Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Step up to the Plate

Are one or more of your kids completely out of control? When you spend time with your parents or even talk to them on the phone, do you feel like you've just spent hours listening to a bunch of people simultaneously scratching their fingernails on a chalkboard? Do you find yourself hurting the ones you love, or letting them hurt you? Do you feel that your family members are better off without you? Were you a victim of childhood abuse? Do you constantly subvert your own chances for success in love and work? Are you chronically anxious and depressed?

These types of issues are often, if not almost always, indicative of family dysfunction. That's OK. You do not have to beat yourself up about it. It's not all your fault, although you do have something to do with it. All families have issues and conflicts, although some are far worse than others. Hating yourself and/or feeling guilty about everything not only makes you miserable, it makes the rest of your family miserable as well, and can cause problematic, repetitive family behavior patterns to be passed down from one generation to another. This intergenerational transmission of family behavior problems has been shown in good studies (studies that organized psychiatry tends to ignore). It is not genetic either, despite what you may be hearing.

It is never too late to stop the intergenerational transmission of dysfunctional family patterns. That's the good news: the process can be stopped. However, you can not buy your way out of it with pharmaceuticals, although medication can ease distress. When the drug companies win, you lose.

Despite the discomfort it will invariably cause you, step up to the plate and repair the relationship with your parents and save your children and their children. Otherwise, you and your children may be caught in an endless loop. Good psychotherapy is available. However, going to therapists who blame your problems on your having regressed to childhood, or who tell you that your thoughts are all irrational and unfounded or that you are no more complicated than a rat in a maze responding to food pellets and electric shock, will not solve the problem of which I speak.

Find a therapist who know about genograms and /or mental schemas. Find one who can help you discover the nature of the repetitive interpersonal behavior patterns you engage in, and what purpose they serve. Such therapists can be difficult to locate, but it is worth the effort.

And stick with it! When you talk about the relationships that make you depressed and anxious, there is no way to avoid feeling more depressed and more anxious. I wish I knew a way around that, but I do not. I do know that most of you can take it. Although therapists should be empathic and non-judgmental, a therapist who treats you with kid gloves is not helping you. After all, if a supposed expert thinks you can't handle the truth, it is easy to believe that you are weaker than you really are.


  1. "there is no way to avoid feeling more depressed and more anxious."

    I believe that is the major problem for me: I am not comfortable with being uncomfortable. Furthermore, avoiding the source of distress led to my own illogical actions that ended up fueling the dysfunction, such as giving in to irrational demands just to 'keep the peace.'

    I don't think I was even capable of thinking along these lines until the havoc came to a screaming pitch level. The discomfort became so intolerable that I was forced to stop my hamster-wheel reactions, and had to begin to examine the results--kind of a looking back and realizing that, although my intentions were good, nothing I did made any of our situations better, and sometimes made things worse.

    But, how do you begin to unravel? I would agree with the therapeutic approach, but it's not so easy and simple and furthermore can be prohibitively expensive, even for those covered by insurance.

    I would love to see some therapists and the psychiatric community take action on making therapy more affordable, and more accessible. Might an on-line pay-by-session project be workable?

  2. Is that even possible?

    Although I've come a long way in my relationship with my mother, she can still do things with her voice alone that make me want to sit very, very still or crawl under a table with my hands over my head.

    I'm 37.

    And while it's easy to get most people to agree, that something's wrong when your mom thinks your hubby will kill you if he gets a new kitchen knife, few can relate to, what it's like growing up in that world. Growing up in a world where everyone is out to kidnap, rape, kill or backstab and slander you - at least according to mom.

    I say most, because I've found that the higher people get up the mental health education ladder, the less likely they are ... I don't know. Lets just say that one day it felt like the doubt crept in that I was making up stories. Unfortunately, this was never confronted, instead treated with neutral, 'therapeutic' forms of ah-ha's and okay's. But admittedly it sounds unbelievable that someone thinks their sisters husband is trying to kill her by making her winterbathe, and the person telling the story is me so ...

    Closest I got to acknowledgement was when saying goodbye after years of group, when the co-therapists said "I don't think your mom was a good mom." Okay. I can stoneface too, you know. Don't get me wrong, it was all in all better than nothing, but I'd have liked to hear it when I didn't have one foot out the door.

    These days, I'll confess to 'managing' my mom. Each visit from her is the cause of stress, each phonocall 20 minutes of my life I wont get back.I don't see how it can be otherwise. This is the woman who told everyone at the office that a coworker was gay, and when he married some years later, that he was only doing it to hide his gayness. When he stopped talking to her, she attributed it to sexual problems between him and the wife. No, she didn't keep that secret either. If I get upset or angry with her, I've either not eaten properly, slept enough, or I've had a row with my boyfriend. Also, her sister isn't talking to her. It's because of the pain in her foot - and not because my mom first insisted she take it to the doctor, then later claimed she should never have gone and that the doctor was only made the foot worse, and need I mention my mom had been against going from the beginning?

    It's no use arguing with her in cases like this, by the way. It's never her reality that is wrong.

    But I can't stop talking to her. I know that I'm her life, her world, her everything, So instead I just tell her nothing I don't absolutely have to, generally don't go to visit her if I can avoid it (If I stay under her roof, she feels she has the right to barge in on me at any time), and try to make her happy from time to time, if possible. But it is not a good relationship by any stretch of the word, except perhaps in comparison to the one we had 20 years ago. Does this make me worry about the relationship with my children? You bet.For a very long time, this was the reason I didn't want any. But I have a loving hubby, some wonderful inlaws and at the end of the day, I did a damn good job at raising myself. Sure, I have some hang-ups the size of an elephants, but as far as I can tell, most 'normal' people do. And last but not least my mother taught me one thing, and she taught it well: That attempting 'not to repeat the mistakes of your parents' is to be still bound by them, and ultimately, doomed to repeat them.

    This relationship cannot be 'fixed' any further as far as I can tell, unless she steps up to the plate, and advances beyond a mental age of roughly six. Until then, I will continue to treat her cordially, and wait for her to die.

    Sad but true.

  3. Girl,

    It sounds like you have run into a lot of invalidation from mental health professionals, so I can see why you are skeptical. Unfortunately many therapists are not equiped to deal with problems like yours.

    I also don't blame you for thinking that nothing could really change your relationship with your mother. If that were a relatively easy and straightforward task, you would have figured it out a long time ago, since you are obviously very intelligent.

    I can not tell from your post if your mother is actually delusional or if she has a Personality Disorder. If she is psychotic, there may in fact not be much you can do to change things with her, other than what you are already doing. She literally would have almost no control over her delusional thoughts.

    If she is not psychotic, figuring out how to change such a difficult relationship is a very complex task indeed, but it can be done. If you have not given up, I would recommend trying to find a therapist familiar with any of the following treatment paradigms: Bowen family therapy, schema therapy, interpersonal reconstructive therapy, relational therapy, personality-guided relational psychotherapy, cognitive-analytic therapy, or unified therapy. Depending on where you are, finding one might take quite a bit of research on your part.

  4. Hello David,

    you know, when I read your post, I realized that I have indeed given up. I spent so many years trying to figure out what was wrong with mum, how to help her get better, but then one day it just stopped mattering.

    She could well be psychotic - I certainly know that there have been major traumas in her life, both emotional and physical, the latter in the form of a open fracture head injury, that caused her to loose all navigational abilities. She still blames me for mocking her btw - I was four years old, and apparently found it odd that my mum didn't know the way to my cousins house, when I did. But that doesn't cover the whole story. There are much deeper issues there, but she hates therapists of any kind, thinks that they are all quacks and worse. When I told her I began going to a shrink, she gave me the silent treatment for six months, apart from when she'd rant and rave about how all they'd do was to blame it on your parents.

    It was almost ironic how wrong she was.

    So, apart from the fact that I live very, very far away from her by design, then I don't dare to contemplate what she'd think if I suggested she come see a therapist with me. She'd probably suspect me of trying to have her involuntarily committed.

    As for myself - yes, I know I have some major issues, mainly with closeness, and then there's the stuff that I'm not aware of that scares me more. That is why I waited so long to have kids, that's why I almost didn't have any, because I know that I'll not be like my mom, I'll be like my grandmother, and that's worse. If one of my kids turns out like mom, I'll have done evil. Still, for now, I'm relying on the people I've gathered around me to help me out, slap me into shape and tell me things as they are. Because if there's something therapists suck at, then it's comming over for a cup of coffee and a chat when all is going to hell in a handbasket. No matter how well things go in the office, it is still a pay-per-visit friendship with a due date firmly attached.

    Non-the-less I took a look at your suggested therapy forms, and found two practicing psychologists that looked promising. While I don't have the motivation, money or time right now, then the time may come.

    Thank you for your respons,