Category Archives: Personality Traits

Overfunctioning and underfunctioning:
“If I don’t take care of things, nothing will ever get done.”

"Crescendo" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Crescendo” by Mimi Stuart ©

Emotional system

Every family is an emotional system, where the functioning, behavior and beliefs of each person influence those of the others. Overfunctioning is different from simply doing kind things for another person or having distinct but equal roles and duties. It is an ongoing pattern of feeling responsible for the emotional well-being of another and working to compensate for the perceived or real deficits in that person.

Polarization

Overfunctioning leads to the underfunctioning person feeling dependent and entrusting responsibility for decisions and effort on those willing to do the work. As a result, the underfunctioning person becomes “less capable” — a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As family members anxiously focus on compensating for the underfunctioner and trying to “correct” the problem, the family members become more polarized. Examples of these polarities include “overadequate” and “inadequate,” “hard-working” and “lazy,” “decisive” and “indecisive,” “goal-oriented” and “procrastinator.”

Resentment

The underfunctioning person gets comfortable being taken care of, and thus continues to allow others to overfunction. Yet the underfunctioner’s increased dependence and helplessness cause feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. Meanwhile, the overfunctioning care-taker feels overwhelmed — “I have to take care of everything, or things will go wrong.” Resentment on both sides builds.

Solution

The way out of such polarities is to work on oneself, rather than to attempt to change others. A positive change in one person will have a positive impact on all others, though there may be a bit of resistance at first.

1. Do Less

Those who overfunction need to do less. When mistakes are made, the overfunctioning family member must resist jumping in to take charge, fix things, and make motivational speeches. He or she must be able to handle the frustration of seeing others fumble around and do things far from perfectly.

2. Gradual Change

Gradual change is often less shocking and deleterious than sudden change. If, for instance, the overfunctioning person has been in charge of all budgets, financial decisions, and bill paying, it’s wise to ease into sharing such duties.

3. Explaining Change

Overfunctioners can explain to the underfunctioning family member(s) that they realize that their own well-intentioned overfunctioning has contributed to the current unsatisfactory situation and that they intend to ease off such doing so much. Then they must stand back a bit and allow others to become more autonomous, make mistakes, suffer consequences, develop resilience, and determine their own individual paths.

It helps to focus on one’s own interests and new activities rather than always focusing on other family members’ behavior.

Example: Teenager Laundry

For instance, if the overfunctioning parent has been doing all cleaning and laundry for the teenagers in the house, it’s helpful to explain how and why you’d like them to start doing their own. Teenagers like the idea of independence, although they resist doing “boring” chores that are at the core of being independent.

Explain that such changes are intended to help them become more capable and independent as they will be moving out in a few years and need to develop the habit of taking care of themselves. “Embrace chores, as they are at the core of becoming independent!”

Then you can either let their dirty laundry pile up in their closets, or tell them you won’t drive them anywhere until they’ve done their laundry. In either case, the consequences of not doing their own laundry will eventually provide its own motivation.

Balance and Harmony

After initial resistance, those who underfunction will gain more autonomy, especially if those who overfunction allow them to suffer the natural consequences of their inaction. Although it’s hard work to break patterns, eventually, with more emotional separation and autonomy, a better balance of capabilities and contributions in the household will bring much needed harmony to the family.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Feeling Shame:
“I’m not worthy to be loved.”

"Rocky Mountain Nobility" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Rocky Mountain Nobility” by Mimi Stuart ©

Deeply-held feelings of inadequacy can cause a person to live with a feeling of shame. Ideally in childhood, we have a parent who expresses both love and reasonable, constructive criticism. However, many people experience excessive neglect, contempt, or harsh criticism from their closest adult relation. The message they may take from such negativity is that they are deeply flawed and unworthy of love.

People who live with a feeling of shame experience great suffering and self-consciousness. They want nothing more than to excise the feeling of inadequacy from their psyche.

While it is important that they moderate their harsh self-criticism with objectivity so they can feel better about themselves, they should also appreciate a couple of skills they have acquired through their challenging upbringing. There are two diamonds in the rough underlying shame that they should hold on to, while eliminating self-condemnation: 1. their ability to self-assess, and 2. their desire to improve themselves.

1. The ability to self-assess

People can experience shame only if they are able to observe themselves and sense their impact on the world around them. They are generally excessively self-critical of themselves, because they have been made acutely aware of how they are viewed by others.

But imagine someone who lacks the ability to observe his or her own conduct and its effects on others. Such a person would be selfish, inconsiderate, and uncaring.

Thus, while excessive self-awareness hinders spontaneity and enjoyment, some conscious awareness of one’s impact on others is a good thing. Ideally, self-assessment can be moderated to become compassionate, helpful and constructive.

2. The desire to improve

The experience of shame implies an underlying desire to become better, more worthy, and deserving. People who experience shame have a strong sense of right and wrong, better and worse, skilled and unskilled. They want to be better than they believe they are.

While excessive shame can lead to depression and self-sabotaging behavior, the underlying desire to become better can act as a strong motivating force to improve oneself.

Solution:

1. Appreciate your ability to self-assess and your desire to be a better person—at work, as a parent, as a friend, etc.

2. Correct your internal thinking. When you hear yourself say something harsh to yourself, such as, “How stupid that was,” change it right away to something reasonable, kind, and objective, such as “Everyone makes mistakes. Next time I’ll try to remember to….”

3. Remember that life is fleeting. Enjoy and focus on what’s good about yourself, instead of focusing on your mistakes or how you compare to others.

4. Become less of a perfectionist. Appreciate small improvements. Learn to laugh at yourself!

Remember that your effectiveness at work and within your relationships improves as you replace shame with compassion, a sense of humor, constructive criticism, and acceptance of what is. Not only will you suffer less, people around you will enjoy you more.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Clutter in your surroundings causes clutter in the mind:
“I don’t have time to deal with this mess.”

“Clarity” by Mimi Stuart ©

Disarray clutters the mind

Clutter in your environment creates clutter in the mind and vice versa. Clutter in your home, office, and car tends to correspond to the clutter in your mind, in your relationships, and in your life.

Living in an environment where it is difficult to find things and difficult to think leads to chaos and indecision. In such an atmosphere, the anxiety of being overwhelmed by stuff stifles your focus and potential.

Accumulation of clutter has its basis in fear

Some people fear never having enough. People who have experienced deprivation during their lifetime, whether through war, poverty, or hard times, understandably find it difficult to throw things out, fearing they may need them in the future.

Others equate possession with security. Being surrounded by possessions gives them the feeling of having value or being loved. Acquiring and retaining things makes them feel more secure.

Many people simply dread the task of re-organizing and removing clothes, papers, and stuff. They dislike the emptiness they feel when doing something so tedious. Instead, they focus on more stimulating activities — like shopping for more stuff!

Clutter is oppressive

By avoiding the tedium of organizing and throwing out possessions, you basically become hostage to them. Your possessions ultimately possess you and create chaos in your life. Disorganized papers, for instance, can lead to unpaid bills, fights about money, wasted time, and family disorder. A cluttered, messy home is depressing and weighs a person down with the burden it creates.

Making room for possibility

A de-cluttered home provides an atmosphere of serenity and possibility. There’s no need to swing to the extreme of immaculate orderliness that may create a feeling of sanitary lifelessness. It’s a reasonably clutter-free environment that creates harmony around us, and makes room in our lives for a range of new possibilities.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Order and Spontaneity.”

Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed
Giving Up Parental Narcissism for Parental Maturity

"Lungta Windhorse" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Lungta Windhorse” by Mimi Stuart ©

Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed writes:

Parents often seek their validation from the wrong source — their children. The pure unconditional love of an infant is so intoxicating that many parents want to experience that transcendental glow for as long as possible. Who wouldn’t want to be adored without any discernment or judgement? The tricky part is that in order to be a truly loving and effective parent one needs to learn to give up the idealization from their child in favor of setting boundaries, expectations, and healthy limits.

The love that can develop when a parent does not try to be mirrored by their child or best friend to their child, but instead be the parent the child needs, is a love that is built on respect, consistency, and inner wholeness.

All of us need to constantly work on this maturity because inside each of us is a child that just wants that unconditional love we may have once experienced in our parent’s eyes and did feel from the purity of our newborn’s love.

A child has a million chances to make friends but it is exceptional to have a sturdy, loving, and reliable parent.

What does it take to give up parental narcissism for parental maturity?

It requires us to recognize first and foremost that our child is not the right place to look for our adult emotional needs to be met. If we have a partner we need to work diligently on that relationship so that it is a source of meaningful connection and legitimate feedback. If we do not have a partner we need to invest in a robust network of friends.

Adults need to be the people we turn to help us get through the ups and downs of life. Adults are the people we need to rely on to give us accurate appraisals of our appeal and competence.

Children need us to be clear and not back down when we have set standards. We need to be the solid posts they can lean on or push against to know their own capacities and inner strengths. When children know where the limits are and can depend on them then they feel more relaxed and trusting. When we feel confident that we can adhere to our values and withstand the inevitable protestations of our children then we can be calm and secure in our parenting and our mature love of our children.

If this all sounds a little too dry or somber let me reassure you that children who are parented by mature adults are raised in some of the most raucous and happy households I have ever seen. Once the proper walls and foundations have been set and reinforced patiently and consistently — both parents and children find an incredible freedom and joy within those healthy boundaries. Genuine playfulness and affection are often an outgrowth of mutual respect and emotional solidity.

After all it is much harder to dance on a buckling and splintery floor. It is never too late for a parent to grow up and become the mature beacon your child needs and deserves.

Take the below quiz and see how you are doing in cultivating mature parenting (for parents of 8 year olds and up)

Score 1 – 5 (1 – Never, 2 – Rarely, 3 – Sometimes, 4 – Often, 5 – Always)

1- I give into my child’s demands to stay up later than they should

2- I let my child watch too much TV

3- I can’t stand it when my child is crying so I do everything I can to make it better

4- I allow my child to use bad language

5- I tell my child to be “good”

6- I allow my child to interrupt me and other adults

7- I am too tired to follow through on consequences I set for my child’s misbehaving

8- I would rather get along with my child than press an issue

9- I make all the meals for my child and clean up after them

10- I let my child monopolize the conversation and not really know anything about me

11- I let my child indulge in unhealthy comfort foods or substances to soothe their unhappiness

Scores of 30 and above indicate you have some work to do to become a mature parent instead of a popular one.

by Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed, PhD, child behavioral expert, co-founder of AHA! (Attitude.Harmony.Achievement.) http://ahasb.org

Blame: “It’s all your fault!”

“Purpose” — Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

When it comes to blame most people fall into two camps. They either blame everyone else for their pain or they blame themselves for all of their problems.

In reality, there’s enough blame to go around — for ourselves and others.

The benefit of apportioning blame

While assigning blame seems like an exercise in futility, it does serve a purpose, as long as you don’t dwell in negative emotions that can accompany it. The purpose of assigning blame is to develop the ability to recognize problematic patterns in your own and others’ behavior.

For example, if you have a friend who repeatedly disappoints you by promising one thing and doing another, it’s important to make the connection — “I probably can’t trust what my friend promises.” That friend is responsible for her words and her actions or non-action and she is to blame for not following through.

However, if you continue to count on that friend, then you are also to blame for the disappointment that results, because you have not learned from your experience. Blaming yourself here is the acknowledgment that your desire for a positive outcome tends to blind you from recognition of the other person’s weaknesses.

The problem with dwelling on blame

Even if we carefully divvy out the proper proportions of blame, we can still get stuck brooding in the state of blame. “Ah, look what he’s done to me and look how I’ve contributed! Can you believe this rotten state of affairs?!” Dwelling in blame, resentment, and anger will only worsen relationships and bad situations.

Blame is only useful in problem-solving when we use it to figure out how to avoid repeating the harmful behavior, not when we use it to brow beat ourselves or others.

How to use blame to improve your life

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves in order to move from blame and shame to arranging positive change:

1. How do I tend to project my fears and hopes onto others, contributing to the way people will respond to me? How can I change that?

2. How can I change my interactions with others to avoid repeating this painful pattern?

3. How should I change my expectations of others to avoid inevitable disappointment?

4. Am I allowing myself to dwell in blame?

5. How can I change the focus of my thoughts and feelings to help me move on? Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotional reactions and the focus of our thoughts.

In short, we can draw conclusions and learn from those who are to blame, be it others or ourselves, as long as we don’t drop into a state of self-pity and hopelessness or start carrying a grudge.

No heavier burden than to carry a grudge. Let go, don’t judge, Forgive.

~Ros McIntosh “In Search of the Good Life”

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


Interrupted and Ignored by the Extroverts in your Life

"Effervescent" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Effervescent” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I am often the one who does most of the listening. I am introverted, and am attracted to extrovert energy. The beautiful, warm, interesting stories at first are a delight, but quickly start to overwhelm me as the relationship develops. Often, when I feel ready to talk, I am not listened to with the same attention, or even worse, interrupted and ignored.”

One-sided extroverts, one-sided relationship

Extremely extroverted people can be fun and interesting to have as friends, as they entertain and radiate energy. Extroverts generally like talking and being the center of attention. Since the extrovert’s vibrancy is enjoyable, and his or her dominance shields you from having to share your own ideas and thoughts, the dynamic of being ignored and interrupted by extreme extroverts may at first go unnoticed. In the early stage of the relationship, you may feel comfortable that there’s no pressure to reveal yourself.

Yet after a while it becomes frustrating and overwhelming to be in a one-sided relationship where most of the attention is focused on the extroverted individual. Extreme extroverts tend to be self-involved and often lack depth because they are generally not self-reflective. Thus, they tend to be disappointing as best friends, confidantes, or long-term romantic partners.

Developing balance

More balanced people, on the other hand, may not be as exciting at first, but they are often more capable of reciprocal interaction, showing interest in you, and enjoying two-way conversations, all of which are ultimately more stimulating and fulfilling in a long-term relationship.

When you are attracted to a person who is the opposite to your personality, it usually indicates a need for you to develop some of that trait. In your case, becoming a bit more extroverted might involve becoming more comfortable putting yourself out there and developing outgoing energy when you choose to. You can start with small steps—for example, by giving your opinion or telling a story rather than asking questions and prompting further monologues by the extrovert.

As you push yourself to become a little more balanced, and avoid being drawn in too closely into the orbit of super magnetic (i.e., self-absorbed) extroverts, you will develop more well-balanced relationships. If you get involved with people who are more balanced from the beginning, you are less likely to become resentful.

Dealing with extreme extroverts

When dealing with an extrovert who interrupts and ignores you, be direct and up-front. “Hey, I need to talk to you. Is this a good time?” or “You seem distracted. I was hoping to provide some input. When would be a better time?” or “I have something I’d like to talk to you about. Is now convenient?” It’s important that your tone of voice does not convey weakness, resentment, or anger. Be matter of fact. But don’t continue the conversation if you’re being ignored. While you cannot control another person, you can avoid giving up your power by no longer participating in a one-sided relationship dynamic.

In essence, my advice to an introvert who suffers frustration with extreme extroverts is threefold:

1. Develop relationships with people who are more balanced,

2. Do not be a passive co-conspirator. Challenge yourself to give your input, opinions, tell stories, and shine your own light rather than simply ask questions and listen, and

3. When dealing with an extrovert, speak up for yourself in a matter a fact way, without resentment or anger.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen