Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

Contains mild spoilers

Jewish people have some very nice traditions. One of them is that on every new moon we have a holiday. This means meat (if you do that sort of thing) and wine, additional thanks in blessings, and for women, especially, a night out with the girls should they choose to accept the responsibility.

It's a tough life and taking it seriously, Tuesday afternoon I zapped off an email to a friend:
Wanna' see a chick flick tomorrow night? My mother-in-law loved Rachel Getting Married.
She jumped to it.

Reviewing a book or a movie is tough if you haven't seen it through to the end. And yet, because imagination is important in a therapist's life, there's no need to have to see the whole film to talk about it. Is there?

There's modest time-wasting intolerance in my family, maybe learned or hereditary. But my brother and I were talking one day and it came up that if a movie bores, scares or disgusts me, ten minutes, I'm out of there.

"Me, too! She (my sister-in-law) hates it, but I'll sit in the lobby and read until it's over."

Me, too. But I forgot a book last night, and didn't want to leave my pal alone. This was my idea, going to a movie. Soon into it I whispered into her ear,

"Any time you're ready. . .like . . .uh, if you don't like it. . ."

A shrug, no move to go.

Here's my quick take.

The camera work for Rachel Getting Married and the editing are dreadful. If you know anything about using a camcorder you know that it is hard to pan well. And walking with a steady camera, difficult. Move that elbow and you're nauseous on playback.

This film is like a bad home movie. That, or we got a really bad reel.

You would think I'd like the story-- addiction and loss, family tragedy and guilt, a young woman's inability to forgive herself. It is sad, truly, but people like me are inured to sad. We hear this kind of story on any given day.

But I never mind extending my work day for a little color, a big movie or small, as long as it has passable sensory delight. Rachel Getting Married is set in the rain, dull interiors of a rambling old house in Connecticut, a poorly lit hall for the engagement party, and the basement of a church for Anonymous meetings. Didn't perk me up and wasn't arty.

And yet, ever since The Devil Loves Prada who doesn't love to watch Anne Hathaway? And Debra Winger, you know I loved Terms of Endearment, has never looked better. Ms. Winger makes you feel that over-fifty is just fine, thank you, which it is, or can be.

Rosemarie Dewitt makes a stunning bride who has a legitimate gripe. Her wedding should not be all about her sister Kym, even if Kym did just get out of rehab. Kym should not be the center of their father's attention, spoiling everyone's good time, injecting what might be called Program-Speak* into every conversation.

Thus we have dysfunction in spades and no indication that the family ever worked together in therapy, despite a long rehabilitation for one leaf. If they did family therapy in that rehab, they didn't get it right.

And because they didn't get it right, when Kym goes home, we see high drama, triangulation, broken glass, car wrecks, tears where there should have been joy. Yet there's a prospect of hopeful love, even for Kym, should she get her act together.

But her therapy, her rehabilitation, whatever she's had, isn't complete. She needs more.

How much more? Does Hollywood resolve the drama without more?

I don't know.

We had to leave. The nausea got to one of us, and honestly, I didn't care enough about the people in the film to want to wait it out.

But you might.

If you like listening to toast after toast after toast at engagement parties, you might like Rachel Getting Married. If you like seeing how one leaf of the family tree's psychology can really wreck what should be the happiest week of her sister's life, you'll like being here. If you like A.A. meetings (the best part of the film, in my opinion) you'll like this movie.

But maybe take a Dramamine before you go.

You can see more stills of the movie on Facebook. Make up your own mind. Let me know how it ends.


P.S. Of course my m-i-l can fill me in on how things worked out. It can be an advantage, having one of these.

*Program-Speak is one way of referring to the language of the 12-Step programs. It is not meant, in any way, derogatorily. Would that everyone learned this language.

September (so I'm late) and October back a' cha

I almost forgot. Here it is, Halloween, and I haven't thanked anyone in months for linking to me. I'm going to be in trouble for sure for forgetting or missing some of you, so please forgive me in advance.

It's like making a wedding. You're always afraid you're going to insult someone you forgot or decided to leave off the list.

There's an old therapy intervention for anger, if it applies.

The idea is that you can't just go off on people. It's nobody's right to rant and scream, insult others. This is called verbal violence. It's frowned upon in therapy, even when someone deserves it, as is plotting revenge. Anger gets us into trouble.

People who drink or use drugs to cope tend to drink more when they get angry, which tends to make things worse, jack up anger even more. So the 12-Step program recommends that they keep a lid on it, anger, even in sobriety, which is hard since it can become a defining emotion.

So how do you keep a lid on it?

(a) We first look at our own piece of a problem, however tiny that might be, and work on that, own it and change it.

(b) Then we go ahead and forgive the other person. Right off. No questions. Do not pass go, assume that individual has his or her reasons for upsetting others, isn't being intentionally malicious. And even if the other person is malicious, he or she must be malicious for some reason, maybe a good reason.* Oy vey.

There's much more to anger management, for sure, but this can really work for your every day narcissistic injuries. So if you think you should have been included below. . . (smiley emoticon here)

I personally use cookies as peace offerings.

Okay, in no particular order, let's start with Amanda at This crazy miracle called "life," because face it, she's got the right perspective. Dear, don't change.

The latest mental health professional to read Everyone Needs Therapy is already getting beat up on the job. Welcome to the family X-Addicted.

Check out Raising a Healthy Family. It might come in handy.

The Secret Shadows is promoting awareness about Dissociative Identity Disorder, always a good thing. Very sneaky disorder, DID.

A Barbaric Yawp is seeing things, people in cow suits. You need two people, I'm telling you, for a cow suit.

That's Enough is weighing in on shoulds, as everyone probably should, shouldn't we?

Amy's writing Whatever I Feel Like, which, as you know, is what we get to do before we get married.

Blinds blogs at Keeping the Blinds Open, awesome pic.

A Sideways Look at Social Care: The Social Work Blog is worth at least a sideways look if not a full-size look.

The Amazing Adventure is much better than the not so amazing adventure, and the people in the pic seem to love one another, so check it out, too.

Joylene talks stress therapy over at Therapy. Someone has to do it. And a real therapist, Melissa, is working hard.

Bookwormmom is an amazing blogger, who really reads real books. Thanks for the link, BWM.

WWright is on a campaign to make poverty history. You have your work cut out for you. You rock.

Simple.ology linked here thinking blogging therapeutic. Thanks, Bean.

Evergreen Help Line can tell you a few things about positive thinking and the subconscious.

The Second Road is great for people in recovery or people dealing with people who have addictions.

Heather's become a cat lady and worries it may get out of hand, but managing, it seems, and having an Amazing Adventure. SYD at I'm Just Fine and I go way back in the blogosphere. Thanks for being there, Syd. And MamaMPJ will give you an earful at A Room of Mama's Own

Frumhouse and Mother In Israel , In the Pink, Juggling Frogs, Nad-Nad, New York's Funniest Rabbi, Coffee Yogurt, Cranky Fitness, and Feminist Gal always make me happy, brighten my day, and The Rebbetzin's Husband teaches me a thing or two.

Great comments and links from Leora, Jack, Wendy, Mark, Porcini66 , Anti-Social Social Worker, Barbara K. SeaSpray, White Trash Academic, Not Faint-hearted, All Rileyed-Up, Dr. Deb, Author Mom with Dogs, Shosh, In the Nuthouse, Looking to the Horizon, April, Rambling Woods (such photos), Jendeis, Auntie Om, Pinky RN, The Fringe, IlanaDavita, Dream Lover, Miriam L, LCSW Mom, RZ, barfly, Karen, Greeny, NashBabe, Lin Rob, Rosey Sunset, Margo, and all of you anonymouses out there, you know who you are.

Thanks everyone.


*None of this, by the way, works for me when it comes to victims of violence, especially sexual violence. Things get much more complicated when you get hurt like that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Same DNA, new place, different day

I'm old so I get a charge out of remembering, looking back. And one of the things therapists do is look back, look left, look right, stay in the moment, or look forward with people. We're all about time.

A person will come into therapy to work on a problem and we'll do that, work on the problem, something current, maybe something as simple as expressing true feelings, being congruent with people, honest about oneself. When a person is hurting, it can be hard to share that feeling, pain, even with close friends.

You think, "Well, people like me the way I am, the way I seem to them, which is happy. Why change that?"

And yet it's hard keeping up a face, always being the cheerleader, always making people laugh, smiling lest you cry. Cup always half full. Sometimes you just want to break the thing.

So we'll work on it, trusting others with those raw emotions. The fear dissolves, the problem resolves, the behavior changes, the personality gets softer. It's easy, once you get into it, to share sadness with others.

Case closed? Hardly. A therapist might say, "This is the place, dear. This is the time, the opportunity. We can go back to any of it, any of your history, or all of it, and rethink, rework it. Everyone has more than one thread that bothers them about the past. USE your therapy. You're here. Take advantage."

And no question, in those moments, in that 45-minute hour, we go back to something painful, something real and unresolved, and we turn it on its head.

For another example, maybe a better example of reminiscing, you only have to talk to someone who has given up an addiction. Watch as those eyes get wide and shift upward and to the right as thoughts loop back on the days of dependency and abuse.

Your friend will say, "What was I thinking? Can you believe it? That was ME. So different now."

See my post on that at The Second Road for a recovery story. I guest post over there sometimes when I remember what I'm really supposed to be doing here on the Internet.


Friday, October 24, 2008


That line in the previous post,
I didn't know what I was looking for until. . .

just so you should know is a total exaggeration, my idea of romanticism at its best.

In truth, I knew exactly what I was looking for and FD happened to have those certain qualities and more.

The line is a response to The List of mandatory criterion people seem to have before they'll even entertain suitable partners.

The List drives me crazy. People change.

There it is on paper, the perfect match, the size 2 who meets all the eligibility requirements and one day, it's
I think we're no longer an item; we've grown apart.
I just saw one of those at the office the other day. So much for the list.

But of course a person needs some basics, and of course, I had my must haves. You do have to know yourself, for what that's worth, at any age.


Thursday, October 23, 2008


Hi. This is Dr. ____. I won't be back in the office until Thursday, Oct 23. James _____ is on call for me. If this is a life threatening, do not call James. Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

As long as I've taken off 10 days for holidays (days so holy and yet so obscure that my kids' college professors think they're making them up) I thought maybe you'd like some snapshots of my in-town vacation.

Most of the children flew in with the exception of one near term (K"H) so she can't travel. We took a lot of video so she wouldn't miss much, especially at the zoo.* And a few snapshots.

But a therapist's snapshots are different, I think, than normal people's snapshots. Maybe not.

They go something like this:

My granddaughter (2) hasn't seen her cousins who are just a little older than her for a few months. She used to see them every day and played hard with the boys.

Her father insists that she needs a nap. She chooses Bubbie to put her down, but the youngest cousin wants to come along to sing her songs. He climbs on her bed and they're talking.

"You can go upstairs," he tells me. "I'll protect her."

If you recall, Blue, my main fish, has new friends, Nemo 1 and Nemo 2. He's become aggressive since they set up permanent residence, and torpedoed N1 and N2 into submission early on in their relationship.

Terrified, in search of another sea (shelter), the clowns read the writing on the coral wall and declare a necessary move to another tank or they will die. Very histrionic of them.

Anyway, I move the clowns to another tank and they're happy, back to clowning around. But my son-in-law can't stand seeing Blue alone in a 55 gallon tank.

He's proactive, surprises me with more pals for Blue.

So everyone is in the living room admiring 3 new fish, a dog puffer, another that likes to handfeed, and a fragile little yellow tang. Blue is adjusting and the fish and children are getting along swimmingly. My son-in-law tells me that the vitamins will be coming in the mail.

Apparently (we now know) garlic is good for fish, as are other expensive nutrients. My father, very pleased to hear about the garlic, says, "I could have told you about garlic."

You can take the kid out of Eastern Europe. . .

This is a family reunion. We talk for hours and hours into the night, not so much about fish. All together we occasionally break into strange songs that fit our conversations, such as, What if G-d were one of us. Just a slob like one of us.

Another pic.
We're lunching at the dining room table talking about why marriages don't work anymore and why some people seem so disappointed; why others are breaking engagements two weeks before the wedding.

My first degrees are pontificating about what people should be looking for in a partner. You should look for (this), you should look for (that). Finally I can take it no longer and say something commanding, something like, "I have something very profound to say. Really profound."

Somehow it is silent at the table and they're all looking at me. This is the first time in my life this has ever happened. I'm freaked. But I continue,

"Here it is. Here's the profundity of the day. I'm telling you that it is a truth. A powerful truth."
'I didn't know what I was looking for until I found your father'.''
In unison: Awwwwwww.

Number 3 Son picks up on process. "That was so like your father (not present at lunch); the way you did that, got everyone's attention, spoke really, really slowly, then said what you thought to be the most profound statement in the world."

Ha, ha, ha. They all laugh.

"Bubbie, will you play Sorry with me?"


Before we start his younger brother joins us. Soon the board is trashed. The littler guy isn't interested in Sorry.

"I don't want to play," he says, kicking the board again.

I suggest that he and I play Memory while I play Sorry with his brother. We do this, play the matching memory game to my left, Sorry to my right. And because both bore me to tears, a passable version of Spider (one real deck of cards) is ongoing in the middle.

There's a lot you can do if you have enough floor space.

Another shot.
The kids buy 2 boxes of Crispix. I buy one box. FD buys another. My pantry is hardly big enough, but there are enough Crispix now to feed an army. (See photo below. )

Why do we do this?

Another snapshot.
FD brings a bag of dried apricots to the family room where I'm straigtening out the wreckage. He takes one out and offers it to me. "Eat this," he insists.

I try it. "This would be better dipped in chocolate."

He raises an eyebrow.

I take the bag from him and rummage through the refrigerator, find chocolate frosting left over from the only cake I have made in ten days, eight of which have been holidays. At some point we have lost track of how many dozens of cookies we've frozen on paper plates in food storage bags soon after baking, working under the assumption that unless cookies are eaten directly from the oven they should be eaten directly from the freezer.

Brownies ditto.

I bring the melted chocolate to FD, dip an apricot, make the offering.

"Well, these are better."

I go to the synagogue. It's a really happy holiday, a dancing/singing kind of holiday. All the young people bring their babies and catch up on pregnancies. I look from one face to the next, try to catch a baby's eye. Any baby will do.

And another.
My machetainista** comes over to see the grandkids before they leave. I tell her I won't decide who to vote for until November 4.

She's aghast. How can I be on the fence? She goes into all the reasons I can't be on the fence.

But still, I'm on the fence and yet Barack and Michelle, even Joe Biden and viber*** won't stop emailing me, neither will someone named Carson.

Why should it matter? I live in Illinois.

And another.
"Bubbie, do you have any Wacky Mac (disgusting boxed macaroni with powdered, processed cheese)?

Well, actually, I do.


"Will you stick the boys in the shower?" Empath Daught begs me. She's trying to pack up to go.

"Well, sure."

In a flash the two little guys are stark naked and giggling. I direct them to the shower and they march in obediently, wash and have the time of their lives. I don't have to do a thing. They come out clean.

FD shouts to me as I pull away from the curb at 6 a.m to take them to the airport. "Don't make any sharp turns." He has packed 4 suitcases into the trunk. Shot cords are holding it closed.

He should know I'm the kind of driver who rarely changes lanes.

Sharp turns?

At the airport I read his text. "Don't make any sharp turns. I mean it."

Or this one.
Empath Daught, S-i-L, and progeny are at the airport. We're finished with those hugs, the ones that make people stop, stare, and feel.

I'm in the car pushing buttons for sad music to get it out of my system. I look for the kind of music that FD hears and asks, "Why do you like this?" I end up listening to the song, Now I have everything.

The gas gauge is very low. It always is when I'm nowhere near home. The same thing has happened only a few days before, I'm lost driving to Midway Airport, dropping off my son. I'm not really lost on that trip, just feel lost and take the wrong highway because in our last moments he brings up something we should have discussed before these last moments, but mutually avoid.

I fill the car with $10.00 cash at a Marathon and he can't understand why I don't just fill it up, and I can't explain it to him, can't explain it now.

But this is a different time, a different day, different departure, and I fill up the car and am seeing the sun rise as I swipe my credit card. A woman about my age is leaving the mini-mart with 6 packs of cigarets and she drops them onto the seat of her white convertible Miata and I think, "This can't be her sports car."

But maybe it is.

Hi, this is Dr. ___________. Please leave me a message. If this is urgent, please try my cell phone _________. If this is an emergency and you don't hear from me and can't wait, don't wait for me to call back. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.


Okay, here are a couple of pics.

*Seriously, that one of the apes? OMG, a real crowd pleaser. I have to put it up on Youtube.
**A machetainista is the mother or step-mother of a daughter or son-in-law.
***Viber is wife in Yiddish, rhymes with why-her

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Those Active Therapeutic Agents

The research is likely to be weak and suspect. A sample of six hundred bloggers out of twelve to sixty million, basically tell us that blogging is therapeutic.

In all honesty, the concept is not that far off the mark. There is likely to be a great deal of truth to the idea; that purging thoughts, issues, events, annecdotes and stories, the whole gestalt of writing and publishing, people hearing us, feels good. Not just in the short run, either. Make it a habit, and who knows?

On the other hand, Hemingway killed himself.

But when it comes to blogging, it's that complaining thing we've been talking about that matters. The talk dynamic in therapy, the narrative, is the active ingredient. That and a few psychotropics on occasion.*

Anyway, who cares about research validity/reliability of a survey? Blogger references ENT in the post.

Bean Jones tells us that Blogging Is More Than What it Seems; it's good for you. So concludes the 2005 AOL survey about the reasons people blog. CNN followed this year, you might remember, with other research and a wink in our direction. It was a good week.

I have to write that book that Empath Daught told me to write ages ago. If only people still read books.

Wait. Maybe they do. Even though it's likely you watch YouTube whenever you can steal away, and even though you read blogs when you're not whipping up a gourmet recipe or eating pizza, my hunch is that most of you read books, too.

Here's a bit of what Bean Jones tells us over at the Blogger website, Simple.ology

Lately I've been worried over what to blog about. (Chalk it up to my brain going fuzzy from decongestants.) But then a friend gave me a link to an article discussing the results of a 2005 AOL survey done by Digital Marketing Services Inc. and I found myself energized.

A total of 600 bloggers--men and women aged 18 and above--participated in the survey.

About 48 percent of the bloggers revealed that they kept a blog because "it serves as a form of therapy" while around 40 percent stated that blogging "helps them keep in touch with family and friends."

Bill Schreiner, Vice President and General Manager of Community Programming for America Online, observed: "In a way, blogs serve as oral history. When it comes to sharing blogs and reading other people's blogs, we like to connect with people, learn about their lives, and find common ground."

An inspiring CNN article affirms blogging's therapeutic benefits. In it, journalist Anna Jane Grossman cites the results of the polls done by the Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2006. The results revealed that "roughly 12 million Americans have blogs...and many seem to use them as a form of group therapy."

Indeed, many blogs have transformed into informal support groups. They range from the low-key Everyone Needs Therapy to the bold and busy TreeHugger.

Bean goes on.

For those of us who like attention, this was a very nice thing, Simple-ology's recognition of a low-key (what could be better description than that) blog.

Hmmmm. Do you think that this might be one of the reasons people do it, blog? Could it be that attention thing?


*There are many active ingredients in therapy that works; the greatest of all, for sure, something we call a therapeutic relationship with a therapist.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

About those 8 Ways to Spot a Dishonest Date

I'm not gonna lie.

The Seinfeld jokes really are the funniest, aren't they? I mean, we talk about Jack Benny, Lenny Bruce, Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Cosby, Carol Burnett, Gilda Radner, but the funniest man or woman, dead or alive (okay, maybe Tina Fey is the funniest) might very well be the one whose cadence is in our lexicon, whose very words, I'm not gonna' lie, are a part of our daily speech.

But this isn't about comedians, it's about deception, and we've talked about that before. But it's in the journalistic web news, so why not take another look? According to Caroline Presno at Yahoo, new research offers practical tips for spotting liars.


(you'll see, liars use this word a lot, "frankly", and phrases like "to be quite honest")

but frankly, I'm more interested in the sociopathy, the why than the what, and how to see this as a systemic problem. We'll talk about the systemic features of lying following Yahoo's presentation of the what.

Critical thinking questions, the ones you should rhetorically ask the wall when you read stuff like this, are indented in parentheses. I didn't read the research, and for all I know the methodology is great. But you want to look at what you read critically, especially breaking news presented as the truth. Even stuff you read over here deserves a critical eye. Skim through it and get to the story.

Dating 101: Eight Ways to Spot a Dishonest Date

By Dating expert Caroline Presno, Ed.D., P.C.C. Special to Yahoo! Personals Updated: Oct 2, 2008

Chances are you're being lied to multiple times a day. It happens not only at work and with your friends and family, but in the intimate arena of love and dating, whether it's a first date or someone you are forming an exciting new relationship with.

Imagine this:

During a 10-minute conversation, people told an average of two to three lies, and 60 percent of people lied at least once, according to a study conducted by Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts.
(Who were these people? How many in the sample? Why would we think they represent the people you know and talk to every day?)
Telling lies is a normal part of everyday life. People tell small lies to make themselves more likable or to spare other people's feelings.
(Who says it's a normal part of everyday life? Whose life?)
However, it's when the lying gets out of hand that it becomes harmful to a budding relationship. If someone you are dating repeatedly lies to you for their own personal gain, you need to be aware of it. By becoming a better lie detector, you can prevent others from taking advantage of you, both literally and emotionally.

Here are eight ways to spot a liar:
1. Eyes aflutter. When people lie, their blink rate tends to go up.

2. The eyes have it. Conventional wisdom says that liars don't look you directly in the eye. And sometimes this is the case. However, research shows that practiced liars will actually give you more eye contact than people telling the truth!

3. Frankly, my dear. People who lie often feel the need to draw your attention to their trustworthiness. They may preface statements with words like "honestly," "frankly," and "truthfully." They're also likely to make assertions such as "I would never lie to you" and "I'm not lying."

4. Cool and casual. Most people expect liars to be nervous, but practiced liars know how to act casual while weaving a web. They may have their feet up or be slumped down in a chair as the lies flow.

5. Behind the smile. A liar's smile is different from a truth-teller's smile. According to research, true "enjoyment smiles" are so big and bright that you'll notice a crinkle around the eyes. These authentic smiles last for less than five seconds. The "masking smile," or lie smile, tends to last longer than five seconds, doesn't involve the eyes, has a hint of negative emotion, and may be crooked.

6. Sticking to it.“Good liars stick to the true parts of their story as much as possible and insert lies at key points.”
Good liars stick to the true parts of their story as much as possible and insert lies at key points. If you suspect you're being lied to, don't be fooled into thinking that the whole story is true, even if you can confirm that parts of it are true.

7. Derailed by details. Liars often try to divert you from their falsehoods by detailing you to death. They'll get you so bogged down by the minutiae of the story that you lose track of what they're saying or you get tired of listening. Never hesitate to ask for clarification if the story seems confusing or doesn't add up.

8. It's not me, it's you! If you catch someone in a lie, they'll frequently try to turn it back on you. "You must be crazy. I never said that!" or "You must have memory loss because that's not the way it happened."

What do you do when you suspect someone you're dating is repeatedly lying to you? In order to feel more secure in the relationship, let them know that even though the truth can hurt, you want to deal with things honestly and openly. The truth will ultimately be better than losing trust and being devastated by lies.

The more people lie and get away with it, the more lies they tell. Stop the cycle by confronting the lies!

Not bad. Certainly good advice. But is a liar going to 'fess up with confrontation? The types of lies you need to be on the lookout for are really the ones that will personally affect you, do you damage. And to protect yourself from those you don't need to confront anyone. You have to know you, then cut bait when you know that the you could get hurt.

The story

I went to college with FD but didn't know him. I thought he was cute from across a crowded room. He didn't know I was alive, and there was no way I was going to do anything about that. One day we met in line somewhere and he flirted and took my phone number, and within a very short time we were both pretty sure we should get married. Fast, if possible.

Fast didn't happen, of course. You have to get the hall, and the band, and the photographer. Petty details.

Not that I'm recommending this, by the way, jumping into a committed relationship without premarital therapy. In retrospect it's obvious we were very lucky that we hadn't completely bamboozled, blinded one another to our respective tragic flaws.

So I went home for a weekend and for some reason told my parents about this. I thought they would be happy about it. Isn't that what you send your kid off to college to do? Find a spouse? That old M.R.S. degree?

Instead I got these funny looks.

My father, when he couldn't take it anymore, stood in the doorway of my bedroom. I was reading a book, remember this like it was yesterday. He never did this, stood in the doorway to talk, and never crossed into my bedroom, because hey, it's a girl's room. You don't do that.

So from the doorway he says, "Can we talk?"

Sure Dad, what's on your mind?

"He says he'll marry you."

That's all he says. I smile and say, "Don't worry, Dad. He will. It's not even a question."

This isn't enough, he's not sure I get it. And he doesn't see a ring. He continues. "Do you know what I mean when I say he says he'll marry you?"

I smile and I say, "Dad. He isn't the kind of person who swears his adoration and then says, If you loved me, you would . . .What choice do you think he has?"

What my father had referred to was the deception variable, and I think it fantastic that he proffered that little bit of advice at that particular time.

So I'm passing it on to you, too, without bullet points.

Deception is only as good as the power, the potential to wreak havoc, behind it. That you can assess without even knowing the other person well or if he or she is lying to you. For that data you have to look inside yourself to find the answer.

You do it by thinking defensively. "What if this person is lying to me? Then what?"

And if you get "Oh, that would be really bad," for an answer, then you need to do a lot of detective work before falling too hard.

You were thinking about going into forensics, anyway, right?*


*High school students, influenced by Law and Order and CSI, say that they are now choosing forensics over other professions. I have no idea about the quality of the methodology of that survey, by the way :)

For more on deception and development, read my post at The Second Road, Caught in a . . .Lie?

Send in the Clowns

Do you know what it's like to take a look at your kid and find that he's grown another two inches?

Maybe not, but it's unsettling, thrilling and strange at the same time.

See, about a month and a half ago I was looking at Blue and he seemed bigger to me. A lot bigger.

Well, you know how we are, Jewish mothers, what was I thinking, all that food.

I took a good look and his tank looked too small. He seemed unhappy. Granted, the marine tank was perfect for the room, and the rocks just right for the tank, but poor Blue no longer fit.

I mentioned to #3 son that Blue had to move on, had to graduate, leave home so to speak. I said, "Son. While you're cruising CraigsList for fish, call one of your fish salespeople and ask about a bigger tank for Blue."

This is like asking a little kid if he wants ice cream, or wants to go swimming on a hot day. My son, who has much better things to do with his time, jumped to the task. I had my tank in 2 days.

FD sees the boys bringing in Blue's future home and becomes the Doom Sayer. He's not happy with the plan. The new tank sticks out too far. People will bump into a corner and want to sue for damages, or simply won't like us.

"I'll have to do a lot of construction," he says, "including figuring out what to do about that supporting beam, the one that holds up the house. Who do we know in steel?"

We live in a big city. He has the piece that he needs made for $54.00.

My son sets up the new tank up in another room and buys those baby clowns we discussed in Water, Water, Everywhere, and we wait. Patiently.

In a matter of weeks FD has done an amazing job and #3 has moved Blue (not a simple procedure) and Blue seems very pleased. The two new clowns are clowning around.

Friends and family are all excited. I would have rolled the credits* on the video, but didn't have time. What you see is Blue acclimating to the temperature of his new sea in the safety of a large Ziplock, and the clowns are welcoming him in.

This is really why Stephen Sondheim wrote that song, Send in the Clowns. They're friendly.

But Blue. Who knew if he would be friendly or not? He had yet to meet them.

After a fitful night's sleep (Will Blue survive the shock of the move? He's sleeping upside down! Will he eat the clowns?) I wake up and all is well; the fish are swimming along famously.

Except the clowns are wondering, "Is that guy staying longer than three days? Whaddaya' think? He's huge! And how much will it take to feed him? And where did the big guy go, the one who arranged all of this, the one with the connections, and where is his wife? I like her, too."


*Thanks #3 son, and thanks FD, too, Y. for ideas on caves, C. for her support, and Little One, of course, who shlepped.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Pull Versus Draw: Enmeshment

Every once in awhile, when we miss our grandchildren, FD will say, "I'm sorry I didn't make enough money to keep the kids in the city. I should have been able to buy them houses nearby, so they wouldn't want to leave."

This always inspires my rousing rendition of that old Blood Sweat and Tears song.
Mama may have
And Papa may have
But. . .
G-d bless the child who's got his own
Who's got his own (big trumpet solo here, great stuff).
You may prefer Billie Holiday. She and Arthur Herzog Jr. wrote the song, I think.

Enmeshment doesn't have to be about money and usually it isn't. It's not about going into the family business. Enmeshment is about psychological pull, meeting the neurotic needs of parents who really should be fending for themselves.

We used to call these ties invisible loyalties. Immature, irrational needs of parents become obligations, nooses around the necks of their kids. Thirty years ago I read the first edition of Invisible Loyalties, a book by Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, still recommended reading.

Enmeshment can be an emotional topic. In alcoholic families, it's especially insidious. You can read a new post that I wrote about this as a guest blogger at The Second Road, called The Plant and Enmeshment, if you want a little more on that.

It so happens that I had to walk out on my first post-graduate family therapy lecture many years ago. The sharp, accomplished, erudite lecturer used the Jewish people as the paradigm of enmeshment. He gave a history lesson dating the concept to the necessary protectiveness of European Jews who lived in fear of bayonets and raping marauders, well before Hitler thought of it.

Jewish kids often complain about something they call "over-protection." But it's not fair to generalize.

The psychologist told a packed lecture hall that his parents' generation, the survivor generation, as a consequence of this transgenerational process, couldn't let their children live their own lives, wouldn't let them individuate.

He went on to say that that gooey closeness and psychological interference, the irrational need for information, underlies and maintains neuroses, addictions, and mental illness.

No question, he was right to some degree. This parent-child dynamic, not giving a kid enough psychological space, can affect mental health.

But to profile like that?

This went on, this rant, basting incessant interference from parents even after children have left the nest, railing the irrational need to know the whereabouts of children at any given moment, and what they had for breakfast, if they can get that information out of them, too.

The doc is probably giving the same lecture today, adding that Jewish children now come with an optional GPS chip.

Just as a point of reference, fast forward thirty years, my kids communicate with us and with one another almost every day, from all corners of the country, by group email. These adult children all have jobs, they have friends; they've left home. But for some crazy, psychopathological reason, they still like to stay in touch. The in-law kids are in on this insanity, too, and they don't feel like in-law kids, I don't think, not really. For some bizarre reason, they feel like family. We hope so.

The kids usually start the emails, but sometimes I will, and it will go something like this:
I'm thinking for dinner I'd like to toast French bread and slather it with sauteed mushrooms, onions, green pepper (light on the peppers) tomatoes, and garlic, sprinkle it with some fine mozzarella, make a side of tapanade. What are you guys having?
They all chime in. We can do this until there's breaking news, like a link to a Simpsons video clip.

We must be enmeshed, I guess, as Jews who like to know what's going on with one another.

I've done a little work on comparative cultures and understand that the eldest daughter in some Mexican families is expected not to marry, but is to take care of her parents until they die. And when sons in some Indian families take a wife, she is expected to move into the groom's family home to take care his mother and father.

And now as our economy crumbles and people are losing jobs and houses, some will see living with elderly parents as not just a cost-saving enticement and a functional way to take care of them, but a necessity.

In my multi-ethnic community, having grandparents living in or very near a young couple's home, ready and willing to babysit, is considered a real score.

So what's the psychopathology? Wherein lies the problem?

Being truly enmeshed may have nothing to do with how many times a week or a day a person calls his or her parents, or how many times parents call a child. It depends upon the effect of the behavior, obviously, and the context. If important relationships are neglected due to attention paid elsewhere, any time with anyone, any project, any addiction, any job, can contribute to family dysfunctional, essentially, neglect.

Truly enmeshed has to do with the invisible pull to take care, solely, of the emotional and physical needs of the family of origin. That's supposed to be the job of the parents, not the kids.

Young enmeshed kids stay home from school because their mothers are lonely or afraid, abused, or ill. They have "separation anxiety." They can't bare to feel their mommie's pain.

Older children, when enmeshed, aren't properly launched into society, can't move out of their parents' homes without feeling guilty, or worse, they don't want to move out. (That's where the beer is, for some).

Enmeshed kids usually lack the confidence to leave home, and don't want to leave parents. Sometimes they are the glue in the marital relationship and they know that their role in the family is to keep the couple together.

Enmeshed kids often think that they alone must tend to or solve the problems of their parents, and they know this at a very young age, too.

As parents age, this can be a stark reality, as no one else will do it. If we don't check in on elderly parents, make sure they're okay, and a parent falls ill, we're going to feel something much worse than enmeshed if we hear something terrible happened.

Enmeshed people forget to marry.

Enmeshed means tending to middle-aged, healthy parents. It means sacrificing, not going away to college, and if they do take the leap and try, are yanked back psychologically. Sometimes it means failing in school. We call this failure to launch.

It's that pull, that guilt that's not healthy, feeling one must take care of parents who should be self-sufficient, but who aren't. The guilt. Not being able to say No wears down a person's sense of self. That's enmeshment.

A healthy child can say No to a parent. With conviction.

An enmeshed child sighs and says, "Fine, I'll be over after dinner. I'll mow your lawn." He says this even when helping his spouse or parenting his children would be a better alternative. He leaves the family, mows a lawn that should have, could have lived to grow another day.

Enmeshed children sometimes say that they're doing this family of origin work out of respect, which is fine and good, if it is true and doesn't take away from a spouse's needs, or the needs of the children.

Truly enmeshed adult children say Yes out of guilt, not respect, but passivity. They take the path of least resistance.

Parents still survive when we say No to irrational requests. It's amazing how that works. And they grow to respect us as adults, people with separate lives. Best to do this, to say no gently, consistently, when it is surely more functional to emphasize that boundary.

Then we take it to the next level, encourage our own children to do individuate, become their own persons, do what is good for their families. These decisions can really hurt, can take a lot out of us. The process of letting them go is the process of loss.

But it's good loss, and temporary. When we do this they are exceedingly grateful. They even look at our advice about things, see what we say more realistically, less emotionally, can acknowledge us when we're right, not reflexively dismiss our ideas, bat off our ideas and opinions, just because they're our ideas and opinions.

Done with panache, we become a draw.

If it's a draw, it's not enmeshment. Being a draw is another thing altogether. When adult children are drawn to family, the family is like cotton candy to a child.

When we're drawn to the sound of our parents' voices, we are not enmeshed, but feel something most of us would call a wonderful variant of love.

And an occasional call to YouTube.


From American Idol, LaKisha Jones

What's Going to Be with Our Kids?