Are You Over-Responsible With Those You Love?

In this marriage Lynn is always the one who comes up with ideas for entertainment. Al, being more passive, goes along with Lynn’s suggestions. And, nine times out of ten both of them enjoy whatever they do together.

But, earlier on this Sunday, Lynn suggested a concert for early evening at one of the local universities. They went. At the intermission, they walked out to the lobby to stretch their legs and have coffee.

Lynn had noticed that since they left home, Al looked “unhappy,” (her interpretation). So, she asked him why he didn’t play golf that afternoon. Knowing Lynn, she probably already felt a little guilty about him missing golf. He responded with “Life is full of compromises.” Lynn, a Pleaser, is a “feeling” person so her feelings come up first and then her “head” begins to work. Her feelings were surprise and sadness and then anger; she took his remark personally. Her “head” went right to: he thinks he has to be with me; he’d rather have played golf today.

The exchange between them takes place at the intermission. Lynn over-reacts to her feelings, says “I’m leaving,” (this marriage has been in trouble for a while), leaves Al in the lobby and goes to sit in the car. Al goes out; they talk some and then go home. In the conversation she accuses him of having to compromise what he really wants (golf) to spend time with her. She doesn’t want to be his “compromise.” What’s going on here?

1. Lynn takes too much responsibility: one, for setting up their social life (Al should be contributing ideas, too) and two, for him feeling unhappy (again, her interpretation). Whatever Al is feelings, it’s his feeling; which he must handle himself. Instead here, Lynn feels responsible for his mood. She thinks she must provide an enjoyable time for him. No; that is his task for himself.

2. Lynn has the idea that if there’s anything wrong in their relationship or in any relationship of hers, it’s her fault. No again; it’s a wrong idea.

Of course, if we deliberately set out to make another person unhappy, we’re responsible for that. But, we cannot assume that it’s our job to “make sure, no matter what” that others are taken care of. For every one of us, that is an individual, personal responsibility.

3. Al responds to her with his thoughts instead of paying attention to her feelings. So, he’s the one who is not responsible in the relationship at that time. Here, when she asked him about looking unhappy, he could have reassured her that he was handling his own mood. And yes, he was glad to be at the concert with her.

So, Lynn engages in this silly conversation about “life’s choices,” when it has nothing to do with her original comment. Sadly, her original feelings of anxiety never get resolved. And, Al doesn’t understand that he wasn’t a caring husband when he responded to her until he and I talk later that week.


1. Another person’s feelings, facial expressions, posture, and other non-verbals belong to him; they’re not anyone else’s responsibility. It would have been okay if Lynn had said something like, “You seem unhappy today; can I help?” Or, “If something is bothering you, we can talk about it.” Otherwise, let others work out their own moods.

2. This couple has been married for thirty years; Al has had more than enough time to realize that Lynn feels neglected. He should be reassuring her that he does want to spend time with her. If he needs to give up a golf game to do it, that’s his issue to deal with. But, he shouldn’t let it interfere with their relationship and certainly, not use language that’s probably going to pull up sad feelings in Lynn.

3. Al should step up here at least half of the time with offering social plans together. Lynn has had this responsibility for as long as they’ve been married. Lynn’s a Pleaser. They’re always trying to please others so when she suggests something they can do together and Al seems unhappy, she feels responsible. She has to work at giving up that idea. Whether Al enjoys the activity or not is up to him.

Are you taking responsibility for making those you care about happy?

Warmest wishes until next time,


Thanks so much for reading. And, I’d love to hear your comments.

Does Your Troubled Teen Trust You?

A Deeper Look at Trust and Respect.

Do you trust your troubled teen? Usually, no. Does she trust you? Probably not.

I’ve found that parents don’t think much about trust; they assume their kids trust them. Yet every teen who comes into my practice has the problem of damaged or broken trust with her parents. If that trust has decayed enough, she won’t trust most other adults in her life either, including me – until I prove myself.

One day as Stephanie, a university student, and I were starting our session, I mentioned that her mother had called to ask for a different appointment time for our next meeting together. Steph’s mom, Sara, was coming into town for a session with Stephanie and me and wanted a different time than we had already agreed to. As I was telling Stephanie about this, she actually rose up from the couch and began pacing around my office.

“What do you mean, you changed my appointment?”

“I thought that would be okay, Steph; what’s wrong?”

“My Gosh, she’s at it again, even with you.”

I asked quietly, “Have I done the wrong thing? I think I do know your schedule pretty well.”

“You let her change my plans without asking me.”

“And, that wasn’t okay with you?”

“No, it wasn’t. That sneak! Why didn’t she call me first? She was always doing this when I was in high school, going behind my back to my friends, trying to control my life.”

I said, “I’ll just call her back and reschedule, Stephanie. What will work for you? We’ll start with your schedule and go from there.”

Stephanie decided I was sincere so she sat down again and we went on.

From this incident I learned that Stephanie’s mother, Sara, had used other people to manipulate her daughter. She habitually called Steph’s friends, her employers, her teachers and whoever else Stephanie knew. The reason: to get or give information about Stephanie and to learn whatever she could that Stephanie wasn’t telling her. Stephanie had learned to distrust her mother.

From this incident Stephanie learned she could trust me to hear her feelings and to respond. I did call her mother back and negotiate a time that was better for Stephanie. By doing so, I demonstrated that I could be trusted. I listened to her feelings and respected her request to be consulted on any issue that affected her.

She didn’t feel powerless with me as she had with her mother. She realized that I had made an innocent mistake; I had no wish to manipulate or ignore her. In fact, I always have the same goals with all of my clients. That is to build trust and respect between us.

Teens like Stephanie are really discouraged and often even depressed by the time they get to my office. So, I want parents to be part of the healing process. I ask them to learn (1) listening skills and (2) respectful questioning skills. These skills help to re-establish some positive level of trust and respect with their youngsters. While it’s possible for teens to heal their inner selves, change their behaviors, and live better lives without their parents help, the progress goes faster with their help.

What’s so difficult for parents is that they have been the objects of their teen’s anger and aggression. They’ve been hurt; they’ve been bruised. And, they’ve been battered and used in a lot of different ways. Now to think that they have to help the teen that has created so much turmoil in their home is something they don’t want to think about, much less do.

But, because parents were part of the relationship breakdown, it’s definitely good when they learn the same new skills their teen does. And, hurting parents need healing too, so the road to trust and respecting each begins.

Big Thoughts From This Article:

1. Sometimes teens know why they’re angry, like Stephanie here, but often they don’t. Parents, try to be patient; give it some time.

2. Parents, be willing to learn new communication skills. (And, by the way, these skills can be used at work or socially, too.)

3. Parents, be willing to learn what the word Respect means and how that should show up in attitudes and behaviors. Good Luck.

Warmest wishes until next time,


Respect for Myself and my Teen

A Deeper Look at Parenting…

Let’s talk about respect. None of my teen clients ever doubted that their parents loved them. But, they rarely felt respected.

You may be thinking, “But I do treat my kid with respect.” Do you? What exactly does “treating her with respect” mean?

(1) It means having the attitude that you are “for” her, that you view her as unique, as one of a kind, not as a mini-you. (2) It means that you view her as having value because she’s another human being. (3) It means that you see her as separate from yourself. (4) It means that you see her as responsible for developing her own potential so that she can become good at running her own life.

If you and I are friends, how do I act out respect for you?

First. I assign you value in my life. Your wishes, thoughts, and feelings are all important to me.

Second. I always respect myself as well as you in our relationship. I believe that it’s possible for both of us to get some of what we want. In other words, I have a win-win attitude, not an attitude that I have to win; you have to lose or vice versa. I view us as partners.

Third. I show respect when I withhold judgments about you and, instead, try to understand you.

Fourth. I show respect by giving you my time, my energy and my attention.

Fifth. I show respect for you when I help you cultivate yourself as you grow toward independence.

Why is it so important to show your troubled teen respect?

First. It will give her “appropriate” attention. Troubled teens are used to being treated negatively by their parents. Respect can be felt so your actions and attitude will calm her. The teens I see in my office are so angry, they’re suffocating with it. They’re angry with every adult they know, with the possible exception of a coach or teacher here or there.

Second. Teens are afraid. For all their bluff, they’re still naïve kids. They don’t know what to do with their anger or their fear. For the difficult teen to make progress, the significant adults in her life have to back up and start over by giving respect.

Third. When you try to build respect between you and your teen, your actions say you’re willing to help her out of trouble, not punish her because she’s where she is. It gives her a reason to try.

If your child feels you respect her, she can feel emotionally safe with you. If your teen can feel respect from you, she can not only feel safe with you, but she can also view you as a source of encouragement, of ideas, and of information that she can use without giving up her own individuality.

Your teen’s ability to respect you depends on how you manage your own “stuff,” that is, whatever life is handing you. If you deal with your own life positively and productively, your teen can respect you. You also receive respect when you treat her with understanding and patience while she’s struggling with what life gives her.

Is there Respect between you and your teen?

Warmest regards till next time,


P.S. This description of a respectful attitude and respectful behavior works with anyone, not just teens!

Things Are Not Always What They Seem



As you will see in the short anecdote, anyone’s behavior can look positive at first glance but when you examine the purpose behind it, you may find that what it actually accomplishes is destructive to you or someone else. For example, behavior can appear to be Pleasing but actually be Controlling. Here’s an example.

Dick had been unhappy in his marriage for a long time. He’d also been severely depressed for about two years. He couldn’t understand why; his wife was so caring.

No matter what Dick needed to be done in his business, whether it was making airline reservations, renting a car, purchasing supplies or hiring services, Sally took care of it. In their personal lives, no matter what needed to be done, buying clothes or a car, planning a vacation or even buying their current home, Sally took care of it. Always eager to take the decision-making burden off Dick (after all, she said, he needed his energy for work), Sally helped out.

Dick saw Sally’s behavior as Pleasing. That view was reinforced by Sally telling him over and over again, nicely of course, how much she did for him. But actually, her movement was Controlling, not Pleasing. The hidden purpose behind her “help” was to make sure that she controlled their money.

On those rare occasions when Dick spoke up for something he particularly wanted, Sally tried talking him out of it. If he persisted, it became a major conflict. Since he hated confrontation, he’d quickly back down. Sally always had the final word.

When Dick met Peggy, a new coworker, they struck up a friendship. Through talking with Peggy he was able to see that Sally’s behavior undercut his personal power. As the relationship with Peggy deepened, Dick’s depression lifted. In time, he divorced Sally.

Peggy, now his wife, is good for Dick because she encourages him to make his own decisions based on his own wants or needs.

He understands now that for a long time Sally used him to achieve her goal of acquiring money. Did Sally, herself, understand what she was doing? She certainly understood that she had a high value on money but she could not admit to herself that she was controlling Dick so she could accumulate money. That idea did not fit with her image of herself. Years later, she still thinks of herself as a Pleaser, instead of a Controller.

And, because Dick divorced Sally after 25 years of marriage, she sees herself as his victim: “Look how he’s treated me after all I did for him.” How he treated her: even though Illinois is a no-fault state where divorces are usually 50/50 with respect to a couple’s assets, Dick gave Sally 65% of their assets because he felt guilty about the divorce. It was Dick who was the Pleaser.

When looking at your own or someone else’s behavior, develop the habit of asking yourself: “What is the purpose of my (or their) behavior?” And “What is the intent behind my actions?” The answer will tell you “Why” something is happening. That’s always more important than “What” is happening.

Has anyone ever used the “hidden agenda” process described

above on you?

Warmest wishes until next time,


Whatever Happened to Honesty in a Committed Relationship?

Mike and Helen.

            This couple was married 27 years when this incident occurred.

Mike and Helen shared a savings account that they had both contributed to for years.  When they set it up they agreed that when either of them wanted to withdraw money, they would talk with each other first.  And, make a joint decision.

In spite of their personal agreement and the bank’s signature requirement (both of theirs were required), Mike managed to withdraw $21,000.00 without Helen knowing.

When Helen learned about the withdrawal, she felt shocked and angry:  (1) that he would break their agreement, and (2) that he needed that much money. What in the world for?

So, Helen asked him about it.  Mike didn’t even answer her.  (Ignoring is a powerful manipulation.) 

            As much as she hated the silence, she wasn’t surprised by it; lots of times when she spoke to him, he didn’t answer her.  But then, she reminded him that the bank required both signatures for withdrawal.  To which Mike replied, “No, only one.  (Lying:  another powerful manipulation.)  (Lying is particularly lethal in a relationship because:  how do you find out about something that’s hidden?  Not easy.)

            Later, Helen called the bank, thinking she must be mistaken about the signatures.  She wanted to believe Mike; surely he wouldn’t lie about something this important.  But, the bank rep confirmed that they did need both signatures.  That meant, that to get the money, Mike had signed not only his own name but he’d forged hers, too.

Again, she wasn’t surprised about this; it wasn’t the first time he’d gone behind her back and taken money without her knowing. But, this time she thought she’d protected the money. Wrong.

Helen confronted him again.  Why didn’t he tell her he wanted the money so they could have talked about it?  Mike said that he needed it too quickly to talk about it; he couldn’t waste time talking to her.

Now, you and I know that time wasn’t the reason Mike didn’t consult Helen.  Even if he hadn’t been rushed, he wouldn’t have talked with her.  He wanted to take the money without her knowing.

Of course, that was the last thing Helen wanted to think. After all, they had an agreement.  She definitely didn’t want to think that Mike had deliberately broken it. That would hurt too much.  And, it scared her; $21,000 was a lot of money, almost all of their savings.

Helen felt more disconnected from Mike than ever.  Why couldn’t he have come to her and just talked about it.  That might have preserved their relationship.  But, instead, Mike acted as though he had no partner.  She was hurt but not surprised; it was an old pattern for him.

Really, Helen did feel like she was invisible, like she didn’t exist with him. Unfortunately, Mike had been acting like this about one thing or another almost from the start of their marriage.  And, no matter what she said or did, he would “behave” for a while but then something else would come up and they’d go through this again.  Two children latter and 27 years put into a marriage where apparently she didn’t count with her husband.  She was finished; it was over.

What Happened Here?

Mike.  Mike’s behaviors are aimed at Controlling his situation and passively controlling Helen.  Of course, he’s manipulative, not just with Helen, but wherever he is, including with his kids.

(1)  He has a very strong belief, whether he’s consciously aware of it or not, that he can do exactly what he wants, without regard to rules or promises, such as: (a) responsibilities to the relationship, or (b) the bank’s requirements, or even (c) traffic laws.

Sara, his early-twenties daughter, told me once that when she was younger and they were going somewhere in the car, he might slow down for a red light, but if he thought he could beat the cross traffic, he’s drive right through it.  My heart jumped just thinking what might have happened if he hadn’t been lucky enough to make it in time.        

            (2)  He doesn’t know how to partner. And doesn’t want to learn.True partnering means (a) talking situations through and probably (b) compromising.  Mike has no intention of learning partnering skills.  Helen’s married to a kid in an adult body; he just never grew up.  Emotionally healthy adults want to cooperate with each other.  Instead, Helen married someone who wanted the benefits of marriage without the responsibilities.  It took a very long time for Helen to “figure him out.”

Helen. Helen’s a very Pleasing person.  People with this personality are pretty naïve. And, they also think that if they keep trying, things will come out alright.  In other words, they take on too much responsibility in their relationships.  That’s what Helen did here.  She kept thinking that if:  (a) she talked about it, (b) she was patient, (c) she was a good role model, it would all come out alright.

            Not really.  We each decide very young, but UNconsciously, how we’re going to live our lives. So, what Helen didn’t know was that unless Mike, himself, decided he wanted to be an honest partner in the marriage, it wouldn’t happen.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.

One of the morals of this story is that: (a) it didn’t matter what Helen said; Mike never decided.  And:  (b) when “lying” or “ignoring” come up the first time, take it seriously. Don’t excuse your partner.  Chances are it’s a lifelong habit you just didn’t know about.  Most important of all, if you’re in a relationship like this, (c) take care of yourself.  He sure isn’t watching out for you.

Does  Any  of  This  Sound  Like  Your  Situation?

Hope this article speaks to you in some way.

                        Until next time,


Thanks so much for reading and if you think someone you know would like this, please share.     

Too Many High Self Expectations

A shocked Ethan arrived at my office the day after he’d had a visit to the emergency room of a nearby hospital.  The doctors there assured him that no, he hadn’t had a heart attack.  He’d had an anxiety attack.  All he knew was that whatever it was it felt awful.  Now, he was terrified it would happen again.  Before it did, he wanted to know exactly what was going on, and what to do about it.

Ethan is a Superiority personalityHe’s an independent, intense achiever.  He’s driven by excess energy, which he funnels into goals of all kinds everywhere in his life.  Ethan is always in movement, moving ahead:  moving into new projects, moving to avoid boredom, moving to accomplish something, always doing.

Ethan’s style is like his dad’s.  As a little boy, Eric watched his dad work two jobs and also be involved with projects on the weekends.  Ethan grew beliefs like, “Life is exciting and interesting,” “I can do it all,” and “I never have enough time to get everything done,” “I should hurry.”  This is how he’s always run his life.

Ethan started his busyness early.  At seven years old he made a model sailboat from scratch, entered it in a contest and won first prize.  By eleven, he was handy enough with tools to finish his parent’s basement family room.

At age eighteen he enrolled in college to become an architect.  But, he quit in his junior year; he was anxious to get on with his life.  So, fifteen years ago at the age of twenty, Ethan started his painting and wallpapering business.  It has grown; he now employs fourteen people.

The urgent question now is:  (1) what can he do about himself and the situation?  He’s jeopardizing his health.

It’s true that by watching any person’s movement, we can discover his/her thoughts about how he should live his daily life. So, Ethan and I started looking at his daily schedule to see how he was spending his time.

His day started at 5:00 a.m. when the alarm went off.  It ended around 11:30 p.m. when he turned off his reading light.  He spent the hours between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. getting ready for work, eating breakfast, and making phone calls to his various job foremen.  From 7:00 a.m. when he left for work until 5:00 p.m. when he arrived back home, he drove from site to site managing his employees, or he helped on a job.

Once home, he’d fix dinner for the family.  He, Emily and little Logan, his two-year-old son, would eat.  He’d play with Logan for 30 minutes or so.  Then, he’d go downstairs to work on this current project.  He wasn’t ever free from his heavy internal pressure to achieve and “keep moving.”

“So?” Ethan said, “I’ve always lived this way.”  “I replied, “That the trouble!”  It never occurred to him that living every minute under pressure wasn’t “normal.”  Now, when he checked in with himself, he realized he couldn’t relax anymore.

We began working on the idea of a balanced lifestyle. Ethan got used to the truth that, like everyone else, he had only 24 hours in a day.  This is a harsh reality to any Superiority-type intense, driving person. But, this truth remains no matter how hard he pushes or how anxious he becomes.

Gradually, little by little, Ethan retrained himself.  He:

(a) slowed his racing thoughts,

            (b) learned to discipline his intense feelings, and

            (c) moderated his behavior,   

            (d) learned to own his goals, instead of letting them own him,

            (e) lowered his expectations of himself.

His work day looks a bit different now.  He:

(a) takes small breaks during his workday to slow his mind down,

            (b) practices deep-breathing exercises while he’s driving, instead of planning his next project,

            (c) works out at a nearby gym,

            (d) plays with his son more.

            (e) has a regular “date night” with Emily.

Last time I saw Ethan, he’d gone three years without any anxiety attacks.  Good for him.

How  About  You?  Are  You  Over-Stressed

About  Something  in  Your  Life?

Hope this article speaks to you in some way,

                                             Until next time,



Beware of Getting “Set Up” In Your Relationship

          Frank and Georgia are both in their mid-fifties and have been married thirty years. They have four grown children. They’ve argued with each other for thirty years: (1) they’re both Controllers, so (2) they both think they’re right. But, in this example it’s Frank we’re focusing on.

          One of the major sources of this chronic squabbling is Frank’s passion for Civil War history. Since 7th grade in middle school, he has loved reading about the Civil War.

          As a grownup he has loved visiting Civil War sites all over the country. For a while before he and Georgia were married, he was stationed in Washington D.C. During those six months, Georgia and he were engaged and she lived there with him.

         The point here is that during that time Georgia saw everything D.C. had to offer about the Civil War because she went with him all the time. And, through their married years, she’s visited many other sites with him. They’ve taken their kids on plenty of Civil War sightseeing trips. She’s been very accommodating.

         On the other hand, she really isn’t interested. She’s told him this many times so it isn’t like he doesn’t know how she feels. She likes it that he has a hobby to enjoy and she encourages him to go visit the sites either by himself or with a friend. So, she’s as supportive now as she has always been.

         None of Georgia’s support is enough for Frank. He’s been angry since they were married that she isn’t that interested. He hasn’t let go of the idea that: she should(a) be very interested because he is, and (b) be as passionate as he is about it. Pretty often his anger, rage actually, boils over and he does something really manipulative.

         Georgia was at the stove cooking their dinner when Frank burst into the room and stuck a picture in her face. (He collects pictures and histories of soldiers who have died in the Civil War. He enjoys learning about their lives. So, he routinely gets pictures in the mail.) It scared her and she spilled some hot water on her hands. She yelled at him, “What are you doing?”

         Once she had caught her breath, she yelled again, “What were you doing? I could have been burned!” Frank yelled back, “That’s right; blame me because you’re the one who isn’t interested in me or what I like; we’ve got a terrible marriage. There’s nothing that we have in common!” Now, this exchange or a very similar one has played out over and over through the years. So, Georgia’s really sick of it.

         First, it isn’t true. They’re both still working but when they can, they travel together. Yes, Georgia goes to some Civil War sites with him and they’ve done other trips that she’s more interested in, too. He likes golf so she’s taken it up. They enjoy some movies together and they eat out frequently.

So, let’s get to why he does this.

  1. He’s a Control personality. He has a strong belief that “he’s right.” Here, he’s sure he’s right about wives should always be totally interested in what their husbands like. Georgia’s the one who’s wrong.
  2. When he can’t get her agreement, he “sets up” a situation where he knows, consciously or UNconsciously, she’ll react. Then he can focus on her reaction and dramatize it (“our marriage is terrible; we don’t have anything in common”).

       In other words, Frank makes the whole exchange her fault; he never gets back to: he started the incident when he did something (a) he knew would upset Georgia, and (b) that was really disrespectful.


 Are there solutions for this couple? Yes.


  1. Frank needs to give up his belief that: “he’s right.” This history quarrel is a relationship difference; not an argument over a “fact.’ When you think about it, manipulative Control is not only silly, unnecessary and unproductive but it’s also irrational. And, this is a guy who prides himself on his rationality.
  2.  Frank needs to get himself a life; in other words, take responsibility for himself. There are Civil War clubs around town that he could join; actually, for a while he belonged to one, but it wasn’t run according to how he thought it should be, so he quit. Now with the internet, there are many ways to find others who live close or don’t who share our interests. He has other passions, too, like fishing and hunting but he doesn’t pursue those either. He doesn’t want to be responsible for himself.
  3. Frank should appreciate the support he gets from Georgia. Instead, he chooses to criticize and blame her. And, after this many years, she’s really tired of it.


  1.  Georgia should work on appreciating herself as a person and as Frank’s partner. She reacts to what Frank says about her and always feels “down” after one of these incidents.  Of course, we understand that when exchanges like these occur, they’d bother anyone. But, it’s more than that with Georgia. She really lets it get to her because what she “hears” is Frank saying she’s “not enough” in the marriage. She needs to take a long look at herself and get acquainted with what she does bring to the marriage.
  2. Georgia should work on her “self-esteem.” She shouldn’t let anyone decide for her how much value she has as a person. But, every time one of these things occurs, it shakes her beliefs in herself as a wife and a mother.

Having positive self-esteem means that:

         We know our qualities, both good and bad. We know our values. We know ourselves well enough to know what we have to offer our loved ones and the world. That’s enough.

         Are we perfect? No; we’re working on improving ourselves and our life process. But, decisions about our process belongs to us. It isn’t for others to place irrational demands on us and then, blame us when we don’t measure up to their standards. We should measure up to our own standards. And, if we don’t, it’s our decision what to do about it

          I want Georgia to retain her sense of self-respect when these things happen. I want her to react less and be more proactive. These processes will help her feel better through these incidents and, as a bonus, usually it encourages people like Frank to stop playing games.

Anything Like This Happening in Your Life?

 Hope this article helps you in some way.

Until next time,


Thanks so much for reading and if you think someone else would be interested, please share.

Parents: Kids Decide

These days all of us parents are bombarded with media of all kinds about how important it is for our children to possess that hard-to-define feeling we call self-esteem. I’m hoping this article will take some of the mystery out of that termI hope it will clarify for you why some children who come from very similar parenting can “turn out” so differently: one with obvious self-esteem (self-confidence plus many skills).  This article, of course, isn’t the whole “ball-of-wax” but it does offer thoughts about some of the most necessary ingredients in self-esteem.

People of all ages, kids and adults too, grow more and more confident as they develop (1) positive personal qualities, (2) relationship processes, and (3) practical life skills. You’ll see what this comparison of Jay and Hannah teaches us and why it’s so important to learn from it.


Home and Parent’s Background.


            Alicia, Jay’s mom, was nineteen and, Joe, his dad, only twenty when Jay was born.  Both parents had dropped out of high school but had their GEDs. For Jay’s first few years, both his mom and dad worked in fast food places.

Gradually, Alicia trained to become a dental assistant and Joe acquired some construction skills.  After working many other short jobs, Joe worked for quite a few years at a window and door company, installing. The entire time Jay and his brother, Anthony, were growing up, money, food and clothing were scarce; so life wasn’t comfortable for either of the boys.  Jay started working a few weeks after he turned sixteen and has been working since except for a week off once a year for an inexpensive vacation.

Constant conflict permeated the atmosphere in Jay’s home; Alicia and Joe fought all the time.  They fought mostly because Joe controlled his wife and the two boys so tightly.  Not only was his dad an angry, controlling person but he had violent tendencies, too.  Every door in their little house had a hole in it because Joe had lost his temper and that’s how he acted it out.

Needless to say, neither Jay nor Anthony spoke back to their parents.  Too afraid.

It wasn’t unusual for the boys to be left alone, with Jay in charge, from the time he turned six years old.  The boys weren’t allowed to go to friend’s houses or to have friends over until their high school years.  Neither of the boys was allowed to drive until they were eighteen.  Jay rode his bike to work every day, winter and summer, no matter the weather, from the time he got his job until he left home at 19.

It’s amazing to me that Jay isn’t bitter about his upbringing.  Yes, he was angry and resentful a lot of the time but usually coped in positive ways and, just as important, without complaining. He’s not angry any more.

Jay lives in an apartment with Robin, his fiancee’ and has a very responsible job as a customer service person at a company that supplies policeman and fireman with everything they need for their jobs except their cars.  Robin is hard-working and very responsible as well.  So far, they’re doing fine.

Jay’s parents are divorced but he’s friendly with them and sees them when either he or they call to have lunch or just visit.

Jay, 22 years old.

Positive personal qualities.

Knows what he wants.

Extremely active in all facets of his life; proactive instead of reactive.

A thinking person, analytical.



Hardworking:  willing to put in long hours, persistent in reaching his employer’s goal.





Likes order and cleanliness.






Morally “good.”


Positive relationship processes.   

Listens carefully and actively.

Good social skills; fits into various groups well.

Observant of others and can discern early whether or not to trust.

Respectful of others and expects respect back in return.

Uses clear, direct language.   


Can say “No” when he needs to.

Can apologize when he’s made a mistake.

Can negotiate and compromise when he needs to.

Ability to commit to people and projects.

Practical Life Skills.

Gathers information.

Can start, follow through and complete a task.

Makes successful decisions.

Moderate risk-taker.

Manages his personal resources: time, energy and money well.

Can organize his belongings and schedule.

Sets goals.


Home and Parent’s Background.


            Paige, Hannah’s mom, was thirty and Paul, her dad, thirty as well, when Hannah, their oldest child of four, was born. Both Paige and Paul had college degrees. The whole time Hannah was growing up Joe had a well-paying, secure job in a large corporation where he worked for thirty years. Paige had taught high school until Hannah came along and then stayed at home with the kids until their youngest went to middle school.  She worked part-time from then until her youngest graduated from high school and then she went back to teaching full-time and continues today.  They’re both 62 years old now.

Hannah, unlike Jay, had all the necessities she needed and more, as did the rest of her siblings. Here is where the differences between Jay’s and Hannah’s homes end.

Stormy, noisy, and filled with argument describes the atmosphere in Hannah’s home. Just  like Jay’s.   Paige and Paul argued about nearly everything but mostly on how to raise their children.  They each thought they were right and they each thought they knew best so the other one should give in.  Neither ever did.

Unlike Jay, from the time Hannah could form words, she joined in the arguing.  She UNconsciously decided that the power each of her parents displayed was something she wanted, too.  So, she argued with each of them about anything that came up; she wanted to decide for herself.  And, as soon as she could, she resisted physically, too.  At a pretty young age, she started throwing things, tearing clothes and damaging toys while continuing to argue, argue and argue some more.

Hannah has been living out of her home since she was 18.  She’s had a series of low-paying jobs, just drifting.  She met, fell in love with and married someone very like herself. Because neither of them have “adult living” skills, they’ve really struggled with jobs and money.  And, in fact, Hannah’s parents have supported them off and on since Hannah graduated from high school. They’ve had better times, though, in the last year.  Rick, her husband has a job now loading medical supplies onto corporate jets.  Hannah has graduated from cosmetology school and will get a job soon.

Hannah is 35 now and she and her husband have good relationships with her parents and her siblings.

Hannah, 35 years old.

Positive personal qualities. 

Analytical thinker.



Wants to grow emotionally and gain life skills.


Generous with her time and energy with her friends.



Respects others and expects respect in return.

Morally “good.”

Growing more courage.


Negative personal qualities.

Passive instead of Active.

Directionless, uncertain, anxious from middle school on.

Socially fearful.

Handles her anxiety by over-talking with friends and family.

Doesn’t sustain a job; works only to “get by.”

Reactive instead of proactive in most situations.


Lacks Self-Discipline.


Positive relationship processes.

Listens actively.

Comfortable with friends.

Observant of others; trusts few people because she’s fearful.

Respectful of others.

Uses clear, direct language when not defensive.

Can acknowledge it when she’s made a mistake.

Some negotiation and compromise skills.


Practical Life Skills. 

Disorganized with belongings and schedule.

Likes cleanliness and order but doesn’t use her time or energy to act them out.

Doesn’t actively set goals; passively waits for opportunities to present themselves.

Can start a project but cannot follow through or get closure on it at home.

No money management skills.


            All of the information above is here to show you, as best I can with a subject this complex, is how children from very similar emotional atmospheres can decide differently at a very early age how they will respond in their families.

At about three months old babies start to watch parents and/or siblings and they become more and more sensitive to how the home atmosphere feels.  By the time Jay and Hannah reached five-ish, they had each made their choice as to how they would handle themselves and the others in their homes.

Jay decided to comply with his dad’s “rules.”  At the same time he was complying, Jay watched and learned the relationship processes that were in the family.  The four of them camped together.  His dad had a good sense of humor, so there was good-natured kidding going on. The four of them had fun together.  And, Alicia and Joe ferociously emphasized education so Jay really paid attention in school and at home.  He has a long list of practical living skills. My point?

Very early on Jay decided to GO ALONG with his parents.

Once he had made that UNconscious decision, his time and energy

was spent observing and learning about people and life in general,

both in his family and, later in the larger world community.

Hannah, on the other hand, decided to resist her parents.  She spent her entire eighteen years arguing with them about everything: house rules, clothes, helping in the family, friends, and activities. Her brother, Paul, Jr. was born when Hannah was two and they, too, argued about everything until, finally, when Hannah turned eighteen, Paige and Paul asked her to move out.  They called her the “family trouble-maker.”

My point?  Very early on Hannah decided to RESIST her parents. 

Once she had made that UNconscious decision,

her time and energy were spent on engaging with her family members

in a daily struggle for POWER.  Her UNconscious emphasis was

on “staying out of her parent’s control,” not observing and

learning relationship skills or practical living skills. 

You can see that at thirty-five she still has many fewer skills than she needs to cope well in the adult world.


Kids Decide.

I know this idea is hard to accept for two reasons:

  1.  We don’t think of babies, toddlers, or young children as “deciding” their emotional life postures.  And, if we did, we’d say they do it at a later age.
  2.     Most of us parents think we teach our children how to be.  No.  Our children come into our homes and decide for themselves whether to comply or resist. We provide the setting; they decide how to be with us. 

Can we influence their decision?   Yes!

  1.          Provide a home atmosphere that’s largely calm, including when there’s disagreement.  Let them see you “work it out” without putting each other down.
  2.          Use respectful talk with each other and your child.  Negotiate and compromise with your child as often as you can.
  3.           Watch for resistance from your child.  Children can be subtly manipulative, so resistance isn’t always obvious.
  4.            Become aware of your own relationship skills.  Most of us parents aren’t even sure of what we’re modeling for our child because we haven’t really thought about it.  We do daily living       automatically.
  5.            Become aware of your practical living skills. We cope with daily adult life automatically because we’ve been doing it for a while.  We’re usually not aware that:  we’re using good skills every day all the time and almost everything we know, we learned in our childhood from watching our parents or other adults.  We have a lot of skills we’re not even aware of.  Think about it.

I want you to remember: most people think that parenting is the toughest job there is. I agree with them; it certainly was for me.  So, go easy on yourself as you practice some of these suggestions.

Do You Have a Resistant Child or Do You Know One?

Warmest wishes until next time,


Thanks so much for reading.  And, if you think anyone you know would like this article, please forward it.

I Shouldn’t Disappoint Others, Especially Those I Love.

    Throughout her second marriage, Kathryn, an exaggerated Pleaser, not only shopped for, but also paid for, all of the Christmas gifts that Fred, her husband, gave to his children, his mother and his work friends.

The November of their sixth year together she, feeling taken advantage of, told him she wanted him to buy his own gifts. He was speechless that evening; he couldn’t believe she meant it! Since Fred didn’t know how to manage his money, he never had any. Kathryn usually bailed him out when he needed cash for “special times,” like Christmas; he’d gotten used to that.

The morning after their talk, Fred raged around the house, saying that now he couldn’t take the trip he’d been planning, to go see his sister. Instead, he’d have to spend his plane ticket money on his kids. This mess was Kathryn’s fault; she’d just changed the rules without warning him.

Did Kathryn feel guilty? Sure, she did; she’s an exaggerated Pleaser, meaning she’s over-the-top in taking care of the people she cares about.

By the next morning, she’d actually convinced herself that she had betrayed him. After all, she thought, she’d done this favor for him for five holiday seasons. She could understand that he’d be angry if she stopped.

Pleasers always “understand” their loved one’s thinking. Their belief that they “have to understand” is so heavy that they convince themselves that what they are thinking (here: Kathryn thinks and feels that Fred is “using” her) is completely wrong. And the way Kathryn “proves” to herself that she’s wrong and he’s right, is to feel guilty.

She felt worse than guilty thinking that she’d deprived him of his trip. Then, she had another thought: maybe she should just pay his way to his sister’s. Then he wouldn’t be disappointed and blame her. That would make things right, wouldn’t it?

No, it wouldn’t make things right.

What Kathryn didn’t understand at that point was: the gifts she’d bought for those first five years were just that: gifts. They were never her responsibility to buy; she’d just done a five-year favor for Fred. Instead of Fred accepting the gift, feeling grateful, and now taking on his own responsibility, he had a temper tantrum when she stopped. Why?

Fred felt entitled. He’s a Comfort personality; they always feel entitled. Kathryn felt guilty because she’d never really set any kind of boundary on her giving before. In her mind, setting this boundary not only didn’t feel natural, but look at the trouble it caused when she stood up for herself. She felt as though the whole relationship was threatened because she’d set a boundary. It scared her.


    We could go on with more incidents like this, but you get the idea.

The reality is: Of course, you have to disappoint those you love sometimes and, especially, when they want to use you to escape their own obligations. Of course you have to disappoint those you love sometimes, especially if they treat you disrespectfully.

There are some compelling reasons why exaggerated Pleasers should balance out their beliefs.

One, if we take Kathryn’s idea about disappointment literally, it would mean that whatever your partner or children or co-workers wanted, reasonable or unreasonable, you’d supply it. If you’ve actually tried to do this, you’re probably worn out – I mean, really exhausted. Over time “not disappointing others” just becomes impossible. One reason: your time, energy, and money eventually dry up.

Two, those we please come to expect it. So, without realizing it, we train them to expect that we will take care of them. This is bad for everybody. The ones you take care of eventually decide that they don’t have to be responsible in their own lives; you’ll bail them out when they aren’t. Sadly, your actions stunt their growth. They aren’t motivated to grow up. They remain like children: expecting service.

Three, if you’ve already tried this, Pleaser, you know that it doesn’t work for you, either, over time. That’s because when you let yourself be taken advantage of over and over, disrespected too, then ignored and used (yes, especially by those you love), your sad, painful, anxious, angry feelings pile up and something has to give. Usually, it’s the relationship that gives way, the one you tried so hard to keep afloat.

What do you do with this situation? You only have a few choices:

  1.  You accept what you and they have created and continue to live with it, or
  2.  You ask your partner to change his behavior, and to treat you fairly and with respect. In other words: you stand up for yourself, or
  3.  You leave the relationship (eventually that’s what Kathryn did, even though she loved Fred very much) or you stay in the relationship(s) but correct you own behavior over time, so that you’re not accepting disrespect.

(** You do this by becoming more and more aware over time and learning some assertive skills. Understand that you can be used by anyone in your life: your spouse or partner, your kids, your coworkers or friends. Become aware)

    Of course, it’s much better to try balancing out your Pleasing before it reaches the critical situation that Kathryn found herself in.

Little by little, Kathryn realized she’d fallen in love with a very charming but irresponsible “little boy” man. And unfortunately, she learned in our sessions that he was happy with whom he was. He didn’t want to change. He was very clear about that and so the marriage ended.

    Little by little, Kathryn realized that she didn’t know how to balance her Pleasing with fair boundaries. She didn’t know how to respect herself. But, she knew she wanted to be happy, instead of anxious all the time and she knew that eventually she wanted a happy, successful life with someone else. So, she worked hard to become (1) aware and (2) learn new communication skills.

What About You?

Warmest regards until next time,


Why Does Your Child “Act Out?”

A Deeper Look at Parenting.


Understanding Your Resistant Child


If you have a child that’s defensive, you already know how hard it is to get past that barrier and get cooperation going.  Back when I was a parent of smaller children, I could “feel” the resistance when my child used it with me.  Did I stop to really think through what was happening when my son and I were in the middle of a “thing?”  No, but I wish I had.  I could have saved myself months, okay—even years, of grief if I’d known at all (1) what was going on and (2) how to handle it.

Here are some brief, but I hope helpful, thoughts about your child’s resistance and how to handle it.


1. Getting Attention


One.  To get attention your child may:


            Make faces, talk continuously, say shocking things, brag, ask questions in a sincere and sweet way, or kick and poke others.  And, so on.


Two.  Your child hopes to get:


            More individual attention and/or special service.  Parents may feel annoyed and irritated and will complain about having to tend to the child, but often will do it anyway.


Three.  The best actions parents can take are:


            Ignore your child; say nothing, do nothing.  Work at not showing your irritation or annoyance; your child wants a “rise” out of you.  When she demands attention, don’t give it.  Focus on yourself or something else.


Four.  How to help your child give up her need for special attention:


            Treat her in a warm, accepting way when she isn’t trying to manipulate you.  Act friendly as consistently as you can. 


***  Above all, do not “pay off” her attention-getting behavior. ***



2.  Competing for Power


One.  To compete for your “parent” power, your child may:


  • scream
  • throw herself on the floor
  • criticize
  • whine
  • cry
  • act stubborn
  • throw things
  • disobey
  • act superior
  • blame


These behaviors are a “step up” from those attention-getting ones she’s tried previously.


Two.  The child hopes to get:


     Your parent power.  You, parents, or her siblings, may try to match her behaviors, hoping that will stop her. You may even increase your responses, trying to “top” her behavior.  You may also give in to her because you feel sorry for her.  Don’t.


Three.  The best actions parents can take are:


     Do nothing.  Refuse to engage in a power struggle with her.  Continue whatever you’re doing, keep cool, or walk into another room.  Refuse to feel sorry for her.


Four.  How to help your child give up her desire for power:


     Treat her in a warm, accepting way when she isn’t trying to manipulate you.  Act friendly as consistently as you can.  


*** Above all, do not “pay off” her desire for power. ***


            Parents, please don’t be discouraged if your responses don’t work immediately.  They won’t. Once defenses get entrenched, you have to really stay at it for a while.  That’s because they’re very strong.  Gradually though, you’ll see that they diminish and finally disappear.


            As usual, any questions you have about this article or anything else on my website, please email.  I’d love to hear from you.


      Warmest wishes until next time,


Thanks so much for reading.  And, if you think others would enjoy this, please share.