Unhelpful Advice: Anger and Problem Solving
Just recently, one of my clients said, “My mother is driving me crazy.”
“I can’t stand it. I was telling her about the trouble I was having with the baby sitter who would leave dirty dishes in the sink and piles of dirty diapers for me to clean up. My mother said, ‘Fire her, but don’t hurt her feelings’.”
How does this help? How can my client fire the babysitter without hurting her feelings? She can’t. So what value does her mothers suggestion have? None.
My client spent half of her session venting her anger at her mom and the unhelpful advice she had to offer. As my client talks, I can see she has become angry at herself for failing to resolve the problem on her own and even turning to her mom for help in the first place.
When we become angry at ourselves, we feel paralyzed and out of control. Every time we fail to solve such a problem, we feel that our inadequacy to cope with life has been confirmed. We feel “stupid,” we feel worthless. Thirty years of such frustration and discouragement is enough to drive us up the wall, over the edge and down the other side.
When my client went to her mother with her tale of woe about the babysitter, her mother feels compelled to relieve her distress. Unfortunately, in most cases our parent is not qualified to diagnose or treat problems. Our parent has no facts, no competence in these areas. He or she feels inadequate to cope, unable to solve our problem.
To relieve this painful feeling of inadequacy, the parent delivers a nonsensical “solution,” so he or she feels better. The parent thinks: “I have done something. At least I didn’t stand there like a dummy. I have once again prevented the humiliating exposure of my inadequacy to cope.”
As soon as we realize that the advice was given for them and not for us, we are free to disengage from it. We no longer have any responsibility to accept what is being presented. They are offering useless advice to maintain their own ego. The solution is phony; it does not exist. It is not a solution.
We have two choices now. We can choose to live on our parents’ terms and go crazy or we can consciously and deliberately choose to begin living our lives on our terms. To do this we can choose to accept the following:
1. We do not have to follow our parent’s suggestions. We can use our own judgment.
2. We do not have to please our parent, nor do we have to be afraid of displeasing. We can say, “I know you want the best for me; but I’m sure things will work out.” We do not make the mistake of trying to show our parent the error of her ways. She is not our student or our patient. We can acknowledge the feedback she gave and let it go at that. That is all she wants, anyway. To be acknowledged is to be validated by us, to be appreciated, to be important in our lives. It costs us nothing to let her feel that way.
3. We can call this paradox to her attention and let her decide what she wants to do about it. “I can do one or the other, mom, but I can’t do both. What do you think I should do first?”
4. We can let her know that her behavior makes us angry so that she can make her future plans for intervening in our lives accordingly. “It makes me angry when you treat me like a child, mom.” If we express our anger in a mature, appropriate way, our parent may just stop treating us as if we were still nine years old.
At her next appointment, my client came back to report her progress with her mom and the baby sitter. Her mother had come over the next day, and started talking about getting rid of the babysitter. my client reminded her mother of their previous conversation: “I was thinking about what you said, mom. You know, there is no way I can fire the babysitter without hurting her feelings.” At that very moment, her mom stopped talking and silently went into the kitchen. When she came out, she started talking about something else. She hasn’t talked about the babysitter since.
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Tags: Anger Management, Archive