From Stressed Family, Strong Family
REDUCE STRESS--RECYCLE YOUR FAMILY!
Some of the problems in this chapter require expert help: talking to a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. This book cannot take the place of such help.
If you do get expert help, that person might not speak of cycles. However, many of the ideas here can fit into your therapy. Show this chapter to the therapist.
(I'm omitting Chapters 2 through 5 for the time being. Chapter 6 seems to be the most important one to place here.)
RECYCLE, BUT NOT INTO A TRASH CAN!
Of course when I call this chapter “Recycle Your Family!” I don’t mean that you should throw them out with the trash. I mean that your family--like most--probably needs some help in creating positive cycles. Those are cycles of love, support, and growth.
So a better title for this chapter would be “Replace Vicious Cycles with Cycles of Love, Support, and Growth.”
I want to write in this chapter about good feelings and positive cycles. But we need also to look at some painful cycles, because most books about problems don’t have much to say about cycles.
And vicious cycles can cause enormous stress. To support positive cycles may require a family to conquer some negative ones first.
WHAT IS A CYCLE?
But what do I mean by a “cycle?”
A cycle is a back-and-forth pattern: two or more people say or do almost the same things each time the cycle starts. Many families have a mixture of both positive and negative cycles.
In a positive cycle, each person does or says something that makes the other feel better. Consider something as simple as saying thanks to a child for doing a chore. That can make most kids more willing to do that chore again. More thanks next time keeps this positive cycle going.
Some supportive and loving cycles go on without words. A hug, a pat on the back can be the positive step. That lets the other person know you feel grateful.
If we wrote down the cycle we would write:
• Thanking or hugging the child
• Makes the child more willing to do chores,
• Which gives the parent more to thank or hug the child for,
• Which makes the child more willing to do chores, etc.
Positive cycles support strengths. Praise makes most kids feel good. It makes them want to do more. And the more they do, the more the parent (or teacher) can find to praise them for.
This is the core idea of this section. You need to find ways to support strengths, to set up a positive cycle between praise and strengths. Praise is a reward that “costs” nothing to give.
But parents raised on negative cycles have trouble praising and rewarding their own kids’ strengths.
Negative Cycles...If Only They Didn't Exist!
If only all families could enjoy this positive core cycle, and all the rewards that follow! But they don’t.
Many parents grew up never getting praise from their parents. All they ever got was criticism, complaints, harsh words, insults, threats, misery, punishment, and abuse. They may still be getting hurt by their parents, even as adults with kids of their own. If they work for a boss, he or she may never praise them, repeating the pattern of their childhood.
No wonder they have trouble praising and encouraging their own kids.
If that’s you, you need to find someone, somewhere, who can praise you for your strengths. Get the book, Feeling Good, by David Burns. That book can help you quit thinking bad things about yourself and can improve your mood, especially if you get depressed.
You may know some people who gain strength and encouragement from religion. Would that work for you? Some people go back to the religion they left. Others seek a new path. Even if you felt turned off by your first religion, you might find a new one that fits you better. (I write that with due respect to those who remain satisfied with their first faith.)
An Example of a Vicious Cycle: Nagging/Shirking
Here’s an example of one of those vicious cycles A parent reminds a kid to do a chore. (Or one spouse reminds the other.) “Take out the trash.” The kid ignores the parent, or says: “In a minute.” When the parent reminds the kid, to the kid, reminding is “nagging” or “bugging.” The more the kid avoids the task, which we could call, “shirking” or “avoiding” or “not taking responsibility,” the more the parent nags.
We can write an endless list of this pair of actions stretching over months or years: nagging, shirking, nagging, shirking…on and on.
Or we could write shirking first: shirking, nagging, shirking, nagging…
It doesn’t really make much difference after a while who started the pattern that particular day. Either person can start the cycle. The other person then thinks that the starter is to blame. The nagger says, or feels, “It’s his fault because if he did it right away--didn’t shirk--I wouldn’t have to nag.” The shirker says, or feels, “It’s her fault because she nags me all the time. If she didn’t nag, I would do it without being reminded.”
What Happens in Negative, or Vicious Cycles
So you can see that in a negative cycle, one person says or does something that bothers, frightens, hurts, or annoys another. The other person then says something that bothers the first one. They start to do whatever they usually do or say in this cycle.
Then the first person comes back with another remark. Then the second has another turn.
Round and round they go, with the same old arguments and accusations each time.
But these two people don’t see that the problem is a cycle--a vicious cycle--in which each person always plays the same part, time after time. A cycle can involve two adults, two kids, or an adult and a kid. Sometimes a third or even a fourth person gets sucked in on one side or another.
As you just saw, people focus on the other person’s part as causing the cycle. They don’t see how their own behavior keeps the cycle going, or even starts it. They blame the other for causing the trouble. But that other person is blaming us at the same time as we are blaming him.
But after a few weeks or months of repeated cycles, either person may start it. They don’t intend to start a vicious cycle. But the cycle gets going anyway.
Then it runs in its usual painful course until it ends in frustration, anger, despair, a physical fight, or someone storming out. Some people make peace and apologize, the first step toward conquering the cycle.
People Blame the Other Person--or They Blame Themselves
I’ve said people blame the other person for starting the trouble. But some people blame themselves instead of seeing the cycle. The feel like they are always messing up in the relationship, getting angry too soon, not being loving enough, or whatever their self-blame words might be.
Whether you blame the other or yourself, you’re missing the point. The cycle is the point.
To free yourself from a vicious cycle,
1. See that you’re in a cycle
2. Stop blaming each other
3. Agree to change the cycle by changing each person’s part
4. That’s a lot harder to do than I’ve made it sound. We'll look at the ways to escape in future excerpts.
Later in the chapter you’ll read a lot about changing vicious cycles. But first...
POSITIVE CYCLES AND FAMILY STRENGTHS
Let’s turn away from painful cycles and take a look at our goal: positive cycles of love and acceptance. I want you and your children to enjoy and support each other’s strengths--not get trapped in vicious cycles. As parents support strengths, kids reward parents with affection.
Many kids can give parents, and each other, their own unique type of support. Granted, most kids fight, the way my brother and I did. But we still grew up loving each other. And we usually did chores without being nagged, because Mom was not a nagger.
You can learn to let go of your part in a nagging cycle, using some of the methods we consider below. As you get free of the negative, keep looking for small things to appreciate.
This can be enough to change the feelings between you and your child. Some parents need to learn how to praise and thank kids for even those small things. Talk with a friend about how to do this.
Watch other parents. Praising can be hard if you grew up in a family that never praised or thanked anyone. But you can learn.
If you have a partner, quit nagging and start praising him or her. You may get some strange looks at first. You may need to keep saying positive things at first without seeing any change in your child, pupil, or partner. Usually they won’t thank you, or do much to reward your efforts. Don’t give up. You may need months of effort to reverse years of a bad cycle.
Whatever the cycle, if you can begin to see it as a cycle, you’ve taken the first step. You can control your part. Even if you have a habit of years of yelling, threatening, or scapegoating, you can learn better ways. Therapists help people with those problems all the time. So do friends, neighbors, pastoral counselors--and books like this. If one counselor does not work out, try another. If this book doesn’t help, see what else you can find in bookstores, libraries, and the Internet.
Before we go on to some more vicious cycles here’s an idea about love I find helpful.
LOVE IS A POLICY, NOT JUST A FEELING!
Positive cycles run on love.
We make a serious mistake if we think of love only as a feeling. Instead, consider love as a policy. That sounds strange: love as a policy. What does that mean?
A policy of love means supporting the other’s healthy goals. If you have a policy of love, you do what you can to help the other person reach those goals. You help them grow up into a resilient, positive person. You help them toward their goals in whatever way you can. You can give them encouragement, advice, praise, appreciation, or money.
A policy of love continues over time.
A feeling of love can change over time.
The love you first felt for your partner may change or fade. Conflicts may dim the affection, at least at the time they’re going on. Children can both stress and bless a partnership.
(I realize that some people pair up or marry without feeling much affection for each other. But even in that situation, you need some kind of policy between the two of you. Read on and see if this makes sense.)
Some Kids Are Harder to Love than Others
And parents will sometimes have a hard time feeling love for one or another of their kids. Sometimes a parent has never felt love for a kid. But they can still follow the policy of love, helping that child reach positive goals.
Maybe you didn’t know what to do when your feelings of love for a partner changed. Stress and conflicts began to dim that initial thrill, rush, wave of affection, or whatever you felt. You may have felt as though love must have disappeared.
But if you also think of love as a policy, then you’ve added several other strands to the bonds between you and your partner, or between you and your child.
That's probably enough for today.
In the next excerpt from Stressed Family, Strong Family, Chapter 6, we'll look at
HOW TO STOP BLAMING, NAGGING, ARGUING, OR OTHER CYCLES