Or he may simply be projecting his own inability to deal with his problems onto you.

On the other hand, if his criticism is apt, it’s not too late to take his problems more seriously.

Suggestions

When your son visits,

1. Be polite,

2. Show you’re happy to see him, but don’t idolize him or make him the center of all your attention,

3. Let him approach you,

3. Don’t ask too many questions if he’s sensitive to intrusive questioning,

4. Try not to make any judgments,

5. Try not to give advice,

6. Try not to be reactive when he discusses anything about his life,

7. Don’t lay any guilt trips “you’re seeing your friends again instead of having dinner with us!”

8. When he criticizes you, don’t get defensive; simply say, “I’m sorry you’re hurt, but unfortunately I’m not perfect. But you know I’m on your side and want what’s best for you.”

9. When he leaves, tell him how much his visit has meant to you ,

10. Try to do something interesting or fun together. You could say, “it would mean a lot to me if you go (skiing/on a hike/to a museum) with me while you visit, perhaps on Thursday.” “I’d love to go …. with you during your visit, perhaps ….”

I predict that as he matures and becomes more self-confident, he will become more appreciative of and comfortable around you and desire a deeper connection with you. However, you have to accept the natural loss of the close connection you once had when he was young. It is a fact of life that our children will grow up and will have their own lives independent of us – and that is a good thing.

Thus, I suggest that you let go of the hope to be as connected as you once were. I suggest enjoying his visits as much as possible, and letting him live his life while you focus on finding some things that you truly enjoy and are passionate about. Pursue your interests, enhance your relationships with your wife or partner if you have one, enhance your relationships with friends and the community. This will make you happier, and make you more appealing to your son, and a better role-model for him.

Write a letter to him

If it feels appropriate, you could write a letter, though not too long and detailed. Make sure you’re not judgmental, pleading, needy, demanding—anything that would cause him to feel guilty. For example,

“Dear ___________,

I want you to know how much joy you’ve brought into my life and how much our relationship means to me. It’s probably healthy and normal for a you to live your own life and in so doing to distance yourself from us a bit. However, I feel quite saddened by the distance between us since you went into the 9th grade. It may be simply a healthy distance for a young adult, but it seems as if there is something else causing the distance, some hurt or disappointment on your part. Of course I am not a perfect parent, but I have always been on your side and tried my best.

I dearly hope that you can forgive any hurt I have inadvertently caused you, and that over time we can become closer, as you mean the world to me.”

Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

Best,

Alison

Read “Good-enough Parenting: ‘I feel so bad when I let my children down.’”

Read “I worry a lot over my adult children and I often call them to give advice.”

When is it time for an adult child to move out.

"Limitless" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Limitless” by Mimi Stuart ©

“My son is 20 and we are having a great deal of trouble with his selfish behavior. He stays at home and commutes to school, and this summer he is basically just doing what he wants and getting angry and impatient if we ask for help around the house. He swears often as is critical of me even though he knows I don’t like it. He blames other people when confronted about his own attitude. He definitely has a good side and can be very funny and entertaining. Lately though, I feel depressed, as though I had failed as a parent.”


This is a very common situation, although a painful one. Unless your son has always been rude and selfish he will probably turn out fine in the end. I believe your son resents you because he is an adult yet he is dependent on you. He doesn’t feel good about himself because he is functioning as a child. Yet he’s too comfortable and afraid to change the situation. Fear is what is driving his resentment and his lashing out at you.

Behavior and the Brain

The prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until we’re about 25 years. Typically it develops more slowly in males. It develops through experiencing the repeated consequences to our actions, both positive and negative. A person develops the ability to resist immediate gratification or impulsive behavior such as being rude and critical when there are repeated negative consequences to such behavior.

If a young man experiences no consequences when he swears, is rude, and does not contribute in a supportive way, then he will be unlikely to develop the ability to resist those impulses later in life with people close to him. Now is the time when you can influence him so that his prefrontal cortex does not remain underdeveloped.

Consequences

You need to keep two things in mind. One, your home is your sanctuary and two, he is an adult.

You should not tolerate an entitled, rude, critical person living in YOUR home. Enabling bad behavior doesn’t do anyone any good. It merely strengthens neural pathways of negative behavior. There need to be consequences and firm boundaries to his conduct in YOUR home.

There is no need to be angry or mean when discussing a problem. It’s much more effective to be kind but resolute when expressing your own boundaries, specifically that it is time for your son to move out of your home. I suggest being very honest with him, but start with something positive and retain a firm but compassionate tone of voice.

For example, “You’re often funny and enjoyable to be with. We love you. However, perhaps because you’re 20 and an adult who needs his independence, you seem to resent us. We understand that young adults who are not adequately separated from their parents may become critical of and annoyed with their parents. However, your criticism, swearing, and hostile attitude toward us in our home are unacceptable to us. We know you’re better than that and don’t want to enable you further.”

“While you are in our home we expect appreciation, support and consideration and we expect you to live by our rules. Since you haven’t been doing that, we think that for our own sakes as well as yours, it is time that you should live elsewhere. This is not a punishment, but what’s best for everyone.”

“We all have to be creative in figuring out how this can be done. Perhaps you can get a loan for your tuition and use the money we’re spending on tuition on your room and board. You can get another part-time job, or get a full-time job and take fewer classes. Whatever you decide is up to you, and we would be glad to help in any way we reasonably can.”

Facing challenges

This is the time when young people should be meeting the daily challenges in life. Facing such challenges is how he will build self-confidence, and as a result have more positive interactions with others including you, as long as you don’t mollycoddle him.

College

You may worry that it will be harder for your son to complete college if he has to get another job. Yet the gift of gaining self-respect, respect for others, and the skills to deal with life challenges will balance out the fact that it may take longer for him to complete college. Moreover, it is probable that he will appreciate the gift of a college education more than he currently does when he sees what it takes to get by on his own. In the meantime, I would also ask him to do more chores, let him cook his own meals, and do less for him.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Setting Boundaries”

Read Angry Adult Child:“The years of terror from my mother has made me make sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.”

Read “I worry a lot over my adult children and I often call them to give advice.”

“How can I teach my son to be respectful and caring and to love himself?”

"R E S P E C T" by Mimi Stuart ©  Live the Life you Desire

“R E S P E C T” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

“When my son was two, his dad went to prison due to his strong drug addiction. Because I felt so sorry for my son, I over-spent on material things and became his best friend. I was in denial that my actions would hurt my son, and myself.

Now my son is very selfish, rude, and angry at the world, and he is non-sociable. His world is restricted to video games on the internet. He has a very high IQ, but he is overweight, and while in school, he was bullied, which drove him almost to suicide. So I took him out of school, and decided to home school him. He didn’t learn any social skills.

I am disabled, and I am overweight as well. I am trying to save enough of money to get us an elliptic stepper exerciser, but they are expensive.

Now I have a selfish, angered, lazy son who is rude to me; he wants things and does not want to give. How can I teach my son to be respectful, show he cares and to love himself?”

Hi Tina,

You have plenty of challenges in your life without beating yourself up about the past. At this point, you need to focus on each day and look to the future.

Let’s look at four reasons teenagers and children at any age tend to be rude, disrespectful and uncaring, and what to do about each one:

1. The parent lacks self-respect. A parent who demonstrates little self–respect receives little respect.

Self-respect involves valuing yourself and not allowing others to treat you poorly. You need to value what’s best for your long-term fulfillment and work each day toward improving your own life. You also need to expect respectful treatment, and have appropriate consequences each time your child is rude to you.

For instance, when he demands things, say something like “If you want something you need to be respectful and contribute to this household.” Then make sure you give him what he wants only if it is necessary, he is polite, and he contributes to the family (chores, etc.) It’s important that you as the parent make such demands respectfully so as to set a good example.

2. The child knows no boundaries.
The second cause of rudeness in children is parents’ over-indulging them and neglecting to set boundaries. The parent needs to be able to say “no” and mean it, but without a condescending attitude.

Parents who need to be liked or become their child’s friend find it difficult to have reasonable expectations and set boundaries. Indulgence and lack of boundaries intended to prop up a child’s self-esteem do the opposite—they cause increased distress and anxiety in the child.

In contrast, parents who set reasonable boundaries and give reasonable consequences are teaching their child self-discipline in the face of instant gratification and temptation. Self-discipline is what enables children to persevere in the world despite set backs. Self-esteem is built on a foundation of perseverance.

3. The child needs more autonomy. All children strive for independence and separation from their parents and need to push the parent away if the parent does not encourage the development of independence.

If you give too much advice and keep them too close, they will not feel good about themselves and they will lose respect for you, often becoming rude, surly and more demanding. Over-protection angers children because implies that they are incapable and it restricts their ability to grow. Ironically, over-protection makes the child more vulnerable and incapable of taking care of themselves. As a result, over-protected children end up craving independence while fearing it at the same time.

In extreme cases when a child is at risk of suicide, there needs to be intervention and counseling. But continuous over-protection will only increase their vulnerability when they do have to venture out into the world.

In general, when we allow our children to deal with the normal difficulties of life, they develop their abilities to deal with the risks, dangers, and bullies that life has to offer. The parent has to realize that the child will get hurt, but will develop ways of dealing with painful incidents if given appropriate amounts autonomy. Ideally, autonomy, good decision-making, and self-preservation develop gradually as a result of the parent gradually giving the child more independence along with more responsibility and accountability.

4. The child seeks power. The fourth cause of rudeness is a need to lash out as a way to experience power because the child does not feel self-empowered in any other way.

A healthy way for a child to become self-empowered is to develop the ability to set goals and achieve them, which again requires perseverance in the face of difficulties. Parents need to have reasonable expectations that their children become more responsible and face reasonable difficulties on their own, while they also hold them accountable for their actions.

In summary, a parent sets the stage for a child to develop self-respect, a precursor to being caring and respectful, by doing the following:

1. developing their own self-respect,
2. setting reasonable boundaries and issuing consequences,
3. giving the child gradually-increasing amounts of autonomy along with responsibility, and
4. expecting the child to work hard, challenge him- or herself, and treat others well.

Recommendations

At this point, I would focus on improving your life, expecting more from your son, and not being afraid to say “no” to him. Avoid argument while focusing on daily improvement of your life.

Rather than buying an elliptic stepper exerciser, you may want to consider going for regular walks. Walking is free and it gets you outdoors in fresh air and among other people, which encourages healthy interaction with the world. You may want to download books from the library onto an mp3 player, which will make it easier and more enjoyable to take longer walks. By demonstrating to your son that your are learning, improving your life, and that you can leave the house frequently despite the discomfort you feel in doing so, you will role model your ability to pursue challenges on your own. I would also encourage or require your son to go back to school and/or work, or some other social environment where he challenges himself to grow and engage with other people.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen
@alisonpoulsen

https://www.facebook.com/dralisonpoulsen

Watch “How to Respond to Rudeness: ‘I TOLD you to get it for me!!!’”

Read “Angry Adult Child:
‘The years of terror from my mother has made me make sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.’”

Read “My teenager is selfish and rude! How did I raise a child like this?”

“I better comfort her because she can’t handle this.”

"Under Water" detail by Mimi Stuart ©

“Under Water” detail by Mimi Stuart ©

Validating others can backfire

Ironically, those who depend on another person’s validation to feel secure about themselves are causing their insecurity to intensify. If they depend on their partner, friend, or parent to validate them in order to appease their anxiety, they are allowing others to re-enforce their limitations. This will prevent them from growing and from developing a stronger sense of themselves when faced with difficulty, discomfort and anxiety.

Who is really the anxious one?

When somebody is upset, scared, or uncomfortable, are you the one that intervenes and tries to make it right? You may not think that you are the anxious one but generally what spurs somebody into quick action in an effort to validate others who are upset is their own anxiety.

People who find themselves frequently validating their partner, friend, or child think that it’s the other person who needs to be protected from falling apart or freaking out. Yet often they themselves are the ones who cannot tolerate their own anxiety in face of another person’s fear or problems. They focus so much on the other person that they are not even aware that their attempts to soothe the other person and to fix their problems results from their own discomfort with their own anxiety.

Dr. James Hollis holds that “the quality of all of our relationships is a direct function of our relationship to ourselves.” Thus, “the best thing we can do for our relationships with others… is to render our relationship to ourselves more conscious.”

How to handle another person’s anxiety

Avoid responding to other people’s anxiety with increased anxiety, which may express itself as validating them or fixing things for them. When you rush to soothe another person, you treat that person as a child, which prevents them from developing their own ability to stand on their own two feet.

Rather than soothing others who are facing some difficulty, it is more respectful to be with them or check in on them while allowing them to take care of themselves. Rather than validating them with efforts to appease, praise, and agree with them, tell them the truth, but do it with kindness. Rather than fixing the problem for them, be available for a conversation, and start by listening.

When someone’s emotions are running hot, the most effective way to be of help is to remain calm, and not allow your own emotions to be triggered. Allowing others to be responsible for soothing themselves and facing their own anxiety without propping them up allows them to grow, to develop self-respect, and to become a more whole and capable person.

Exceptions

Of course you must remain flexible. Babies and young children, for example, need to be soothed. But as children grow, we should gradually allow them more time to soothe themselves before we step in. In order for adults to handle big problems without falling apart they need to learn to handle small ones as they grow. If parents allow their children increasingly more responsibility to take care of themselves and fix their own problems as they grow, they will be able to handle increasingly more anxiety without falling down too hard. The key is allowing autonomy and responsibility to develop gradually.

Also, people experiencing real trauma may need soothing and help handling their problems.

The more we can be a calm presence for a person rather than a band-aid, the more we encourage them to become responsible for themselves, which is the only real way we can give them the gift of becoming more confident and secure.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen
@alisonpoulsen
https://www.facebook.com/dralisonpoulsen

Recommended: Dr. James Hollis’ Creating a life: Finding your individual path and The Eden project: In search of the magical other. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books.

Read “Intimacy vs. Agreement: ‘I better not disagree with his point of view, or he’ll get upset.’”

Read “I worry a lot over my adult children and I often call them to give advice.”