relationships

What A Year Off From Facebook Taught Me

Happy September (Recovery Month)! School’s back in session and vacations are over for many.  If you’re like most, you’ve been seeing everyone’s summer pics on facebook and Instagram. While you might expect this post, written by a Professional Counselor, to talk about the influence of social media on self-esteem or depression, I want to invite you into a more personal journey- one of compulsive behavior, learning, and communication.

The Back Story
Starting early in 2015, I had been recognizing for months how distracting my daily social media consumption was to me (especially facebook)- and how much time and emotional energy was being spent. And then a stroke of insight came- why not just stop? I didn’t have to make any extreme commitment or do a PR campaign. Why not just see what happened? And see what happened I did. With no end in sight, I stopped personal social media (facebook, etc.) use through May 2016.

My days started to become more efficient at work; I found creative ways to engage or disengage with people; I was less stressed over the high dose of negative news I was seeing; I let go of the pressure of having to keep up with posting or needing to respond; I focused on the core things that mattered as opposed to the (look, a SQUIRREL!) distractions.

I began to see how compulsive I had become, even a little dependent. I felt fear about missing out on something. I got a “hit” (or high) from that next new message or like or share in my notifications. I had worried if someone didn’t respond soon enough.

The Addiction Framework
In the addiction world, physiological dependence is two things:tolerance (more is needed to achieve the same result) andwithdrawal (I feel powerfully adverse negative affects when the “drug of choice” is removed). The treatment world has been closely watching the impact of using the internet, apps, social media, and the like- to see how it activates and affects the brain and body and mind in similar ways to substances. And we’re starting to acknowledge how behavior can trigger some of the same brain processes as a substance being ingested. DARN, I guess I can’t say, “Well, it’s not like I’m abusing drugs or anything.” Actually, sometimes I am abusing the chemicals already in my brain that drugs simply play with.  Varying levels of compulsivity exist, and my expertise in Professional Counseling focuses on providing help and hope when a person can’t break through their compulsive patterns.

Even though a year break taught me about my personal misuse of social media, don’t expect a crusade AGAINST social media from me today. As much as I benefited from my “vacation,” there were a few things I missed out on, too. I overlooked a few announcements (sorry for missing that birthday heads-up). I lost a bit of connection to the world around me. In essence, some communication was actually stunted for me. And I missed out on a little healthy distraction I find encouraging.

The Rest of the Story
My personal story may not be yours. Here are some observations:

The modality of communicating by tech IS effective and helpful for many.  We can complain all day about children not learning to communicate well because they “can’t even” (and I do believe that is a concern to be aware of as a parent).  However, social media can be helpful.

Social media is a communication platform. Whether we like it or not, things like social media are the new telegram or front porch conversation of years ago. And they don’t appear to be going away any time soon, only adapting and changing.

As with many things in this world, the actual vehicle of social media may be relatively neutral- what makes it egocentric, compulsive, and harmful OR helpful and relational, is likely thepurpose and motivation and heart behind its use.  I want to be “linked in” to the latter so I can live free, not compulsively.

Sincerely,

Justin

Further Reading:

Dr. Geraint Evans- “What I Learned in My Year Off Facebook”

Forbes- “Need A Break From Social Media? Here’s Why You Should Take One”

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Quid Pro Quo

In Latin, Quid Pro Quo means, “something for something.”  You scratch my back; I scratch yours.  Tit for tat.  It’s how the world runs.

Or is it?

In the business world, this often works.  Social psychology calls it “reciprocity.”  In relationships, well, this is where it gets fuzzy.  Relationships require sacrifice regularly; they require that you stick around, presuming it’s reasonable to do so.  In business, if someone doesn’t offer you a good deal, you can move on.  If you keep doing this with relationships, you will bankrupt your heart and anyone close to you quicker than ever thought possible.  Relationships involve the molding and holding of hearts.  Business involves the flow of money.

I have no beef against business and am personally very entrepreneurial.  However, I want to call to the table that many principles that work for business DON’T in relationships, which is partly why someone can be extraordinarily successful in the business world but trade in relationships as often as changing underwear.  The concept of reciprocity is fascinating, and I regularly utilize it in respectful ways when I consider how to build my practice, such as when I “add value” to interactions with businessmen and women by offering helpful counseling materials.  This, in turn, increases my odds of getting a favorable response.  Nothing wrong with it.  I attempt to not do it ONLY for this reason.  However, when I expect a certain response- demand it, even- I am not respecting a person’s freedom, uniqueness, or spontaneity.  And this is precisely the problem when quid pro quo is present in relationships.

Everyone from Hendrix to Gottman to Eggerichs (see references below) point out the necessity of proactive initiative in love- an active, intentional doing what’s best for another, choosing love over “balancing the budget.”  In fact, the eminent researcher John Gottman states the myth of quid pro quo in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (2002): “But it’s really the unhappy marriage where this quid pro quo operates, where each feels the need to keep a running tally of who has done what for whom” (p. 15).

Isn’t this the definition of selfishness?  And it tears relationships apart.  I don’t know of anyone who says, “Yes, being completely selfish is good; I want to live by the principles of selfishness and teach my kids to do the same.”  No one really debates this.  How quickly this happens, though!  My role as counselor isn’t to point a finger; it’s to help uncover what’s holding clients back.  Consider how you might be “losing while winning,” holding grudges, keeping a record of wrongs.  These things are the opposite of contentment- and love.

Don’t wait for a person to do good to you.  That’s the whole importance of the Golden Rule and the Greatest Commandment.  If you wait around for the other person to “play by the rules” in loving you, prepare to be unsatisfied.  There will come a time (in EVERY relationship) when loving another becomes hard- when the brain-chemical high of newness wears off, when the attractiveness of another becomes the norm, when that little quirk that you thought was wonderful turns out to annoy the heck out of you.  If it’s left up to reciprocity, we’re screwed.

Disclaimer: I want to be very clear.  I am NOT suggesting anyone becomes a “doormat,” pushover, or passive.  I am not saying that you do not focus at all on yourself.  (Consider how eating food may be the most self-focused thing we do, but it is clear that if we don’t care for ourselves in that way, there might be a problem!  Self-care is important.)  Hopefully the heart of what I am passing on is clear: If a relationship fundamentally relies on quid pro quo, it will prove an unhappy ending.  Find out how to love others despite what they bring to the table, and reap the overflowing results.  If one person brings a feast to the table, not having the other person bring a feast doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yours.

References (the first two describe reciprocity):
Influence by Robert Cialdini
Business Networking that Works: It’s Called Quid Pro Quo by Forbes
Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman

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.

 

Money Psychology

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The holiday season is coming to a close.  2014 is upon us.  If you are like most Americans, you have spent a fair amount of money in the past month.  Whether consciously or not, you have made a substantial number of financial decisions.

How much did you drive?  What did you spend on food?  What led to the purchasing decisions you made?  What brought about changes or continuity in how you spent money?  How are you planning to spend or save in the next week?  What are your goals for next year?

These are all money questions.  Whether we like it or not, it is integral to daily life.  Even right now, as I type, I am using electricity, wearing down the life of my computer, using time, and re-educating myself on decision-making.  This all affects money.  And money affects it all.

Money is neutral.  Good or evil can come from it.  It is a great tool to reveal what is important to us, and it will quickly reveal the true investments of our hearts- what matters to us.  So when I work with couples and individuals dealing with relationship problems, it’s no wonder that this is a regular dispute zone.

In The 5 Money Personalities, authors Scott and Bethany Palmer present 5 personal styles to handling money.  We each have styles, just like we have personalities- equal, yet different.   There are strengths and weaknesses in each style.  How a person comes to the table- their beliefs and attitudes- considerably impacts their actions and emotions.

First of all, the Spender gets a genuine rush from spending- big or small.  This type of person lives and breathes in the moment- seeking to make life enjoyable now and create memories.  Spenders love to buy for others and get much happiness from helping others and giving gifts.  However, impulsive decisions, a tendency not to communicate about money, regret, and sticking to a budget are some unhelpful results that can ensue.

For the Risk Taker, risk brings a thrill, a challenge, a joy.  They will think about the big picture.  Entrepreneurial possibilities are their life-blood.  The hunt invigorates- and this person moves quick.  Instead of looking at the data and following a standard path of conventional wisdom, their gut is often consulted.  Conversely, vulnerability to loss, ignoring reality, impatience, and a lack of empathy are some of the risks that can follow.

The Security Seeker is a researcher.  Just like the motto of the Scouts, they live by Be Prepared.  Future focus allows them to be willing to give up on immediate gratification for long-term gain.  Faithfulness with resources is an almost inevitable outcome.  The down side is the tendency to be negative along with having anxiety, possibly becoming a killjoy, getting stuck in analysis, and lacking in creativity.

The Flyer may seem out of place in a discussion on money- they hardly think about it.  This person is not consumed or obsessed with money.  They are content, centered on relationships, and usually not motivated by dollars and change.  The flyer may not pay enough attention to money, make decisions based on emotion, lack money skills, or lack in responsibility and initiative.

Finally, the last money personality the Palmer’s introduce is the Saver.  They love to, well, save.  Getting something for less is exhilarating to them.  Organization and stability are this person’s namesake, avoiding debt and calculating buying decisions.  On the contrary, financial goals can lead this personality to lose sight of the present, form anxieties around plans, goals, and saving (which can be not-so-fun), and they may also be just plain cheap.

Exciting, huh?!  This knowledge can certainly help understand the motivations and drive behind money decisions.  Many people, though, are like John and Kate, who approach money in very different ways.  When everyday decisions arise, they quickly get into conflict because they assume the other person is ignoring their needs and not being helpful.  The more a person is “vilified” for their style, the more they will shut down.  You (and those around you) will benefit if you learn to appreciate the person and personality without treating them like a villain.

Here is the thing: changing behavior- not just observing it- is the challenging task.  You will be successful in your relationships if you can really listen, show understanding and respect, and give generously.  Let money be your servant, not your master.  And when you handle money this way, will you ever look back and regret it?

Yours truly,

Justin K. Hughes

The Psychology of Family Holidays

As the U.S. heads into the heaviest holiday season of the year, an interesting blend of emotions often come up.  Even for those who find great joy in time with family, it can also be a stressful time.  Join me on a little journey of psychology through some of these dynamics.

Expectations.  We all have them, and most are unspoken.  This is one of those big surprise areas for couples when they first get married.  Do you: Like to relax by being at home or going out?  Sit down at the table for all meals or sit in front of the TV?  Spend your time talking or doing activities?  Spend money or save it?  Navigating differences takes patience and effort with one couple alone.  Now consider the impact of bringing family together with as many routines, styles, and personalities as a house can hold.

Boundaries.  Can you draw clear, respectful boundaries?  In families, boundaries often get mixed up.  Boundaries are really no more than understanding what’s mine, what’s yours, and what’s ours.  Being around the same people day in and day out, it is easy to expect that situations will just work themselves out- and rest on the comfort of familiarity.  However, being healthy in relationship requires speaking the truth and showing grace.  Do you tell others your needs and wants, or do you guilt them into doing what you want?  Do you really listen to understand?  Do you fear ‘rocking the boat’ and don’t speak up?  The error arises in being overly passive or overly aggressive (passive-aggressive is just a form of aggression).  These extremes involve not taking enough responsibility OR taking too much responsibility to change that which is not in our care.  This is a basic definition of drama, and what ends up happening is hurt feelings, resentment, and helplessness.  This can be countered by love- speaking up when necessary and being quiet equally as well.  Love is not guilt and obligation, though you won’t always enjoy loving, because its highest form involves sacrifice and patience.

Family rules and roles.  Ever feel a sense of freeness and independence away from all of your family only to revert to a frustrating old pattern when you are with loved ones?  Such as how the youngest sibling “performer” gets all the attention?  How your normal patience goes down the toilet when you hear incessant complaining about your life choices?  The realization that you sound like your dad though you always swore you would be different?   Family dynamics are deeply rooted.  See the next point to understand why.  It is easy to slide back into the old patterns.  Don’t put unrealistic pressure on yourself or others to change deeply rooted dynamics quickly.  Also, points of growth must be happening at other times during the year- consistently.

Old habits and brain pathways.  Think of it.  When dressing, which leg goes first into your pants?  What side of the face (or which leg) do you shave first?  Habits and routines are ingrained into our brain chemistry.  They can change, because the brain is “plastic,” but it takes work and time.  Now bring together good and bad habits with people you may or may not enjoy spending time with, and there are bound to be some sparks of tension.

Differentiation.  Healthy family functioning requires interdependence.  This is being mutually dependent on each other for the good of everyone involved.  Additionally, healthy families will encourage what’s known as differentiation- being connected, yet being a unique, independent human being.  Raising a child means transitioning this little marvel from total dependence to total independence- in a few short years.  Being over-connected (enmeshed) or disconnected (diffuse) will create problems real fast.

Truly, time with family needs patience.  And it often takes work.  It can be wonderful, too.  You may want to have a plan going into the holidays to make it successful.  Don’t forget to remember what you are grateful for and the incredible blessings you have.  It’s easy to lose vision when it seems like your family is driving you crazy.  This is where I reflect on a great example of love: Jesus had a bunch of guys that abandoned him- every one- when support was most needed.  But he loved.  I need this love.  It’s a love that speaks truth.  It’s a love that shows kindness.  It’s a love that has courage.  And I pray I can show it well during the holidays.
Yours truly,
~Justin

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Intensity vs. Intimacy

Possibly the simplest definition of intimacy is this: knowing another and being known.  Intensity is defined as strength, power, or force- in relationship terms, it’s getting a surge of whatever makes a person feel good.  Intimacy is developed over time, with patience, with love, with understanding, with compassion, with sacrifice.  Intensity happens quickly and fades quickly- it is not long lasting.  Those that trade it for intimacy will find themselves dissatisfied and using people like objects.

The implications of this are profound.  It has changed the way I look at relationships.  I have been a “thrill-seeker.”  Oh no, you never would see me cliff-diving, jumping out of airplanes, or swimming with sharks.  I learned to seek intensity in subtle ways- especially with people.  I would feed off of the praise of others; I would pursue the “high” of new connections; I would live for recognition.  I became aware of this through support, seeing my own counselor, and study.  You see, I made a major error- I substituted intensity for intimacy.

They are not the same thing.

This concept is important in understanding Addiction, Bipolar, Personality Disorders, and just plain ol’ dysfunctional relationship patterns.  For instance, with addiction, a person adapts to the world and copes using a substance or person or thing as if it were a relationship- gaining comfort, support, investing time and energy, and to soothe pain.  I commonly hear addicts say that their addiction became their best friend.  Of course, the problem with relying on an intense “high” to feel better is that our brains weren’t made to sustain constant highs.  Our brains will normalize to constant surges of feel-good intensity (aka, dopamine highs), and then we naturally begin to feel depressed when we don’t have this now “normal” high.  The classic term for this is ‘tolerance.’ 

Healthy relationships don’t run on constant highs.  Hear me out: good, healthy relationships can give the greatest satisfaction and offer wonderful highs.  But this is not all the time.  They require consistency, work, patience, suffering, and perseverance.  This goes way beyond just romantic relationships.  Running after intensity leaves a person “high and dry,” trying to be satisfied in ways they were not created to be fulfilled.  The substitute kills.  The real thing fulfills.
 
Yours truly,
~Justin

Conflict Algebra

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Watching dysfunctional conflict offers a lot of useful information.  I myself have had many fruitless arguments- trying to be heard and forcing a point.  It ends with drama, little resolution, and feelings of hurt and anger.

Let me introduce you to “conflict algebra.”
Person 1:             Issue A: “Why don’t you be more considerate?”
Person 2:             Issue B: “You always do this, complaining about everything I do!”
Person 1:             Issue C: “It’s time for you to see what you do to others.”
Person 2:             Issue D: “This is ridiculous; I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Person 1:             Issue E: “We’ve been through this again and again.  I’m tired.”

Here are five statements with five different underlying issues being brought up.  No resolution.  When communication attempts to force another person to listen and does not address the root issue, not only will there be no resolution, but the other person will become hardened, lose trust, and develop resentment.  Over time, this destroys relationships.

So what is healthy communication?  At a basic level, it is relaying a message and/or information from one conscious being to another- and to be fully functional, it is understood on both sides (not necessarily agreed with).  Communicating well is an art we often don’t see modeled in everyday conversation.  When I consider front-and-center examples, there are a lot of truly terrible models:

Movies/TV.  Magic relationships- amazing how they just happen, huh?  (Check out the actual follow-up track record of relationships in shows like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette).

Politicians.  With the goal of elevating a campaign or agenda (this isn’t necessarily bad), rarely do we see politicians truly attempt to understand another person or party’s position.  The name of the game is defeating the opponent.

Marriages/Families.  Who hasn’t seen the wreckage of a dysfunctional family?  This includes the “cold shoulder,” avoidance of important issues, abuse, shaming, and so forth.

Business.  Where the love of money is present, so will there be control, inappropriate manipulation, and abuse.  A business might be “successful” utilizing these things, but relationships will not be.

Here’s the good news: WONDERFUL examples of strong communication exist.  Just like the disciplined athlete, the savvy entrepreneur, or the skilled musician, it takes work.  It takes practice.  It takes failure.  If being able to do conflict- and do it well- is the best predictor of marital relationship success (ala Drs. John and Julie Gottman), there is wisdom in this for all relationships.  Get communication down well, and you will not be disappointed with the effort it takes.  There are a lot of ways to do this.  Acknowledge the need for help, read a book, listen to a talk, go to counseling, talk to a pastor, or find a person to mentor you.  Something different is needed in order to get a different result.  Best wishes to you!
Yours truly,
~Justin