Feb 19

Quotes from Jonice Webb’s “Running on Empty”

The fuel of life is feeling. If we’re not filled up in childhood, we must fill ourselves as adults. Otherwise, we will find ourselves running on empty. Jonice Webb, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

My previous post about Jonice Webb‘s book Running on Empty, about childhood emotional neglect (CEN), has been a popular one. Thus, additional quotes follow:

It’s hard to see that what’s NOT THERE can be more important than what IS there.

There is a minimal amount of parental emotional connection, empathy and ongoing attention which is necessary to fuel a child’s growth and development so that he or she will grow into an emotionally healthy and emotionally connected adult. Less than that minimal amount and the child becomes an adult who struggles emotionally–outwardly successful, perhaps, but empty, missing something within, which the world can’t see.

Because depressed parents appear put-upon, beleaguered or overwhelmed by the ordinary demands of parenting, their children don’t always learn that they are worthwhile and so are at risk to become depressed themselves in adulthood.

Children of addicted parents experience the lack of predictability as highly anxiety-provoking. As adults, they are therefore at significantly higher risk to have anxiety disorders and to become addicts themselves than are people who were raised by non-addicted parents. Being a good parent most of the time and a horrible parent once in awhile creates insecure, anxious adults who are just waiting for things to go wrong.

Whatever the level of parental failure, emotionally neglected people see themselves as the problem, rather than seeing their parents as having failed them.

When a child receives the message, even subtly or indirectly, that his emotions don’t matter, he will grow up feeling, somewhere deep inside, that he himself doesn’t matter.

When a child’s emotions are not acknowledged or validated by her parents, she can grow up to be unable to do so for herself. As an adult, she may have little tolerance for intense feelings or for any feelings at all. She might bury them, and tend to blame herself for being angry, sad, nervous, frustrated, or even happy. The natural human experience of simply having feelings becomes a source of secret shame. “What is wrong with me?” is a question she may often ask herself.

Emotionally neglected people tend to be good listeners. But they are not good at talking, especially about themselves.

A primary rule of assertiveness is that anyone has the right to ask you for anything; and you have the equal right to say no, without giving a reason.

You are not obligated to give your parents more emotional connection than they have given you. And striving to produce feelings of warmth and love that are not there, simply because others tell you that they should be, will take a huge bite out of your emotional strength and health. In this relationship, I say to you with 100% certainty that you must put yourself first.

Jan 13

Childhood Emotional Neglect: “Running On Empty”

What was missing from your childhood? Do you know what you were supposed to get from your parents or caregivers but didn’t? Psychologist Jonice Webb‘s Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect (2012) may help you figure some things out.

First, a definition of childhood emotional neglect (CEN) as provided by Webb on her site:

Emotional Neglect is a parent’s failure to respond enough to a child’s emotional needs.

Emotional Neglect is, in some ways, the opposite of mistreatment and abuse. Whereas mistreatment and abuse are parental acts, Emotional Neglect is a parent’s failure to act. It’s a failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child’s feelings. Because it’s an act of omission, it’s not visible, noticeable or memorable. Emotional Neglect is the white space in the family picture; the background rather than the foreground. It is insidious and overlooked while it does its silent damage to people’s lives.

Sign up for it and Webb will give you a questionnaire to help you assess whether or not you experienced CEN. On her website, as well as in the book, you’ll learn more about how it affected you into your adult years and what to do about it.

Also, for a limited time, giving your email will enable you to view free recovery training videos offered by Webb. In addition, she’ll be announcing in the near future a repeat of her “advanced, in-depth Program, Fuel Up for Life: 4 Steps to Recovering from CEN.

Selected Quotes from Running On Empty

If we are not filled up in childhood, we must fill ourselves as adults. 
Otherwise we will find ourselves running on empty. 

When a child receives the message, even subtly or indirectly, that his emotions don’t matter, he will grow up feeling, somewhere deep inside, that he himself doesn’t matter.

Emotions that are not acknowledged or expressed tend to jumble together and emerge as anger. Eventually, suppressed feelings refuse to stay down. When they do, they erupt as small spurts of irritability that hurt others.

It’s hard to see that what’s NOT THERE can be more important than what IS there…(B)etween her absent father and preoccupied mother, no one had taken the time and energy to actually parent her.

Children of addicted parents experience the lack of predictability as highly anxiety-provoking. As adults, they are therefore at significantly higher risk to have anxiety disorders and to become addicts themselves than are people who were raised by non-addicted parents. Being a good parent most of the time and a horrible parent once in awhile creates insecure, anxious adults who are just waiting for things to go wrong.

Because depressed parents appear put-upon, beleaguered or overwhelmed by the ordinary demands of parenting, their children don’t always learn that they are worthwhile and so are at risk to become depressed themselves in adulthood.

Emotionally neglected people tend to be good listeners. But they are not good at talking, especially about themselves.

A primary rule of assertiveness is that anyone has the right to ask you for anything; and you have the equal right to say no, without giving a reason.

Mar 11

Stop People-Pleasing: Suggested Ways for Your Own Good

Do you want to stop people-pleasing?

In 2000 psychologist Harriet B. Braiker put a spotlight on the dangers of a certain addiction not commonly addressed as such. Her book The Disease To Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome included a list of “The Ten Commandments of People-Pleasing” (which of course are actually what not to do):

  1. I should always do what others want, expect, or need from me.
  2. I should take care of everyone around me whether they ask for help or not.
  3. I should always listen to everyone’s problems and try my best to solve them.
  4. I should always be nice and never hurt anyone’s feelings.
  5. I should always put other people first, before me.
  6. I should never say “no” to anyone who needs or requests something of me.
  7. I should never disappoint anyone of let others down in any way.
  8. I should always be happy and upbeat and never show any negative feelings to others.
  9. I should always try to please other people and make them happy.
  10. I should try never to burden others with my own needs or problems.

Social psychologist Susan Newman‘s The Book of No (2005) is also about this approval-seeking syndrome and ways to stop people-pleasing.

With my paraphrasing of the explanations, here’s a list of 21 different strategies (from Margaret Tartakovsky’s article on the topic) that can help someone recover:

1. Realize you have a choice. To say no, that is.

2. Set your priorities. And let them be your guide.

3. Stall. Either take time to consider the request, or if pressed for an immediate answer and you’re unsure, you can say no.

4. Set a time limit. Don’t be open-ended with the amount of time you can commit.

5. Consider if you’re being manipulated. Flattery is often involved.

6. Create a mantra. Something that helps you curb your people-pleasing impulses.

7. Say no with conviction. Remember you have good reasons for saying no.

8. Use an empathic assertion. “…(Y)ou let the person know that you understand where they’re coming from, but unfortunately, you can’t help.”

9. Consider if it’s worth it. Some things are better left unsaid.

10. Don’t give a litany of excuses. The more you say, the more the other person will find ways to work around those things.

11. Start small. Baby steps.

12. Practice successive approximation. After each small step, reward yourself.

13. Don’t apologize — if it’s not your fault. Are you really responsible for the situation?

14. Remember that saying no has its benefits. You’ll have more time and energy for your own life.

15. Set clear boundaries — and follow through.

16. Don’t be scared of the fallout. It’s usually not nearly as bad as you think it will be.

17. Consider who you want to have your time. Some relationships are more important than others.

18. Self-soothe. Use self-talk that reminds you of “your priorities and boundaries.”

19. Recognize when you’ve been successful. A journal could help you keep track.

20. Keep a confidence file. Things that support your confidence, e.g., complimentary cards and emails you’ve received.

21. Realize that you can’t be everything to everyone. People-pleasing may have temporary results you like, but over time it can be more hurtful than anything else, including that people will ask more and more of you.

But let’s not end there. Dr. Susan Biali has more advice, per a relatively recent Psychology Today post. Her seven tips (again with paraphrasing) on how to stop people-pleasing:

1)  Cultivate awareness. Look for your patterns and get to know how, why, when you people-please.

2)  Know the difference between goodwill and pleasing. Do things because it really will enhance your life or make you feel good.

3) Understand where it comes from. Does it have its roots in childhood? If not, how did it start?

4) Pay close attention to bad feelings. “Often people-pleasing is so deeply ingrained that you don’t even notice you are doing it; the negative feelings you have afterwards (or towards another person, period) may be the only clue.”

5) Don’t worry about becoming “selfish.” “Truly selfish people don’t worry that they’re being selfish! They don’t care.”

6) Pay attention to your posture. “Standing or sitting tall and breathing deeply will help you keep your promises to yourself in the face of pressure from others. Cowering in front of a bully also makes it more likely that they’ll up the ante.”

7) Get professional help. If you have trouble changing ingrained behaviors on your own.

Feb 19

Rejection Therapy: To Overcome This Fear, Assertiveness Required

There’s a new game in town, and it’s called Rejection Therapy. Assertiveness required. But more on this later.

In the 1970’s I climbed on the assertiveness training bandwagon and tried to teach myself as well as my clients how to say what we need to say. (Way before John Mayer and Sara Bareilles each penned musical words to this effect.)

How can assertiveness be learned? Therapy generally helps, but you can also get lessons from a book. One of the newest ones out there is by Conrad and Suzanne Potts and is called Assertiveness: How to Be Strong in Every Situation. Visit the authors’ website for more info.

But the go-to book way back then was Manuel J. Smith‘s When I Say No, I Feel Guilty: How To Cope Using the Skills of Systematic Assertiveness Therapy (1975). “Are you allowing your mother-in-law to impose her will on you?” asks the publisher. “Are you embarrassed by praise or crushed by criticism? Are you having trouble coping with people? Learn the answers in When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, the best-seller with revolutionary new techniques for getting your own way.”

Here’s the author’s “bill of assertive rights”:

I: You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.

II: You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behavior.

III: You have the right to judge if you are responsible for finding solutions to other people’s problems.

IV: You have the right to change your mind.

V: You have the right to make mistakes—and be responsible for them.

VI: You have the right to say, ‘I don’t know.’

VII: You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them.

VIII: You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.

IX: You have the right to say, ‘I don’t understand.’

X: You have the right to say, ‘I don’t care.’

I don’t know. I don’t understand. I don’t care. Things we all want or need to say at times but might find difficult, especially in certain circumstances.

Assertiveness works both ways, though. And what happens when someone else asserts a rejection of us? You have the right to reject others, Smith could also have said. There’s a special place in the world today for those who can do this, after all. Just ask Jason Comely, the creator of Rejection Therapy, a game for those who fear being on the wrong end of that. And who doesn’t, at least to some degree?

Like any game, Rejection Therapy has rules. Well, rule: At least once a day you have to be rejected by someone. Trying doesn’t count. You have to achieve it.

Here in fact is what counts as rejection in this game:

  • A REJECTION ATTEMPT COUNTS IF YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
  • A REJECTION COUNTS IF YOUR REQUEST IS DENIED
  • A REJECTION ATTEMPT SHOULD PUT YOU IN A POSITION OF VULNERABILITY, BUT ALLOW THE RESPONDENT TO BE IN A POSITION OF POWER

The game includes a 30-day challenge. Just 30 days?, Jia Jiang might have asked. Because Jiang went instead for a goal of 100 days.

And he found that getting rejected isn’t always easy. Here’s his TED talk on how things were proceeding about halfway through:

In September, at the point of his 100th request—which was to interview President Obama—he states: “…'(T)he worst they can say is no’ is actually not true. In fact, the worst they can say is ‘you didn’t even ask'” (his blog).

Has Obama answered his request yet? I don’t know, I have to reply assertively. But at least Jiang is doing the asking.

Someone who went for the actual 30-day challenge, by the way, is Mark Moschel, who then gave an interesting and humorous presentation on how he did:

May 03

Psychobabble and Self-Help: A Book By Psychologist Stephen Briers

A recent book by British psychologist Stephen Briers, called Psychobabble: Exploding the Myths of the Self-Help Generation (2012), takes on the industry of self-help books.

In an interview with Lucy Walton, Female First, Briers explains:

For me the term ‘psychobabble’ is just a cheeky way of referring to what happens when ideas from psychology are hijacked and carelessly injected into the wider culture without due care and attention to what they mean or respect for the limits of our current understanding. In my experience self-help books can be amongst the worst offenders. They may adopt the language, jargon and buzz words of scientific psychology – but often there’s precious little that’s scientific about them. We dress up opinion, superstition and wishful thinking as if they stem from an established understanding of what human nature is all about.

It’s not that he’s opposed to self-help books. He just wants us to be more thoughtful and aware of what we’re being asked to swallow. Moreover, he doesn’t want us to fall for the oft-perpetrated self-help lie that life doesn’t have to be a struggle. Or for psychobabble.

Briers lists the top five myths of self-help books on New Humanist. They’re listed below with descriptions excerpted from his essay:

1. The root of all your problems is low self-esteem.

All the evidence suggests that your self-esteem rating does not predict the quality of your relationships or how long they will last…The science suggests that, if our self-esteem is riding high, we may feel great, but we may also be slightly delusional.

2. You can control your life.

Life can be frightening, unpredictable and unfathomable at times…As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell shrewdly observed in The Power of Myth, ‘We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.’

3. You can never be too assertive.

Most books on assertiveness are ultimately manuals on how to gain the upper hand. They have a place but let’s not fool ourselves: passive aggression is aggression nonetheless.

4. You should let your feelings out.

…(T)here is emerging evidence that letting it all out isn’t always necessarily the best strategy. After the tragic destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, University of Buffalo researchers found that witnesses who ignored a request to record their feelings actually fared better psychologically and physically than those who agreed to write their emotions down. And while we are routinely taught that ‘letting your anger out’ is good for us, reviewing 40 years of evidence led Professor Jeffrey Lohr, a leading clinical psychologist from the University of Arkansas, to conclude that the expression of anger actually intensifies feelings of aggression.

5. We must all strive to be happy.

Modern psychology agrees with the ancients that feelings of pleasure and contentment are the felicitous byproducts of a life well lived, rather than prizes to be grabbed directly. The 19th-century author Nathaniel Hawthorne gave us a poetic but fairly neat summary of the situation: ‘Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.’

Why or how do psychobabble and self-help books grab our collective attention? Through fear, Briers tells Walton at Female First: “Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being out of control. Fear of being unhappy…”

If, in fact, you’re currently afraid you’re not “leaning in” enough or you’re not “vulnerable” enough or you can’t crack Dr. Phil’s “life code” or feel the “power of now,” you’re part of a large group of today’s book buyers. And that’s okay (and you’re okay). Just don’t be fooled into thinking a book is necessarily going to change your life in a significant way, Briers may tell you. “The secret” is that it rarely does.