Upcoming Changes

I’m excited to announce a number of upcoming changes for my practice as a part of an effort to grow and increase services available to the local community.

Leever Mental Health Counseling will be changing its name to Change of Mind, LLC.  For a while, the company will be operating under both names to make the process as smooth as possible.  Over the next year, I’ll be adding administrative staff to help handle increased inquiries from clients, as well as adding two new therapists to increase the number of clients we can support.

A build-out for a new office is in progress and the new location should be open by July 1st, 2017.  For now, I’m still operating out of Dr. VanVleet’s office (1555 NW Saint Lucie West Blvd., Suite 201, PSL, FL 34986).  As of July, we will be moving to 314 NW Bethany Dr., PSL, FL 34986.  The Bethany office is right around the corner from my current location, behind the Publix plaza.  I’ll be sure to keep this website updated with any changes that may come up.

Sincerely,

Eric Leever, LMHC

 

Spotting and Dealing with Narcissists

The term “narcissist” comes from the Greek myth of Narkissos, who fell in love with a reflection of himself and was cursed by nymphs for his self-absorption. Thus, a narcissist is one who appears to love themselves beyond all others.

It is unlikely that one can go through life without encountering a narcissist. They can range in personality from likable to downright malignant. The closer one is to a narcissist, the more toxic their effect is likely to be.

Here are some guidelines to spot a narcissist (or realize someone you’ve known for a long time is one).

  • The person is generally incapable of apologizing, and when they do apologize they negate it with a “but” or justification for their actions in the same breath. For example, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you made me so angry.”
  • The person typically takes every opportunity to compare themselves favorably compared to the negative traits of another person. For example, “She missed church again yesterday. I don’t understand that because I manage to make it to church every week.”
  • The person generally pushes fault for everything off to someone else, ignoring their own part in a situation which turned out negatively. In the Pink Panther movies, Inspector Clouseau stated that he should have the architect of the building he was in investigated when he walked on the wrong side of a door and into the wall.
  • The person seems incapable of taking criticism without defending themselves or justifying themselves.
  • The person “re-writes history” rather than admitting obvious mistakes. Narcissists may claim to always have had a certain belief rather than admit that they were once wrong but changed their mind to a more reasonable way of thinking.

It may help to understand why a narcissist is a narcissist in the first place. I view narcissists as, at their core, being emotionally wounded people. They were so wounded (probably in childhood) that they developed a defensive personality layer whose sole purpose is to protect the wounded core from any negativity being directed at them. In essence, the personality layer refuses to allow any fault or criticism to be applied to themselves. In doing so, little to no thought is given to other peoples’ feelings.

In order to fulfill this mission, the personality layer embarks on a lifetime mission of self-glorification. One hundred percent of their resources are directed towards ensuring they are seen in a positive light and others are marginalized. If you observe a narcissist and look at every action they take as a way to self-glorify, they may well become a different and less powerful person in your eyes. Every attack on you or another person can be seen as merely a desperate attempt to self-glorify. Every frustratingly stubborn refusal to accept that they are wrong in a situation can be seen as merely an attempt to defend their fragile ego as opposed to evidence that they don’t care about you. Almost bizarre incidents of incorrectly remembering past events can be seen as an attempt to protect themselves as opposed to leading one to question their own memory.

The key to dealing with a narcissist is not being overly worried about their opinion. Changing their opinion is likely a waste of effort. Spend no more time correcting them than you would trying to have a discussion with a television… and for much the same reason. Neither one listens to you.

The Power Struggle Child

In July, I wrote a piece on attention getting children. Another type of child which can cause parental fits is the child who has the goal of engaging in and winning power struggles.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between attention getters and power struggle kids. After all, the best way to hold a parent’s attention is to engage in in a power struggle. When I speak of attention getting or power struggle kids, I’m talking about their presumed goal… not their outward behavior. The power struggle kid has come to decide that no matter the consequence of the battle, it is critical that they demonstrate to their parents that they cannot be controlled… or at least controlled easily. If you have a power struggle child, you may well win the power struggle, but you will know you’ve been in a fight.

One of the biggest signals that your child is a power struggle kid is that you will be angry. You may come to see their behavior as a personal attack or a direct challenge to authority. You becoming angry is not just a sign of power struggle, it is often the child’s goal. Children instinctively know that anger is a sign that you are losing. After all, no one gets angry because things are going their way. An angry adult is an out of control adult… likely with a child who is controlling the situation.

There are lots of reasons why a child becomes a power struggle kid. They may learn from their early environment that the only way to survive is to be in control. This is particularly common with children who spent time in foster care or were adopted. Children learn an amazing amount of things even when they are infants and an experience with a neglectful or abusive caregiver can ensure that the child sees staying in control as being critical to survival. Some children may learn that being in control is critical through observing parent interactions, or interactions between older siblings. It’s possible that some kids are just wired that way.

Having a power struggle child does not mean you have done anything wrong. But it may indicate that you are prone to being the sort of parent who engages in power struggles with the child. After all… two to tango and all that. In other words, it’s difficult for a child to engage in a power struggle with an adult who refuses to engage in one.

As I mentioned the piece on attention getting children, a great parenting resource is Children: The Challenge by Rudolf Dreikurs. Another is Parents’ Handbook: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting. But if you don’t feel like reading those books, here a couple guidelines for dealing with that power struggle child.

  • Don’t engage the child when you are angry. Speak in a monotone or almost bored voice. I call it the “Burger King voice”… the same tone that the cashier at Burger King uses when they ask you if you “want fries or onion rings with that.” In other words, act like the situation is no big deal and you don’t care enough to get anger about it. Go to the bathroom to cool down if needed.
  • Offer the child two choices. Some sales trainers refer to this as the Benjamin Close or the Preference Close. The assumption is that the child will do what you are telling them to do… the focus is on how they are going to choose to do it. For example, “Do you want to do your homework now or 15 minutes?” Make sure you are OK with either choice.
  • When giving 2 choices (and only 2 please), interpret any other choice which they have you have not offered as one of the original two choices. So for example, “You may eat your dinner or wait until breakfast to eat, even if you are hungry.” If the child starts playing with their food but not actually eating it, say “oh ok… you want to wait until breakfast” and then excuse them from the table.
  • Make the child’s choice stick. In the previous example, don’t return the food if the child “changes their mind” as soon as they see you are serious. Simply remind the child that they made the decision and move on.
  • Remember not to unnecessarily take children’s problems from them. If the child refused to eat and is now hungry all night, then it is their problem… not yours. You can say “Oh. That’s a drag that you’re hungry….oh well… good night” or “I know… I hate it when I decide not to eat and am hungry all night”.
  • Minimize talking about the subject of the power struggle. Get them to decide on one of two options you present and move on. For the power struggle child, the consequence will be effective only if they do not see it as a way to martyr themselves and demonstrate how much they are willing to suffer in order to challenge your authority.

Mercenary Love – Repeating the Same Relationship Over and Over

I hear the questions often… “Why do all men cheat? Why are all women selfish? Why are all men immature?”

These sort of questions will lead one to try to answer an unanswerable question. The question is unanswerable because the question is biased. It leads you down a line of thinking which masks the true problem. It assumes that all men or women are cheaters, or selfish, or whatever. The truth is that only some are. It would be more accurate to ask “Why do I only notice cheaters and only let cheaters into my life?”

A mercenary is different from a soldier in that a mercenary fights for money whereas a soldier fights for love of country. While both get paid, the primary motivation is different.

Love can be mercenary as well. Mercenary love’s primary purpose is to fulfill a need other than the desire for emotional intimacy with that person. One common complaint of attractive women is that men seek them out only because of their appearance. Men seek sex, but don’t want to know them. Confusing sexual attraction for love is a type of mercenary love. The person who seeks a relationship based on sexual attraction makes the rest of the relationship work because it satisfies their sexual needs.

Some people marry because they have children and want to “do the right thing” or because they need a father or mother for their child. This is also mercenary love. Some enter into relationships for financial security. There a number of reasons that people are attracted to others… and often the true attraction is not actually love, but based on another need. This does not need to be purposely deceitful. Often people do not realize they are seeking out relationships based on mercenary need. Often they fool themselves into believing they love their partner… when the truth is that they need what their partner has to offer. These are very different motivations. Good people can enter into mercenary love without realizing they do it. Sometimes mercenary love works out. More often it does not.

Movie stars often date other movies stars. While it may seem that this is because they happen to be around other actors, that is probably less true that it initially seems. Think about how many support personnel and non-actors they run into. Marketing people, sales people, administrators, agents, hotel staff, restaurant workers, and a lot of other types of people are probably encountered quite a bit by movie stars.   I believe movies stars date movie stars because they know that their prospective partner doesn’t need their fame and doesn’t need their money. An actress like Jennifer Aniston would be wise to wonder if a person showing interest in her is interested in her money, reputation, appearance, or the movie star lifestyle. It must be difficult for her to determine if a potential husband wants her for her… or because she is “Jennifer Aniston”.

Beyond these obvious sorts of mercenary needs are psychological needs. Often we have the desire to “fix” our relationships with our primary attachment figures… our parents. Take, for example, a girl who is physically abused by her father. At their core, children want the affection of their parents… even abusive ones. A child will try all sorts of ways to get love… or to turn the abuser into a truly affectionate protector. The desire is to be lovable. To find a way to change rejection into acceptance. And this unconscious desire can follow us into adulthood.

In later relationships, this same girl (now a woman) might unconsciously seek out abusive men in order to find a way to change them into loving men. In that way they can scratch that itch they have to be special… to validate themselves… to become lovable. If the woman simply wanted to be loved then she would seek out loving men. But instead she seeks out abusive men who she then tries to turn into loving men. Caring men might be seen as boring or weak… not real men. Of course, most of us define what a man is by our fathers, and what a woman is by our mothers.

The problem is that people rarely change… even they themselves are motivated to change. Trying to change another person without their cooperation is a hopeless proposition. But even if the woman miraculously manages to change her abusive boyfriend into a genuinely loving guy, she would not be happy for long. The mercenary need is to change the abuser into a caring man… not to have a caring man. It is the process of change which is sought out, not the end result.

If you find yourself involving yourself in the same type of negative relationship over and over, please consider seeking out a qualified therapist to explore the possibility that you are unconsciously trying to resolve childhood issues. It’s hard work, but it is achievable. Finding true love within mercenary love is likely not.

The Attention-Seeking Child (or My Kid Drives Me Crazy)

Many parenting books, parenting experts, and even teachers will encourage a parent to reward wanted behavior and punish negative behavior. But what do you do if you tried taking away everything or offering great rewards and your child still isn’t motivated do what you require of them?

What you may not know is that various suggested parenting strategies have a set of underlying assumptions about the purpose of child behavior. Often these assumptions are not stated by authors of parenting books. Being unaware of the basic assumptions of a parenting model can be problematic because if those assumptions are wrong then then parenting strategies is unlikely to produce results.

Parenting strategies can be generally divided into two categories; behavioral and non-behavioral. Behavioral strategies assume that the child will act much as any other animal. In other words, the child will seek out pleasurable consequences and avoid unpleasant ones. While this may seem to be an obvious motivation, it is not always the case. Non-behavioral models focus on a child’s individual thought processes. They work to change the child’s internal motivation, not the external motivation.

Behaviorist parenting strategies are based on the psychological approach of Behaviorism. Behaviorism was developed by John B. Watson and others. It was based on research done on animals. Animals avoid pain and seek out food. In its early stages, Behaviorism completely ignored the idea of internal thoughts or cognitive motivations. Later on, B.F. Skinner, Ivan Pavlov and others acknowledged the existence of internal thoughts, but largely ignored them. Popular books such as 1-2-3 Magic and methods taught by Certified Behavioral Analysts (CBAs) are behavioral in nature.

Why is this important to a parent? Because Behavioral parenting strategies are based on the idea that human children act on similar motivations to animals. Certainly, some child behavior can be influenced by rewards and punishments. However, children are also much more complex in their thinking than animals generally are. While a hungry animal will almost always see a piece of food as a reinforcer of behavior, a hungry child may well have a different outlook on the matter. If a child values attention above all else, they may do the opposite of what a parent or caregiver would like them do simply to gain negative attention.

The easiest way to determine if you have an attention seeking child may be to pay attention to how you feel when attempting to deal with unwanted behavior (or an absence of wanted behavior). If you feel a sense of frustration, you may be dealing with an attention seeker. The parent of an attention seeker may say something like “I don’t understand why they won’t tie their shoes. I try to reason with them, give them praise or other rewards, but nothing works. I know they can tie their shoes but they are just being impossible for some reason.” What the parent is failing to see is that the child is actually getting the reward which is valued above all else… attention. As the parent attempts to reason and bargain with the child, the parent’s attention is completely focused on the child. As soon as the child “gives in” and does the wanted behavior, the parent may will shift attention to some other matter. It is therefore in the child’s interest to simply keep the parent frustrated and locked in on the issue at hand.

In the same example, the parent (and child) would be much better off if the parent simply shrugged their shoulders and emotionlessly said to the child, “I guess we can’t go to the park because your shoes are untied.” After saying this, the parent would simply attend to some other matter rather than keeping focus on the child and the struggle to get their shoes tied.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Behavior techniques and certainly CBAs can be successful in increasing wanted behaviors in children. However, when struggling with a parenting strategy that doesn’t seem to be working… one might be better off exploring an alternate philosophical approach to parenting.

If you have any further interest in non-behavioral parenting styles, I recommend reading Children: The Challenge by Dreikurs & Stoltz as well as The Parents’ Handbook: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting by Dinkmeyer & McKay.

Eric Leever, M.Ed., LMHC, NCC
1555 NW Saint Lucie West Blvd
Suite 201
Port St. Lucie, FL  34986

772 284 6030

eric@leevermhc.com