On the death of an abusive parent

Photo by Brady, from a sidewalk in Long Beach. 2017.

“I don’t really know what I feel. What should I feel? I don’t think I’m sad, but maybe I am.”

The death of a parent is, at the most neutral developmental perspective, significant, for it simultaneously makes one more of a child and more of an adult. In less neutral terms, with that particular death comes the acute awareness that, though still a child in some regards, there is no longer a parent to turn to for comfort or guidance, as a child naturally does. However, when a parent is abusive or harmful, and that child never exactly felt safe going to their parent for comfort or guidance, a different kind of grieving is felt when that parent dies.

For context, I’ve sat with many people over the years as they have struggled to grasp hold of their words and feelings around the death of a parent, or parents, that abused, mistreated, abandoned, neglected, demeaned, belittled, and in many other countless ways didn’t love or didn’t attempt to love their children. With that, I don’t know of a single time I haven’t cried tears that weren’t fully my own. It is a deeply painful, but also deeply healing experience to grieve an abusive parent, and it is also healing to acknowledge that there wasn’t love where there should have been love.

To be bold, yes, I do draw that line in the sand: abusive parents didn’t love or attempt to love their child. Some may disagree, for instance if one child in that household felt loved, when another didn’t. However, even in the case of a parent having multiple children; one child being loved and cared for doesn’t take away from another child being abused or unloved. Regardless of how a particular sibling’s parental relationship operated, there are many ways that a child’s experience of their parental relationship may be discredited. All too often the expression, “they did the best they could,” is used to excuse, to minimize, and to enable that lack of parental love; the disharmony of that platitude is painfully sharp, and I can’t hear it otherwise. As an aside, the desire for others to offer that platitude, I have found, comes from the comforter’s own sense of denial, and their own desire to not see abusive parenting when it occurs. Too often, that denial presents as a hollow protectiveness of idealized parenting, because a “real parent” wouldn’t do that, and yet, a real parent did. In this way, many people don’t want to admit abuse, or to question if a parent is unloving, because doing so might mean re-evaluating their own perspective and feelings about their parents.

Sometimes all we can do in searching for words for our feelings, is to look for the fragments of those discarded feelings that are left behind.
Acknowledging abusive parents and unloving parents is challenging. Being surrounded by a culture and society that venerates parents, never questions a parent’s sense of “love” for their child, gives multiple holidays to parents, and shames any disrespectful or ungrateful child for questioning or for not unconditionally loving their parent, makes it all the harder to feel the ache of being parented by an abusive and unloving parent. In many ways, therapy is even mocked for calling out abusive parenting, because, “it’s all about blaming the parents,” which silences any discussion about the pain and traumas that parents can uniquely inflict upon their children. And yet, not calling out how parents can cause irreparable harm to their children is to be complicit in that harm.

So what is a child to do? Placate those around them with a fanciful narrative that their parent must have had redeeming qualities? No. If a parent wanted to be respected by their child in their legacy, they needed to respect their child over the course of their child’s entire life. Sure, a parent can be competent in child-rearing up until the child’s third birthday, thereby granting their child some emotional and psychoanalytic resources for the child’s coming adulthood, but that parent could also cause undue harm from when the child is three years old to forty-three years old, infecting and eroding what fealty they, the parent, may feel entitled to. It isn’t the job of the child to make the parent feel better about their choices, and yet, many children take on that role.

This, sadly, is the twist that those grieving abusive and unloving parents feel; though the parent may have abandoned the relationship long ago, the child may still want the parent to change, wanting that love, even if it hasn’t ever been felt, somehow proving it is there after all. Which is a certain protectiveness that children, even of abusive parents, painfully demonstrate. And yet, with the death of that parent, when they are ready, they can learn to not be as protective of a person that wasn’t as protective of them.

In some ways, healing can tangibly begin when abusive parents are dead. They can no longer hurt their children. The feelings of grief then, is that in death, that parent can no longer change and learn to do right by their children; a possible loving parental relationship is forever ended; a loving childhood has never, and will never, come to be. This definitive moment of clarity, that one’s parent is no longer alive and the experience of parental love, though long wanted and never felt, can’t come to pass, is to be mourned. Mourned, not for the parent, but for the lost childhood. And those childish tears, if they come at all, are right to be shed.

Sometimes all we can do in searching for words for our feelings, is to look for the fragments of those discarded feelings that are left behind.

And for those who have recently or long lost an abusive parent: I am so sorry. You deserved so much better.

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn the death of an abusive parent

On loving someone with depression

All generalities are false“I don’t know how to talk to her. She’s so depressed, angry, and shutoff, and everything I say she takes the wrong way. I’m just worried I’m going to say the wrong thing and she’s going to…”

Whenever I hear someone say these words to me, I hear a heart break. Mine does too. I also hear the implicit broken idea, painful as it is to admit, that simply loving someone should be enough to help them. What goes implied, but acutely felt, is how humbling if humiliating it can be to come to the realization that love isn’t enough. I wish love was all we needed, but it takes much more, specifically, more relational skills that many aren’t innately equipped with, or properly trained in using, to love someone struggling through depression.

There is a tremendous amount of hurt, guilt, pain, and conflicted feelings that comes with loving someone who struggles with depression, and in large ways those feelings can make matters worse if they are unaddressed or unresolved. There are conflicted feelings, especially because the person you love, because of depression, is hurting themselves; simultaneously, your loved one is both the person being hurt, and the person hurting someone you love. The nuances and difficulties in loving someone who has depression are immense, and the feelings therein are as difficult and nuanced.

Perhaps worse of all, if those feelings are worked through or processed with someone who is depressed, it may only serve to make them feel more guilty, more depressed, more defeated at what they may feel is irreparable harm to you, to their relationship with you, and to themselves. Which is to say, it’s best for those feelings to be processed, and those relational skills to be built, with your own therapist, support structures, and friends that have been through similar relationship dynamics. Looking to the person that is depressed to help you help them, well, puts an extra level of expectation and responsibility on them that they may not have the capacity to give, and they can use that as additional reason to be depressed.

This may all read as completely overwhelming to you, and a whole other mindset to helping someone with depression, that it is a lot of homework on your end, and emotional labor, and it may very well be; generic advice doesn’t help, but an altogether different approach to relating can help. With this in mind… here are some skills and thoughts to keep in mind when loving someone with depression, knowing that loving someone is about hand-tailoring a style of interacting, and not relying on generic, if expected, interactions that might work in most relationships.

A big skill in loving someone with depression is recognizing that many expressions of love and kindness are going to be felt with innumerable unspoken caveats. Examples:

“It was so good seeing you today (but it wasn’t fun being with you last week).”

“I’m glad to see you are going to the gym and taking care of yourself (because actually seeing symptoms of your depression bother me more).”

“It’s great that you are talking to your therapist (and not to me, because I don’t want to hear it).”

There are conflicted feelings, especially because the person you love, because of depression, is hurting themselves; simultaneously, your loved one is both the person being hurt, and the person hurting someone you love.
Knowing and recognizing that most anything that you say will likely be heard with unspoken accusations, whether those accusations are true or not, is the skill. Anxiously trying to prevent those unspoken additions from being projected onto what you say, unfortunately, is not the skill and will only dilute the message. Which is to say, there isn’t exactly a better way to say: “it was good to see you today,” but there are plenty of worse ways to say it.

As a textbook anxious example, saying, “it was good to see you today, and also yesterday too when we hung out, but that doesn’t mean that yesterday was better than today, so don’t take it that way, I’m not simply saying that to sound nice, but I do like what we did today and I had fun, and I’m sorry I’m saying this the wrong way, so I’ll shut up right now,” is making it worse. This causes more injury in being said. If anything more is to be said, it needs to center what occurred (i.e. what coffee/carb was had over conversation, what changes/new exercises were in the workout, what insights or growth happened in therapy, etc.), rather than the depression (i.e. their mood being better, their not isolating, practicing self-care, etc) that would simply come across as forced positive reinforcement. Talking about what occurred, rather than why what occurred was good for their mental health, is a far more neutral edit, and relationally smoother.

Believing that one isn’t worthy of a person that has those developed relational skills is another way to beat oneself up, so is feeling awful that someone developed skills to better relate. If someone you love struggles with depression, they can, because depression is insidious in this regard, use the thought of someone learning how to better relate as ammunition against themselves.

What goes implied, but acutely felt, is how humbling and humiliating it can be to come to the realization that love isn’t enough.
In other words, it hurts to not be able to comfort someone you love; though it hurts too to be inconsolable, to be the seemingly awful person that is the one rejecting what solace is being offered. In many ways those with depression are hurting, but in many more ways they perseverate on how much they are supposedly hurting others, are a burden, are terrible for others, and a net negative in every equation. That’s not something that a person can easily solve with the, “right words,” to get someone out of their depression. Allowing someone to feel their own way, while remaining clear on your end that you feel differently, while not minimizing their feelings, is the only way through that relational conflict. Otherwise it can become an argument of who is the best judge of who harmed the relationship, and who is more right. It needn’t be. Allowing someone to have their thoughts and feelings, without trying to convince them otherwise, or to make your feelings more valid, more right, or more accurate, serves to bring someone closer; not doing so, and making your feelings matter more, only serves to further divide relationships.

As a more psychologically resonant word, I also call this ability: spaciousness. To me, spaciousness is the emotionally expansive landscape, where emotions may exist without narrow confines. Or in less psychobabble language: someone else’s emotions are allowed to simply be, to simply exist, and aren’t twisted into anything that they aren’t. So, depression is allowed to be, allowed to breathe and to heal, and it isn’t used as a sign of mental weakness, a symptom of personal wrongdoing, a moral failing, and not used to make one a bad friend, a cold lover, a failed parent, or any other seemingly unhealthy thing. Many people, though thinking they are trying to break through to a person with depression, go to these places of painting themselves as wrong, or the person with depression as wrong, which makes the depression deeper and harder to get out of.

Generic advice doesn’t help, but an altogether different approach to relating can help.
There are many ways to center your own pain in their depression. Making yourself responsible for their depression (i.e. I’m such an awful partner, that’s why they are depressed), responsible for not making it better (i.e. A parent should be able to make it right and help them), responsible for it worsening (i.e. If you only took my advice and got medication and listened to me it would get better, but I guess you don’t want to get better), and your pain (i.e. Seeing you so depressed scares me), shift the focus of who is hurting in regards to depression. Conversations about this, or even allude to this, with someone that is depressed compound the depression.

In truth, the pain of going through depression is different than the pain of someone you love going through depression. In relationships though, many arguments, spoken and unspoken alike, can arise with those that are depressed fighting about who is in the most pain. Being better able at recognizing when you, yourself, are feeling the desire to have your pain and frustration validated, and recognizing when you are about to take it out on those you love, is key. Ideally, that growing self awareness of how much you are struggling to love them becomes a reminder to seek out your own care, and seek out validation of your feelings elsewhere, and not devolve into conflicts where your frustration, your difficulty in getting through, your doing all you can and not seeing change, are argued.

Being able to give a person space, without abandoning or distancing, is perhaps the most essential tool in loving someone with depression. Otherwise, you are forcing them to get better, forcing them to get medication or into therapeutic treatment against their wishes, or at worse, forcing them to simply look better for your sake, and not their own.

Two books I highly recommend to people that have loved one’s with depression is I don’t want to talk about it by Terrence Real, and How to be an adult in relationships by David Richo. Real does an amazing job of describing the way depression is the compounded process of shutting down, and shutting others out. He works with men, and mostly writes for men and those struggling in their relationships with depressed men, but there is a lot of insight about depression and its nuanced presentation if you’re able to read between the lines. The other book, by Richo, is written primarily for romantic partnerships, but is broadly applicable to any relationship between adults. The foundational skills in that book are incredibly and broadly applicable to loving someone with depression, and as homework it is one of the first foundational books I recommend.

Yes. Offering support by way of therapy, medication, or residential treatment are all ways of helping. Those gestures, even if sincere, can also be felt by the person that is depressed as your own way of distancing yourself from their depression, or potentially used against them as proof of their personal failing. That interpretation might be hard to understand, but I’ve heard it discussed countless times as a therapist working with those that are depressed. In working with those that love someone that is depressed, what solace I can provide to you is that there truly aren’t right words, and I wish there were.

If you think that loving someone with depression is about saying the right thing, that is putting a lot of extra responsibility and worry and guilt on your part for fixing their depression. Although we might like to think that our love is enough to save someone, to help them cope, to help them enjoy their life, to keep them living, it’s difficult, and painfully humbling, to admit that it isn’t enough. While love alone isn’t enough to help them fully recover, you can not abandon them, use their depression to think less of them, or give up simply because it is hard for you. You can keep wanting and offering to talk to them, and also be okay with them not accepting your offer. It is hard for them too, and not giving up on them, and still reaching out without expectation of how you will be received, goes a long way in loving them.

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn loving someone with depression

On stopping the nagging

On stopping the nagging. Photo by Brady. 2017

” She just won’t stop nagging. She gets so angry… the rage… it triggers me. I have so many flashbacks of all her anger, all her rage, and all her nagging. It needs to stop.”

Here we go.

I work with many people in relationships. I wish I saw most of them, either individually or collectively, years, if not decades, prior, so I could help them navigate conflicts, and become more accustomed to open conflict as necessary for a working relationship. Openly bringing up grievances, openly bringing up disagreements, and openly bringing up different approaches to the same problem; to me, all of these fall into the general category of open conflict.

In general, a lot of couples don’t have the clarity to recognize when both parties are right in their respective arguments, or the clarity to discern when several arguments are haphazardly, and hastily if desperately, had at the same time. So, to scorecard a typical argument I’ve refereed more times than I can count: one party bring up the problem of needing to use coasters, for instance, and another party counter arguing that cups with hot liquid don’t need coasters, and then the original party counters that counter with the problem of how disrespectful a partner is being, and then is met with a counter on the second counter with another problem of how the nagging is the real problem… all the while the coasters go unused and the coffee table gets a little more damaged, intentionally, each day. In this, the problem of not using coasters still goes unseen when all the other conversations are used to kitchen sink someone.

The problem is generally the problem; talking about a problem, isn’t.
However, problems are rarely addressed as problems, and relationships unconsciously devolve into these contracted positions where seemingly one person has a problem that another person doesn’t see/acknowledge/respect as a problem. Thus: nagging ensues.

I could stop right there, and simply point to the difference in one person being aware of a problem (i.e. using coasters) and another person refusing to be aware of the problem, and that any person refusing to see a problem only wants a problem to continue. They may get something out of the problem existing, either objective (i.e. a cleaning staff to pick up after their own disregard) or subjective (i.e. a feeling of control in their environment by taking up all the space and leaving none for others) or both, but they have an interest in maintaining the problem. With this, any acknowledgment of the problem, any attempt to discuss it, must be attacked, must be challenged, must be heard as nagging, to maintain the problem and win the argument. Unfortunately, whichever party is arguing for the problem to remain and the nagging to stop, in truth, is fighting a losing battle.

The problem is generally the problem; talking about a problem, isn’t. If it is, well, then that is a red flag that one party in a relationship doesn’t care about, value, or even respect, the other party.

There’s really no other way to say it.

If taking about a problem is a problem, then that says something foundational about a relationship, and it is an altogether different conversation to be had at another time. And if I can give arbitrary advice, the second level conversation about talking about the problem needs to happen after the first one: the initial problem.

Whichever party is arguing for the problem to remain and the nagging to stop, in truth, is fighting a losing battle.
There’s also a different kind of nagging style, perhaps one that you might not consider nagging at all: silent nagging. I call silent nagging those internal if incessant screams about a problem, that are never made externally. A problem, an irk, a peeve, or whatever minimizing language is used for your own strategic advantage, is kept hidden and solved in silence and in the shadows. The silent nagging does function to solve a problem, sure, but not calling it out or acknowledging it to the other person, so that you maintain the higher ground of solving a problem and keeping someone else from knowing there is a problem, has an insidious cost: uneven and unseen distance in a relationship.

Stopping this kind of nagging means not keeping a problem unseen or unacknowledged.

The only way to stop someone from nagging is to not hear discussions of problems as nagging at all, then, actually look at the problem and look at your relationship to that problem in particular. I’m always in favor of having those second level discussions of: how come you don’t see this as a problem? And really get into it. From a respect standpoint, from an efficiency standpoint, from a safety standpoint; all the angles you can see. Full-tilt explore how they see no problem with themselves or their behavior whatsoever.

True, there are many different ways to do right by someone, and there are many seen and unseen ways that we can do wrong by another person. It is challenging to see how we have wronged those we love, how we have created problems and burdens and wounds simply from not knowing. It is necessary to take on this challenge, so that a relationship can be nurtured and grow. Otherwise, they’ll only nag, you’ll only get angrier, all because you need to win.

To me, this feels more like losing the opportunity to have a working relationship.

 

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn stopping the nagging

On abusive and nonabusive relationships

On abusive and nonabusive relationships. Photo by Brady. Taken at Burning Man 2016

On abusive and nonabusive relationships. Photo by Brady. Taken at Burning Man 2016

“Brady, I just don’t know. Am I in an abusive relationship?”

Truthfully, this conversation comes up so often, and I love what happens when it does. There’s so much education and personal growth opportunities in these conversations, as frustrating and scary as they may be to have, that in many ways these conversations become important and necessary.

To start, it can be difficult to honestly ask yourself if a relationship you are in is abusive or not. It’s challenging even approaching that conversation because it means admitting that things probably aren’t exactly as you’d like them to be. Importantly, there is a huge distinction between being in a relationship that is great, that isn’t exactly as you’d like, or nonabusive, and being in one that is abusive.

What is nonabusive, you may ask? Well, figuring it out means discerning the vast spectrum of neutral relational behavior that isn’t exactly abusive, hostile, or trauma inducing. Neutral, like, offering a friend hot chamomile tea when they aren’t having caffeine, asking a friend to go for an afternoon run, allowing another person to initiate a conversation, unsolicited advice, and the like. Is any of that implicitly abusive? I’d offer: not really. Now, some of those may be things someone would absolutely love, and they would probably call them healthy or loving, and for some, they would call it unwanted or abusive. However, from my vantage point, many relational actions are neutral, but are interpreted as healthy or abusive, not necessarily because they are implicitly one way or the other.

To this end, deciphering if another person’s actions in a relationship are abusive or not is more than simply figuring out what is healthy and what is abusive, but more closely determining what is done, first, and how it is felt, second. It is a two-fold process, with lots of extra subprocesses throughout, which, in many ways, people quickly want to be a singular and simple process. This is where I find a lot of people reaching for convenient answers of whether or not a relationship is abusive, convincing themselves to stay in or leave a relationship based on what they want it to be more than what is actually happening.

Many relational actions are neutral, but are interpreted as healthy or abusive, not necessarily because they are implicitly one way or the other.
Categorically, I see it as people making a quick decision to end, or stay in, a relationship without going further to figure out what is happening without what they want it to be, which would look like seeing behavior as: healthy that is felt as abusive, neutral that is felt as abusive, abusive that is felt as abusive, healthy that is felt as healthy, neutral that is felt as healthy, abusive that is felt as healthy, healthy that is felt as neutral, neutral that is felt as neutral, and even abusive that is felt as neutral. Thats a lot of angles that a relationship can be seen from, and very rarely do persons consider relational actions from all of those perspectives, which can be intimidating. With all of that, the most common thing I see is one person conveniently deciding what another person’s actions are rather than spending some time examining what is occurring and allowing the room for multiple possibilities beyond a basic dichotomy.

My caveat here cannot be made enough: those with a personal history of being in traumatic and abusive relationships have an even harder time distinguishing between nonabusive and abusive relationships. Some of this, well, a large part of this, is because of the nature of abuse and trauma. To vastly oversimplify, being in a relationship with a person that is abusive, whether physically, sexually, emotionally, socially, or financially, also is to be in a tenuous state of interpreting behavior. Anything other than overtly warm and loving actions are often felt as soon-to-be hostile or hostile; there is no grey. And there really isn’t warmth, either, only a tacit knowing that it can get much worse.

Something not bad, isn’t automatically good; nor is something actually bad because it wasn’t felt as absolutely good.
So for those that have had a history of trauma with intimate partners, it can feel like the difference between abusive and soon-to-be abusive, which is hard to unlearn, especially when nonabusive and healthy relationships are such foreign experiences. It is hard to learn what a healthy relationship can look like, and what nonabusive behavior looks like, and how to see it for what it is, when you’ve a compromised initial idea as a foundational premise.

Or as I like to think of it, it is hard to distinguish gentle touch or firm touch over deep emotional scar tissue, when you only seem to feel rough touch.

The huge challenge with all of this, then, is being able to see abuse when it is there, rather than simply convincing yourself that it must be there.
Admittedly, it is challenging to figure a lot of this out, especially without a professional to help decipher what is going on. I’m not admitting this as a professional in private practice looking for more business, but as a person that has seen many relationships implode because one party convinced themselves what was happening was abusive, or wasn’t, and couldn’t see other perspectives. The huge challenge with all of this, then, is being able to see abuse when it is there, rather than simply convincing yourself that it must be there.

But, if I’m to give generic, decontextualized if impersonal advice, it would be this: in many ways, all relationships will have boundary violations, and those need to happen, and those violations aren’t implicitly abusive. Boundary violations will exist simply because other people aren’t us, so there will be a learning curve for better understanding how to do right by others. Implicit to a learning curve is being aware that a person is trying to do right by you, and that can be difficult to see when you’ve been wronged. Ideally, in all relationships it can be seen and felt when boundary violations occur, are addressed, and greater awareness of how to do right by both parties is openly discussed. It can also be seen when those pieces aren’t there. Things only become abusive when another person consistently doesn’t care or disregards another person’s pain, avoids or denies the idea that they might be wrong, and has little concept of the consequences of their actions. That can be very hard to see, both when you are being abused, and when you are abusing.

In many ways, it’s difficult to change your response to, to change how you feel, another’s actions. Something not bad, isn’t automatically good; nor is something actually bad because it wasn’t felt as absolutely good. Which is to say: ideally, we grow to feel things as they are, and experience others as they are, and less how we want them to be.

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn abusive and nonabusive relationships

On ghosting

On ghosting. Photo by Brady. 2016.

On ghosting. Photo by Brady. 2016

“I don’t know what it is that I am doing wrong, doc. And it must be me, right? Guys don’t just disappear on you like that. They can’t all be like that. Can they? I mean, I am the common denominator. This sucks. I’m done.”

The paraphrased sentiment above, though I hear it coming from different people, pertaining to different forms and stages of relationships, nevertheless points to an altogether too familiar problem that too many people face. Being in a relationship, or even starting a relationship, and it abruptly ending, not with a conscious decision to end it from the agreement of all parties, but from one person unilaterally ending it and not telling the other person that it was ended, is the operation of being ghosted.

It is deeply unsettling and uncomfortable for so many reasons. Notably, the person left behind is alone in figuring out what went wrong, what didn’t work, what they did do or didn’t do that caused distance, and they can never fully come to understand what happened because that other person isn’t there to answer the questions. Any empty, if conciliatory, answers one gives oneself, even if kind or compassionate, aren’t the needed answers from the other person, which makes ghosting all that harder to endure. There is no ability to answer the, “why,” of their absence. Therein lies much of confusion and bewilderment that happens in the wake of being ghosted.

And it must be me, right?”

Ideally, when persons decides to end a relationship together, in surveying the damage done, both parties can theoretically walk away with more discernible challenges and areas of growth, so that they can be better for their next relationship or for their own personal growth. Without knowing what one did do, or what one didn’t do, substantive growth is unreachable. And this goes for all parties involved.

The above blanket statement aside, walking away from a relationship without deciding together to end it isn’t ghosting in an abusive relationship. I can’t stress this caveat enough: for all parties in those abusive dynamics know what happened, even if it is hard to acknowledge.

Figuring out if someone ghosted you or didn’t ghost you does take some careful, and perhaps clinical, consideration. Being ghosted hinges, largely, on you being present in a relationship while they are absent. It isn’t something as simple as them not texting back. For example, it is them not texting back in the middle of planning communications, after you asked them what they are doing tomorrow night for dinner. There is a distinct difference there. Some people conflate the two kinds of non-responsiveness, which is to say: you might both be ghosts.

Before we even get into what to do about others being a ghost, or a potential ghost, a big part of the problem is developing an awareness of one’s self and our own capacity to ghost.

Any empty, if conciliatory, answers one gives oneself, even if kind or compassionate, aren’t the needed answers from the other person, which makes ghosting all that harder to endure.

To do this, to not become someone else’s ghost, means clearly, and unambiguously, ending relationships with others, preferably with concrete reasons. If you think this is mean, so be it. Nevertheless, please do so. And give no hints. No, “I’m just in a weird place in my life.” No, “I don’t know if I can handle a relationship right now.” No, “I’m too busy this week.” No hints. Because, if you are irked in any way that they aren’t getting the hint that you aren’t interested, then you are oblivious to the fact that you are actively ghosting.

Searching your own heart to better understand why you do not want to pursue a relationship with someone, is a big challenge. A vague answer of, “I’m just not feeling it,” isn’t enough. It is a non-answer, and for their sake, and your sake, a concrete answer, of what exactly you, “aren’t feeling,” provides a place from which to grow. They may grow in changing themselves, or may not, but that is for their growth. You may grow, too, in holding a boundary, or eventually outgrow a boundary, but not with them, and that is okay too. But all parties involved have reasons to work with, on their own.

There isn’t nothing you can do about others being ghosts. You can do some self care strategies to prevent over-injury from being ghosted. I like to think of it as preventative care, or wound care, so the injury doesn’t get infected.

One big strategy for self care is to not over extend the relational effort. Relational effort is the felt sense of a relationship moving forward, and more mechanically, it looks like introducing yourself, planning a date, counter-offering if you can’t give your partner exactly what they want, following up on a conversation, etc.. Lacking relational effort would be the negative, or the absence, of effort: wanting someone to introduce themselves, having someone else plan the date, simply rejecting without counter-offering, not following up on a conversation. So not over extending the relational effort means being aware of how much you are putting in and how much, or how little, they are putting in, when it comes to the effort of relating.

Now this is where it gets tricky: being at peace with the amount of effort you put in, knowing you could do more, call more, ask them out one more time, send another text, and yet, knowing you can’t do their effort for them. It is tricky because there is the inherent possibility that they might not put any effort in and it ending, as much as the possibility that they might put in effort and grow the relationship. You are allowing it to grow, or fail, equally.

If you are irked in any way that they aren’t getting the hint that you aren’t interested, then you are oblivious to the fact that you are actively ghosting.

It takes a lot of self reflection, and a lot of practice, to fine tune that sense of effort and operate from a place that feels right for you and does right by others. Because, if you are doing all the effort, even with earnestness, sincerity, or love, you also aren’t allowing that other person to do their part. You might be efforting the whole relationship, doubling-down on effort, and subsequently liking them more because you are putting effort in. Meanwhile, you could be efforting a relationship that the other person doesn’t like or want to be in. Therein lies more insecurity, and vulnerability, in putting effort into a relationship.

They may not return the effort. And it can be incredibly hard to allow another person to fail in this way. However, being more aware and in tune with your relational effort and limits, means you are less likely to grow more attached to those more likely to ghost.

Even if you do everything “right,” there is still another person involved that can’t be controlled. They can’t be, and that’s actually a beautiful thing if you look closely enough at it. If you could control, exactly, when other people come and go in your life, always on your terms, and your terms alone, then you are sabotaging dynamic growth from occurring in your own life. You would only ever believe that you should always be in control of all of your relationships. Which leads to becoming more afraid, more defensive, and more tense in relationships, unable to allow them to grow. And yet, so much beauty and growth comes from actively doing your part, and only your part, of a relationship.

But yes. It hurts. To open up to a person, to want them in your life, to invest in cultivating a connection, and to be coldly left, is to be left without an ending to tangibly feel. They have become a ghost to a relationship you can’t exactly grieve. They hunger for something they lack the ability to taste; those hungry ghosts can’t be fed. Not by you. There is the hope that one day those ghosts may be able to feed themselves, to put effort into being with others, to be seen. And other than allowing them to be ghosts, you can also allow yourself to be at peace with knowing you did your part, and you could only do your part.

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn ghosting

On bloated resilience

Photo by Brady. 2016.

“Why can’t I just get better, Brady? It’s crazy! And no one knows. No one really knows how depressed I am. I’m such a fraud. I just can’t seem to get over it like I should! I’m crazy!”

Admittedly, when I conduct therapy, I deal with a lot of resiliency narratives that are slippery, insidiously undermining, and hard to dismantle. People can come into therapy wanting to conquer depression, cure anxiety, rid themselves of insecurities, overcome every obstacle, and succeed at life in the most positive way possible. To this point, one of the first agenda items I write in my notes is: lance this bloated idea of resilience.

Because it naïvely does more harm than good.

Because it, in itself, is a problem.

Resilience is that plucky idea that you can, and should, be able to bounce back from any difficulty. Moving to succeed, after failing, thus demonstrating resilience and fortitude, erases the emotional and psychological necessity of the full experience of failure. Not the experience of failure for the purpose of eventually growing to succeed. Not failure for the purpose of future humility, to redefine the failure as an actual success. Not failure for the purpose of redirection to focus on other avenues of success. Fully experiencing failure means embracing failure as is, of being defeated, of losing.

It is important to experience our failures as failures, and not anything else.

To this point, one of the first agenda items I write in my notes is: lance this bloated idea of resilience.
Before I write further, yes, there is the natural caveat that there are many things in life which are neither successes nor failures. As such, there is an implicit possibility to view one’s actions or one’s life as a success or failure, when there isn’t necessarily that necessity. When it is though, when something is done that is felt as a failure, then it is. It is a failure. As a shrink, I don’t challenge it, and in my work with others, I try to not challenge another’s experience as much as possible. With others, I don’t deny the feeling of failure, the feeling of can’t, or of won’t. If it feels like defeat, then it is. If it feels too heavy, too hard, or too much for someone, then it is not my place to deny that experience.

Dismantling resilience, in part, means accepting failure as it is, and not denying its presence, which is what so many good intentioned resilience narratives do.

….

There is a line in Tera Naomi’s song, Job well done that states it clearly and completely: “maybe someday you’ll realize your mistakes and maybe make yourself accountable for one; and they say success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.”

I wish our failures weren’t orphaned, or disowned, or cosmetically changed into successes, but allowed to be as they are: owned failures. Wherein owning and feeling a failure isn’t beating yourself up for failing. Owning a failure isn’t shamefully or continuously torturing yourself for having failed and being defeated. Many people think that attacking themselves for failing is owning their failure, and in many ways it isn’t; because it de-centers the failure towards a feeling of being weak, awful, pitiful, stupid for having failed at all.

And this doesn’t help.

When we overvalue resilience, we do so at a tremendous cost.

Many people think that attacking themselves for failing is owning their failure, and in many ways it isn’t.
If a failure is met with a reactionary desire to succeed with more vigor, then the failure isn’t allowed to be felt. It isn’t allowed to be. You aren’t allowed to be. In many ways, we can double down in this regards: failing at allowing yourself to fail.

If the only narrative you, or others, or society, promotes is one of positivity, overcoming struggles, and never quitting and never failing, then all else is devalued, is dismissed, is deigned unimportant; but sometimes we do fail. We can hurt so much that we cannot imagine feeling better. Then in those times, empty platitudes of grit and resilience further inculcate worthlessness, because one didn’t succeed. Those supposedly encouraging words have in them an emotional shift of moving towards success that denies the very real experience of failure. You can hurl jargon and call it self-sabotage, narcissistically rooted denial, or even a subtle self-micro-aggression, but it’s all the same effect. Anything other than allowing a failure to be a failure disallows and denies a person from having their own experience. That hard if painful experience of failure.

For it is important to fail and to lose. Not so that you can win with more effort later, or to savor your success; that puts success at the center of failure, which isn’t the point. Failure is important because we have our limitations. And it is okay to fail. To cry. To not be strong. To be defeated. To feel our limits and our inability to push past them.

There is a necessity in failure. Not to jump to the next step for success, but to stay in the place of failure. Of maybe having hurt oneself. Of maybe having hurt others. But of owning your actions. Of feeling the impact that your actions, and yours alone, have had, and not using them to shame yourself and beat yourself up. This is the other slippery part. Shaming failure is as harmful as praising resilience; both are problems.

It’s okay to feel defeated. Because you are. And you aren’t crazy for being defeated.

 

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn bloated resilience

On false positive thinking

Photo by Brady. 2015.

“I know happiness doesn’t come from a relationship or a career, Brady… I try to be a good person, you know? I do my best and I just… am I depressed?” 

Oh positivity. That pesky and plucky idea. Supposedly, with the right positive, upbeat, encouraging message, yourself and others will be happy. If you aren’t happy, then it’s easily fixable, think the right thought and you can simply be happy and be the best you can be; for, it is the best. Happiness, in this plucky idea, is the ideal, unquestioned, positive state.

Insidiously though, positivity works. For some people, simply thinking happy thoughts, or reminding themselves of their blessings, helps evoke a sense of happiness and contentment. There are many people for whom a gentle reminder to think positive is all it takes to feel better. It is a vaguely nebulous feeling, this better, because it isn’t a graspable feeling itself, but a felt sense of movement away from one thing and onto another thing.

Being positive moves something away, shifts the focus, distracts.

Which isn’t to say that a distraction at all is awful. I don’t deny that positivity can be a beneficial distraction; it is also a beautifully devised saboteur.

A major pitfall to the power of positive thinking isn’t in the theory itself, which I’ll get into the theory’s blind-spots shortly, but in how it is wielded without skill or artful understanding by well-meaning friends, inspirational Instagrammers, #positivity retweeters, and a whole host of well-intentioned coaches, teachers, and advisors.

This is where positivity can blur objectivity: thinking positively and how you want to feel is as much a problem as thinking negatively and how you don’t want to feel.
In the hands of a more trained psychologist, positive psychology can be a particularly useful tool for particular problems. As any behaviorist will note, what is positive is what is added to a particular situation or interaction, and what is negative is what is removed from the same situation. The second mechanical component is that what is added can be either wanted (positive reinforcement) or unwanted (positive punishment), as well as what is removed can be wanted (negative punishment) or unwanted (negative reinforcement). This second component is where a lot of positivity, and the power of positive thinking, gets its pluck; it does something, it adds, it feels somehow more tangible. More doable. More concrete.

However, to a trained behaviorist and psychologist, all negative and positive tools can be used equally, with more or less precise aim and efficiency. Mostly though, positive psychology, and those neighboring ideas of setting a positive intention, focusing on gratitude, counting blessings, taking a strength inventory, and others, all have a narrow range of efficacy, because, as I mentioned above, it’s only a quarter of the possible behavioral interventions. Narrower still because of confirmation bias, and not seeing how positivity itself can be a problem.

Being positive moves something away, shifts the focus, distracts.
Confirmation bias, to take a slight tangent, is that other pesky idea that, to be succinct, is searching for a particular answer and discrediting all information that doesn’t support that particular answer. In terms of positive thinking, confirmation bias is thinking that positivity is the right way to think, so negativity is to be dismissed and discredited.

This is a bold statement, and I don’t write it purely theoretically, but from my own experience of doubling-down on positivity. Over the span of my career, I have come to realize in doing therapy with a firm desire to help others become better, with thinking more positively, that positivity itself got in the way of my helping. I didn’t consider that positive over-thinking could at all be problematic until, well, I started seeing the favored imbalance of thought as one that would leave many people struggling with their feelings that were anything other than positive.

This is where positivity can blur objectivity: thinking positively and how you want to feel is as much a problem as thinking negatively and how you don’t want to feel.

I was very fortunate in my clinical training to have amazingly sharp and deft supervisors. Perhaps sensing my own inclination to favor positive thinking, and an unshakeable idea that I, as a therapist, can know what’s best for others to think, my first supervisor told me, with unparalleled clarity, “anyone can give hope, but giving hope isn’t the answer to every problem.”

Narrower still because of confirmation bias, and not seeing how positivity itself can be a problem.
I didn’t initially get the meaning of my supervisor’s statement. Admittedly, I began my clinical career guilty of rushing to positive thinking too soon. I had many moments as a clinician when I rushed to give positive thinking, to giving the pep talk, because I nervously didn’t want to get into and examine someone else’s pain, their inner torment, powerlessness, despair, rage, fury, or grief. I would earnestly give positive affirmations, simply thinking it was what was best. Assuming, that is, feeling better is what is best, not dwelling on what was bad. If I could get someone to think differently, to feel differently, and by differently I meant better in my own definition, then I had done my job. However, I didn’t do my job when I was simply being positive.

It is very easy to sabotage another person’s growth, with your own hubris, from believing you know what is best for another person. It took me a long time to see my own positivity, my confirmation biases, my hubris, to make peace with them, and to be more cautious and precise in my usage of positive thinking, and to be aware of the root of my own desire to favor positive thinking which can setup further problems down the road.

Thinking positively, and encouraging others to think positively, is earnest in its aim to help, yet false, because positivity is no truer than negativity. However, the desire to think positively, for oneself to be more positive, or for another to be more positive, is a setup for difficulty when those positive affirmations don’t exactly materialize and happiness isn’t readily attained. A setup that someone who thinks positively might not see or even consider.

If I were to encourage your thinking in any way, it would be to see that those setting themselves or others up to think more positively may only have that tool for now, may only need that tool for themselves, and may not have the answer to every problem, and that may be okay for them. Thinking positively does a lot, but it doesn’t do everything. Being able to see what is lacking, what limits are there, what isn’t addressed, is to go beyond positivity; thinking beyond positivity isn’t better, it is simply beyond it, and there is a lot of valuable thought beyond thinking positively.

BradyOn false positive thinking

On boundaries and control issues 

On boundaries and control issues

Photo by Brady. 2015

“Brady, I can’t. Who would I even date if I started saying, ‘no,’ to all these men who don’t put in effort? No one does, so what else am I going to do? There’s not many options. I don’t want to not have sex ever again. But I kinda would if I rejected all these guys just cause they don’t try.”

At some point in most all of my professional relationships, we have a conversation about boundaries. On my end, it is a terrifying conversation because it is a very vulnerable and charged one that gets right to the source of most relationship difficulties and personal insecurities.

There is a palpable fear that I sense every time I encounter another’s resistance to setting boundaries; a fear of loneliness.

Some better relationship advice: don’t pick your battles.
A boundary, in essence, is a communicated and understood sense of what is wrong or unwanted for a person. A boundary is an expressed, “no.” Simple as. Yet incredibly challenging to do so, because it requires a level of self-awareness of what you do and do not want, and working out all of the ensuing conflict that may arise from standing up with integrity for what you do and do not want . Perhaps out of a fear of conflict and risking a relationship ending, many people won’t set boundaries, won’t address conflict, won’t stir the pot, won’t rock the boat, won’t be a person that would in any way jeopardize the relationship. With this, boundaries are not erected as a strategy to keep a relationship presumably going smoothly forward. However, that’s the implicit contradiction of not having boundaries. In not having boundaries for fear of losing relations when you make boundaries, you also do not experience being loved as you are and being in a tangibly trusting relationship.

By not setting boundaries, it is more than not smooth, it also is not having much of a relationship at all.

But how does this operate? Well I think one of the worst pieces of relationship advice is: pick your battles.

I’m not advising anyone to manufacture conflict in their personal relationships. There is a big difference from making up a conflict to make up a conflict, and not denying conflicts from arising, and thereby controlling them being addressed. I’m not saying you can control whether your boundaries exist or not, because that is a whole other topic altogether, but we can consciously control expressing our boundaries, and when we don’t express them we create relational problems in addition to personal.

Some better relationship advice: don’t pick your battles.

If you don’t like something and, “just let it go,” you are distancing yourself in your relationship. You are solving a problem by yourself and not with your partner. Yet, that’s why you have a relationship to begin with; figuring out who you are and what matters to you, and your partner figuring themselves out and what matters to them, and doing this together is what a relationship is all about. Letting conflicts and problems go unaddressed when they are noticed is an insidious tactic as well, for its aim is a vengeful winning and not a relating.

In not immediately bringing up a problem to address it as it arises, is to tactically wield that problem. You can strategically hold onto a problem, a boundary that you didn’t assert or address, only to use it later as ammunition, kitchen-sink style, to hurl it out with other things that were supposedly let go, but actually weren’t. This is using a relational problem designed to hurt another person, malevolently playing the victim wherein you made yourself the victim to gain the higher ground at some future point. This isn’t relating; this is aiming to win, and not solving a problem at all. Strategically, controlling how an issue comes up sabotages it being solved, and in not bringing issues up, well, you are also controlling how you are in a relationship at the cost of who you are.

Therein lies the personal cost of not having boundaries; you become less of a person and what matters to you, and you, matter less at your own doing.

There is a palpable fear that I sense every time I encounter another’s resistance to setting boundaries; a fear of loneliness.
And it is scary to give up this part of controlling yourself. To be unedited with another person and have them see you as you are is terrifying. There may be parts of you that even you don’t like, so you don’t share or express yourself fully. Mechanically, this is all done with boundaries around sharing and expressing the things you don’t like that you fear may be the cause of conflict. And it may. And you may not have your boundaries honored. But there is no chance of it being honored, of you being seen, of you being loved, if you don’t put up a boundary to begin with.

Controlling yourself and editing who you are to avoid conflict fundamentally distances yourself in a relationship. Which, to me, the purpose of being in a relationship is in part, being in relation, and along with it comes agreeing, disagreeing, opposing, collaborating, and conflicting. And you can’t be in a relationship by avoiding conflict, because there isn’t a you in that relationship. There is an idea of you, an edited you, acting in place of you.

I think this is lonelier. I think it is lonelier being an idea of yourself in a relationship, than it is not being in a relationship at all.

 

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn boundaries and control issues 

On unsolicited advice

Photo by Jonathan Brady. 2015.

“I’m going crazy. My girlfriend is driving me crazy! It’s always something. ‘Did you remember the keys?’ ‘Be sure to double-check the deadbolt.’ ‘Take this street, it’s quicker this time of day.’ She obviously thinks I’m an idiot, and she always has to be right. No matter what I do I just feel like she isn’t happy with me… Should I just break up with her now because I can’t do anything right?”

I hear these moments of frustration and hurt most days. The frustration and hurt are equally felt if rarely distinguished, especially in moments like these where it feels somehow certain that something is wrong, and uncertain what exactly is wrong. The confusion is also compounded, because there is a lot to figure out in a very delicate moment.

A single comment of unsolicited advice can lead to this Escher-y like ascent to emotional oblivion that might also be a descent into relationship oblivion; or maybe even closeness. Which is to say: it can be hard to fully understand or follow unsolicited advice. Unsolicited advice can vocalize expectations, responsibilities, balances of power, and relational history all as subtext, or tone, with a seemingly incongruent text of helpfulness, concern, or good intentions. In these moments it can be hard to know which way to move and what is meant with what is said.

The frustration and hurt are equally felt if rarely distinguished.
When someone tells you what to do or how they would do something, some sort of advice, there is a lot that is said in that exchange and a lot that can be felt. Emotionally, unsolicited advice can sound condescending, accusatory, disrespectful, demeaning, belittling, arrogant, presumptive, or even quizzically unrelated and a source of amusement. Relationally, it can feel like an attack, a jab, or an unsubtle undermining.

Unsolicited advice has a lot of emotional and relational nuance, but unfortunately it is rarely felt with any nuance. Most people simply feel it as unwanted and don’t look at it any further; they simply don’t want it. However, there are worlds of exploration waiting to be had in those moments.

I presumptively write this as a shrink that has spent considerable time dissecting emotional nuance in those moments, and with each instance of helping someone navigate unsolicited advice, I continuously encounter undiscovered twists and turns that we weren’t expecting to see nor were we looking for. Also, what can sharply twist it all around is the person, offering the unsolicited advice, can call it love.

Although in counseling I generally help people work towards hearing others from a loving place, unsolicited advice doesn’t feel exactly like love; it isn’t exactly love.

I think that one part of unsolicited advice that hurts is the realization that it is unsolicited, and in that moment of another person offering an idea that was not asked for, they demonstrate a kind of not listening; a jagged breaking. This advice comes, unbidden, unwanted, and as such the person receiving it can feel the implicit disconnection from the other person in that moment, and feel it as a kind of not listening, which therefore doesn’t feel like love. The advice itself can then be interpreted as an act of silencing; as more than a show of disconnection, but as an imposition of another’s expectations; as a reminder that we are not good enough like them; or an insidiously swallowed idea that we have never been listening or done right at all in our relationship. None of these interpretations look or sound like love either.

Unsolicited advice has a lot of emotional and relational nuance, but unfortunately it is rarely felt with any nuance.
This is one part of unsolicited advice, the not-exactly-listening leading to the not-exactly-loving, that I find most curious. It isn’t the only part, for there are many more, but it opens another psychological avenue to detour along.

I think how we hear other people, how we hear their intentions, how we interpret their intentions to suit our own emotional constructs of some idea of how a relationship is, is, well, brilliant.

Psychologically, it takes mental and emotional strength to hold both your interpretation and their intention as valid, without discrediting or dismissing either. Being able to hear unsolicited advice takes this strength.

Interpret it as you feel it, but interpret it for what it is and not for what it isn’t.
To throw some concrete, one therapeutic scenario I like to use is the unasked-glass-of-water. In this scenario, A is a guest and over visiting B. B, as a host, decides to go and get a glass of water for A, unsolicited, because B did not explicitly ask for a glass of water. B feels critiqued, as if A is implying that B can’t take care of their own physical needs. Or B feels infantilized, and not trusted to get water unsupervised. B might also feel it as uncaring, because food would have been preferred and felt as care. There could be many reactions and feelings that B has in response to A’s unsolicited actions, and they are all valid responses and reactions. Being given a glass of water can be felt as many things, but being given a glass of water isn’t being physically kicked in the stomach. This distinction is important; both the subjective distinctions and the objective distinction.

To stop my own digressing from my solicited advice about unsolicited advice, and to answer: interpret it as you feel it, but interpret it for what it is and not for what it isn’t.

To use the beginning part of this article to illustrate this point, in the unsolicited advice at the start, sure, feel it as a critique of your competency as an adult, a driver, and a partner, but also hear it as your partners own anxieties around safety, driving, and being late. Feel it like an unasked glass of water, because it is not a kick in the stomach.

Big picture here: this is an area that a lot of people struggle with.

It is long simmering emotional stew that I consistently challenge people to refine how they taste it. On a top-level, it is important to not dismiss one’s subjective, more personal experience of a moment. A little deeper is to also have some perspective on what may be happening intersubjectively, which is to say, all the possible relational moments that happen between persons. Further in, I encourage a little objectivity to see what is happening and what isn’t happening, and this requires more than a little imagination and an ability to not fully know, but to want to know, what is happening. As a grace note, I challenge people to not value or prioritize one facet of feelings or facts over another, because all are occurring simultaneously. This is all a lot to digest and discern, but I think this level of carefulness to one’s self and another is a balanced response to another’s unsolicited advice.

It may be hard to discern what is there: challenge, critique, conditional love and so much more. However, unsolicited advice isn’t complete disregard. It isn’t cold indifference. It isn’t silence.

 

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn unsolicited advice

On judging judgment

“Brady, my friends are so judgy. It’s hard being around them because they hate on everything. They’re so negative. I love them, but can’t stand them sometimes. I really try to be non-judgmental. Love everyone. You know?”

I don’t.

Usually in conversations about judgment, people’s feelings about being judged, personally judging others, others’ experiences of judgment, and so much more, the definitions of judgment and non-judgment are ill-defined.

On a rudimentary level, I like to think that there are “yes” judgments (like, want more, delight, love, etc.) and “no” judgments (dislike, want less, disgust, hate, etc.). Non-judgments then are simply data points removed of feelings. If we are to look at judgments, and what constitutes judgments, then as much as hate is a judgment, love, too, is a judgment. However, for many people, and more than a handful of good, nice, kind people, judgment is only considered judgment if the judgment is hate.

Why is that?

I think, on a cellular level, we are sensitive to our own feelings and the feelings of others. Sensitive in that we are moved in our feelings and can’t exactly consciously control our ability to feel, though we may consciously drown them out, suppress them, or hide them in shame. And yet we feel. We experience our lives, and others, and our world, and in doing so discover there are things we like and do not like. Then we may come to realize that our feelings aren’t exactly the same as others’ feelings. Ergo conflict.

There’s nothing inherently wrong in liking something or disliking something.
On a relational level, the struggle with feeling our feelings differently than others, is where I see and experience a lot of relational distance. If I love something that you hate, it truly does feel like we, in a relational sense, are worlds apart. Because we are. If I hate something and you hate something in a different way, then, too, it feels disconnected. In the act of judging, in knowing our feelings, we can feel, too, our experience of the world as different from others. We can feel distinct, separate, yet, if others somehow feel the same and therefore judge similarly, then we are united. We make an us vs. them position, which is a really comforting idea. It can mean, we think, we aren’t exactly alone.

With this, then, on an existential level we can not want to feel alone with everyone, and this comes out as a want for everyone to feel things as we feel them; we aren’t alone if others feel the same way. But they can’t, even if we expect them too.

Others can’t exactly feel what we are feeling, feel love like we feel love, or feel hate like we feel hate. Unfortunately, we can earnestly think this is how it should be.

In love, we can want the person that we love to feel the same way about us as we feel about them; we want to feel the same. In hate, we can also want other people to feel the same about what is being hated, and in doing so use others disliking to validate our own; we want to feel the same.

As much as hate is a judgment, love, too, is a judgment.
But to feel our own feelings, and to feel them as our own and not others, we run the risk of also feeling our separateness from others; of no one else feeling the exact same way. To avoid this, we can play cloyingly earnest mind games with ourselves, wherein we disguise our vulnerable feelings of love and hate. We can say we don’t hate a person, we don’t like their behavior; still a no, so still feeling hate. We can say we aren’t in love, we are simply really excited to see someone; still a yes, so still feeling love. We can say that we don’t hate anyone, but simply not support what goes against our sincerely held beliefs; still an oppositional stance, so still hate. We can say we only have a crush on someone else and that it isn’t love, because we don’t want to run the risk of feeling more for someone than they feel for us; still a delightful openness, so still love. In this, we hide our feelings from others, and even from ourselves.

To reiterate before redirecting, there’s nothing inherently wrong in liking something or disliking something. Not at all. But knowing and feeling our own feelings does separate us. We don’t exactly judge in the exact same way. This, too, leads to conflict. How does this conflict translate on a more therapeutic perspective? I think the more comfortable we are fully feeling our own feelings doesn’t always translate to allowing other people to fully feel their feelings. These are two very close yet distinct skills. There’s judging. There’s also judging judging.

If, and I don’t think I’m writing with too much assumption on the side, that judgment is equated with condemnation, contempt, or simply hate, then hating hate becomes its own judging judging conflict.

Hate needn’t be hated. Unless, of course, a person prescribes to the tidy idea that only bad, evil, hateful people feel hatred. In other words, good people are good and feel love, and bad people are bad and feel hate. Am I painting in broad strokes, and more than a little condescending, when I write that? Yes, but I’m not nearly as condescending as the fragile idea itself.

So no. Haters aren’t going to simply hate. A person can hate and love many things, and having one judgment doesn’t fully define a person as who they are. It is a start, but it is only a start if the judgment is more fully explored, deepened, reexamined, and judged further. Our judgments can only change through examination, and having an understanding of our own feelings to begin with.

Going even deeper, if we are fully committed to only loving what we love and only hating what we hate, we narrow our judgments and further isolate ourselves. The ability to see what others love, to see how it is lovable, to see how others hate, to see what’s important for them in their hatred, is to judge more. I love those judgments.

Hate needn’t be hated. Unless, of course, a person prescribes to the tidy idea that only bad, evil, hateful people feel hatred.
What I find remarkably curious are the people that cannot accept their own judgments; those that cannot embrace what they love or acknowledge standing up for what they hate. Owning and expressing what you love and what you hate, both, equally, are vulnerable positions. To know what a person loves, and how they feel and express that love is a beautiful and stark window into their personhood. To know what a person hates, and how they feel and express that hate is also a beautiful and stark window into their personhood. Knowing what someone loves or hates, then, makes them more known, and therein lies the possibility of that person being more fully judged.

Personally, and professionally, I think of love as a deeply felt sense of yes, and also as a soft yes. I also think of hate as a deeply felt sense of no, but also as a polite no. Being able to own, embrace, feel, and vocalize what you like and what you do not like is incredibly difficult on an intrapersonal level of knowing, but also on an interpersonal level. When others know more about what you like and dislike, they know you more fully. They can also judge you on deeper parts of yourself when they know what exactly you feel.

You not letting others know what you feel, well, keeps them from judging you and either hating or loving you.

You not letting yourself know what you feel, also, keeps you from judging yourself. Doing so then prevents you from loving yourself.

What judgments do I hate? Incomplete ones.

If someone loves something or someone, and doesn’t discern what they love or how they love, it sounds more like an idea of a judgment than a judgment itself. It seems hollow. It’s an I-like-it-because-I-like-it  judgment that doesn’t seem to start anywhere. The same is true about hate and a person being unable to articulate what they hate or how that hate feels. What I hate about these incredibly incomplete judgments is how much is relationally lost; how much more of a person I could know, could get closer to, could understand, if they were to judge.

If other people having strong feelings of hate, or love, is upsetting to you, then feel that hatred. Allow yourself, above all else, to fully feel your feelings and, after allowing yourself to fully feel them, allow others the same opportunity. If they cannot own their feelings of love or hate, you can hate them for their cowardice and their desire to not know their own heart. If they cannot own their feelings, you can also find yourself loving them and respecting how difficult and scary it is to know one’s self.

 

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

 

BradyOn judging judgment