Monday, March 26, 2012

The women who are always right

It has been said that in the course of an average day, women speak around 6000 - 8000 words.  Men, on the other hand, speak around 2500.  That doesn't mean that we're better speakers, just more verbal.  A lot more.  

Men, on the whole, enjoy conversations that get to the point, they say what they want to say, and move on from there.  Women, enjoy painting pictures with their words, reliving events with detailed accounts, and bonding emotionally through talking to each other.  We can evoke the emotions we want from others quite skillfully through our words, and with that weapon, we can motivate others to do great things, or we can cut others deeply - it all depends on the woman. 

It's no wonder that aggression in women takes on a very different appearance than it does in men.  Bullies in school are usually the kids that push others around, threaten physical harm, are louder, stronger and scarier.  Physical aggression is not limited just to males, but much more common than in females. Guys can use their strength to demand what they want, and often do.

But female bullies exist and thrive everywhere, although they are less noticeable.  From young girls in primary school to grown women in the workplace, females know that they don't need physical strength to terrorize and manipulate others - they have the power of their very extensive command of language.  

Think of this scene in a marriage:

He walks in the door after a tough day at work.  Overwhelmed with stress, he wants to relax in the loving atmosphere of home and family to sort through the load of problems he'll have to face tomorrow in a peaceful, logical manner. 

She comes out of the kids' bathroom scowling, complaining that the sink is still leaking, and asks when he plans on fixing it.  

He groans, and says, "Later, maybe tonight," which provokes a sarcastic laugh and rolling eyes of his wife.

"That's what you said two weeks ago, I've been WAITING!!!" She says with a glare, "Honestly, it seems like you don't even care about us.  Do you know how high the water bill is going to be this month because you keep saying later?"

He tosses his things onto the sofa and says, "Okay, okay, I'll do it right now..."

The sink gets fixed, and the rest of the evening goes on, tense and unhappy.  She's waiting for an apology.  He's waiting for her to just calm down and act normal.  The only conversations held are with the kids.  Once they're in bed, he just wants his peace, and she is fuming at his self-centered attitude.  

"Tomorrow," he thinks, "I'll find a reason to stay late at work..."

He falls to sleep knowing that she is sighing and tossing next to him.  Even in her silence, she is trying to make him feel guilty, but the last thing he wants to ask is, "What's wrong?"  The last time he did that, he didn't get to sleep until four in the morning, and got accused of everything under the sun, and he just can't afford more stress with the big project coming up tomorrow.   

A marriage that keeps hanging on like this is a nightmare.  A man who is bullied and accused on a regular basis will either walk out, lash out (and get arrested for domestic violence) or just emotionally check out of the relationship.  Sure he needs to change, needs to learn how to communicate, to show he cares and all of that good stuff.  But there is no safe space where he can do that.  The moment he opens his mouth, he is attacked and made to feel guilty over and over again.  

The bully doesn't need to be bigger, stronger or louder, just a master of control.  Her superior verbal skills can dance rings around her husband's limited vocabulary.  She can appear earnest, speak calmly, cry, smile sweetly, and be cruel all at the same time.  In my counseling experience, it has been virtually impossible to get a woman like this to own up to her faults.  Maybe for the moment, in the counseling room, but as soon as she's out the door, she's back to her old self.

She is such a master of deception, in that she deceives herself. She is totally blind to the fact that she is an aggressor.  It's always his fault, or the fault of her boss, or her coworker, or whoever it is that complains about her.  She is a master of excuses, and of self-righteous tears.  But as right as she insists that she is, she'll most likely end up alone, and/or very unhappy.

For every woman in a relationship, take an honest look at yourself - are you a bully?  For every parent of a little girl - are you raising a bully?   It takes more than a superficial glance to spot one - but the frustrated relationships she leaves in her wake are a good indication.  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Using the sweetness weapon on cantankerous people

The behavioral psychologist, John Gottman, speaks about the days when therapy was heavily based on the notion that repressed anger was the root of all emotional problems.  Married couples were encouraged to express their anger towards each other.  Plastic bats (that didn't really hurt but made a lot of noise) were given to couples to whack each other with, under the watchful eye of their therapist in the belief that the more expressive they were about their anger, the healthier their relationship would be.

I wonder if there's a link to the fact that the divorce rate shot up to around 50% of all first-time marriages during that generation.

Letting it all hang out, anger, hatred, grudges, accusations... the research shows that people who thought they were cleansing themselves of this poison, were actually strengthening it, injecting it deeper into their systems and feeling justified to hold onto these destructive emotions.  The sad thing is that this passing experiment was like letting a genie out of a bottle. The way many feel so free to lash out at those they claim to love, and then justify their "right" to inflict pain, shows that this mindset has infiltrated every area of life.

 Dr. Gottman also comments on how children who are constantly criticized for what they do wrong, actually live up to those criticisms.  "You are so lazy!  What's wrong with you? You never like to listen! You're so obnoxious!"  They most likely do need to be taught not to behave that way, but attacking them with put-downs turns kids with negative traits into kids who believe they are innately bad people.  The become who you accuse them to be.

On the other hand, the opposite approach has been proven over the years to be what brings out the best in everyone.  Spouses, children, friends, cantankerous bosses...  It's the words of kindness, of affirmation, of praise and faith in the innate goodness of another, that causes them to live up to that expectation. It's the sweetness that makes them sweet.

Your child may have serious problems with selfishness, for example.  He is insecure about his toys, won't share, won't obey when it's time to put down his game to eat a meal.  You have punished him, scolded him, shouted at him, and he becomes more belligerent.

As frustrated and angry as you feel that he is so unresponsive, go against your anger, and use your head.  Lure him into a state of wanting to please you, through the power of praise.

Pounce on every opportunity to tell him what he did right, thank him for every sign of good character or behavior, praise him and make him feel such a difference when he does what is right, that you will start to condition him to want to do more that is right.  Allow him to hunger for more of that praise, and to search out new ways to get you to give it to him.

This starts out feeling wrong.  It feels like you "should" be punishing him more.  But we all know where feelings lead us.  Do what experts know works.  Do what God commands us to do to all people, to return evil with good.

That doesn't mean that you will never punish him again, or that being tough is no longer an option.  It's more than an option, it's a necessity!  But the ratio of how much praise and positive affirmation you give him (or her) to how many scoldings you give, has to be far outweighed by the positive to such a degree that the negative becomes so rare that it feels even more painful in contrast to all that love and warmth.

What starts out feeling wrong, quickly reveals itself as the best, the most fruitful and the most joyful way of raising a child.  Think about it!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Handicapping your kids Pt. 2

Okay, I've been busy... but here's the promised part two, a few months later!

Handicapping kids socially is what we were talking about in my last post. Just think of how much our opinion of a person is based on very basic and simple information that our eyes and ears take in when we first meet them.  A person's ability to speak intelligently, to be friendly and confident, to have the courtesy to express that they understand what we are saying, to be relaxed while also well-mannered, and to know how to strike the balance between being upbeat while not being annoyingly happy, are all easily observed in the first few moments of any conversation.  These are social skills that are taught, handed down from parent to child by example.  No amount of formal education can compensate for the lack of these important skills.

One basic need of a child is to be mentally stimulated to express their creativity.  Reading books aloud, going to museums, watching interesting movies that you talk about and learn from afterwards, singing, learning a musical instrument, going out to eat in a restaurant where they have to learn to order from a foreign language menu, talking about the news headlines of the day - all of these are ways in which your child's mind is stimulated to think beyond himself.

But just teaching him or her information about the world around them is not enough.  It's how you talk with them that cements the lesson into their minds.  It's the one-on-one interaction as you listen to their comments, and answer them back lovingly and patiently. It's how you allow them to imagine, to create their own ideas and theories and treat those thoughts as valid, that teaches them that this is how we treat others. When they come up with wild and crazy thoughts about the dinosaur bones you just saw, a smart parent doesn't shoot them down as ridiculous, but allows them to expand on their ideas.  Kids need to see that even if you don't agree, you're willing to listen and give them a chance to explain their opinions.  Kindly and discreetly, you can guide them in the right direction to understand what the truth of the matter is once they are done with their fantasy.  The lesson may have been on dinosaurs, but the deeper, more lasting lesson was on how to listen and show consideration for other people's opinions.

These skills don't need to be taught in words.  Kids learn how to do it themselves.  They automatically pick up those habits of graciousness from you.  They enjoyed that kind of treatment when they had something to say, and now see no other way to treat others than in the same manner.  

And that is where the crux of social skills and good manners lies - in seeing that there is a beautiful and big world outside yourself that you can learn from and enjoy.  That means when someone you have never met is introduced to you by someone you trust, you need to be kind and friendly.  As you put others at ease around you, they will most likely enjoy your company and want to treat you kindly as well.  When others observing your conversation sense that upbeat vibe and that willingness to listen, they form a snap judgment of you based on just a glimpse of who you are, but it's a very positive one.

So the connection is:  Children who have that basic need for creative stimulation and interaction fulfilled,  become aware of the world around them.  Parents who know how to foster that love of learning with patience and consideration for their thoughts, pass on more than just head knowledge.  Children who have experienced learning through kindness and consideration, enjoy expressing themselves in the same manner.  Children with good social skills put others at ease, and reveal through their demeanor that they are intelligent, positive and creative people.

And from this, doors of opportunity open much more readily.  That could mean, teachers more willing to help them, more supportive friends, more emotionally stable, better prepared to deal with stress, more focused on reaching goals, and eventually better job choices, dating choices etc.

This is no guarantee that taking your child to museums and talking about them will cause them to grow up to be successful, but the odds of success are stacked heavily against the child who grows up with limited cultural and social interaction.

It is rare to find a child who is a pleasure to be around these days.  This is not the fault of the child, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the parents.  A teenager that can't even listen to instructions and ask the proper questions to be sure that the job is done right is handicapped and may not go far in life.  A young girl who only sees the neighborhood of drugs and immorality as her world, doesn't even want to speak to someone from outside that invisible bubble.  In fact she doesn't know how to.

So for those children who's basic needs are ignored, who eventually does teach them culture and social skills?  You don't want to know...