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The critical parent versus the rebellious child: overcoming marital games.

I see a couple in therapy who fight about orange juice. Here’s the way the scenario goes. He says, “Will you stop and get some orange juice for tomorrow morning?” She says, “Sure.”

That night as they are getting into bed, he says, “Did you get my orange juice?” She says, “I forgot. I got too busy. Besides, if it is so important, pick up your own juice.” His response, “I would if you hadn’t told me you were going to get it.”

She then turns the light out in the bedroom and the two of them lie there feeling frustrated and misunderstood. He thinks to himself, “After all I do for her, and I can’t even count on her for juice.” She thinks to herself, “Why can’t he get his own juice if it’s so important?” How often does this type of situation occur? About once or twice a month.

How can they get out of this game? He could decide that he will always be responsible for getting his own juice or she could decide to keep him supplied with juice.

Why won’t they stop playing? Because each of them gets a payoff from this game. Long ago they established a relationship in which he takes the role of the Critical Parent and she plays the role of the Rebellious Child. The juice is simply the excuse for him to act indignant.

In adolescence, this fellow made a decision that most people are incompetent. The juice script allows him to play out his original decision about people: she’s so incompetent she can’t even remember my orange juice.

She, on the other hand, made a decision that men are fools based on the fact that her father was usually drunk and acted foolish. To prove out her decision, she “forgets” the juice and watches her husband act like a fool over a little juice.

Another couple that I see played the same game around vacations, although in there situation she plays the Critical Parent and he plays the Rebellious Child.

Each year about January, he starts talking up a vacation. She responds to his enthusiasm by going to the internet, reading up on vacation spots, and making plans. Come May, he announces that they don’t have enough money for a vacation. She responds with indignation and outrage.

They both operate from the old script that men are supposed to financially take care of women. Neither question the availability of money until feelings are riding high about the upcoming vacation.

The other thing that supports this game is that as a young child this man lost his father. For years he walked around feeling gypped and inadequate. Not being able to provide a vacation for his family helps him re-experience these old familiar feelings.

Here are a few more examples of how one spouse plays Critical Parent and the other plays Rebellious Child:
• When he’s late she gives him lectures on discounting her feelings about being on time.
• She uses his car and leaves the gas tank empty. He writes her nasty notes on the bathroom mirror.
• He wants to keep a running balance in the check book and she doesn’t write down the amounts.
If you recognize yourself, well . . . you’re halfway to giving up your part of the game. The other half is changing your behavior.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” (a middle grade read) as well as, “The Parent Teacher Guide.” www.doriswildhelmering.com.

 

 

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Take the following: Are You an Emotional Eater Quiz.

1. Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
2. Do you eat or continue eating even if the food doesn’t taste good?
3. Do you eat when you can’t think of anything else to do?
4. Do you eat after an argument or stressful situation to calm yourself down?
5. Do you eat to reward yourself?
6. Do you keep eating even after you’re full?

Each “yes” indicates that you’re eating in response to your feelings. In other words, the primary reason you’re eating is because of your emotions. The key to getting emotional eating under control is awareness. Before you take a bite, ask yourself: “What am I feeling?” Let yourself feel the feeling for five minutes without eating. Then figure out something else you can do to help relieve it instead of putting yet another bite in your mouth.

 

Visit Doris at www.doriswildhelmering.com.
Check out her middle grade book as well as her parent and teacher guide.

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Do you realize that your thoughts determine how you behave? If you learn to harness and control your thoughts, you’ll change your behavior. You can change what, when, where, how often and how much you eat, and you will lose weight. And it all starts with harnessing your thoughts. In other words, it’s mind over matter.

One thing you can do is to become an “Impartial Observer” of yourself.

Every time you start to put something in your mouth say, “I am aware.” For example,
I’m aware that I’m eating the rest of my son’s peanut butter sandwich.
I’m aware that I’m going to the freezer for my third bowl of ice cream.
I’m aware that I’m walking down the hall to buy a candy bar from the vending machine.

Becoming aware of your eating is one of the most important ways to stop overeating and get into control of your weight.

Another way to change your brain is to change the way the way you talk to yourself in your head.
For example, instead of saying, “I can’t lose weight. Say I won’t lose weight.” If you say I can’t, you’re putting yourself in a victim position. And you’ll definitely feel helpless to do anything about your weight. If you say I won’t lose weight, you’re now in control. You’re in the driver’s seat. You’re making the decision and at any point you can decide to start working out, watch your food intake and lose weight.

Another change you can make — don’t say, “I’m fat” or “I’m so overweight.” Because if you do, you are defining yourself as a fat person. Say instead, “I carry too much weight on my body.” Now you’ve distanced yourself from your weight. You’ve put it out there and you can do something about it.

Another neuro-linguistic, mind-over-matter technique is to use picture words when you talk to yourself. Instead of saying, “I’m going to be careful at lunch today”, say instead, “I’m going to order a salad with grilled chicken strips. I’ll have the dressing on the side. And I’ll order an espresso for my dessert”.

By using picture words, you can see that lunch sitting there on the table. Right?

Or instead of saying “I’m going to exercise today”, say instead, “I’m going to put on my red tennis shoes, walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes, and listen to some rock n’ roll”. Now you’ve painted a picture in your head, you can see yourself on the treadmill listening to the radio. And because of this picture, you’re more likely to follow through and do it.

Mental pictures trigger electrochemical changes in your brain that turn your thoughts into action.

Visit Doris at www.doriswildhelmering.com.
Check out her middle grade book as well as her parent and teacher guide.

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I asked a friend who is an architect how business was going. He said it was fine except that he had a cash-flow problem because people weren’t paying him fast enough. Then he smiled boyishly and said, “of course, I don’t bill them right away either.”

“How long do you wait until you bill them?” I asked.
Now he laughed sheepishly and said, “oh, about three months after I’ve completed the work.”

“You do your clients no favors.” I said. “People who don’t get billed for three months have already forgotten about that debt because they are on to making new ones. And then when your bill comes, they have to stop and figure out how to make a payment to you.”

“So why do you think I procrastinate?” my friend asked.

“Maybe you have a problem with charging people for services,” I said, “and you don’t think you’re worthy of the money. You’d be surprised how many professionals grapple with this issue.”

“That’s interesting,” he replied. “Have you any other ideas as to why I procrastinate?”

“Maybe you like the stimulation that comes from living on the brink of financial trouble. Or you are testing people to see if they will call and ask about the bill.”

“Why else do you think I procrastinate?” urged my friend.

Not able to resist, I went on, for I like to play, “I’m only trying to help you.”

“Maybe you had a parent that procrastinated and modeled for you that way of behaving. You just never learned how to be a self-starter. Or you procrastinate because that’s the way you learned to express your anger. Procrastination is passive-aggressive behavior, you know.”

“But what do you think is the real, underlying reason for my procrastination?” my friend queried.
“Maybe you’re not supposed to be more successful than your father, so you procrastinate to keep yourself less successful. Or you’re afraid to fail, so you don’t complete a project.”

“Why else?” he demanded.
“Could it be,” I mused, “that always asking ‘why’ is in itself a form of procrastination?”

“Let’s change the subject,” laughed my good-natured friend.

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When Mary walked into my office for her therapy appointment, she wasn’t a happy camper. When I asked her what was going on, she said she was furious at her daughter, Alice, who’s seven. In Mary’s evaluation, her daughter is extremely rebellious.

“How so?” I asked.
“If I try to hurry her up, she slows down.”
“If we tell her she can’t go outside to play, she runs out the door anyway. Or she’s supposed to stay in the backyard, but I find her at the neighbors down the street.”

“This morning I had a baby sitter lined up. But Alice didn’t want to stay with the sitter. So I decided to let her come along to this appointment, with the stipulation that she would have to sit quietly in the waiting room.”
“We were pulling out of the driveway when Alice realized she’d forgotten her book. I let her go back in the house but told her to hurry. Five minutes later I had to get out of the car and go get her. There she was in the kitchen fixing herself a glass of juice. I should have left her at home, but I didn’t.”

As Mary and I continued talking, we heard a little knock on my door and then it opened. There stood Alice. Mary looked at her daughter and said firmly, “You can’t come in here.” The daughter stepped back and it looked as though she was going to leave and close the door.

The mother then added, “I told you before we left the house that you’d have to wait for me in the waiting room.” With this comment, the little girl grinned ever so slightly and stepped into the room. It was evident to me that the power struggle was on.

As an observer, I suspect that if Mary hadn’t said anything more to her daughter after her first comment, but had immediately turned her attention back on the two of us talking, Alice would have closed the door and gone back into the waiting room. But when her mother gave her an additional warning, the little girl must have felt challenged and she reacted.

I saw a similar dynamic take place several days later when I was working with a mother and her adolescent daughter. They were seeing me because the mother was feeling more than annoyed at her daughter’s rebelliousness. The girl talks back, doesn’t come home on time, refuses to do her chores, and helps herself to her mother’s clothes whenever she wants.

During the session the daughter started twirling, lasso-style, a long chain she was wearing with a large polished stone attached to the end of it. The mother looked at her daughter and said, “Please stop that.” The daughter looked at her mother and continued to twirl the chain.

Again the mother said, “Stop,” but this time she said it with a little playful laugh.
At this point a noticeable grin came over the daughter’s face, she started swinging the necklace more vigorously, and the power struggle was on.

Children need to flex their rebellious muscle once in a while as a way to reach independence, and parents need to take on their children to teach them how to behave. Sometimes, however, we parents inadvertently encourage our children to get into bigger power struggles
than need be.

For example, it’s understandable why Mary told her daughter a second time not to come into my office. She already had to deal with several other issues that morning. Too, she was probably feeling anxious about how I perceived her as a parent, and she didn’t want her therapy time wasted.

But sometimes one firm no works better than two. If a parent says no and immediately turns her attention elsewhere, she closes off a power struggle by refusing to participate. One no doesn’t always work – rebellious children are tenacious – but sometimes it does.
In the second situation, the mother might have outsmarted her daughter and said nothing. I’m sure her daughter would have gotten tired of twirling. When children do something that is obviously designed to get them negative attention, sometimes it’s better not to give it to them.

Once the mother decided to confront her daughter, however, she needed to hang tough and stick with the confrontation. The Mother’s little laugh could certainly be interpreted as encouraging her daughter to be rebellious. Or it could signal her daughter that she wanted to stay friends with her. When you decide to take on a child’s rebelliousness, you must be willing to take the risk that a child is not going to like you at that moment. At the same time, her negativism toward you won’t last forever. And confronting bad behavior is a necessary part of child rearing.

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Develop some food-free zones such as no eating in the car, or in front of the television. Having food-free zones gets you to think about where you’re eating. This is another way to use your brain and not get into mindless eating.

Use Aromatherapy.
We know odors affect appetite. Strong sweet smells, such as chocolate, trigger feelings of hunger. Whereas neutral sweet smells — such as bananas, green apples, vanilla, and peppermint help curb appetite. Scientists believe that scents may fool the brain into believing that you’ve eaten more than you have.

So keep a vanilla scented candle on your desk and take a deep whiff several times a day. Or if that seems a little weird, or you’re afraid of what your co-workers will think, because you’re always sniffing a vanilla candle, drink vanilla or green apple tea.
I’ve gotten in the habit of finishing my meals with a small peppermint candy. That little trick signals to my brain, “Eating is over Doris.”

Use Visualization.
Visualize yourself sipping water from a water bottle throughout the day. See yourself jogging in the park or lifting some hand weights in your bedroom or running up a flight of stairs.

See yourself with a group of your friends at a restaurant and holding up your hand and telling the server “No thank you,” when he goes to put the bread basket on the table.

Athletes visualize a perfect golf swing or a perfect dive into the pool as a way to prime themselves before competition. You can prime yourself in your mind’s eye so you don’t overeat or eat the wrong things.

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Why are some people so indecisive, is there a hidden agenda?
No matter what, some people can’t seem to make a decision. What’s even more exasperating is that when you try to make the decision, they won’t let you.

For example: Sue asks me the other day, “Where would you like to go for lunch?”
I say, “It’s up to you.”
She says, “No. This is your day. You decide.”
I answer, “OK, how about the deli?”
She says, “I was thinking about something nicer.”
I say, “Well, how about Benos?”
She says, “It’ll probably be a long wait at this time of the day.”
I say, “That’s OK. We’ll wait and talk.”
She says, “It really may take awhile.”
I now know she has somewhere else in mind. So I ask, “Do you have another suggestion?”
She says, “You decide.”
At this point I feel like throwing myself down on the sidewalk and having a temper tantrum.

Here’s another example of an “I -won’t- make-a-decision-and-you-can’t-make-me”scenario.
My friend says, “What color do you think I should paint my bedroom?”
I say, “What color have you been thinking about?”
She says, “I really don’t know. What do you suggest?”
I say, “How about an indigo red or khaki?”
She says, “I don’t like those colors.”
I say, “Maybe something more subtle, perhaps beige with a rose tint.” (I’ve watched a lot of   HGTV.)
She says, “I don’t think so.”
What I want to say to her is, “I’ll run through the entire color wheel, and when I hit on the color you’re thinking of, you tell me.”

People who play this game have two agendas although even they may not be aware of it. They want to look accommodating, so they ask your opinion. But they also want to make the decision, so they won’t take your suggestion. In this situation play three strikes and you’re out. Give three suggestions and then say, “I’m out of ideas.”

Apply this same method when dealing with your child who comes to you moaning because he or she can’t figure out what to do.

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