Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Family Triangle

When families encounter difficulties in communication, therapy can be helpful in providing skills and education to help members avoid further misunderstandings and negative dynamics. Sometimes, clients can benefit from learning to use "I-statements" to diffuse defensiveness, or reflective listening to ensure the correct message is being received from the sender. But other patterns of family interactions can create deep wounds and mistrust that can take intense work to remediate.

Three Sides, All Unequal 
Triangulation occurs when one family member avoids direct communication with another family member about his/her behavior, choosing instead to communicate with a third member about their concerns. For example, a mother may share her fear and frustration about her husband's alcoholism with her child, creating a peer-like relationship that requires more from the child than he reasonably can provide. In addition, the mother's sharing can create fear and anxiety in the child, or the child may feel responsible for "fixing" the situation. Triangulation causes a warp in communication, similar to the childhood game of "telephone," creating misinformation, distrust and confusion. Roles of parent, child and sibling can be upended, and emotional safety between family members suffers. Because triangulation can feel "rewarding" by providing some members with an inflated sense of power, or others with an "out" for confronting another, this dynamic often becomes entrenched. Counseling allows families to learn the real costs of these patterns, and how to approach one another with respect and honesty. We know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Families learn that communicating directly with one another can bridge the distance between members, facilitating real intimacy and avoiding the woundedness and distress created by triangulation. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Vanity, Thy Name is Narcissus

We've all known the type: the egotistical, self-centered lout who consistently trounces over the needs of others in his drive to be noticed and applauded. The abrasive scene-stealer who truly believes she is better than her peers, regardless of their characters or achievements. Or the insensitive, dismissive diva who can't put herself in another's shoes. Perhaps now more than ever, whether the results of entitlement or attachment issues first budding in infancy, narcissists seem to abound in our society.

"It's All About ME!"
Narcissism can run the gamut between a slightly overgrown sense of self (a character trait) to a pathological grouping of negative behaviors and attitudes that leaves pain and destruction in its path (a full-blown Narcissitic Personality Disorder). Now before you go "diagnosing" yourself as a narcissist because you stole your sister's dolly when you were 6, or because you chose to treat yourself to a massage rather than attend Aunt Velda's birthday party, remember that while everyone has moments of selfishness, rarely do we exhibit the consistent, extreme egotism and diminishment of others' realities that mark a true narcissistic person. Narcissists have a grandiose self-image, craving admiration and adulation from those around them. They have difficulty distinguishing themselves from outside objects, assuming that their feelings or perceptions hold true for everyone. Perhaps most troubling, narcissists lack empathy -- they cannot feel what others are feeling, blocking true intimacy, connection and a sense of being seen and known from the experience of the other. Individuals with personality disorders often are less aware than others of the destructiveness and toxicity of their behaviors. In fact, the continued negative feedback of others is the "push" that gets these folks into the therapy room. And while some clinical perspectives suggest personality disorders cannot be "cured", many professionals consider these clients to be some of the most damaged, traumatized people in society, and worthy of treatment to help them -- and those around them -- learn how to blunt the negative impact of their harmful behaviors and learn more appropriate ways to communicate, connect and manage intense emotion. The adage "hurt people hurt people" applies to narcissistic individuals. If you are in relationship with someone who exhibits narcissistic tendencies, consider pursuing counseling of your own. Learning how to set boundaries, attend to and care for your own feelings and needs, and resist taking on the other's emotional baggage as your own are vital skills for your own sense of self and internal balance. With intensive work and a skilled, committed therapist, clients with narcissistic personalities can learn how to share the stage of life, and leave room for others in the spotlight.