Emotional Decisions

Don’t let emotions screw up your decisions

Think about a time when you were weighing an important decision at work or at home. Such decisions are inherently complex, and no matter how much experience you have making them – working through the pros and cons of each choice can be overwhelming.

Your emotional reactions to these choices may help direct your attention and energy toward what you feel are the most important aspects of the decision. Yet intense emotions may lead you to make misguided or out-right disasters decisions.

Imagine, for instance, that you hit heavy traffic while driving home from work and are forced to miss dinner and your son’s basketball game. Frustrated and tired from work, you sit down on the couch only to be confronted with an important decision. Your daughter is asking to stay out late with her irresponsible boyfriend.

Even though the request is a separate issue and we all assume we have pushed our earlier frustration aside, Francesca Gino (Harvard Business Professor) has found that we are often unable to separate our emotions. His research emphasizes that emotions triggered by an event completely unrelated to a new situation often influence our thinking and decisions in that situation. In related research, Scott Wiltermuth of the University of Southern California, and Larissa Tiedens of Stanford University, found that anger triggered by something unrelated to the decision also affects how we evaluate the ideas of others.

They found that those who were induced to feel angry were less interested in evaluating others’ high-quality ideas. Anger appears to increase the appeal of criticizing others and their ideas. Our feelings can offer relevant and important feedback about the decision, but irrelevant emotions triggered by a completely unrelated event can take us off track.

The next time you get slammed with an unexpected workload or have an argument at work, consider how your emotional reactions could linger as you enter into the important task of parenting. Fortunately, we often can choose when to perform each of the many tasks required of us at home. This should allow us to evaluate ideas from others when we believe we are most capable of doing so objectively and thoroughly.

Emotional Incest

The Hidden Breakdown between Parents and Their Children.

Screen Shot 2015 08 25 at 10.57.04 AM 300x300 Emotional IncestDr. Patricia Love’s book The Emotional Incest Syndrome has been a fundamental tool in my practice and has been critical to my understanding of what to avoid as a parent. I urge you to see whether the following signs of enmeshment occurred in your experience as a daughter or son.

I also encourage you to consider whether you are using any of these infringing behaviors on your children. Below are the signs of enmeshment often overlooked by well-meaning parents who were not given the necessary tools to protect their children’s dignity and individuality.

Indications of an Overly Close Parent-Child Bond

  • I felt closer to one parent than the other.
  • I was a source of emotional support for one of my parents.
  • I was “best friends” with a parent.
  • A parent shared confidences with me.
  • A parent was deeply involved in my activities or in developing my talents.
  • A parent took a lot of pride in my abilities or achievements.
  • I was given special privileges or gifts by one of my parents.
  • One of my parents told me in confidence that I was the favorite, most talented, or most lovable child.
  • A parent thought I was better company than his or her spouse.
  • I sometimes felt guilty when I spent time away from one of my parents.
  • I got the impression a parent did not want me to marry or move away from home.
  • When I was young, I idolized one of my parents.
  • Any potential boyfriend or girlfriend of mine was never “good enough” for one of my parents.
  • A parent seemed overly aware of my sexuality.
  • A parent made inappropriate sexual remarks or violated my privacy.

Indication of Unmet Adult Needs

  • My parents were separated, divorced, or widowed or didn’t get along very well.
  • One of my parents was often lonely, angry, or depressed.
  • One of my parents did not have a lot of friends.
  • One or both of my parents had a problem with drinking or drugs, or addictions to other behaviors, such as work, shopping, or pornography.
  • One of my parents thought the other parent was too indulgent or permissive.
  • I felt I had to hold back my own needs to protect a parent.
  • A parent turned to me for comfort or advice.
  • A parent seemed to rely on me more than on my siblings.
  • I felt responsible for a parent’s happiness.
  • My parents disagreed about parenting issues.

Indication of Parental Neglect or Abuse

  • My needs were often ignored or neglected.
  • There was a great deal of conflict between me and a parent.
  • I was called hurtful names by a parent.
  • One of my parents had unrealistic expectations of me.
  • One of my parents was very critical of my achievements, how I looked, or what I revealed to our community.
  • I sometimes wanted to hide from a parent or had fantasies of running away.
  • When I was a child, other families seemed less emotionally intense than mine.
  • It was often a relief to get away from home.
  • I sometimes felt invaded by a parent.
  • I sometimes felt I added to a parent’s unhappiness.[1]

Notice what fits your experience as a child and what fits your behavior as a parent. Summarily, the dynamics of incestuous families involve heavy use of denial, minimization, and rationalization, along with confused roles, secrecy, rigid beliefs and expectations, loss of trust in authority, and lack of expression of warmth. In fact, solidarity is only a pretense. When one really wakes up from such relational illness, as enmeshment, and tries to parent his or her children, the challenges can be overwhelming.

However, be encouraged. I know that you would not be reading this if you were not looking for ways to improve your relationship with your child. Prayerfully consider whether your relationship with your child would benefit from seeking your child’s input on whether they have experienced any of the above enmeshment qualities in their relationship with you. I strenuously urge you to see your child’s honesty as a blessing.

Technically, ask your child: “Did/Do you experience that you were my emotional support?” If they answer no, move onto the next enmeshment sign in the list. If they answer positively, ask your child: “Would you help me understand how I did/do that so that I can cease using you in this way?”

If they are interested in communicating what has happened with you. My coaching with parents is to do the following in response to their answers:

  1. Thank your child for their honest feedback.
  2. Apologize for burdening your child.
  3. Do not explain the context or excuse the behavior they believe enmeshed them.
  4. Take notes on what they say.
  5. Confess these concerns to a friend/counselor/pastor so that you are able to get support so that you can prevent any further enmeshment with him/her.
  6. Remember that is NEVER too late to establish safety and respect in your relationship with your child. It doesn’t matter if your child is 40 years old or older. You are the most powerful and significant indicator of their worth in their lifetime.

Thank you for reading this. I hope you are encouraged to take back the choice to recover whatever is broken between you and your child.

[1] Patricia Love, The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What To Do When A Parent’s Love Rules Your Life. (New York: Bantam Books, 1991), 25, 26

Former Shelterwood Academy Therapist:

Mary Ellen McDonald-Mann, MS, LCSW
President of Mann Counseling Group & Co-founder of Last Battle, LLC

Video: Mary Ellen presents her new book From Pain to Power

OVERWHELMED

images 37 OVERWHELMEDAre you feeling overwhelmed?  I know that only this week I felt completely overwhelmed and not sure what to do next.  And the feeling of being overwhelmed does not seem to go away with age or experience.  It’s always right there, bubbling up as new problems and situations present themselves. And it appears that I am not alone.

Bobb Biehl, a friend, mentor, and a guy that just happens to also be a world-renowned expert in leadership, shared a few thoughts with me as to how he works himself out of the “pit.” I pass these helpful tips along because feeling overwhelmed is unavoidable, but knowing how to dig yourself out of the “pit” faster next time is where the wisdom and growth truly resides. Here is an abridged version of what he shared:

1. STOP … recognize it … admit it, “What am I feeling? Overwhelmed!”

2. ASK “Am I tired?” … Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

* Fatigue turns us introspective and negative

3. UPDATE / CREATE my “Life Milestones List”

* Remembering past accomplishment brings a sense of deep encouragement

4. SHIFT my focus from “What I lack to what I have

            * Moving from negative to positive     

5. UPDATE / CREATE my Visual Perspective Chart to re-focus my thinking

            * Visual Perspective Chart … a sheet of paper with an icon of you in the center and all of the pieces swirling around in your head somewhere on the sheet. This gives you a visual picture of all of the pieces of the puzzle you are trying to put back together!

6. STOP comparing myself to any other human being on planet earth

            * I never want to compare and start feeling superior or inferior!

7. REMEMBER heaven … it puts all of this life’s pressures / priorities in perspective!

 

Now, you and I both have a process to help us find our balance faster next time, especially when there is no one around to help “dig us out”!

Thanks for the help, Bobb Biehl.
You can find more information on this and other topics on his website

 

 

Emotional cycle of investing & parenting

Screen Shot 2014 12 10 at 12.41.59 PM Emotional cycle of investing & parentingAs I watched the price of oil plummet on the stock market today, it reminded me of some of the feelings I have had as a parent. For those who watch the stock market like I do, you might also be aware of the ’emotional cycle of investing.’ It is the wave of emotion that we feel as we follow the ebbs and flows of the stock market. When the market is going up we tend to be overly optimistic and can even become greedy, losing sight of the warning signs and the need to sell. At the height of our confidence, the market usually reverses and begins to head down. But we tend to be indifferent, believing that the market will right itself shortly. Of course, as we have seen lately in oil prices or with the banks in 2008, this sentiment can quickly turn from indifference to fear and despair. Many investors decide to sell at this very low point. Tired of losing money and angry with themselves for not selling sooner, they give up and get out of the market. At first, they are often relieved that they have taken action and are back in control. Of course, these feelings are short lived as the market capitulates and begins to head back up.

Life with teens can often feel like this emotional roller coaster. When things are going well, it is easy to become complacent and not notice new risky behaviors or to allow negative attitudes to slide. When things are hardest, it is easy to feel trapped and hopeless. This can be especially true for parents when their teen is away from home and in a therapeutic facility.  At first, there is great optimism. The placement of the teen feels like a major hurdle has been overcome and our hope as parents is sky high. This upward momentum lasts for various lengths of time, but I can guarantee after watching this cycle for the past twenty-four years, difficulty is coming. It’s impossible for stocks to only go up, just like it’s unrealistic to expect that people will grow in only one direction. Problems will occur in any setting, and while parents will often remain committed to the process at first and promise to be long-term investors, the crisis deepens and tests the resolve of even the strongest parents.

It is helpful to remember that your teen is also going through an emotional cycle. They are also working through emotions like denial, telling themselves that this is not going to happen to them. Proclaiming that this situation just can’t be true, and that they are not staying in a program. Maybe they are experiencing a need to bargain, or are confused, asking themselves, “Why did this happen to me? I am not so bad…my friends are worse.” This can lead to feelings of depression, being trapped, hopelessness or anger.

So, Mom and Dad, don’t sell your stock at its lowest price when things look the most desperate. Don’t panic and quit when the therapeutic program is reporting a lack of change in your teen. Markets take time to reverse and so do teens. When a teen is struggling the most and things seem the bleakest, this is often when they will finally capitulate and begin the process of positive growth. So try to be grateful in these moments of despair. Try to be calm when you might actually be very nervous. Lean more heavily into meditation and spiritual reflection to gain a proper perspective and peace.

Validating does not have to equal Agreement

Screen Shot 2014 12 15 at 3.56.41 PM 300x133 Validating does not have to equal AgreementHave you ever shared something that weighed heavily on your heart and had your partner respond with, “You shouldn’t feel that way”? How frustrating! We all want to be understood and having someone tell us they think we are wrong for feeling the way we do does not make us feel understood.  The skill I encourage in couples the most is validating one another.  In my last email, I explained how important it was to listen to understand.  Once you believe you understand how your partner feels, then it’s time to validate them.

Validation is an action completed by the listener with the goal of informing the speaker that he or she has been heard and understood.  If your partner has communicated that they are frustrated with how you treated them last night at the dinner party, validation would sound like this: “I understand that you feel hurt by how I treated you last night.”  After you say this you’ll need to wait a little bit.  Don’t go into your side of the story.  Goal #1 is for your partner to feel understood – now that has been achieved.  Going into the facts or your defense will only undermine your goal.  If you really want to explain what you were thinking or intending, you’ll have to wait until the dust has settled.

I often tell couples that after validating they need to wait until the concrete sets up.  After concrete is poured you don’t go stomping around on it unless you want to mess it up.  Let your validation setup before you go and present your side of the story.  You might not even need to tell your side of the story.  You could just say, “I am sorry I hurt you. I will make an effort to be more conscientious of how I treat you in that setting next time.” Don’t worry about the facts – be more concerned with resolution and moving forward.
Validating doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with or accept your partner’s point of view. When you validate them, you are simply letting the speaker know that what he or she has shared makes sense and that you understand them. It only has to be a few sentences (sometimes even less), but validation is a vital part of healthy communication.

Validating equals Understanding
Validating does not have to equal Agreement

Do you feel validated by your partner? If not, then lead by example.

When our partner does not validate us, we often feel misunderstood or rejected. Validation is the bridge that brings two people together. You might be track­ing your partner’s message in your head, but if you don’t give them some indication that you understand him or her, they will most likely feel distant, invalidated or unimportant.

When two people are engaged in a heated conversation, validation can be a difficult skill to keep in mind. How­ever, validation is one of the most important, if not the most important, skill to develop for healthy communica­tion within your relationship.

I encourage you to listen to understand your partner today and then validate them by letting them know that you understand what they are saying and feeling.  Connecting is as simple as that.

If you and your partner want more skills and want to make your marriage the best it can be I encourage you to invest in The Marriage Program.

You can do this!

Grace & Peace,

Joshua Emery (Former Shelterwood Therapist)
Program Director at Relationship Architecture

Maybe Teens Should “Just Relax” and Not Parents

I read a survey today of 340,000 Americans that said that after we turn 50, we are generally happier. The 30-50 age was less happy and the most stressed out group was 20-30. The study didn’t survey teenagers, but I wonder if the 13-18 group would top all the age groups on feeling stressed. Today’s teens especially carry a pretty hefty load of issues on their shoulders every day. Of course, the load is relative to the degree that we learn to be content. That’s why the older we get, the more at peace we become. But teenagers are just beginning to deal with life’s up’s and down’s.

images 5 Maybe Teens Should Just Relax and Not ParentsSometimes your teen may seem to be overly sensitive. And the more you try to help them, the more he or she may cry or sob. The guys will be better at ‘stuffing’ and will tend to funnel all their emotions into the one they know best: anger. Girls tend to be more expressive and deliberate in their emotions.

I remember one night when Elizabeth came home from cheering at a basketball game. She made it to the steps coming up from our basement and fell to her knees sobbing. I thought she’d broken up with her boyfriend or been in a bad accident. She announced that someone had backed into her car in the high school parking lot. I looked at her car and it didn’t even do much damage. I laughed and gave her a big hug. Another time she called home from college in tears and upset. As she cried, I figured she’d been kicked out of school or arrested. She announced, “Daddy, I dropped my cell phone in the fountain.” I just started laughing again. I was so relieved. It made her laugh too. “It’s OK darlin,” I said. “We’ll get you another phone.”

The point is that a part of being a teenager is feeling things intensely. I probably shouldn’t have laughed with Elizabeth because what may seem trivial to us as parents is huge to them. But I was so relieved. As parents who have dealt with heavier issues, getting bumped by a car is small beans. But to our kids, these events are huge.

We need to be careful that we validate our teen’s emotions. As parents, we tend to trivialize events and happenings in the lives of our teens. Though dropping a cell phone or struggling with a friend at school or having a bad baseball practice or having a zit may seem small to us, to our kids, it’s huge and we need to feel the pain with them. The danger, if we discard these events, is that our teens will stop telling us about events in their lives.

Yes, hormones are pumping and our teens may seem irrational at times, but show your teenager that you love them by listening to them in the midst of the drama. Don’t offer advice or minimize the problem, just listen and sympathize.

Yep, you may have a drama queen (or king) on your hands. But be sure you take them by the hand and show them you love them by being with them through the problem.