Personal Growth

My Election Choice

 

Almost there.  End of Election Day 2016.  In seriously considering how to be a good citizen in this election, I came across a sure fire one.  It’s research based, and all respected professionals agree with this one.

Communication in love = improved relationships.  

Yeah, that’s right.  I suckered you into reading this.  But why stop now?  This is good stuff!  

I’ve seen a lot of head-shaking and apathy this election season.  As a mental health specialist, I have been watching the behavioral and relational patterns of interactions, whether from leaders at a podium or the lay person on the street.  I actually DO see some really good communication patterns in some people who exhibit characteristics that follow.  But as I wrote about in a blog post entitled “Effective Communication” a few years back (right before the last election), the examples many of us see reflect abysmal communication styles.  Well, at least if we want to be respectful.  IF you’re attempting to minimize, disrespect, and emotionally distance, fair WARNING: do not read and apply the following.    

PAA

Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive Communication styles have very clear results in various settings (in case you are wondering, passive-aggression can often be placed as a subtype under aggressive).  Assertive communication is based on mutual respect, regardless of how much you disagree with the other person.  Abusive language or behavior are out of the question.  Assertiveness always involves respect.  You may strongly state a point or quietly listen, but finding an assertive sweet spot is key- speaking the truth in love, and sometimes learning to just close the mouth.  

Check out the Mayo Clinic’s thoughts on this one, or for organizational settings, look at Daniel Ames’ research at Columbia Business School.  

Turning Towards

The famous marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found that turning towards a partner (which is not passive/casual agreement, but a positive stance of staying invested in one’s spouse), is significantly correlated with couples who stay together versus divorce.  This means that in every “bid” that’s made for attention or connection, the masters of marriage turn towards the other person most of the time.  I think there’s a lot to learn by studying successful couples’ interactions- after all, these are the people who are able to somehow stick with the same person for YEARS!!

Distress/Uncertainty Tolerance

Distress Tolerance is the ability to manage high levels of upset (distress), while staying grounded.  Intolerance of uncertainty (IU), seen especially in OCD and anxiety disorders, can be successfully redirected by developing Tolerance for Uncertainty.  Maybe the most common misconception with these are similar to misunderstanding forgiveness: to forgive doesn’t mean to just smile and approve.  These all involve character-building at a deep level of maturity where a person can still hold to what is true, while at the same time having peace when the world around seems (or is) out of control.  

Understanding

Back to Gottman.  He joined up with Anatol Rapoport to form an amazing Conflict Blueprint.  It involves working hard to really “get” what the other person is saying, and it recognizes underlying longings- and respects them- in the other person.  READ: NOT the same as adopting their perspective.  Furthermore, Softened Startup entails bringing something of significance and/or pain to another’s awareness, while staying gentle and guarding against criticism, blame, and shame.  

These things are actually really simple.  But they take discipline and deeper metamorphosis to bring about in daily life.  What can you do when all around you people communicate with disrespect and contempt?  Be a difference maker by communicating in love.  

That’s my election choice.  What’s yours?

Sincerely,

Justin K. Hughes

What A Year Off From Social Media Taught Me

This post has been updated and moved to my professional website.  You can find it here: www.justinkhughes.com.

Heart Attacks and Resolutions

If your heart condition were so bad that you had to undergo expensive ($100,000) coronary bypass surgery to improve it, would you change your lifestyle after the surgery?  Nope.  Not likely, at least according to a surprising study by Dr. Edward Miller at Johns Hopkins.  Miller found that 2 years after patients had a coronary bypass surgery, 90% did not change their lifestyle significantly (diet, exercise, stress, substance use).  90%!  Wouldn’t such an adverse event motivate change for the better?  Not necessarily so.

Being at the end of January as I send this out, many New Year’s resolutions have been made.  Fewer have been kept.  It is common sense that the resolutions we make mean very little without proper follow-through- whether at the gym, with eating habits, or in even more complicated areas, such as relationships.

When I’m humble enough to admit my own strengths and limitations (my human-ness), there are many things I cannot do on my own, many areas of life I CANNOT control.  But for those things I CAN change and affect, I ask myself:  Do I need additional support?  Help?  Growth?  Acceptance?  Is what I’m doing sufficient enough to bring the change I want?  Do I have the “horsepower” to do what I need?  In counseling, there are rarely quick fixes.  My job is mostly helping clients identify the how of change, not simply the what (i.e., how do I eat healthier versus simply identifying a need to eat healthier).  I regularly ask myself the following question that I also pose to clients: “Am I pursuing what is needed to bring about growth and health in my life?”

If you’re having trouble changing something, first of all, that’s okay.  Deep breath.  You will be less likely to change something if you get overwhelmed and caught up in helplessness.  If you ask all of the above questions and determine you need a little bit more than “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” (which is self-contradictory, by the way), passivity will lead to the same result- not even a heart attack can change that.  If it’s time for something different, only you can decide.  And if you hire me, we’ll get down to business.

Yours truly,
Justin

Myth Busters: Psych Meds Edition

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It is sad to see the person looking for a chemical fix to all their problems.  Equally discouraging is seeing marriages torn apart, lost dreams, and lives ended early- when psychiatric medication might have made a difference in the big picture.  Not “pro-meds” or “anti-meds,” as a mental health clinician I am “what is your situation, and could psychiatric medications possibly be a better option to what you are facing?”

Is it better if you don’t have to take medications?  Of course!  Why add anything to your body that’s not needed?!  But the question really is, do the possible benefits outweigh the likely risks I run in not taking medications?  Does the likely negative impact on myself and/or others suggest I would want to consider medications? Suicidal thoughts can lead to suicide, manic episodes can lead to marital unfaithfulness, addiction can lead to prison, anxiety can lead to ruined relationships, and ADHD can lead to job loss.

My paradigm on taking psychiatric medications comes from a framework that sees it as more of a philosophical and psychological decision in nature than it is about finding the “right scientific argument.”  There’s no perfection in science, and even the medical treatments we know and love involve a lot of guesswork and uncertainty.  We can’t know all possible interactions, side effects, and possibilities for every person.  What it often comes down to is risk and trust.  Taking Advil for a headache is a fairly low risk, with fairly certain outcomes- for some people.  Taking Abilify for Bipolar is less certain.  But if it works, is it worth the risks?

I submit to you that deciding to take medications really comes down to two questions: 1) Is what you are facing worth considering the cost/benefit of medication? 2) Are you willing to try something different? 

 

Top Myths On Taking Psychiatric Medications

If I take medication, it means I am crazy.

First of all, what is meant by crazy?  Most folks I talk with say ‘crazy’ is something along the lines of becoming “controlled” and losing their choice.   With psychiatric medications, this is a phenomenon mostly relegated to the movies.  Seeking a trained professional to affect biological changes in order to help a person with outcomes they desire isn’t crazy; it might be wise.

Also, the opposite of this myth may actually mean a person is in WORSE shape.  It is usually those who seek help who are healthiest; those who leave their problems to chance are most likely to be overcome by them.

I will become a drooling vegetable.

This is a movie concept, not a real world reality of Psychiatry (unless if there are illegal, wholesale abuses/uses occurring).

Psychotropic meds need to be taken if you are depressed.

This is the opposite, yet equally erroneous view that medications are always beneficial.  Sometimes they are not.

We really don’t know exactly how psychiatric medications work.

True.  This is absolutely true.  However, if we are to get honest about the process of research (and for that matter, science), we don’t know a lot about a lot of things.  Even in cardiovascular science and treatment, there are many unknowns.  Even in the treatment of heart disease, that formidable foe of American health, there are many treatments that have uncertainties as to how/if they will work on the individual.  But remember, the business we are talking about is saving lives.  And so it is with Psychiatric medication.  Saving and/or improving lives is the question.  If you know with certainty that taking medications will do neither, then there is no reason to take them!

When I am in session with clients, I don’t seek to win this (or really any) arguments by sheer data.  Most often, it comes down to our a) belief in what makes change possible and b) our willingness to change.  These choices we make are based on values, goals, perceived risk, and the beliefs we hold.  And each of us must decide for ourselves.

If I go to a Psychiatrist, they are just going to give me a pill.

To be fair, this does happen a fair amount.  But also to be fair, Psychiatrists have to gather a reasonable clinical rationale to prescribe, and there are many who do not recommend medications in every situation.  You have choice whether or not to follow the suggestions given and/or to get a second and third opinion.  To increase confidence in the process, bring up your concerns and ask around for the best Psychiatrists.

Medications will change who I am.

At their best, medications help address what is dysfunctional, not the enduring qualities of a person.  The prescribing doctor can track your symptom profile to determine- with you- whether or not a prescription leads to positive or negative changes.    Please remember that ANY medication used in medicine can cause unwanted effects- this is why it must be tracked and monitored, especially initially.

I will go crazy if I take medication.

Psychotropic medications are meant to help correct problems.  The higher risk of problems is when a person doesn’t take medications when they could help prevent or intervene with major issues.  If you are concerned about having a very negative reaction to a medication (whether due to Drug Allergies, past experience, or fear), consider setting up some supports such as regular follow-up with your psychiatrist, blood tests, and having friends/family monitor how you are doing when first starting on a medication.

There will be nasty side-effects.

Due to regulations, drugs used by Psychiatrists in the U.S. are highly researched to ensure that they do not create public health concerns.  That being said, there are certainly bad experiences and side effects that can occur.  In the end, it’s not a perfect science, and it comes back to those two questions of whether 1) what you are facing is worth considering the cost/benefit of medication, and 2) having willingness to try something different

I will become addicted.

If this is a concern, please raise it with your doctor, especially if you have a history of addiction.  There are MANY meds prescribed that are non-addictive.  However, it is true that benzodiazepines, sedatives, etc., have addiction risks.  Many patients can use these medications without becoming addicted, with a substantial improvement in their quality of life even short-term (e.g., through better sleep or less anxiety).

Psychiatrists force medication on their patients.

A respectable doctor will not force medication on you.  Unique, individual focus is made by seasoned professionals, including your involvement with the process.  The concept of against-your-will medication is mostly made up for entertainment/story purposes and rarely exists in the realm of actuality (even in the EXTREME situations where medication is forced, it is to guard a person from being a threat to human life, but this is not the usual we are discussing here).

Medications are a quick fix.

Some medications are only indicated for short-term use and all but do away with presenting symptoms when they are taken (e.g., panic).  However, medications do not change the environmental and personal factors that interact with your overall well-being, so those areas must be addressed for holistic improvement.  However, sometimes meds can help to get a person to a better spot as a co-treatment so other areas of life can also be improved.  Therefore, involving medications, personal work and change, spiritual growth, environmental adaptations, and so forth, a person will usually secure a greater likelihood of improvement.

I’ll have to take medication forever. 

Many medications are meant to be taken only for a time.  However, just like with other medical treatments, some clients will find that maintenance on medication really is the best approach.  This is usually only recommended when the cost of not taking the medication consistently is too high or risky because of the condition or problem being faced.

If certain prescriptions work for my friend, they’ll work for me. 

CONVERSELY: If prescriptions didn’t work for my friend, they won’t work for me. 

Each person is incredibly unique.  Whether through diet or exercise or blood pressure, people have to have different approaches and combinations to make their health the best.  Patience in the process is called for.

Caveats and Disclaimer:

Some of my readers are inevitably asking, “What about the wholesale problems with Big Pharma?”  “What about all the abuses with medications?”  That is another topic for another day; I do not deny there are some MAJOR issues and concerns to be addressed related to greed, regulations, and abuses.  But consider this article as a thought-provoker and encourager in the realm of appropriately administered and utilized psychiatric medications.

I am not an MD, nor do I give medical advice.  I offer feedback based on counseling experience and research.  Medical questions are to be handled by a medical provider.

Thanks for reading!

Yours truly,

Justin K. Hughes

Myth Busters, Counseling Edition

What are some misperceptions about counseling?  You probably don’t have to think very long before conjuring up an image of an “insane asylum” (ala Cuckoo’s Nest) or a highly pedigreed analyst who only listens and grunts acknowledgment of what you say.  Courtesy of media portrayals, cultural views, and personal fears, there are many myths which abound concerning counseling.  Here is a comprehensive guide to the most common (go to my resources at http://www.JustinKHughes.com to download a printable version).

nurse ratched microphone imdb copyright One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

 “Counseling is for those who have severe mental and emotional problems.”

There is a wide range of needs and goals addressed through counseling.  Different challenges are met with varying degrees of support- from mild to severe.  A great reason to address problems early, while they are still mild to moderate, is to prevent them from becoming severe.

 

“Going to a counselor is a sign of weakness.”

Being vulnerable and open about thoughts and feelings takes maturity and courage.  It takes risk.  It takes strength.  Counseling at its best is simply a) a pursuit of truth in what is really going on for a person and/or b) a pursuit of solutions that may really help in addressing problems.  Every person needs help and support in miscellaneous respects.

 

“I don’t have a problem; there’s a reason for the way I feel.”

Disorders most often spring up as a result of stressors, and this is where a mental health professional can assist in identifying when a problem crosses the line into a disorder.  For example, it’s difficult to differentiate when someone’s grieving turns into depression.  Though there may be identifiable and explainable stressors, this does not insulate a person from having one of two things: a) an actual disorder or b) a need for support and help in working through problems.  Counseling can address both.

 

“Counseling is not a proven science; it is theoretical and hypothetical.”

Yes and no.  What is usually meant by this is that a problem in counseling may not have an obvious causal link.  And often this is true- which is why clients usually end up in counseling in the first place.  However, there are very good and reliable outcomes expectable from many approaches of counseling (and evidence/research to back them up).  The question to ask might be, “Is what you’re doing working?”  You may want to give something different a try.

[Additional note: As of yet, most disorders are still determined and treated based on clinical interview rather than biomarkers- e.g., pinpointing a disorder through a blood test.  Remember, though, we are dealing at a minimum with the most complex physical matter in the empirical universe: the brain.]

 

“Counselors are too expensive.”

There are certainly special reasons where some types of counseling cannot be afforded.  However, did you know there are many community and state-sponsored resources for either free counseling or support?  There are additionally many places, such as universities and clinics, where counseling is offered at a very minimal cost, or even pro-bono.  Payments are tax-deductible as a medical expense.

Rationalizations to not spend money on counseling can be an issue of priorities.  For instance, if a marriage has been struggling for several years, will 8 therapy sessions really cost that much (the price of a new TV)?  If drug/alcohol addiction has cost thousands of dollars and many hurt relationships, is it worth getting better?

 

“I don’t need to go to counseling.  Someone else does.”

We can only take responsibility for what is in our control.  Counseling gives the opportunity to take charge and seek success despite whether others do or not.

 

“It’s not my fault that I am where I am- I shouldn’t have to go to counseling.”

Similar to the last concern, a person can find themselves in need for many reasons: suffering caused by self, others, authority, medical problems, etc.  Counseling provides the space to work on troubles, despite where they originate.

 

“A counselor is just going to tell me what I already know about myself.

Though new information can be useful and stimulating to discover, the concern of counseling is more about how to bring about change and overcoming barriers that hold a person back.

 

“I can handle problems on my own.”

Human beings require the support of others on many levels- evident as an infant, but equally true as an adult.  Living with electricity, a phone, food supplies, and using currency are examples of ways we are dependent on other people.  Mental health is really no different.  No one person has all the answers; being open to possible solutions by others, especially through professionals who work extensively with the challenges you face, might just yield some different results.

 

“Counseling doesn’t work.”

As a whole, a widespread body of research advises that counseling is effective.  Sometimes it does not work for a particular individual.  Some reasons it might not have worked are that the person was not ready, there was a bad fit/connection with the professional, specialized work is needed on specific issues, and many other reasons.  You may want to try again; be honest about your concerns; that is the best way to identify what will work for you.

 

“There are so many different perspectives and approaches with counseling.  I can’t trust a counselor when they all disagree.”

With over 300 registered schools of counseling theories, it’s understandable to think of counselors as a confused mess.  However, a counseling theory is a paradigm simply to understand disorders and problems, and how to bring about change.  No one approach in counseling has all the answers, but each can offer particular insight and options.  There are unquestionably moments when counseling theories get something wrong- just like in the medical world, business world, etc.  However, there is an increasing evidence-base for many approaches (CBT, Behavioral, Family Systems, Psychodynamic, and more).  At the end of the day, there only has to be a shred of willingness to try counseling- taking the opportunity to get a different result from what you have been getting.

 

“Counseling makes things worse.  My family member went to counseling and it messed them up.” 

I am truly sorry- I really hate to hear when someone has a bad experience in counseling.  Sometimes this happens; there are various reasons why.  Similar to the feedback given concerning “Counseling doesn’t work,” there may have been a bad fit, an inexperienced counselor, specialized focus might have been needed, or maybe the client was not ready.  One experience- or even multiple bad experiences- does not determine future experiences or the overall benefit and effectiveness of counsel.  Let me encourage you to share your concerns and talk with a provider up front to figure out how they respond and if they are a good match.

 

“Counselors just focus on the past; I want to find solutions for now.”

Different counselors have different styles.  Check with them to see what their methodology/theory is.  Many counselors only reference the past insomuch as it influences, guides, or impacts the present.  Then, often, tools and skills are developed to live most effectively in the present.  Think of how a past injury may have to be considered in the present in order to guard against re-injury.  It is no different with counseling.

 

“All I need to do is trust God and/or pray.”

Without getting into particulars of theology, it is important to consider how the help of others fits into trusting God.  Each person has to examine this for themselves.  Consider what responsibility is yours to act on, all the while considering how trust and prayer fits into the picture.  Mental health care might (though not always) be a direct result of trusting God to bring about growth and healing.

 

 “Counseling has only been invented in the past century.  Why do we need it now?”

Though counseling psychology as a field of study traces its roots back to the late 1800’s, “counseling” in some fashion or another has been documented for centuries through pastors, priests, mentors, teachers, guides, and so forth.  Nonetheless, professional counseling for-fee is relatively new.  Most of what occurs in medicine and healthcare has arisen in the past century.  This does not mean every advance is good.  However, reflect on how you might benefit from the level of specialty and expertise that is offered by a professional counselor- much in the same way a person can benefit from a doctor or college professor.

 

“Other people will find out what I share.”

If you locate a state licensed professional, every U.S. state has limitations on what information can be released to others.  Unless you are in a situation of immediate harm to yourself, others, or another rare condition, your information is protected as highly confidential.  Check with each provider and licensure type.  Our policies can be found at www.JustinKHughes.com.

 

“Mental health professionals are getting rich off of the problems of others.”

Unfortunately, this is a blanket assumption that might be true in some extremes, but it doesn’t look at the reality of costs associated.  Extensive and expensive training and education is required to become a professional counselor, in addition to costs related to keeping up a practice.  There are always costs associated for receiving specialized help.

 

“You can’t change people.”

Half-true.  You can’t change anyone except for yourself.  And you can always be an influence on others without forcing change.

 

“I am past changing.  Old dogs can’t learn new tricks.”

Just ask someone experienced in the mental health field to share stories of hope and healing to encourage you that change is possible at any age.

 

“I can get all the answers I need from my family doctor.”

Primary care physicians as a whole are incredible people.  In fact, the trust in these doctors is so strong that they are a “front door” to mental health issues, prescribing a majority of all mental health medications.  Nonetheless, every treatment provider has limitations.  If you need someone with unique and particular training in human psychology, you may want to contemplate working with an authority on your particular challenges (such as a Psychiatrist for medication and a counselor for skills and guidance).  Don’t be afraid to ask any practitioner about their proficiencies and expertise- it is their job to be honest about it.

 

“Counselors tell you how to fix your problems.  Their role is to be an expert advice-giver.”

Though some problems have more immediate solutions, there are very few quick fixes in counseling.  A professional counselor helps you explore your thoughts and emotions, and to explore the options you have based on your goals.  Rarely- if ever- is it telling you what to do.

 

“Counselors just sit back, nod, and grunt their understanding.”

A common misconception, most counselors are much more dynamic than this.  There are many different styles of counseling with varying levels of interaction.  You can discover how active your counselor is by looking at their theoretical approach, or simply by asking them.

 

“The counselor can’t understand me.  They need to have the same experiences or background.”

Counselors are trained to be sensitive to a wide range of human struggles.  To be licensed necessitates that counselors 1) cannot falsely advertise what issues they work with, and 2) they must have skills, techniques, and insight relevant to the specific problems they treat.  Sometimes it is a nice bonus to find a professional with a similar story; however, this can be unrealistic and a rationalization to avoid confronting problems.  One of the unique offerings of a professional is being more objective and less impartial, and thus being able to see more clearly into your life so you can discover remedies that will work for you.

 

“Change is not hard.”

Long-lasting, meaningful change takes time.  And work.  Consider managing money well, raising a child, getting good at an instrument, playing a sport, etc.  Mental health is no different.  It’s going to take some investment if it’s of any lasting value.

 

 “Counseling takes a long time.”

Determining the length of counseling is structured on numerous factors: the client’s goals, the severity of problems being worked on, client motivation, and counselor expertise- to name a few.  Some clients only need a one-session evaluation, some stay for several sessions, and others are invested in counseling for a couple of years or more.  Talk with your clinician to determine roughly how long it will take.

 

“Sessions will vilify my parents.  OR, they will find a scapegoat for my problems.”

Counseling requires focus on the client’s experiences and perceptions.  Sometimes this brings up points of reference involving hurt from others.  However, responsibility can only be taken by the person who is present.  Any work that devolves into a blame game of others is missing the point, as empowerment to take personal responsibility is central to successful counseling.

 

 “Counseling will change me (and who I am) forever.”

First of all, a counselor cannot change you; you must choose the change you want.  If you desire anything to be different in sessions, you can address this directly with your counselor.  If still not satisfied, you can always discontinue meeting with that particular counselor.

 

“I already have a good support system.  Seeing a clinician for my problems is unnecessary.”

Friends and/or family are essential to a healthy support system.  When needed, seeking a specialization in mental health can offer solutions and possibilities that may go beyond the feedback and support of friends and family.

 

“I don’t have the time for counseling.”

It may be worth considering how much time, cost, and impact various problems are costing you.  Counseling is an investment- of time, energy, money, and emotion.  You get to determine if it’s worth it to you.

 

“I am uncomfortable sharing my private matters.”

Confidentiality highly protects what you share to the extent the law provides.  Personal issues are explored only when they are relevant to your growth, and it is always up to you what you share and what you don’t.  It can be very hard to open up to another person, but the benefit just might outweigh holding in your emotions and thoughts.

 

“The clinician is going to spend all the time talking about my childhood.”

This really depends on the focus of your goals and the counselor’s approach.  Some counselors barely reference childhood, but others explore it extensively.  Your childhood will only be examined if it is seen to be relevant to your goals.

 

“I don’t want some shrink getting inside my head.”

You cannot be forced to share something you don’t want to.  Plus, even the best clinicians cannot know your mind without input from you.

 

“I only need medications to feel better.”

Research study after research study report an increase in positive outcomes when counseling is sought in addition to medication for many types of problems.  A medication does not help a person develop tools and skills to resolve distress and discover solutions when problems arise.

 

 “My genes determine my struggles.”

Without getting lost in a philosophical battle of genetic determinism, if you believe any of your thoughts and actions affect your existence, counseling can help you determine how you want to live and give you the tools to get there.  On a scientific note, we are discovering more and more how much impact our choices have upon the expression of genes.  In fact, some genes might not even express themselves if a person doesn’t have certain stressors present.  Choice does affect even our genes.

 

“Nothing can help me.  I’m hopeless.”

This is a common feeling of those who come into counseling, and there are many success stories of those who report significant progress in what are considered the most hopeless of situations.

 

“Going to therapy is selfish and self-indulgent.”

Psychological and emotional pain can affect every part of life.  Working on these areas commonly impacts how a person interacts with others- and can free them up to better love, serve, and invest.  Bear in mind, for example, how feeding the body can nourish and generate optimal functioning.  Feeding and nourishing a person emotionally is vitally important, as well.

  

Disclaimer:

Unfortunately, there are instances where the ideals listed are not met.  Please know that is a factor of an individual situation and not counseling as a whole.  Please never hesitate to talk to a counselor about setting up safeguards in counseling that help you feel protected.  Best wishes!

Yours truly,

Justin K. Hughes

Justin pro shot leaning

Drama Triangle

Dad is the tough one; when he comes home, the two kids know there will be a “blow out” if he finds out about their behavior.  He functions as the Persecutor, letting off his steam at Mom and the kids.  But Mom is the Rescuer, jumping in to tell Dad he’s being too hard.  And the kids know they won’t ultimately face consequences, because their parents will fight each other, both becoming a Victim and burned up that they are not respected by anyone in their household.

The Drama Triangle (founded by Dr. Steven Karpman, 1968)[1] brilliantly describes certain scripts found in relationships marked by dysfunction.  These are generally unconscious “game plans” that take shape early in childhood.  Here’s what the 3 roles look like:   

Persecutor:

  • Statements: “Get your act together!”  “You are an embarrassment to this family.”  “I am the one who has to whip people into shape- no one else will do it!”
  • Behaviors: Yelling.  Silent-treatment.  Verbal put-downs.  Blaming.  Aggression.
  • Internally: Driven by shame, anger is a cover for other avoided emotions.  Though in denial, will blame and attack others.
  • Psychology: Delivering “just” punishment.

Rescuer:

  • Statements: “I guess I’ll just be the one who has to do this.”  “This is for your own good.”
  • Behaviors: Focused on others, fixing problems, ignoring own needs, advice-giver.
  • Internally: Driven by guilt, high anxiety, low sense of self.  Feels sense of importance when someone is rescued (enter the victim).  Sees themselves as a helper or caretaker.
  • Psychology: The classic codependent (and enabler).

Victim:

  • Statements: “No one appreciates what I do.”  “Here I am, helpless, left all alone.”
  • Behaviors: Makes excuses, blames others, pouts, won’t apologize, shuts down.
  • Internally: Feels disappointed, believes they are not cared for, thinks they do not count, overlooked and overwhelmed.
  • Psychology: Worthless and damaged; “Murphy’s law.”

 
Sarah continued to watch her friends get married off, one by one.  She is sick and tired of being the one no one wants, the Victim.  Her circle of friends after college is getting smaller by the week, and the ones she still talks to are more difficult to relate to, because they have their busy lives with their families.  She meets Nate, and he loves making her feel special.  She quickly thinks she’s in love.  Nate feels incredible that he can help Sarah with all her problems, her Rescuer, and finds identity in this.  However, when he decides to spend a weekend with the guys, Sarah objects, with Nate exploding as the Persecutor, telling her she needs to stop suffocating him, and Sarah withdraws into herself as the Victim, realizing it is her lot in life to be rejected.

drama triangle

In the Drama Triangle, though there is a primary role, sometimes referred to as the “starting gate,” a person will/can switch between different roles.  In the diagram above, the two roles at the top are placed there because of their relative “one-up” position.  But if a person functions anywhere on this triangle, they will eventually end up as the victim. 

Why continue on this defective course?  There are many reasons, or “pay-offs.” 

  • Meeting legitimate needs for love, respect, and intimacy in illegitimate ways.
  • Denial- avoids painful truths and real emotions. 
  • Poor emotional regulation and reacting rather than being proactive. 
  • An identity is provided- a sense of direction can be felt when a person fills a role, even if harmful.
  • Offers a sense of closeness (ever felt closer to someone you argue with vs. apathy?).
  • Offers a position of power over another.
  • Avoids personal responsibility.
  • Inner drama is converted externally.
  • Cycle of shame- feeling defeated enough that a person continues to choose defeat.

Lynne Forrest (2008)[2] poignantly observes, “Whenever we refuse to take responsibility for ourselves, we are unconsciously choosing to react as victim.”  When we don’t take responsibility, we miss out on the blessings and avoid the natural consequences that help us grow up.  Shielding from reality turns sanity into insanity.  If you’re looking for a way to feel miserable, wait for everything outside of you to change before you can be content.  However, there are ways to give up the drama. 

Trading in your Role.  Sorting through genuine beliefs and feelings, owning them, and pursuing solutions, options, and personal responsibility are all a part of being a healthy adult.[3]  You can choose well-being, even if others don’t.  Negotiating boundaries is not about controlling another person.  It is about truth rather than drama.  It is about respect rather than demoralization. 

Empower instead of disable others- instead of making someone dependent on you or being dependent on another for salvation, a place of humility is needed.  Humility generates the best self-esteem; it is seeing yourself and others with a clear, respectful lens.

  • Identify and communicate in suitable ways how you truly think and feel.
  • Maintain, implement and follow-through with boundaries. 
  • Admit you make mistakes regularly.
  • Negotiate options.  Often, there are many options available.
  • Avoid talking down; dialogue.
  • Grow in self-awareness.  Seek to understand what others really think by asking them. 
  • Stay teachable and willing to learn.
  • Realize relationships are complex- there may not be an easy answer, and your perspective is only one.
  • Unify your heart and head (be not only intellectually intelligent, but emotionally intelligent).
  • You can’t have it your way all the time.  Learn to sacrifice.

 
Steve wasn’t “on his first rodeo.”  As a classic Rescuer who was the oldest child and the trusted man of the house when his father abandoned the family, he learned to find value in fixing broken things.  He would say yes to projects at the church, neighbors’ requests, girl scouts, 70 hr./week workloads- and then he crashed.  After ending up with suicidal thoughts and deep resentment (Victim and Persecutor) that others didn’t care for him like he cared for them, it was in therapy that his counselor first introduced him to The Drama Triangle.  When he realized he was creating his own chaos by living out unhealthy and, often, unseen patterns, he developed “muscles” around saying no, having limits, and allowing margin (aka, breathing room) in his life.  And he finally found that he stopped attracting other women who took advantage of him- because he allowed it in the past.  Now Steve is conscious that well-being requires daily work, but finds the reward of not living out of obligation and guilt, but rather choice and love. 

[1] Karpman, Ph.D, Steven (1968).  Fairy Tales and Script Drama Analysis.

[2] Forrest, Lynn (2008).  The Three Faces of Victim.

[3] McGill, Ph.D, Ken (2014).  “Cultivating Love.”  The Karpman Triangle and The Equality /Empowerment Triangle.

 

Launch

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Birds learn to fly after they step away from the nest; otherwise, they will die.  Most of us intuitively know a similar growing-up progression is required for human beings, but a lot can get in the way of raising a child to become an adult, and conversely, being an adult.A significant portion of my caseload as a counselor is working with parents, teens, and adults in addressing the problem of individuation in relationship.  It’s a big deal!  Commonly, parents come in very disturbed at the choices of their teen.  Teens present frustration that they can’t be themselves.  Adults struggle with how to be in relationship without being a doormat, being too demanding, or somewhere in-between. 

Let’s do a quick survey of what’s supposed to happen.  Children start out with 100% dependency upon their mother.  Ideally, a child needs to move to 100% self-responsibility.  Of course, this excludes circumstances of intensive disability and so forth.  Somewhere between that delicate balance of connection and individuality is where we spend much time struggling in our relationships.  It takes work and intentionality to make individuation happen- on both sides (parents and children).  In fact, if you don’t have a good paradigm for it, there will be problems. 

In counseling, an important term is differentiation.  Developmentally, it is one of the hardest tasks for parents and children alike- transitioning a dependent human being to independence.  Differentiation means being connected in relationship and also maintaining a unique self and identity.  The opposite extremes are enmeshment and disengagementEnmeshment doesn’t allow or respect separation- you must do, say, and think what the other person does, or you are wrong. Disengagement draws such separate lines that intimacy can’t happen- closeness with someone who is distant is impossible.  Differentiation, on the other hand, allows for closeness and understands what uniquely belongs to the individual (thoughts, feelings, etc.).  A differentiated individual feels the pain and joy of another person making their own decisions relative to their development, all the while accepting responsibility for self.

Example: a child’s future goals.  Parents that believe their child’s best is college and then a stable, conventional job in accounting don’t have bad goals.  They may even know that this would be a great fit for their child.  But if their child-blooming-into-an-adult doesn’t want this, and maybe adamantly opposes it, navigating these waters is arduous for both sides. 

Every situation is unique, and different factors require varying levels of application, which is why counseling can be such a help.  However, a necessary start is to identify what is healthy.  You can ask yourself, “Where do my responsibilities begin/end, and how about for the other person?”  One of the hardest rules to live by is: You cannot change other people.  This is just as true for me as for anyone.  I can only provide feedback, resources, tools, support, and boundaries.  What the other person does is up to them.  If we try to force or coddle, we allow and create emotional injuries.

What we can always do is be responsible for ourselves, learn how to be in relationships, find effective ways to interact and influence others, and grow up.  I’m still working on that one….



Yours truly,
Justin K. Hughes

Google-itus

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If you’re like over 1 billion people on this planet that use the internet, you have probably searched at some point for information pertaining to your health.  From understanding whether you have a common cold to symptoms of depression, these searches can provide useful information.  I use Google almost daily, and sometimes to understand health-related topics.
Conversely, many clients I work with find that the internet/Google/WebMD/etc. can also be an enemy to well-being.  For some clients, I recommend the intervention of avoiding scouring the web on topics related to their diagnosis.  Problems come up in one of several ways:

  1. Compulsive searching for reassurance, connection, and understanding- producing more anxiety
  2. Making doctor-like decisions about health
  3. Self-diagnosing complicated diagnoses
  4. Getting suckered into a product or service
  5. Getting unbalanced information

The internet is an amazing tool.  I see how it can also become the “decision-maker extraordinaire.”  I caution folks to consider the limitations of this tool- as with anything.  In my office, I hear how people fall deeper into fears, phobias, health concerns, and cognitive distortions.  When you read news stories, blogs (this one included), and comments, are you discerning into what you’re reading?  Do you just take it as Gospel-truth, or do you approach actively?

Here’s a brief study in statistical science (trust me, I’m getting somewhere).  The famous saying is, “Correlation does not imply causation.”  Just because something seems to relate to another thing doesn’t mean it really does.  One experience or claim, even multiple ones, don’t prove truth.  This is where science itself has to be careful.  Research can be ever-changing, sometimes with very different results under the same conditions.  Examples in the last half-century alone are:

  • Eggs are bad for you/good for you
  • Alcoholism is insanity/brain disease
  • Spicy foods boost metabolism/don’t
  • Exploding with anger gets rid of it/intensifies it

If scientific studies disagree with each other, information found through an online search probably needs to be ‘taken with a grain of salt’ even more.  Sensational news receives the most attention.  The loudest voice gets heard.  Being healthy requires sifting through all of the harmful and worthless information with discernment and wisdom.  Enjoy Google searches; but remember its limitations and what you’re getting.  If you learn to be a discerning researcher and critical thinker, your mental state will thank you.

Truly Yours,

Justin K. Hughes