Category Archives: narcissism and control

Perfect parents

Women’s group.  Six members.

All mothers.

One has been discussing problems her grown children face.  Which leads into reviewing her failures as a parent.  Which makes her cry.

The others listen and nod sadly.

After a minute I say, “Question for the group.  Is there such a thing as an unguilty mother?”

They look at me, startled.  Then at each other.

“I doubt it,” I say.  “Every child deserves perfect parenting.  No child ever gets it.  And every mother knows this and feels bad about it.  So feelings of inadequacy and failure and guilt are built into being a mother.”

“Always?” one asks.

“Maybe not,” I concede. “Occasionally I meet a parent unaware of his or her inadequacies.  But they’re usually narcissists, and they usually scare the crap out of me.”

The crying mother sniffles.

“I can’t help feeling guilty,” she says.  “When they hurt it feels like my fault.”

Right, Mom.  You, me, and most every parent I know.

Look, guys.

Perfect parenting is not just impossible, it’s unnecessary.

The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott once famously argued that kids don’t need perfect parenting — just parenting that’s “good enough.” Winnicott wrote,

The good-enough mother starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure.  Her failure to adapt to every need of the child helps them adapt to external realities.

Catch that last line?

The mother’s imperfection is what helps her child adapt to reality.

So relax if you’re not perfect.  You can’t be, and you don’t have to be.  And it would probably be bad for your kids if you were.

Personally I take comfort in how one of my supervisors once defined good-enough parenting.

“The sign of successful parenting,” he said, “is that your kids can pay for their own therapy.”


The Uncomfort Zone

There’s a place in your life that’s neither light nor dark, warm nor cold, where things don’t quite work but where you stay because it’s familiar.

You stay because you know this place like the back of your hand, every dark corner, every lump in the carpet, every draft. 

You stay because you can find your away around it with your eyes closed. Which, in fact, is just what you do.

There’s pain here, but it’s the dull, tolerable kind.  The kind you know well.  The kind you’ve known forever.  The kind you cling to rather than risk something worse.  

That’s the signpost up ahead.

Next stop: the Uncomfort Zone.

* * *

Albert, 58, has been married three times.  His first two marriages ended in acrimonious divorce.  His third marriage is two years old, and his wife recently ended their couples counseling in tearful frustration.   Albert continues in therapy without her.  He reports their life has deteriorated into a series of hurtful arguments alternating with long silences.  Last week she told him she’d leave if she had someplace to go.  I ask how he thinks our work together is going.  “Really well,” he says.  “It’s very interesting.  I feel like I’m learning a lot.”

* * *

Barry, 38, sits on my sofa with his wife Beth.  They are new clients.  I ask why they’ve come.  Beth tells me Barry’s individual therapist thinks couples work is necessary.  “What led you to individual therapy?” I ask Barry.  He frowns.  “I have issues,” he says.  “You drink, and you play video games, and that’s all you do,” the wife says.   Barry frowns harder.  “Do you have a problem with alcohol?” I ask Barry.  “I have issues,” he repeats.  The wall appears impenetrable.  After twenty minutes I suggest Barry wait outside while I talk to Beth alone.  He brightens, stands and walks quickly to the door.  Then he turns back to his wife.  “Can I borrow your iPad?” he asks.

* * *

Carly, 43 and a social worker, is more depressed this week than last.  Last week she was more depressed than the week before.  This slide began last year, with her transfer out of the counseling job she loved into an administrative job she hates, under a supervisor she considers an idiot.  Now she visits her doctor monthly to request tweaks of her medication.  Asked what’s depressing her, she shrugs: “No idea.”   I tell her that I think what she needs is work — real, meaningful work she enjoys, that brings out the best in her and makes her feel valuable.  I suggest she network, go on interviews, or consider private practice.  I also suggest she pursue the hobbies — cooking, dancing, yoga — she once used to feed and express herself.  She shakes her head.  “I’m too tired for any of that now,” she sighs.  “I need to save my energy for the stupid job.”   

* * *

Debbie, 23, is crying.  “You don’t love me,” she tells her boyfriend David, who’s sitting beside her on my sofa looking miserable.  After three months of Debbie complaining of his silence and begging him to be more open with her, David has finally risked telling her about something he dislikes in their relationship.  “I’m not good with words,” he said.   “We never talked in my family.  So when I try I get nervous.  I’m scared to hurt your feelings.  And the more you push me to talk, the scareder I get.”  “Good for you, David,” I say.  “I know how hard that was.”  Debbie wipes her nose with a tissue.  “So you don’t really love me,” she repeats.

* * * 

Eddie, 42, is angry at his son Evan.  “Everything scares him,” he tells me.  “He’s scared to go to school.  Scared he’ll fail Math.  Scared to try out for teams.  Scared to ask a girl out.  What the fuck?”  He shakes his head.  I ask what happens when he tries to talk to Evan, who’s 15.  “What do you think?” Eddie snorts.  “He acts scared of me.”  I ask what Evan’s fear looks like.  “He sort of shrinks into himself.  Gets quiet.  Avoids eye contact.  I can tell he just wants me to shut up and leave him alone.”  “How’s that make you feel?” I ask.  “Furious,” Eddie says.  “I’m his father.  I’m trying to help him.”  “And what do you say?” I ask.  “I say, ‘I’m your father.  I’m trying to help you.  What the fuck?'”

* * * 

We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.           ~ Rabindrath Tagore

I’ve heard someone say that our problems aren’t the problem; it’s our solutions that are the problem.  ~ Anne Lamott  

When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. ~ Abraham Maslow

Only a concerted effort to sort out the specific nature of our personal programming can offer hope of change, of new choices. ~ James Hollis

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. ~ Albert Einstein

 

* * *

 

Overheard at the House:

 

I’m probably addicted to control too.  The way I’ve attempted to control things is to pull further and further within myself and my own world.  I got hurt at work.  Now I don’t work.  I got hurt by friends.  Now I don’t have friends. I’m hurt by family.  So, I’m very careful when I’m with them.  But, I don’t feel safer.  I can’t control myself.  Now, I’m with myself more than ever before!  I don’t think I thought that through…

 

Monkey House. 

Click here ^

and join the conversation.

 

* * *

 

Coming soon:

From the monkeys who brought you 

Bert’s Therapy, The Tribe and Monkey House,

a new cartoon strip about secret thoughts:

 

The Dark

   


The tribe: Expectations

 

Most people feel anxious in group without really understanding why.

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member 1

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Personally I think it’s because, on some deep level, the group reminds us of our family of origin.

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member 2

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And we expect it to treat us just as our family did.

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member 3

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So tell me.  If this group were your family, what would you be expecting now?

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member 4

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therapist 5

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To get hit.

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To get humiliated.

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therapist 7

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To be told to shut up.

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therapist 8

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To be ignored.

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Pink?  What would you expect?

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member 9

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therapist 10

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All of the above.

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Jeez.

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member 11

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So you all have good reason to feel anxious in this room.

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member 12

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But I have to ask Pink:

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member 13

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How’d you work up the courage to even come here?

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member 14

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therapist 15

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Two beers, half a pizza, and a Vicodin.

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* * *

  

Group therapy. 

In Hebrew. 

“Hello, this is Fear Management. 

“My name is Moni, and I too have a phobia. 

“I have a fear of shouting. 

“You know, a, h, h, h, exclamantion mark, ‘ahhh’!

“At this point I suggest we all tell about ourselves…” 

 

Excerpt from the Israeli TV show “Ktzarim”:  Five troubled people (that description includes the group leader) meet for group therapy.  In Hebrew with English subtitles (2:22).

 

* * *

 

Overheard at the House:

Eventually, and every time, I used to drive my current partner insane with my hang ups and he broke off the relationship….

So I decided only I could change and needed to put my – sorry to be blunt – infantile behaviour aside and choose blind trust, no matter the outcome….

Result: I came to accept that my life is my life and not dependent on anyone else for survival or safety – and in a way I was going to be alone, with or without a partner: it’s part of the human condition….

 

Come. 

Join the conversation

Monkey House.

Because we’re all monkeys on this bus.

 

 

 

 

 



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