Mean Girls at the Health Club

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Mean Girls at the Health Club

It is hard to believe that mean girls are still around after high school. Don’t be too quick to breathe a sigh of relief that female middle-age brings with it an end to the days of dodging the mean girls. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the gym or the locker room, you are apt to encounter that iconic mean girl who will dare to go down into the abyss of old age, spitting the same old venom just to make sure she never loses that poisonous touch. She will grab the exercise equipment you just gathered for yourself. She will bark at you when a simple apology for her intrusiveness would have served just as well. She will name-call you. She will snub you and walk in the opposite direction when you enter the room. She will cover her  restylane-filled lips with her hand and whisper evil nothings about you. All this at a Health Club that, for an enormous monthly fee, touts a zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy.

As if that weren’t enough of a bitter pill to swallow, there are the “enablers of mean girl”; who surround, buffer and prohibit mean girl-enlightenment. Here is the drill: Mean girl attacks, enablers of mean girls surround her like a blanket and talk trash about their victim. Mean girl quickly becomes unreachable and therefore, never experiences the necessary conversation where she is expected to take accountability for her nasty, attacking behavior and all the damage it causes to others.

And how about those bystanders of mean girl? You know, the ones who say, “Just ignore it” or “You’re not letting yourself be bothered by her, are you?” or worse yet…they say nothing at all, which suggests acceptance. This phenomenon of bullying can take place at any time, any place, any age. It is an awful experience to be bullied…it is at best, emotionally violent; it is isolating; and, it is full of despair. It represents an apathetic and pathetic society that doesn’t even stand for the core value of human kindness.

Women bullying other women is one variation that I find to be especially tortuous. Don’t we, as a gender, have enough challenges in being treated respectfully? Isn’t it counter-intuitive to turn on our own Sisters? How are we ever going to embrace equality when we can’t trust each other? Maybe female bullies should be forced to wear the Scarlet B?

Pity we cannot treat the transgression of bullying like we treat a DUI. If only they could make you spit into a cup and test your saliva for “bully venom”. Then if you test positive, you would be ticketed for bullying, and you could be assured that you will spend at least a night in jail. If it is a second or third offense, expect the book to be thrown at you. If you are an accessory to bullying, you will also have to pay the price.

Surely, there has to be some way to more effectively criminalize this heinous behavior. Its continued stronghold threatens the very fabric of our society. If we can deal with a drunk, then we can certainly find some way to bust a bully…of any variety.

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Compliant Children of Divorce: Unwanted Lessons Learned

It is nothing new to remind the reader that children of divorce are learning some very important lessons through the role modeling of their separating parents. Children of divorce probably watch their parents lead by example more closely than the general population of children. Why? Because they simply do not know what to do, what to say, or how to feel. They may have heard the word “divorce”, but may have very limited internal resources with which they can make sense of the concept. They are in the midst of a family breakdown over which they have no control and no idea of how bad the breakdown might ultimately become.

As a mental health professional, I worry  less about the children who “act-out” during their parents’ divorce. These kids get the attention, albeit negatively, and parents are more likely to recognize the cry for help. I worry much more about children who “act-in” and, as a result, the parents mistakenly think are fine.

Here are some very subtle and unwanted lessons compliant children of divorce are at risk to learn:

“I should contain my upset. My mother/father is really upset and I am afraid that my being mad, sad or scared will be the last straw. If I seem to be fine, my parents won’t be more upset and so I won’t be left.” Children who learn the unwanted lesson of holding in their own feelings are at risk for future depression, anxiety and difficulty in making healthy attachments.

“I should act like nothing is wrong and I am okay. If my parents think it is okay to break up our family and divorce each other, I will just divorce myself.” Some children of divorce go beyond repressing their own legitimate anger and sadness and actually “break away” from or deny their own unique family experience. This sets them up to live in a distorted reality that they can perpetuate into adulthood.

“When they ask me if I am okay, I will just say ‘yes’. When they ask me if anything is wrong, I will just say ‘no’. They hardly pay any attention to how I’m truly feeling anyway. I may not be very important to them.” This unwanted lesson teaches the child that he/she is not very lovable. A wounded self-concept can carry forward into the child’s own adult relationships where they are either neglected or treated poorly.

When children of divorce become tentative and resistant to discuss the pain they feel about the shift in their family, they may be struggling with feeling ashamed that their parents are breaking up. The feeling of shame is an overwhelming emotional burden for a young child to face and resolve. As a result, these kids develop a style of communication that is guarded and limited. This wall of defense temporarily protects the compliant child. The challenge is that deferred feelings are just that. They don’t go away just because the child is denying them. Sooner or later these unpleasant feelings will arise and more than likely, come out “sideways” through other problems: drug and alcohol abuse, insomnia; poor academic performance, running with the wrong crowd, bad love relationships, suicidal thinking, criminal behavior…just to name a few.

Please consider seeking the support of a Collaborative Child Specialist who can offer uncoupling parents valuable insight into the compliant child’s experience. Pay attention to the child of divorce who appears to be and acts like he/she is just fine. They may be learning some unwanted lessons which will not serve them well on their journey through life.

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So, What’s New in Resolutions?

Here is an interview I gave to the AZ Republic last year. I hope you find it to be helpful. Happy New Year!

1. Why do people make New Year’s resolutions?

People traditionally see this time of year as an opportunity for self-improvement; by starting with a clean slate. They can identify and address their challenges, feeling safe from criticism or judgment from others. They regard the New Year as a symbol for new beginnings and a motivator to enter into some meaningful agreements with oneself.

2. All things considered, is it a good thing for people to do?

Making resolutions is neither good nor bad…it just IS. People make New Year’s Resolutions, in part, as a social ritual, a cultural right-of-passage and an interesting New Year’s Eve Party topic for conversation.

Making New Year’s Resolution is a good practice, but can become self-defeating if you see it as a win-lose activity. Harvard Studies demonstrate that when people take time to think about their goals and write them down, they are more likely to achieve them. Unfortunately, there are also many of us who tend to “hit a wall” not long after we make the self-promises. Even though we have the best of intentions to realize our resolutions, we are unable to stay the path to the finish. Then we have to find a way to emerge out of our shame (consciously or not), only to find ourselves pretty much back where we started….that’s “shrink-speak” for then we experience failure. Once that happens, we don’t feel very good about ourselves and we are at risk to get even more entrenched in our bad habits as a distraction from feeling disappointed. It becomes a vicious cycle.

3. What’s the best way for people to go about trying to make changes in their lives?

Start with the inside job. Work on becoming a resolute person, rather than make resolutions. Consider the value in acquiring the characteristics of determination, faith in oneself, integrity and open-mindedness. Practice using higher thinking to access traits of courage, self-forgiveness and trust. Write these traits down on index cards and look at them every day.

Also, develop your ability to collaborate or work together with others to reach a common goal. Work on a community project in a team setting that will offer you this type of experience. This will serve you well in your own individual growth.

Above all, first ask yourself this: “am I a human-doing or a human-being?” Put your focus on who you want to be, rather than on what you want to do. People who work on a positive self-definition naturally tend to make positive changes and do things well.

4. Why do people have so much trouble making changes, whether they’re little or big?

It is all about the brain and neurogenesis (creation of new neurons). Unproductive behavior patterns are deeply set in the gray matter of the brain as a result of repetitive and high volumes of neuron-firings forging any one particular brain groove deeper and wider. After a while that neural pathway becomes as big as a freeway and starts to take on a life of its own. We call some of these automatic firings “bad habits.”

The key for healthy change is to consciously work to fire your neurons up and left in the brain to a better-outcome destination, while the existing “bad habit groove” starts to shrink and atrophy due to lack of use. That may sound like a challenging road, but it is one that will help you arrive at change that lasts. Remember, you have to first agree to engage in cognitive/thinking activities that will blaze a new neural pathway in your own brain. I believe that is the biological essence of making changes.

5. Is there something in the human condition that seeks improvement?

Yes. I think it is the work of the primitive brain just trying to survive. Darwin called it Survival of the Fittest. In order to become resolute and develop faith in yourself, I think you have to first seek enlightenment, rather than improvement.

6. What do successful people know – or do – that other people don’t?

When successful people want to make a change for the better they:

1. make a resolution they can live with (rather than set an unrealistic goal).
2. brainstorm all the options on how to get there (be open-minded).
3. pick the option for reaching the goal that is do-able (know your limitations).
4. hold onto the desired outcome lightly (keep a balance between the journey and the destination).
5. understand that setbacks are intrinsic component of success (shed your fear of failure).
6. Collaborate with important resources to reach the goal. (It is okay to need help and learn some new things along the way).