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How to Build Positive Relationships

How to Build Positive Relationships

Strong social connections are vital to our mental and physical wellbeing – they help us navigate stressors and give us the courage to overcome the challenges that we face. Positive relationships are pivotal for an individual’s happiness, productivity, and form the foundation of a person’s support system. As such, we must not take these relationships for granted. Instead, we need to learn how to continue building and maintaining such positive relationships with others.

 

As an overall guideline, a good way to start is for us to adopt the “Above and Below the Line” thinking.  Has someone ever told you in the heat of an argument that you have “crossed the line”? In every domain of life, there’s a line, and we all intuitively know where “the line” exists. In any given moment, we are either living Above the Line or Below the Line.

 

When we are “below the line”, we are constantly angry, closed, and looking for blame and excuses. When we are operating out of fear, we withdraw from our connections, which causes us to become estranged from others, and pull ourselves back emotionally. In such cases, try gathering the courage to connect with what you’re afraid of. Although this could turn out in both good and bad ways, it will be worth a shot. At least you will then be able to confront the grip of toxic fear and bring forth behaviours and beliefs that are above the line. Anger, on the other hand, causes us to blame others or the situation we’re in, while at the same time creating excuses for ourselves. At times, we can even move into a state of denial. In order for us to start living “above the line”, we need to be more mindful of our emotional state. This could mean being more sensitive to the context and perspective of others or the situation. When we are “above the line”, we are operating out of love, understanding, and appreciation in order to tackle anger and take ownership of what’s happening. Acknowledge that pushing the blame on others continually will wear you out, and will eventually take a toll on your relationship. Moreover, remind yourself to be less prideful and try giving others credit instead. Focus on gratitude for those around you,  and start showing appreciation for their contributions and positive impact on your life. 

 

When we choose to live “below the line”, we fall victim to the biases that influence our perception, thereby impacting our relationships in a negative way. Such biases may include:

 

  1. Egocentrism

Egocentric behaviour often stems from inadequate awareness of the self. This becomes limiting in the sense that we become embedded in our own point of view rather than attempting to understand the perspective of the other person. Egocentrism can often lead to feelings of anger and frustration, and severely impacts our capacity to deal with others in an appropriate manner.

 

  1. Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental Attribution Error is the tendency to explain others’ behaviour and actions based on internal factors. This means having a cognitive bias to assume that someone’s behaviour is dependent on the personality of that person. When we overemphasise personal characteristics and qualities and choose to ignore situational factors when judging someone else’s behaviour, we become increasingly narrow-minded, making it difficult for us to resolve situations in an efficacious manner. For example, if a road user cuts into our path while driving, our initial thought might be that the driver is a “jerk”, or someone who is highly impatient. However, we fail to consider the possibility that the driver could have been rushing a passenger to the hospital. 

 

  1. Naive Realism

Naive realism is the tendency to believe that we view everything around us objectively and those other individuals who disagree with our viewpoint must be uninformed, irrational, or biased. This also causes us to be self-righteous and narrow-minded. 

 

  1. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias describes the tendency of individuals to seek evidence that confirms and reiterates a previously held view. A classic example of this is the belief that women are poor drivers compared to men. We pay particular attention to the gender of such poor drivers and cherry-pick evidence that reinforces the idea of the poor motor skills of women.

 

As much as possible, we should try staying away from living “under the line”. When we fall victim to such biases, our perceptions become clouded, causing us to be incapable of handling our social connections well and in a healthy manner. Try staying away from negative emotions, and be more open-minded and understanding of the other party and the situation at hand.

 

So, how can we make the shift and start living “above the line”? Instead of living in fear, anger and pride, try living in courage, faith and love. Gather the courage to improve yourself, and take tiny steps every day. Reflect on the personal qualities and weaknesses that you think you need to work on and make the effort to change. If someone gives you constructive feedback, take it! Focus on self-improvement and don’t let pride and arrogance overcome you. Have faith in yourself and in the relationships you share with others. Believe that relationships can be worked on and salvaged, even if they are on the rocks. Lastly, give and spread love. Love will bring out the greatness in yourself, and the best in others. Show the people around you that you genuinely care for them, and that you appreciate their presence. Positivity will certainly go a long way and bring individuals closer together.

 

Above all else, perhaps you could ask yourself a simple question when tackling any situation in a relationship: Is your intention to help or to hurt? If you are willing to take the step to be more mindful of your intentions, then you’re already on the road to building and maintaining positive relationships. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. On the other hand, should you require any further guidance, don’t be afraid to reach out to us.

 


References:

Dr. Justin Coulson, How Intention Builds Positive Relationships, video recording, Mental Health Academy
<https://www.mentalhealthacademy.co.uk/dashboard/catalogue/how-intention-builds-positive-relationships>. (Accessed 24/06/2020)

Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

How to be a Mental Health Supporter to Your Friend

How to be a Mental Health Supporter to Your Friend

“I’m depressed”, “I need help”. How do you react when a friend of yours approaches you, hoping to seek help and comfort? In a society that unfortunately stigmatises mental health issues, many of us are most likely incapable of tackling such situations appropriately. Sadly, people would feel a sense of awkwardness, then attempt to shrug it off by changing the topic. Worse still, some may distance themselves from their troubled peers – being unsure as to how they can help and would rather stay away. To date, mental health issues are considered taboo, and many would prefer to avoid talking about it. 

Unsurprisingly, it has come to light in recent times that mental health is ranked second in a study conducted on concerns among Singaporean youths, amid others such as employment opportunities. At the fundamental level, we’ll need to be more informed on how we can assist those around us to seek help from mental health professionals when things get hard, and how we can better support them to cope with their condition. The reason behind this is that many would favour talking to their friends before all else instead of consulting a counsellor or a therapist. Besides the stigma of having to seek therapy, the trust and bond between friends nudges them to find comfort in their peers, allowing them to express themselves more easily. To a certain extent, we are at the frontline and act as the safety net for our troubled friends, thus exponentially increasing the need for us to be more mindful of how we respond and act. 

What are some good steps to take if you know that your friend needs help? The most helpful thing you can do if they choose to open up to you is to simply listen. When someone approaches you to tell you their problems, it is extremely important that you lend them a listening ear and to hear them out. This will mean the world to them, for it probably took them quite some time to gather the courage to speak up. Set aside some time to provide an open and non-judgemental space for them to be fully transparent with you. It is vital that any distractions are limited, so that they are assured they have your full attention. Revealing their deepest, private thoughts to someone else is never easy, and when they choose to, it will be greatly beneficial in knowing that the other party truly cares for them. 

With that said, let your friend take the lead in the conversation. Let them take control over what they’re willing to share, and what they’re not willing to. We have to understand that ultimately, they have the right to guard their personal feelings and privacy, and we should never, under any circumstance, force them to reveal matters that they aren’t ready to talk about. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on them and let them talk at their preferred pace. You could very well be the first person that they have been able to open up to, and it is crucial that you do not break the trust and confidence they have in you.

Oftentimes, people may tend to get overly-absorbed in the conversation, and take on the role of a “therapist”. Unknowingly, they may start to second guess or make assumptions as to what is wrong, and subsequently jump into conclusions with a possible diagnosis or solution. However, hold your horses – bear in mind that you are neither a trained therapist nor a psychologist. Don’t label them with what you think is going on. Focus on providing them with a reliable listening ear or a shoulder to cry on instead.  

Providing words of comfort may seem easy enough – but there are pitfalls in which we often walk into unintentionally. “Things will be better tomorrow”, “I felt the same when I…” Such words are rarely made out of malice, but rather because it is easier to fall back on such overused expressions whenever we struggle to find the right words. However, this could backfire, as the underlying tone may come off as dismissive, unhelpful or even judgemental. Instead, validate their feelings and thoughts. Assure them that you will be there whenever they need someone to talk to, and that it is okay for them to feel what they feel. Moreover, avoid making comparisons between their experiences and yours. Every individual’s journey is personal and unique to them – try to make the conversation less about you and give them a space to express themselves freely. 

Focus on how your friend is coping as the conversation carries on, and be alert to any red flags. If it becomes obvious that your friend needs help dealing with emotional issues or a mental health problem,  talk to them about receiving proper treatment from a mental health professional. It may be tough to start such a conversation as a person’s culture, family background and experiences may influence their perception about seeking help, which makes such a topic about therapy an intense and personal one. Initially, you may expect some resistance, as they might feel a sense of shame and failure. Remember to reassure them that receiving therapy is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sensible way to deal with their troubles. If possible, simple gestures like offering to accompany them to their first session can also be comforting, for they will be less likely to feel abandoned. 

Being patient with them is key, even if your friend is rejecting professional help. Your conversation may have started getting them to consider it, even if it doesn’t mean seeking help immediately. Try to see things from your friend’s perspective and just be there to support and encourage them. Doing this will help facilitate on-going deep and meaningful conversations, and can make your friend more receptive to reaching out to you and for professional help in the future when they are ready. 

 


References:

Mental health, job opportunities among issues raised by youths in engagement sessions (Accessed on 13/06/2020)

Photo by Felix Rostig on Unsplash

Overcoming The Fear of Failure

Overcoming The Fear of Failure

At its most elemental level, people avoid the risk of failure for one simple reason – it hurts. Every single person has experienced failure. If you were to interpret failure by its definition in the dictionary, “the neglect or omission of expected or required action”, wouldn’t you, as a child, have stumbled along the way to achieving those long strident steps you take when strutting along the sidewalk? Yet, nobody feels ashamed of failing to learn to walk as a toddler. Why’s that? You could say that no-one in the right mind would expect that of a human child – we aren’t deer, or gazelles that need to shake off the afterbirth and walk – or risk predation. Our success as a species which put us at the top of the food chain negates that need. Fear is a function of the amygdala, yet failure isn’t. There’s a distinction here that we need to be mindful of. If you’re a parent or have access to YouTube, you’ve probably noticed that there’s an innocence in children that can be quite uplifting to watch, as they try multiple times to succeed at a simple task. They don’t puff their cheeks out and sigh in despair, or bury their heads in their hands. At most, they demonstrate frustration.

Shame is learned behaviour that children integrate into their developing moralities, either from being taught or through observation. Studies done on athletes have shown that perceived parental pressure (or pressure from authority figures) have deleterious effects on how sportspeople experience and interpret failure. Simply put, the fear of failure is a construct of how societies function. For some people, the avoidance of shame that failure brings weighs too heavily on them, and that is the crippling fear of failure. Dr Guy Finch puts this rather more succinctly: “fear of failure is essentially a fear of shame”. How then, do we begin to become more self-aware in the face of these deeply ingrained avoidance mechanisms to start building our best selves?

Evidence-based science suggests that the most efficient way to bring oneself out of the debilitating spiral of negative self-talk – one of the most insidious culprits in perpetuating avoidance based behaviours that stymie growth – is Psychotherapy method, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). 

After all, overcoming fear of failure is all about reversing negative thought patterns, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is designed to help you identify the underlying belief that causes a negative automatic thought (which in turn guides the feelings that come with it).

With the help of a qualified mental health professional, which can be anyone from a trained psychologist, psychotherapist or even psychiatrist, you can be empowered to break the circuit of the pervasive vicious cycle of negativity that prevents the unfettering of fear of failure’s heavy chains.

For instance, think of each deeply held criticism that you can’t let go of as a block in a Jenga game with your friends and the tower represents your thought life as a whole. Even though you’ve suffered through failure after failure, you can’t seem to jettison them from your psyche. Can you imagine a game of Jenga that doesn’t end in peals of laughter? It seems that some re-evaluation is needed to turn the way you handle each soul-sucking gut-punching failure from the darkness of your room. The grip of negativity steadying your trembling hand, an extension of your mind, putting each block up on autopilot because you believe you are not good enough. Instead, we suggest turning the lights on, invite someone you trust into your sanctum of despair, to play the game of Jenga with you. As you ease into their presence, you’ll begin to notice that the tower doesn’t look so intimidating anymore. It’s no longer just a congealed mess of all your shortcomings and toxic thinking, but a simpler thing that can be deconstructed. If each block represents a negative conviction you have about yourself that is too painful to touch, reach for the piece that looks more well-shorn and polished (which represents a perceived positive character trait or accomplishment that you hold dear). Put it back on top of your tower. It is yours, isn’t it? Or perhaps let your confidant handle that splintery block. 

Of course, we all know that Jenga isn’t all laughter and grand gestures. There’s physical tension and the cogitation of making the right choice so the tower doesn’t crumble prematurely. Maybe you aren’t too good at Jenga. That’s fine. But if you start thinking of this special game of Jenga as a collaborative effort instead of a competitive one, you’ll start getting the picture. Who would you like to invite to collaboratively play a game of Jenga?

 

 


  1. Sagar, S and Stoeber, J. Perfectionism, Fear of Failure, and Affective Responses to Success and Failure: The Central Role of Fear of Experiencing Shame and Embarrassment. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2009, 31, pp 602-627.
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201306/10-signs-you-might-have-fear-failure. Accessed 2/6/2020.
  3. Photo by John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash
Love in time of COVID: A Mothership SG interview recap

Love in time of COVID: A Mothership SG interview recap

Relationship Advice from Relationship Therapist & Coach, Winifred Ling

 

Chelsea, a stunning flight attendant and her partner, Clayton, have been experiencing the Covid lockdown blues. Being in the early stages of their relationship, they both confessed to feeling the effects of being apart from each other – while they were somewhat used to incompatible schedules, the loss of physical intimacy that was at least within reach before amplified the tattoo of each pining heart.

They shared how they were managing to stay sane and close throughout the lockdown – by making use of technological advances, utilising Zoom to keep each other apprised of the happenings in their lives. 

Winifred Ling, a Gottman Certified Relationship Therapist, featured in the Mothership vlog – gave this couple some tips on how to be “out of ‘touch’ but not out of love” and how to keep their relationships healthy. Love takes effort, and she relayed to her audience some suggestions that were remarkably common-sensical, like making sure to check in with your significant other with words of encouragement.

We are home to a few genuinely warm and empathetic relationship therapists. If you’re in a committed relationship, they’ll teach you valuable skills that you can employ to keep healthy and relationship strong. Additionally, even if you’re not quite sure of your chances of getting hitched but would like to learn more, there’s pre-marriage counselling available too.

Stay safe. Stay strong.

An interview about Alcohol Addiction on Vasantham’s En Ullae S2 with Dr Rajesh Jacob

An interview about Alcohol Addiction on Vasantham’s En Ullae S2 with Dr Rajesh Jacob

Vasantham (Mediacorp’s Tamil & Hindi TV Channel) studios reached out to Promises Healthcare’s Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Rajesh Jacob, in the name of bringing greater mental health awareness to the Indian community in Singapore.

Episode 7 of En Ullae S2 is a harrowing tale of Ramesh’ descent into utter despair due to his alcohol addiction. After the lilting trill of a happy alcohol buzz wears off, people in the throes of addiction often experience a sense of bitterness and desolation. It’s an artificial stimulant that when consumed, releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that promote a feeling of euphoria and help reduce stress.

Some instances of alcoholism are undergirded by an anxiety disorder, according to Dr Rajesh Jacob. He posits that people attempt to “treat” symptoms of anxiety by self-medicating with alcohol, ameliorating the discomfort of social situations through chemically induced disinhibition and happiness. They become chattier, and won’t choke during conversations – an alluring prospect for chronically anxious people.

Ramesh, now advanced in age, wistfully recounts how he fell into alcoholism. At 15, he and his friends would entertain themselves with drinks and idle chatter at a ‘kopitiam’, a Singaporean colloquialism for ‘coffee-shop’. Dr Jacob reminds us that despite being a stimulant, long term alcohol abuse invariably leads to depression or anxiety. Alcohol addiction can stem from a variety of factors – from the ‘angry, drunk father’ to early over-exposure to alcohol, and everything in between. Hassan Mansoor, a recovering alcoholic, confesses that his first foray into Bacchanal pleasure was during his secondary school years(junior high) for you Americans). He doesn’t remember the time with rose-tinted glasses, though – his adolescent years were marked by incessant violence, physical altercations and poor academic performance. He’d thought it made him look “cool”. Beer, whiskey, “Boon Kee Low”, “Paddy”, its name derived from its roots as a rice wine, and “Deer”. All of them cheap highs. 

We’re then treated to a vignette in which a listless Ramesh, rake thin, gets into an argument with his doe-eyed girlfriend over whether wine should be drunk at lunch. Both of them are adamant that they hold the moral high ground – Ramesh, with his insistence that wine is “not hard liquor”, and Reena, with the awareness that his alcoholism is ruining not only their relationship but himself. We learn that the long-suffering Reena has tolerated Ramesh’s equivocations and excuses for four years, and she’s at the end of her tether. 

 

(Click on the link for a version with English subtitles. Remember to click on the ‘Settings’ button to reveal the English subtitle selection. https://www.mewatch.sg/en/series/en-ullae-s2/ep7/954631 )
Dr Jacob explains that genuine awareness of an alcohol problem can only legitimately come from within, and external criticism is met with a wall of anger and irritation. In the early stages of alcohol addiction, one usually does manage to induce some level of happiness. As the disease progresses, drinking no longer “feels good” and chemical dependence means that consumption is imperative to avoid withdrawals. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include hand tremors, which can set in as quickly as 4 – 6 hours from the last drink, insomnia, anxiety, psychological cravings, palpitations and sweating. Alcohol addiction is a vicious cycle, according to Dr Jacob. 

Most people suffering from alcohol addiction start off with social drinking, which isn’t a problem in itself. However, addiction is a chronic, progressive disease which Dr Jacob measures with three factors of varying severity: drink frequency, duration of drinking, and cravings. Ramesh admits that his family life and relationships suffered. Getting blackout drunk was a nightly affair, which left his wife paranoid of his infidelity, when in fact he was unconscious in a ditch somewhere. He wouldn’t remember the events leading up to the loss of consciousness, a form of anterograde amnesia. Eventually, his wife takes out a Personal Protection Order (PPO) against him, the Singaporean variant of a restraining order.

The spiral into full throttle addiction isn’t a pretty sight. Just being in the presence of his drinking buddies would catalyse a night of binge drinking, invariably followed by a hangover in the morning made all the more unbearable by guilt over the slow rot of his cherished relationships. Work performance suffered, many a medical certificate was sought, culminating in joblessness. 

Dr Jacob explains that addiction leads to productivity impairments at work. A sure sign of dependence is the need for a drink in the morning to curb tremors and imbibe him with enough energy to perform as a barely functioning alcoholic. Day drinking and surreptitious alcohol breaks are common. When in active addiction, one’s happiness (in the form of craving relief) takes precedence over that of others, and empathy goes out the window. Ramesh is reduced to a pitiable state, cajoling once close friends to spot him the occasional tenner – in their eyes, he is reduced to a shadow of his former self. Now jobless and without an income, he burdens his children with the restitution of his loans – he is now too functionally impaired to perform any meaningful work. His wife is now the sole breadwinner, and the guilt in his voice is apparent, even today.

Ramesh only manages to stop drinking for some length of time at 48 due to chest pains. After a successful heart bypass, he turns to drink again. Then comes the second bypass, which he sullies with an infection brought on by his inveterate drinking. Alcohol and heart medication should not be taken together, but his addiction blinds him to a sanguine truth. It is only after last-ditch surgery is performed that he cultivates some restraint, managing to abstain from drink when he recuperates for a month in the hospital. He is 68 when he finally gets into recovery.

All manner of physical ailments accompanies alcohol addiction. “From the head to the feet”, Dr Jacob says. The brain is atrophied such that fits, falls, bleeding, subdural hematomas and dementia become common. Liver cirrhosis brings about jaundice and bloody stool. Peripheral neuropathy, a feeling of pins and needles in the hands and feet arises from damage to nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. Even sexual performance suffers. If diabetes is comorbid, the body becomes much poorer at sugar control.

Dr Jacob recommends a ‘biopsychosocial’ model for treating alcohol addiction. “Bio” refers to medical treatment in the form of total abstinence (detoxification) and medication. “Psychosocial” refers to psychological counselling to treat addiction, medication to reduce cravings, and therapy sessions with the family. In short, a treatment model that aims to target likely risk factors for relapse.

Nobody takes their first drink and thinks, “This’ll be the death of me”. Fortunately, if people suffering from alcohol addiction take a step back and consider their mind, their physical body, and their loved ones, and combined with proper support and therapy, recovery is possible.

Coping With Difficult Family Members (Including Parents, Spouses & Siblings)

Coping With Difficult Family Members (Including Parents, Spouses & Siblings)

Written by: Dr Mark Toh, Consultant Clinical Psychologist

 

It is a reality that we can choose our friends. If at times we find them annoying, we can always choose to make adjustments or even terminate the friendship if needed. But unfortunately, we cannot choose our family members. As such, it can be a challenging and sometimes very difficult situation when family members are emotionally unhealthy and they have not sought help to address their own difficulties. 

 

Instead, by having to live with them as members of the same family, they become a regular source of mental distress. This can pose a particular burden for minors, or those still dependent on the difficult member as the financial source of living, or during the current coronavirus lock-down imposed by the government when family members are confined together. In some cases, especially when violence and harm is a possibility, these unhealthy members can become damaging or dangerous and more drastic action may need to be taken to promote safety.

 

For the child, this may be confusing if the source of difficulty from parents are due to attempts to parent or from inappropriate control. Or they may have siblings who like being bossy to their siblings. Here are some signs to consider in trying to differentiate healthy from unhealthy behaviours from difficult family members. 

 

They are always blaming you while not accepting their own responsibilities.

Individuals who engage in unhealthy relational behaviours often have difficulty taking ownership for contributing to the problems that emerge between each other during disagreements or conflict. Their need to blame others is usually a defensive response against accepting their own guilt or responsibility for their fault or wrong in the situation. 

 

They are always critical towards you. 

Unhealthy family members also often present themselves as critical. This goes beyond a simple discussion to point out about errors if or when you or someone else has made them. But it appears more as a pattern or their habit in regarding you as a target of contempt. Words that undermine your character are often expressed. It is also often expressed regardless of the many accomplishments you may have achieved. It is often an expression of projection that reflects deep resentment or the unfulfilled wishes of the parent on a family member. Sometimes it is a resentment shared between both parents and projected on a child who they have identified as the “scapegoat”. The scapegoat in unhealthy families are usually children who are targeted for blame because the parents need to fault the child to avoid taking ownership of a problem.  

 

They are dismissive of your feelings. 

A healthier family is more prone to being encouraging or supportive especially in difficult times. But the unhealthy family member is often unconcerned of your feelings or even your opinion. The extent of their dismissal of you may show up as disagreement with you even if you are right. In severe cases, if you attempted to approach them to resolve a disagreement, they may even resort to convincing you as the problem. In this focus, they could convince you to see that you are the problem rather than to problem-solve in search of a solution that has mutual benefits.

 

They often make threats.

Physical altercations are not the only signs when the relationship or behaviour is unhealthy. Making threats especially when repeated is often employed as a means of control. This is going beyond anger which is a common feeling within long-term relationships. Anger is a sign when someone feels offended, frustrated or hurt. But the use of threats goes beyond anger to become an instrument of intimidation or domination, and a misuse of power. It is a common  behaviour of abusive individuals.

 

They are controlling.

There is a difference between control from healthy parenting and unhealthy parenting. Healthy parenting is focused on what is in the child’s best interests. When discipline is exercised, it is done to facilitate learning for the child. In unhealthy parenting, control is displayed more because it is primarily attentive to the parents’ wishes and not in the best interests of the child. This is often expressed when the parent becomes forceful and induces fear on the child so that the parent can feel powerful or have his or her way. This control can also be applied between couples or siblings. The family member is expected to take the role of submission in their engagement for the controlling person to be pacified. 

 

Additional signs for concern in this area is suggested by (a) prohibition of personal decision-making that is good for the family member, (b) issues of appropriate concern are denied from being raised for discussion, (c) material resources such as money or food are used to manipulate the family member towards submission, (d) there is direct restrictions into personal choices pertaining to clothes, appearances, spending, friendships, or even use of time, and (e) there is an opposition towards the family member becoming independent, to be separated from the unhealthy individual, or for the family member to be individuated (mature to become their own person) over time. Between couples, a controlling spouse is often violating the boundaries of his or her spouse. It is as if the controlled spouse is not allowed to be free to exercise his or her own choices.

 

They confuse punishment with discipline.

Discipline is the means to teach someone to abide by a code of conduct, or correction for a child to learn right from wrong. But for the unhealthy individual, punishment or discipline occurs when there is no lesson to be learned. It shows up usually because the person is unhappy for some reason. Their need to lash out is their attempt to vent out their anger or rage even if it becomes hurtful to others, and they feel justified conducting themselves this way. At other times, this punishment is expressed through passive aggressive behaviours when “silent treatment” is employed instead of yelling or shouting. Or the punishing behaviour is excessive and disproportionate to the action or event.

 

Unhealthy parents take sibling rivalries or ‘misbehaviour’ to the extreme.

This usually occurs when the unhealthy parent is resentful of all his or her children. They may feel that having children (or marriage) have become a personal cost to them because of the responsibilities required for the care of the children. They feel prevented or deprived of their freedom and so the children or family member are to blame. Or this could show up with a parent showing favourites to one child over the others. In the course of sibling rivalry, the unhealthy parents is revealed by (a) blaming one child more severely over the other and consistently, (b) humiliating the scapegoated child, or (c) the unhealthy parent experience the sibling rivalry or conflict as a personal or vindictive act against the parent.

 

Strategies for Coping with Unhealthy Parents or domineering spouses and/or siblings

It may be a sad reality that parents can consider themselves parents simply because the infant is born following his or her physical birth. But beyond the biology, the emotional maturity, readiness or mental health can often be found lacking in parents to create the healthy conditions for the infant to develop or thrive. Controlling family members who are narcissistic in nature are also more interested in their control than the well-being of others. When family members regularly display the above behaviours, there is a need for concern. Given the potential for mental distress, developmental disruption and suffering, the following strategies may be essential to assist in coping.

 

Know that you are your own person.

Although you may share some traits or the same family name with your parents, remember that you are not 100% of the same people who raised you. If you recognise that your parents are emotionally unhealthy, understand that you do not need to follow their same values or behavioural patterns. When you realise that you have been hurt by them repeatedly and their use of authority serves their own interests over your needs to develop in a healthy way, be ready to break away from their self-serving values to work towards a healthy development for yourself. Explore to find healthy models of functioning among others to seek their influence over your lives rather than what is practiced at home.

 

Create space for your own emotions to nurture your own sense of self.

The unhealthy parent, spouse or sibling often do not respect your personal boundaries. They may deny your personal space or your feelings because they are preoccupied with their own. They may not discuss matters out or they may attempt to deny an essential part of who you are. While they deny how you may feel in their relationship with you, this does not mean you cannot acknowledge or express your own feelings by blogging or journalling.

 

Find supportive relationships elsewhere.

When your family members have made themselves unapproachable, you can turn to others for support instead. Friends, teachers, counsellors, or colleagues are often available to relate to who engage with a healthier appreciation for you. You do not need to go through difficulties alone. So find a support system from those who appreciate you for who you are and who value you in the person you can become.

 

Understand that your parent, spouse or siblings may have narcissistic tendencies or a self-serving biases so set your expectations low in conversations with them.

Unhealthy parents, spouses or siblings highlight the need to understand mental illness. Having to engage family members who have already discounted you, or hold you in contempt is often more reflective of them than of you. For this reason, understanding if they have a narcissistic or anti-social personality or tendencies is useful to recognise their biases. You may wish to have deep, meaningful or respectful conversations with them. But since this is not possible for those who are narcissistic or anti-social in nature, keeping exchanges brief and light is best to minimise stress or conflict.  

 

Be prepared to employ diversion tactics in conversation.

Being diversionary may not be appreciated in social circles. But if your family member is controlling or looking for conflict, having a mutually respectful conversation may not be possible. As such, their attempts to dominate or argue can be diverted. For example, if they choose to criticise your choice about what you bought, you can note their comment while affirming your choice. Then this can be followed up by you changing the topic. This may allow you to have some control while you may be under attacked.  

 

Recognise the traits that make you an easy prey.

For some, the need to dominate can be influenced by their perception that you have difficulty standing up for yourself. Their view that you are unable to be firm in protecting yourself may appear as an invitation to them to bully or dominate. Learning to stand your ground will help to establish yourself as deserving of respect.  

 

Expect their angry response but do not surrender to it.

Your attempts to hold your ground or establish personal boundaries may be seen as a threat to the controlling parent or spouse. They see it as a challenge to their need to dominate or control. As such, anger can be employed as their weapon. It is important to not be paralysed by the person and to remember that you still have power. This power may not be accepted by them but you have power nevertheless. You can continue to pursue what is clearly in your best interests despite the threats and anger they express. Choosing the right timing to pursue your interests with them may be required. Or being able to refer to the credibility of someone else with authority on the subject may be helpful to borrow these views to help you to hold your position. 

 

Aim to be self-sufficient and independent.

The need to establish your healthy sense of self and personal integrity is important. Your own mental health depends on it. In the face of parents or family members who are clearly focused against your best interests in pursuit of their own interests, you can set goals to be financially independent in order to become autonomous with what is needed to establish your own integrity and identity. Unhealthy parents often employ money as a means of keeping the child dependent. As such, learning to budget and be self-financing will help to establish your independence from them.

 

Do not accept abusive behaviour and the effects of it.

Recognising the signs of mistreatment from abusive parents, spouses or siblings should allow you to feel the anger you have reason to feel. Often these people may also engage in seduction or manipulation to downplay their dysfunction and hide their mistreatment of you. Being able to recognise their self-serving bias and the potential damage that this can create is important to not allow them to justify it. If their mistreatment is justified, it is more likely that you could minimise the damage and practice it yourself.  

 

If the abuse is persistent or violent, be prepared to get help and seek shelter and protection outside the family. 

This is hard to do for children but the sad reality is that some parents are poorly prepared to parent or they are mentally ill when they decided to have children. It is a sad and tragic reality that children have died from neglect, abuse or mistreatment while in the hands of their parents or caregivers. Children have been starved, exploited, tortured in the hands of violent, mentally ill parents. This has also occurred between couples as indicated by one spouse being regularly abused by another. Abuse can be physical, emotional and/or sexual, and they can happen between couples and on children within a marital or family system. If only one parent is aggressive or violent, the other parent has to be prepared to seek shelter to protect themselves or their children. If in the case of one parent being violent and the other parent ignores the child being abused, the children need to be protected from both parents.

 

This article is a call to alert those who may be suffering within families. Tragically, there are hidden dangers that vulnerable family members may be exposed to. They may already be suffering in subtle or obvious ways at the hands of unhealthy, abusive or emotionally damaging family members. Our collective concern for the weak calls out for us to be sensitive to when this danger is present within our community to protect the vulnerable among us.

 

 

 

References:

Faubion, D. (2020, Apr). Toxic family dynamics: the signs and how to cope with them.

Chen, C. (2015, Feb 25). What to do when the toxic people in your life are (unfortunately) your parents. The Huffington Post.

Streep, P. (2016, Dec 14). 8 strategies for dealing with the toxic people in your life. Psychology Today.

Thorpe, J. (2015, Sep 18). 7 tips for dealing with toxic parents. Bustle.