Category: Psychotherapy

The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

Cloe Madanes is a world-renowned innovator and teacher of family and brief therapy and one of the originators of the strategic approach to family therapy. She has authored seven books that are classics in the field: Strategic Family Therapy; Behind the One-Way Mirror; Sex, Love, and Violence; The Secret Meaning of Money; The Violence of Men; The Therapist as Humanist, Social Activist, and Systemic Thinker; and Relationship Breakthrough.

Most of us claim we want to be happy—to have meaningful lives, enjoy ourselves, experience fulfillment, and share love and friendship with other people and maybe other species, like dogs, cats, birds, and whatnot. Strangely enough, however, some people act as if they just want to be miserable, and they succeed remarkably at inviting misery into their lives, even though they get little apparent benefit from it, since being miserable doesn’t help them find lovers and friends, get better jobs, make more money, or go on more interesting vacations. Why do they do this? After perusing the output of some of the finest brains in the therapy profession, I’ve come to the conclusion that misery is an art form, and the satisfaction people seem to find in it reflects the creative effort required to cultivate it. In other words, when your living conditions are stable, peaceful, and prosperous—no civil wars raging in your streets, no mass hunger, no epidemic disease, no vexation from poverty—making yourself miserable is a craft all its own, requiring imagination, vision, and ingenuity. It can even give life a distinctive meaning.

So if you aspire to make yourself miserable, what are the best, most proven techniques for doing it? Let’s exclude some obvious ways, like doing drugs, committing crimes, gambling, and beating up your spouse or neighbor. Subtler strategies, ones that won’t lead anyone to suspect that you’re acting deliberately, can be highly effective. But you need to pretend that you want to be happy, like everybody else, or people won’t take your misery seriously. The real art is to behave in ways that’ll bring on misery while allowing you to claim that you’re an innocent victim, ideally of the very people from whom you’re forcibly extracting compassion and pity.

Here, I cover most areas of life, such as family, work, friends, and romantic partners. These areas will overlap nicely, since you can’t ruin your life without ruining your marriage and maybe your relationships with your children and friends. It’s inevitable that as you make yourself miserable, you’ll be making those around you miserable also, at least until they leave you—which will give you another reason to feel miserable. So it’s important to keep in mind the benefits you’re accruing in your misery.

• When you’re miserable, people feel sorry for you. Not only that, they often feel obscurely guilty, as if your misery might somehow be their fault. This is good! There’s power in making other people feel guilty. The people who love you and those who depend on you will walk on eggshells to make sure that they don’t say or do anything that will increase your misery.

• When you’re miserable, since you have no hopes and expect nothing good to happen, you can’t be disappointed or disillusioned.

• Being miserable can give the impression that you’re a wise and worldly person, especially if you’re miserable not just about your life, but about society in general. You can project an aura of someone burdened by a form of profound, tragic, existential knowledge that happy, shallow people can’t possibly appreciate.

Honing Your Misery Skills

Let’s get right to it and take a look at some effective strategies to become miserable. This list is by no means exhaustive, but engaging in four or five of these practices will help refine your talent.

Be afraid, be very afraid, of economic loss. In hard economic times, many people are afraid of losing their jobs or savings. The art of messing up your life consists of indulging these fears, even when there’s little risk that you’ll actually suffer such losses. Concentrate on this fear, make it a priority in your life, moan continuously that you could go broke any day now, and complain about how much everything costs, particularly if someone else is buying. Try to initiate quarrels about other people’s feckless, spendthrift ways, and suggest that the recession has resulted from irresponsible fiscal behavior like theirs.

Fearing economic loss has several advantages. First, it’ll keep you working forever at a job you hate. Second, it balances nicely with greed, an obsession with money, and a selfishness that even Ebenezer Scrooge would envy. Third, not only will you alienate your friends and family, but you’ll likely become even more anxious, depressed, and possibly even ill from your money worries. Good job!

Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and, for 15 minutes, meditate on all the things you could lose: your job, your house, your savings, and so forth. Then brood about living in a homeless shelter.

Practice sustained boredom. Cultivate the feeling that everything is predictable, that life holds no excitement, no possibility for adventure, that an inherently fascinating person like yourself has been deposited into a completely tedious and pointless life through no fault of your own. Complain a lot about how bored you are. Make it the main subject of conversation with everyone you know so they’ll get the distinct feeling that you think they’re boring. Consider provoking a crisis to relieve your boredom. Have an affair (this works best if you’re already married and even better if you have an affair with someone else who’s married); go on repeated shopping sprees for clothes, cars, fancy appliances, sporting equipment (take several credit cards, in case one maxes out); start pointless fights with your spouse, boss, children, friends, neighbors; have another child; quit your job, clean out your savings account, and move to a state you know nothing about.

Read the rest: The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

Was Part of Your Childhood Deprived by Emotional Incest?

Author: R. Skip Johnson

The term “emotional incest” was coined by Kenneth Adams, Ph.D. to label the state of cross-generational bonding within a family, whereby a child (normally of the opposite sex) becomes a surrogate spouse for their mother or father. “Emotional Enmeshment” is another term often used. And the term “emotional parentification” describes a similar concept – it describes the process of role reversal whereby a child is obliged to act as parent to their own parent.

Patricia Love, Ed.D., past president of the International Association for Marriage and Family Counseling, defines emotional incest as “a style of parenting in which parents turn to their children, not to their partners, for emotional support.”  According to Love, emotionally incestuous parents may appear to be loving and devoted and they may spend a great deal of time with their children and lavish them with praise and material gifts – but, in the final analysis, their love is not a nurturing love, it’s a means to satisfy their own needs.

The term “emotional incest” was coined by Kenneth Adams, Ph.D. to label the state of cross-generational bonding within a family, whereby a child (normally of the opposite sex) becomes a surrogate spouse for their mother or father. “Emotional Enmeshment” is another term often used. And the term “emotional parentification” describes a similar concept – it describes the process of role reversal whereby a child is obliged to act as parent to their own parent.

Many parents and children are close. Closeness is healthy and desirable. The difference between a healthy close relationship and an incestuous one is that in a healthy close relationship a parent takes care of a child’s needs in an age-appropriate way without making the child feel responsible the emotional needs of the parents needs. In an emotionally incestuous relationship, instead of the parent meeting the needs of the child, the child is meeting the needs of the parent.

Emotional incest happens when the natural boundary between parental caregiver, nurturer, and protector is crossed and the child becomes the defacto caregiver, nurturer and protector of the parent. This typically occurs when a the marriage unravels or when there is a broken family dynamic (e.g., substance abuse, infidelity, mental illness and the dependency upon a child increases.  One or both parent may engage the child in talks about adult issues and adult feelings to a child as if they were a peer. The child may be called upon to satisfy adult needs such as intimacy, companionship, romantic stimulation, advice, problem solving, ego fulfillment, and/or emotional release. Sometimes both parents will dump on a child in a way that puts the child in the middle of disagreements between the parents – with each complaining about the other.

What ensues is a role that the child is not capable of fulfilling yet might feel special or privileged in so doing. Clearly in this dynamic the child is covertly, emotionally abandoned by the parent(s) and being robbed of her or his childhood.

Emotionally incestuous parents often slip into an “invasive” role without any intention to harm their children.

It’s important to remember that there are different levels of severity in emotional incest. Sometimes emotional incest is extremely severe and debilitating, and other times it’s more moderate and can almost go unnoticed.

The impact is nonetheless harmful.


What are the effects of emotional incest on a child?

According to Dr. Love, “Being a parent’s primary source of support is a heavy burden for young children as they are forced to suppress their own needs to satisfy the needs of the adults“. Because of this role reversal, they are rarely given adequate protection, guidance, or discipline, and they are exposed to experiences well beyond their years.

Emotional incest from either parent is devastating to the child’s ability to be able to set boundaries and take care of getting their own needs met when they become an adult. This type of abuse, when inflicted by the opposite sex parent, can have a devastating effect on the adult/child’s relationship with his/her own sexuality and gender, and their ability to have successful intimate relationships as an adult.

For practical reasons, elder children are generally chosen for the familial “parental” role – very often the first-born children who were put in the anomalous role. However, gender considerations mean that sometimes the eldest boy or eldest girl was selected, even if they are not the oldest child overall, for such reasons as the preference to match the sex of the missing parent.

In adolescence and adulthood, they are likely to be plagued by one or more of the following difficulties:

  1. Guilt about practicing self care especially – an unrealistic sense of obligation to that parent
  1. Difficulties related to sexual identity or gender
  1. Feelings of inadequacy
  1. Love/hate relationship with offending parent
  1. Difficulty in maintaining relationships due to abused individual’s idealization and devaluation of others and an inappropriate expectations placed on partners
  1. Compulsivity that can include sex, substances, alcohol, work, food
  1. Patterns of excessive triangulation (indirect communication) in work, family or romantic relationships
  1. Issues related to sex addiction/avoidance or love addiction/avoidance

What are the effects of emotional incest on the family?

Emotional incest affects all members of a family.   Love identifies five models:

The Invasive Parent is enmeshed with a child in order to meet his/her needs that are not being met in an adult relationship

The Chosen Child is enmeshed with the invasive parent; often treated as “all good” and favored, but their own needs to develop as an individual, to make mistakes and learn, to receive structure and discipline, etc. are actually neglected. Chosen children can also be treated as scapegoats, used not just for emotional support but for the release of anger and tension.

The Left-Out Spouse spouse of invasive parent, is often shut out of exclusive parent-child bond; may turn to workaholism, alcohol, affairs, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with an unhappy life at home

The Left-Out Child(ren) a non-favored child, may be neglected or receive less of the family’s resources; may bond with the left out spouse

Spouse of the Chosen Child when the chosen child grows up and marries, his/her spouse may find him/herself engaged in a rather disturbing triangle with the chosen child and invasive parent


Emotional incest is deeply personal

It is difficult to let go of the wish for perfect parents. We cling to an idealized view of our caretakers because on some level we still view life through the eyes of a child and we still believe we are dependent on our parents for survival. When we see flaws in their characters our very existence can seem threatened. Deep down we may be saying “No one is taking care of me

To cope with this anxiety, we often hold on to the dream that our parents’ faults will magically disappear: this visit, our parents will be sensitive to our needs; this reunion will be smooth and uneventful; this phone call or this letter will repair old wounds and bring us closer together.

Not surprisingly, the character flaws we have the hardest time accepting are the ones that wounded us most during childhood. When our parents act in destructive and familiar ways, our present anguish is magnified by our early pain. Underneath our grown-up dismay is a little child crying out for more love and safety.


Recovering from Emotional Incest

An abused individual can attain emancipation and self empowerment with patience, perseverance, and self awareness.

According to Debra L. Kaplan, MA, LPC, an intensive out-patient counselor specializing in emotional incest recovery, the process of recovery is five-fold:

  1. Identify the family of origin and the particular family dynamics involved
  1. Recognize any patterns of emotional incest between caregivers and the abused individual
  1. Learn to set boundaries with that parent. In the case of a deceased caregiver work with a therapist who can help facilitate empty chair work or another experientially based modality for grief and loss
  1. Acknowledge any feelings of abandonment as a result of the emotional incest
  1. Work toward individuation and separation by learning to reparent the self (Inner child work)

Kaplan notes that journeying from wounded child to healthy adult does not occur in isolation. In addition to therapy, individuals should enlist the help of spouses in working through unresolved abuse.  Kaplan also says “much support can be gained by working with the issues as they arise while in relationship. Sharing of one’s experiences can be mutually healing within the context of a support group or among other healthy interactions.

Source: Was Part of Your Childhood Deprived by Emotional Incest? | BPDFamily

Dear Google, Is There a Shrink for That? – The New York Times

What does it take to feel understood?

This is arguably the single question helping to reshape the modern psychotherapeutic landscape.

Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in the realm of psychotherapies designed for people who identify as L.G.B.T. Therapists, both gay and straight, have increasingly started practices geared specifically toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and, most recently, transgendered patients. (Not to mention those patients who prefer not to identify with any one category.)

For Matthew Silverstein, a psychologist in West Hollywood, Calif., this development springs from dire necessity. “There’s a tortured history of practices that have been called psychotherapy,” Dr. Silverstein said, referring to notorious techniques like “conversion therapy” that purport to change patients from gay to straight and that continue to be practiced to this day. “There’s still a vulnerability that many L.G.B.T. patients feel when coming into a psychological treatment,” he said.

For Dr. Silverstein and others, the advent of specialization has created “safe refuges” for patients who for so long were without recourse to anything of the kind. “Until the 1970s, we simply didn’t have the tools,” he said. “There wasn’t an understanding of gay identity, or of gayness as a cultural or developmental process.”

For the psychologist Douglas Sadownick, a colleague at Antioch University in Culver City, Calif., there is an added layer of emphasis. “We work on the assumption that gay people have their own psychology, they have their own blueprints,” he said.

It is with this conviction that Dr. Sadownick runs one of the country’s first and only clinical psychology master’s programs dedicated to L.G.B.T. studies, which he helped found at Antioch in 2006.

Undoubtedly, the Internet has contributed to the shifting therapeutic landscape. Where before, word of mouth was crucial to the search for a therapist, prospective patients are now likely to take to the web, and faced with thousands of anonymous possibilities, look for some way in which to determine who may be the best fit, whose boxes check their own boxes.

And many therapists, in turn, feel the pressure to fold themselves into recognizable categories. For Rachel Sussman, a psychologist in New York who self-describes as a “relationship specialist” (from first date to breakup), it seemed necessary to carefully brand herself to build a practice.

And then there are those therapists who become accidental specialists, stumbling into a niche, as Lawrence Josephs did, after appearing in a documentary that made its way to YouTube. “Thanks to Google I am getting more patients looking for someone they think of as an infidelity expert,” he wrote last year in The New York Times.

Like so much to do with psychotherapy itself, the new specialization is largely an urban phenomenon. Take Jocelyn Charnas, known as “the wedding doctor” in certain New York circles, who came to her specialty through personal experience.

A practicing psychologist, she had recently gotten married and was aware that there was all too little conversation revolving around the psychological challenges of the experience. “When you get engaged, it’s the ring, the venue, the flowers, which is all wonderful and interesting, but nobody seemed to be talking about the universal experience that this is also difficult,” she said.

For Dr. Charnas, weddings are not just weddings, but rather pressure-cooker moments that contain layer upon layer of psychologically fraught material. “Typically, it’s really not whether you’re having roses or lilies that is keeping you up at night,” she said. “While that may be the manifest content of it, the underlying content could be a number of things, like fears of disappointing your mother, or disappointing yourself. There are so many latent emotions.”

Thus, for Dr. Charnas, within weddings lies the very fullness of human experience. This is what makes every case different, every stressed-out bride-to-be distinct from the last.

In Los Altos, Calif., the psychologist Howard Scott Warshaw has developed his own brand as “The Silicon Valley Therapist,” specializing in everything that he says makes Silicon Valley unique: the particular personality type that is suited for computer programming but less adept at parsing human ambiguity, the environment that seems to expect nothing less than extraordinary achievement.

“Some of these engineers, they love the software world, because it provides a metaphor of looking at life that really makes sense and facilitates their entire worldview,” Mr. Warshaw said. “So if you’re going to deal with someone like that and you can’t speak that language, there’s going to be a real communication problem.”

But many clinicians would contend that shared experience is irrelevant to the treatment of their patients. “This whole idea that when you walk in the door, there’s a template for: ‘We are the same, and out of that sameness we can build an immediate rapport, to me that seems like a very problematic notion,” said Michael Garfinkle, a psychoanalyst in New York. “My basic orientation, especially at the beginning, is a great curiosity and openness to what I’m hearing. There’s a recognition that it takes a long time to learn the way that someone speaks.”

Dr. Garfinkle is often asked by prospective patients, “Do you have a specialty?”

This is how he likes to respond: “My youngest patient is 9, my oldest patient is 82. My patient who’s most well is mildly anxious, my most severely ill patient, so to speak, is someone who has been in and out of hospitals with schizophrenia for most of his life.”

Similarly, Justin Shubert, a psychologist in Los Angeles and the director ofSilver Lake Psychotherapy, is quick to note that seeing a therapist whose label matches your label is not without its hazards.

“It can be limiting because you may end up with someone with a narrower perspective,” Dr. Shubert said. “Just because someone understands what it’s like to work with a Hasidic Jew, doesn’t mean that they understand what it’s like to have two sisters, or to be depressed.”

But in all this talk of software development cycles and maximized potential, it’s easy to lose sight of something much more fundamental, a persistent truth that surfaces again and again when therapists talk about what actually helps their patients.

As Dr. Shubert observed, “Regardless of the technique that the therapist uses, it’s the relationship itself that heals.”

His perception is hardly newfangled. Freud himself had something to say on this subject. In a letter to Carl Jung, written in 1906, he put it thus: “Psychoanalysis is, in essence, a cure through love.”

Source: Dear Google, Is There a Shrink for That? – The New York Times