Here is the full transcript of addiction and parenting expert Mandy Saligari’s TEDx Talk on Feelings: Handle Them Before They Handle You at TEDxGuildford conference. This event took place on April 13, 2017.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Feelings- Handle them before they handle you by Mandy Saligari at TEDxGuildford
Mandy Saligari – Founder and Clinical Director of CHARTER
I’m an addictions therapist. I’m also a recovering addict. I’m a parent and I do a lot of work now in the field of recovery and looking at addiction, looking at mental health, and most importantly, looking at early intervention and what is the one thing that we could really home in on, that will be the best preventative measure. And I think that that falls into those two little words: self-esteem.
But self-esteem is a very well-known phrase, but what actually is it? And I think that in its kind of core, self-esteem is how I feel about myself, and therefore how I treat myself, therefore how I behave.
When I say to people, “I’m a recovering addict,” they say things like, “What were you addicted to?” And I kind of yawn, you know? It’s not about what I’m addicted to or was addicted to, this is about why would I use something outside of myself, in an attempt to fix how I feel, to the detriment of myself?
So my first message to you, really, is that addiction isn’t the drug of choice, of which, I believe, there are probably 15 or 16 regular manifestations of addiction. But it is the pattern of delegating, of outsourcing your emotional process on to something else that backfires.
So there’s nothing more normal than any of you, or indeed anyone who might be sitting next to me at a dinner party who’s having a drink, and they’re having a nice time and relaxing, and they turn to me and say, “What do you do for a living?”
And I say, “You might want to finish your drink first” because my experience is that you will get really defensive when I say, “I’m an addictions therapist!” I either get, “Oh, do you know what? I think that I’ve been drinking quite a lot” or “I’m worried about my daughter,” whatever, or I get, “I don’t usually drink this much, I’ve just had a really big week.”
We’re very defensive about being seen, really being seen. You know, when you walk down the street you trip over, the first thing you don’t do is go “Ow,” the first thing you do is say, “Oh, who saw that?”
My experience of my vulnerability, my experience of what it’s like for me to be in the world and to be seen is exactly what makes me want to defend myself, control a little bit what you think of me, how you see me, your access to me. And that’s normal.
But if you’re like me or like millions of other people like me, and you have had, if you like, an upbringing or an experience in your life that means that very early on, your experience of vulnerability was one that left you afraid and uncertain, and actually, what you wanted to do was get out of your skin, leave that behind, and be someone else. And maybe, in that kind of naught to six years, you might want to be a ‘good girl.’ Let’s just say that in the environment where there is a family and there is somebody of high need — it’s nobody’s fault — but there’s somebody who has high need in that family, they’re depressed, or they’re anxious, or they’re angry, or they’re unhappy, or they’re ill in some way.
Let’s say the child has a sibling who is high-maintenance, and they see all the family resources looking after this child, all of them worrying about this child. And the sibling will say, “Do you know what? I don’t want to ask anything of the family system. I’ll give to it; I’ll be a good girl.
So when mum needs help, I’ll say: ‘I’ll lay the table.’ ‘I’ll go and get my brother for supper.’ ‘That’s okay. No, I’ve already done my homework.’
And my mum says, ‘Where would I be without you? Where would I be without you? You’re my good girl.’ And I’m all validated.
And then I go to school, and I do tidy-up time, and when a new girl comes in I show her around. I’m quite happy to do that. And the parents hear: “Such a nice child to have around. Really doesn’t get into all of those cliques.”
And then that child goes to secondary school, and this is when I as a therapist meet the parents, who say, “My daughter’s fallen in with a bad crowd.” I don’t really believe in a bad crowd, by the way. My question to the parents is: why would your daughter feel at home around people who are troubled? Tell me. Tell me something about her family background that would indicate why she might feel comfortable around troubled people. Why is it her role to be an emotional shock absorber, a rock, a good girl, a nice girl — “Don’t worry about me; I’ll be all right. Let’s worry about you.”
And I bet your bottom dollar that later on, she will fall in love with someone who is high-maintenance. She will translate those feelings, about who she is and how she feels about herself, as love. Her eyes will meet across the bar against someone, and of course this person is going to be high-maintenance. And they will demand that she stays in that role of caretaker, that she stays in that role of giving — “Don’t worry about me. Let’s worry about you.”
And as a result, she is likely to end up running on empty, because she doesn’t know how to take for herself, and actually, as a child, she learned that: “I’m not going to take from the family system. I’ll just be a good girl. I’ll get my validation that way.” So her giving is conditional: “If I’m a good girl, will you like me?”
So all my giving, all my comforting when you’re crying is: if you’re crying, and I come and comfort you, and you don’t feel better, I feel like I’ve failed. So as your caretaker in this particular role, you will feel obliged to feel better when I start to comfort you.
Now, you might wonder why I’m talking about this, and the reason I’m talking about this is because high-maintenance individuals will always attract the compulsive caretaker. You must always have this formula of somebody else, if you like, picking up the pieces of the other person. The enablement that allows somebody to be the emotional shock absorber, somebody to be sweeping up the pieces after somebody else’s mistakes.
And when I meet those people later on, and they may have children themselves, and the children treat them with no respect, and they say, “Why? Why? I do everything. After all I’ve done for you, and you treat me like this.”
And I look at them and I think, “You’re running on empty. Why are you running on empty, and why is your giving so conditional?”
And they will often present with depression or anxiety, they will present with symptoms that they feel bad about having. And as a therapist, I am saying to you, I would like to go back to look at what is your ability to receive? What is your ability to say, “I need help”? What is your ability to say “no,”? What is your ability to have self-respect, so that you can look after yourself and therefore give generously from a place of abundance, instead of giving from a place that is running on empty, because your giving has come from there not being enough to go around.