Dealing with Controlling People

*This newsletter is intended to offer information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from those broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problem. Copyright 2018 Simmonds Publications: 550 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037

“If I win, you lose” is not the only option open to us.

Control, like most facets of human behavior, is probably best experienced in moderation. At one end of the spectrum, control is a positive, adaptive tool. For example, control over prolonged and constant chaos in our lives is usually a good thing. At the other end, control can be seen as negative. People who are over-controlled to the point of being unable to feel or express emotions can find life’s expected turmoils to be difficult or even impossible to handle.

While some control is appropriate, especially when the control is used as a way of adapting to some aspect of our own lives, it can spread out to other people when it’s taken to the extreme… and sometimes we don’t realize that we end up controlling other people. We sometimes walk a thin line in this regard. Controlling others has the potential to be a highly negative experience, not only for the one controlled, but also for the controller

On the surface, we might think of a controlling person as one who is strong, independent, and even a natural born leader. But this is seldom the case. Ask yourself, why would a person need to dominate the actions and feelings of another person? It could be because the controlling person may privately experience a great deal of self-doubt, negativity, and lack of fulfillment. Controllers may be people who lack the tools to achieve personal integrity through their own resources… but they get a feeling of fulfillment when they can control the behavior of another person. With this thought in mind, we can see the controlling person as one who may be the weak and dependent party in an interaction. And it may be the one who is controlled who actually has more strength- that is, it takes strength to give in to the needs of another person (the controller).

Worry Worry

*This newsletter is intended to offer information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from those broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problem. Copyright 2018 Simmonds Publications: 550 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037

It’s a good thing that almost all of us worry. Think of worry as a built-in alarm device. When it is used wisely, it alerts us to danger and prompts us to navigate our way through a maze of solutions to life’s various problems. We need to think through our options when we are faced with problems, weighing the benefits and pitfalls of each alternative, and then come up with the best solution. From there we take action which, we hope, solves the problem. Worry is helpful when it is used at the right time and at the right level for resolving our difficulties. Like many things in life, however, too little worry, or too much of it, can be harmful.

Too little worry can result in impulsive decisions which may result in unfortunate consequences. Indeed, some people are high risk takers who may not worry enough about problems- they may win, but just as often, they lose. Others avoid worry through substance abuse or other addictive behaviors and then lack the motivation and insight to deal realistically with life’s expected problems. Similarly, a laid-back, come-what-may approach, while it has some merits, sometimes suggests passivity and a lack of ability to participate in the complexity of life’s experiences.

As we all know, some people worry too much. Rather than solving a problem too much worry becomes the problem. Not only does excessive worry create personal suffering, but it also affects the people around the worrier. Worry is a fairly common, but potentially serious, condition. A recent survey suggests that one-third of all office visits to primary-care physicians are associated with some form of anxiety. Furthermore, it has been estimated that one-fourth of all people, over the course of a lifetime, will at some point suffer from symptoms associated with an anxiety-related diagnosis. The stress which accompanies worry can have serious physical implications, including an increase risk for blood pressure and heart ailments, immune system deficiencies, and cancer.

There are many practical methods for dealing with excessive worry, a few of which are finding connectedness, seeking advice and reassurance, and understanding the difference between good worry and unproductive and unproductive worry.

Social Support and Friendship

*This newsletter is intended to offer information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from those broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problem. Copyright 2018 Simmonds Publications: 550 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037

Good friendships depend less on who they are than on how they make us feel

Since 1985 the number of people who say they have no one to talk to has doubled. The lack of social contacts and social supports, despite our technological advances over the past decades, is one of the downsides to the huge transformations that have taken place in our society. Despite the advent of email and mobile phones, people today have fewer meaningful social contacts than they had in the past. We have traded our face-to-face contacts for technological forms of communication. We tend to drive alone, work alone, eat alone, and love along more than we did in the past years. Our public presentation may reflect less about who we are on the inside than on our ability to conform to the latest look that we pick up from the all-pervasive media. We go to the gym and work out alone to the beats stored in our devices. We go for coffee and immerse ourselves in our laptops. And we don’t talk to strangers, who may, as many believe, pose a danger to us. Yes, we’ve changed. Friendships are harder to come by. It is more difficult these days to get to know who another person really is- or for them to get to know who we are.

Research studies have shown repeatedly that friendship and social support systems have many psychological benefits. Social support cuts off the dysfunctional cycle of stress, which produces physiological responses such as increased heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Just having another person nearby will reduce stress when people perform difficult tasks. And it also takes a load off when you need help in doing some of your tasks of the day- certainly a stress reducer.

Spending time with a good, supportive friend will calm us and uplift our mood. We feel better when we talk things through with a trusted friend. When we hear ourselves talk, we can often get to the root of what is bothering us without the listener’s having to say a word. Social support validates us. We don’t feel so alone when there is a trusted friend nearby to say that the same things have happened to them- or merely says, “I understand.” Social connections help us to feel that we’re part of a larger whole. When we have a supportive social network, we can face life’s everyday problems with the feeling that we have the backing of others who care about us.

Distortions in Your Body Image

*This newsletter is intended to offer information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from those broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problem. Copyright 2018 Simmonds Publications: 550 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037

“What disturbs people’s minds is not events, but their judgments on events.” -Epictetus

In China, parents once bound the feet of their daughters in pursuit of beauty. In parts of Africa, both men and women elongate their earlobes and decorate their skin with minerals to look attractive, and this trend may be found in the United States now. At one time in society, we found plump, rotund people to be the epitome of beauty. Old movies show us that the Tarzans and Supermen of past decades would hardly pass muster in today’s gyms. Today we define beauty as a thin, youthful, and muscular look. Today we go under the knife and on extreme diets to achieve a socially acceptable appearance- not to mention tattoos and body piercings- all practices that are similar to the early Chinese customs of binding feet. Strong social standards dictate, especially through the media, how we should look- and if our own bodies deviate from these expectations, which is the case for almost all of us, we feel inferior and ashamed. We hide. We cover up. We don’t like an important part of ourselves. We feel depressed. We feel anxious in front of other people. We feel powerless- and we are apologetic when we show the world who we are.

Body image refers to your personal relationship with your body. This includes all of the beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions you have about your body. It does not refer to what your body actually looks like. Our body is one of many aspects of who we are, but for many of us it is the dominating source of our sense of self. If we compare ourselves to what we are supposed to look like, we come up short and this brings up negative feelings about who we are. We forget that our inner or essential self has many wonderful attributes. We do not have to harbor negative feelings about ourselves because our external appearance may not conform to current social norms. We may be a few pounds overweight, but that does not mean that people are going to reject us if we show our special inner qualities to other people- like our warmth, our caring, our social skills, and our intelligence. These latter qualities are what matter most in our relationships with others.

Relationships and Manipulation

*This newsletter is intended to offer information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from those broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problem. Copyright 2018 Simmonds Publications: 550 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037

We are all vulnerable to being manipulated in relationships, whether between romantic partners, friends, parents, children, employers, coworkers, or neighbors. When we allow another person to manipulate us, we are colluding with their desire to control our feelings, motives, and even our thoughts through deceptive, exploitative, and unfair means. A manipulative relationship is one-sided and unbalanced, advancing the goals of the manipulator at the expense of the person being manipulated. These relationships become troubled over time. If you want to change this kind of relationship, you must first recognize the features of manipulation and then look within to understand your contribution to the manipulation. There are effective ways to stand up to manipulation and bring balance back into the relationship.

Manipulation is not the same as influence.
We all use influence with other people to advance our goals, and this is one of the hallmarks of healthy social functioning. Influence recognizes the right and boundaries of other people, and it is based on direct, honest communication. Influence is one way we have of functioning effectively in the world. Influence recognizes the integrity of the other person, including the right not to go along with the attempted persuasion. Manipulation, on the other hand, depends on covert agendas and an attempt to coerce another person into giving in. Even though it may appear that the manipulator is strong and in control, there is usually insecurity under the façade. The tendency to exploit others and disregard their rights is a sign of unhealthy personality functioning. In fact, people who manipulate others have difficulty in maintaining good interpersonal relationships.

Those who manipulate other people are good at spotting people to control. If they feel unable to manipulate someone, they usually give up and move on to somebody else who is liley to be receptive to the attempted manipulation. Once you recognize the features of the manipulation, the next step in correcting the situation is to discover your own contribution to the problem. (This statement may seem a bit difficult to accept. After all, it’s the manipulator who has the problem, you might say. But realize that manipulation cannot occur in a vacuum. As is true of any relationship, it takes two people.) You can come to understand your contribution to the manipulative situation and then take steps to correct it.

Working on your relationship- by yourself

*This newsletter is intended to offer information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from those broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problem. Copyright 2018 Simmonds Publications: 550 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037
You can create a successful relationship- even if you must do it alone

Conflicts can be expected to arise in even the strongest of relationships. Two people who attempt to create a relationship always bring their own issues, backgrounds, expectations, personalities, and inner difficulties into the interplay that occurs between them. It is not at all unusual that the two people might find themselves, at times, in a deadlock. They see no way to break the impasse and to recapture the spirit of good will that they once had and would like to have again. Each party’s personal conflicts come into play and stifle the communication, sharing and love that seem necessary for harmonious interaction. Rather than confronting our own part in the problem, we may resort to blaming our partner- “If only she (or he) would change, then we could be happy.”

While it is ideal for the two partners to agree mutually that there is a problem that needs to be confronted and to show an equal amount of motivation in solving the problem in relationship therapy, this goal is not always achievable. The reality of the situation is that one of the partners may not be ready to work on the problem- and the reason for this may be perfectly valid. For example, one partner may fear that working on the relationship could bring up other problems. Or one of the partners may feel inadequate in talking about relationship issues and may have fears of being attacked if he or she were to try relationship therapy (although this is, in reality, a highly unlikely event). Or perhaps the partner feels unable to make the changes which have been called for in the past. Commonly, one of the partners just doesn’t see that there is a problem, therefore fails to see his or her contribution to the difficulties. Whatever the reason, there are times when one partner is simply not ready to work mutually on the relationship. But this does not mean the relationship is doomed. Rather than condemning our partner for his or her inability to work on the relationship, it is far more productive to show respect for our partner’s view and to take matters for bettering the relationship into our own hands. There is a great deal that one partner, acting alone, can do to create a relationship which is happier and more fulfilling for both parties.

Think of a relationship as a system with two parts which strives to achieve balance. It can be compared to a seesaw. When one of the partners makes a shift, the other partners has to make a comparable shift to maintain the balance. This often works negatively. For example, if Chris reminds Michael to take out the trash, Michael, feeling controlled, might back off and stop communicating. In turn, Chris then criticizes Michael even further for breaking off communication- and Michael retreats even further. A balance is achieved in this case with a pattern of blame and withdrawal. How can the balance shift in a more positive direction? Chris might decide to stop reminding Michael to take out the trash. In fact, Chris starts taking out the trash. Michael does not feel controlled in this case and has no need to break off communication. Showing appreciation to Chris for doing his chore, Michael starts taking out the trash. Both parties win in this case, and a positive balance is achieved in the relationship.

Rumination-When we get lost in our thoughts

*This newsletter is intended to offer information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from those broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problem. Copyright 2018 Simmonds Publications: 550 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037

Thinking about our problem is, without doubt, part of an effective way of solving them. If we need to deal with one of our life issues, we think it through, review our various options, and then choose a course of action to handle the problem. We can then take action to resolve the issue- and this might include redefining if so that we don’t experience it as a problem any longer.

But sometimes we get stuck at the thinking stage of problem-solving and go no farther. The success of thinking can lead us to engage solely in thought, as if-if we do more and more of it- we can think our way through what seems to be an insoluble issue. We find comfort in thought itself and never move into the problem-solving strategy of taking efficacious action. When we may not understand is that rumination (or overthinking) is driven by anxiety. Letting thoughts swirl in our heads over and over again is one way to soothe our anxiety- but it’s a trap because we get stuck in our thoughts and never move on to take action to solve the problem.

Rumination is more likely to occur when our thoughts are largely negative. Positive thinking encourages us to take effective action. Negative thoughts, on the other hand, because of social constraints and the negative impact they have on our self-image, discourage us from taking action. When we engage in negative thinking most of the time, we feel overwhelmed by the world. We feel stuck. We can’t see our way out of our problems. Negative thinking drives people away from us so that we are unable to share our thoughts with others and benefit from the feedback they might offer. And so, alone, we think- and think. We ruminate.

Researchers have found that women are much more likely to ruminate than men. This reflects the two-to-one ratio of women who suffer from depression in comparison to men. There are a number of possible reasons why women ruminate more often than men, including socialization practices in our society, job, discrimination, lower pay, and a great incidence of abuse. In addition to depression, rumination is associated with anxiety, anger, and substance abuse.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

*This newsletter is intended to offer information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from those broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problem. Copyright 2018 Simmonds Publications: 550 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037
Most of us build our lives around the belief that we will be relatively safe. Granted, normal daily life involved many stressors, especially in these hectic times, but we expect these pressures to happen, and we become accustomed to handling them. The more flexible we are and the more we know ourselves in are in touch with our abilities, the easier it is to deal with normal everyday stress.

Sometimes, however, any of us could be subjected to catastrophic stress. Our feeling of safety in these circumstances can vanish. We could experience terror and a complete inability to know how to handle these situations that are outside of the ordinary realm of experience. These catastrophic events can include rape, physical attack, mugging, carjacking, natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc.), fires, car accidents, plane crashes, and so much more. It is not only the victims of these events, but also witnesses, families of victims, and helping professionals who can develop severe stress symptoms that can last for months or even years after the event.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the term used to characterize people who have endured highly stressful and frightening experiences and who are undergoing distress caused by memories of that event. It is as if the person just cannot let go of the experience. The event comes back to haunt them. The anxiety experienced during or immediately after a catastrophic event is called traumatic stress. When the symptoms last several months after the event, it is called post-traumatic stress. PTSD can last for years after the original trauma and may not become evident initially. For example, an individual may witness a murder as a child, but not experience the associated stress until mid-life.

Some people are more likely to develop PTSD than others. Experts are not sure why some people develop PTSD after a relatively minor trauma while others exposed to great trauma do not. Those who are very young or are very old are more vulnerable. Individuals who already suffer from anxiety disorders, some personality disorders, or depression seem more likely to get PTSD after extreme trauma. It seems that the more vulnerable one feels in dealing with the world, the more likely on is to develop PTSD.

A person who has survived a traumatic event will probably never feel as if the event never happened, ut the distressing and disruptive effects of PTSD can be alleviated. In therapy, a person can learn to describe a coherent account of his or her life. People who can do this are much less susceptible to effects of the trauma. Therapists use a number of techniques to help a person work through traumatic events, some involving talking and some involving more physical interventions. Sometimes medication can help to lessen the anxiety, depression and sleep difficulties, as well as the physical symptoms, which go along with PTSD. Social agencies now use highly effective techniques, such as critical incident debriefing, to help people process their way through a trauma immediately after a disaster occurs in a community. Victims of violence are often given support to talk about the event soon after it has occurred.

Arising from Codependence

This newsletter is intended to offer information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from those broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problem. Copyright 2018 Simmonds Publications: 550 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037

The households we grew up in can have a powerful influence on the way we deal with life as an adult- often in ways that we never stop to think about. We simply keep on living, repeating the same mistakes and enduring the same conflicts over and over again. We may wonder why the same old patterns keep repeating themselves even when we change friendships, jobs and relationships. The answer may lie in a less-than-nurturing childhood characterized by neglect and other forms of abuse.

Codependence is recognized by the destructive behaviors, attitudes, and feelings which are directly linked to the way we were brought up. Families are described as dysfunctional when the needs of the parents are so overwhelming that the task of raising children is demoted to a secondary role in the life of the family. Codependence in adulthood emerges from those dysfunctional childhood experiences.

When children lack the adequate nurturance and loving guidance they need to function as independent adults, they experience a flawed or incomplete sense of themselves- a pattern which can last throughout one’s entire life. They are prone to enmeshment with a haze sense of their own personal boundaries- they may not know where they leave off and the other person begins. They may have a need to make other people happy (a pattern they learned in dealing with their parents) and when they are not able to do this, they might feel “less than” other people. They probably see themselves as unselfish and compassionate, always there for others- but, lacking a clear sense of themselves, they may resort to the same techniques to get attention they learned in childhood. Thus, they may manipulate, control and try to change others in order to get their own needs met. When they give, it is with strings attached. Those suffering from codependence often are attracted to, and give to, people who show little real interest in them- the same pattern they experienced in childhood in dealing with an emotionally unavailable parent. Because they were not guided in childhood to learn more moderate expressions of emotion, they end up in adulthood on an emotional rollercoaster with moods ranging from extreme despair… to passive sweetness… to uncontrolled anger and anxiety… to nothing at all. Frustration comes easily and interpersonal conflicts are frequent. Their partners are blamed for not coming through at times when they should- the old themes of childhood play themselves out again.

We never completely shed those things we learned in childhood, but we can learn new ways of dealing with ourselves and the world around us. It is probably not sufficient to look on codependence as an illness which can be cured. Rather, codependence is a way of living which comes from a dysfunctional background, a background over which we had no control as we grew up. There is no shame in being codependent, and there is no virtue in blaming those who created this condition. We are all products of the places, forces and experiences which preceded our present lives. Some people have easy lives and others find living more difficult. This is simply the way of the world- and neither option is necessarily better. Those with difficult lives have the advantage of learning more adaptive living, and in this sense, they may be able to experience life more fully and completely. This can lead to integrity and wisdom.

Maintaining Healthy Boundaries in Relationships

*This newsletter is intended to offer information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from those broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problem. Copyright 2018 Simmonds Publications: 550 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037

A successful relationship is composed of two individuals- each with a clearly defined sense of her or his own identity. Without our own understanding of self, who we are, and what makes us unique, it is difficult to engage in the process of an ongoing relationship in a way that functions smoothly and enhances each of the partners. We need a sense of self in order to clearly communicate our needs and desires to our partner. When we have a strong conception of our own identity, we can appreciate and love those qualities in our partner that make him or her a unique person. When two people come together, each with a clear definition of her or his own individuality, the potential for intimacy and commitment can be astounding. The similarities between two people may bring them together, but their differences contribute to the growth, excitement, and mystery of their relationship.

One feature of a healthy sense of self is the way we understand and work with boundaries. Personal boundaries are the limits we set in relationships that allow us to protect ourselves. Boundaries come from having a good sense of our own self-worth. They make it possible for us to separate our own thoughts and feelings from those of others and to take responsibility for what we think, feel, and do. Boundaries allow us to rejoice in our own uniqueness. Intact boundaries are flexible- they allow us to get close to others when it is appropriate and to maintain our distance when we might be harmed by getting too close. Maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships protect us from abuse and pave the way to achieving true intimacy. They help us take care of ourselves.

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