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.
And I’m very interested in looking at addictive processes, often anxiety and depression, and working with these kind of diagnoses — but with the person. Yes, we work with people who might want to take medication alongside, but I’m really interested in the person. There is no point in me telling you techniques of parenting for prevention. I can’t tell you those things, unless you get comfortably in your own shoes, and you have self-respect, and you maintain that, because then, whomever you’re talking to, cannot shoot the messenger.
So, when I am thinking about how somebody feels, if I was to ask some of you in the audience how you feel, maybe not now but another time, you might say something like, “Fine.”
And I’m thinking, “Well, I still don’t know how you feel.”
And then you’ll say, “Okay,”
And I’m thinking, “Well, I still don’t know how you feel. What are the feelings you experience?”
And then people often feel embarrassed, or awkward, or, “I don’t know what you’re asking me. I don’t know what you mean by a feeling.”
And I’m thinking, “Really. Stop. How do you feel?”
Because if you know the feelings that you’re having, then you have a chance of taking responsibility and representing yourself in the world with dignity and with respect.
So, when I was working with a teacher with this child in her classroom, she was very excited, and this little girl used to want attention, she’d go, “Please, please. I’m so excited. I’ll get it, I’ll get it.” Very excited.
And the teacher would say, “For goodness sake, Mandy, will you calm down.”
And the child will be (gasps) — shame.
And we talked about this, so the child would still get very excited, and then she’d start to displace and take hostages and get other people to giggle. And the teacher started to say, “She’s very disruptive.”
And then this girl started to say, “I’m so excited.” Bang. And she’d slam her hand on the desk or on the wall.
And when we were talking, I was thinking, this is her external way of managing her emotions. This little girl does not know how to handle excitement and possibly the other end of the scale, depression. So we need to look at that child and think, “You need to be taught how to handle your excitement, instead of being labeled as difficult.” Because as a parent body, a child is a heat-seeking missile for what they want. I have no idea how many of you are parents, but I am a parent, and I know that children are heat-seeking missiles for what they want. They will come at the parent, as the person who’s going to deliver that.
And the parent, generally speaking, will do one of two things: “For goodness sake, will you leave me alone!”
And the child goes into shame, fear, “Have I hurt my parent?” “What’s wrong with me?”
Or: “Go on, then; do exactly what you want.” Entitled behavior.
So when this parent next time tries to hold a boundary — I’m going to say no — the child will say, “Somewhere around here is that button, that if I press it hard enough, I get what I want!”