Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Crazy Interventions v. Reasonable Suggestions

by Angela Smith

I've been thinking a lot about what is and is not acceptable and appropriate in human relations. So, I've decided to use a number of situational examples with inappropriate (crazy) responses and acceptable (reasonable) suggestions. I hope you get something out of this entry and that at least some of the examples can be used to benefit your relationships.

Example #1

Jeremy is sick. He believes he is terminally ill. Janet cares about Jeremy. Janet has many options in regards to how she chooses to intervene or support Jeremy. We will go with two for brevity's sake.

Janet's Crazy Intervention Option: Janet can contact Jeremy's parents to keep tabs on his welfare. Janet can make appointments with doctors for Jeremy without his consent and then manipulate or attempt to manipulate him through guilt or other emotional warfare to get him to go to the appointments she has made for him.

The above scenario crosses a number of lines. Janet has disrespected Jeremy's autonomy and intervened in an over-bearing manner. She has taken her concern/care for her friend Jeremy too far and has definitely crossed the proverbial line or violated Jeremy's personal boundaries. She may be well-meaning. But, this type of intervention is unhealthy and controlling. Jeremy has every right to put his foot down and refuse her "help".

Janet's Reasonable Suggestion Option: Janet can be supportive of Jeremy and help him investigate his options without making decisions or trying to make decisions for him. She can make suggestions and even state her feelings and opinions regarding what options she would consider if she were in his shoes. And, she can do so while respecting his autonomy.

The above scenario is supportive and respectful. It does not cross any lines nor exhibit any unhealthy or controlling issues as were present in the "crazy" option.

Example #2

Carrie wants to eat at a restaurant that has a history of customers contracting food-born illnesses. David cares about Carrie and is aware of the problems with the restaurant. Carrie is also aware of the problems with the restaurant, but, really respects one of the chefs that frequently assists the restaurant with menu suggestions. Carrie owns her own restaurant and consults with the chef that assisted in the "tainted" restaurant's menu. While David also has many options of how to handle the situation, I will stick with the two as in example #1.

David's Crazy Intervention Option: David quits his job. Follows Carrie everywhere with a list of menus from other restaurants and tells her he will cook anything she wants that is offered at the "tainted" restaurant to ensure she does not ever eat there. He tells her he will do whatever it takes, including proving that the chef she likes is absentee at best and that the chef is not aware or simply ignores the problems with the restaurant. He goes so far as to threaten to burn the restaurant down and to focus all of his time and energy in making sure she never eats there.

The above scenario is borderline psychotic on David's part. Carrie has a right to choose where she wishes to eat. And, he doesn't have to eat there as well. So, he needs to allow Carrie to learn the hard way, if necessary. David's putting his entire life on hold and basically stalking Carrie to control her behavior in regards to where she eats crosses many lines and is unhealthy for both of them and their relationship.

David's Reasonable Suggestion Option: David can do his own research and present as much information as possible to Carrie to inform her of the dangers involved with eating at the "tainted" restaurant. He can tell her he will not join her in eating there. And, he can warn their mutual friends as well to make sure that everyone is making an informed decision in regards to the restaurant.

The above scenario is reasonable and shows respect for Carrie's right to make her own choices as well as allows David to provide information and clear boundaries regarding what he will and will not participate in as far as the restaurant is concerned. We can only hope Carrie's infatuation with the advising chef dissipates before she poisons herself and/or any of her associates.

Example #3

Teenager wants to dye hair purple. Parent does not agree and opposes dyeing the hair an "unnatural" color. Parent has many ways to deal with this scenario. As above, we will continue with the two options.

Parent's Crazy Intervention Option: Parent hires kidnappers to take teenager to undisclosed private prison where the teenager's head is shaved and no hair dyes are allowed. The private prison also denies all forms of self-expression, popular music, and access to television, newspapers, reading materials, unmonitored telephone calls, and uncensored mail. Teenager is not even allowed to shower or use the toilet privately. And, is "supervised" 24-7 by unqualified staff or "guards".

In the above scenario, the parent is beyond over-reacting and not considering (therefore not respecting) the thoughts and feelings of the teenager. And, the parent is violating the civil rights of the teenager and, according to some district attorneys, the law. The parent is crossing a lot of lines and is not recognizing or encouraging healthy and respectful boundaries between the parent and the teen. The parent's reaction is inappropriate and unacceptable.

Parent's Reasonable Suggestion Option: Parent recommends teen use temporary hair-color and see how the teen's classmates, school, and/or employer react to the change. This will give the parent the opportunity to see if his/her concerns are warranted and the teen an opportunity to try out the hair color without making a commitment to it. After which, both will be in a better position to discuss whether dyeing the hair more permanently is acceptable or even still desirable by either party.

In the above scenario, the parent is showing support and respect for the teen's individuality and self-expression. The parent is giving both him/herself and the teen an opportunity to test the teen's proposed change in a reasonable compromise. And, this will show trust in the teen's decision-making skills while allowing for the teen to try out something new that is neither illegal nor immoral.

Three examples should suffice and I hope they do. In each example, there is no doubt that Janet, David, and the Parent care deeply for their friends and family and wish to prevent perceived harm, be it physical or emotional.

In the first example, Janet's crazy option was to try to control the situation and may have been based on her own fear of losing Jeremy or witnessing Jeremy's suffering. But, she acted out of fear, not love, in her approach to the situation. She allowed her fear to drive her to intervene inappropriately and to fuel her over-bearing response to a sensitive situation.

Janet's reasonable option was to work independently and with Jeremy to find solutions that may lessen Jeremy's suffering and supportively, with love, assist him in reviewing his options and situation. Janet's curiosity and concern may have manifested in suggestions and a desire to know if Jeremy's situation could improve. This is reasonable given their friendship.

In the second example, David's crazy option was to control the situation through force, mania, and fear. David was not satisfied with having presented information or even continuing to provide updated information regarding the ongoing problems with the restaurant. He would stop at nothing to prevent Carrie from trying out the "tainted" restaurant. This was certainly meant to protect her from harm and food-born illness. But, the option showed no respect for Carrie's right to make her own choices and take her own risks. This is why the "crazy" option is unhealthy and not recommended.

David's reasonable option was to warn Carrie, refuse to go with her and/or support the "tainted" restaurant, and warn their mutual friends of the danger. This provided their community of friends an opportunity to make an informed decision regarding where they choose to eat and also showed respect for Carrie's independent decision-making. It can be difficult to hold back when a friend is going to make a perceived error that puts their lives, reputations, and/or health in jeopardy. But, it is necessary if healthy boundaries are to be maintained by all.

In the third example, the parent's over-reaction in sending his/her teen to a private prison for wanting to dye his/her hair was likely based on fear of being judged or pre-judged based on appearances. The parent wanted to protect him/herself, the family, and probably the teen too, from being made a source of ridicule by neighbors, classmates, co-workers, family, and friends. But, again the decision here is based on fear and not love. This is the primary basis for all mistakes that appear to exhibit irrational or unreasonable control over others.

The parent's reasonable option shows trust and respect for both the parent and the teen's concerns and desires. And, will likely provide a good learning experience for both. The reasonable option was based on love, tolerance, and trust. And, that is always the way to go.

Whenever someone exerts control or attempts to dictate how another legally chooses to express him/herself, it is unhealthy. And, that includes telling others what they can and cannot say, think, feel, or any related self-expression. It is reasonable to warn a friend or loved one regarding a perceived harm and it is reasonable to notify them of a harm they have caused by making a poor choice such as inviting an unwitting friend to a restaurant where food-born illnesses are commonly contracted. It is crazy to cross the line into attempting or successfully achieving, even temporary, absolute control regarding another's legal choices/actions.

This is a balancing act and is best maintained by treating others the way one wishes to be treated him/herself. And, generally, such dictates that we respect each other's freedom and right to make choices, even when we disagree.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Troubled Parents: A Look at the Real Problem

By Angela Smith

I had the privilege of interviewing 51-year old survivor, Scott Walker, last week. He is a survivor of both domestic and institutionalized abuse. You can listen to that interview by visiting www.heal-online.org/swalker.mp3. Walker discussed his abusive home life and the lies and manipulations of his parents that resulted in his being spirited away to group homes for much of his youth. Walker's story is far from unique.

I have spoken to very few parents who have truly exercised every responsible and reasonable option prior to seeking institutionalization for their children. I have seen interviews with parents who had their children taken from them by the State and the State subjecting those same children to abusive institutions. One instance was of a mother whose daughter had stomach cancer. The doctors did not test for cancer and stated they found nothing wrong. The last doctor reported the mother to Child Protective Services, suspecting she suffered Munchausen by proxy. Munchausen by proxy is a mental disorder in which a caregiver intentionally makes a ward ill in order to get attention or sympathy from others. The State investigated and took the daughter away. They placed the daughter in a residential treatment facility. After two years of complaining to the residential treatment center that she continued to have stomach pains, they took her to a doctor. And, she had advanced stomach cancer. Even after the mother and daughter were reunited, the State refused to apologize or admit error. The residential treatment center stated they believed her complaints were a symptom of mental illness or delusion brought on by the mother's non-existent Munchausen by proxy. And, so her illness was not properly diagnosed nor treated in a timely manner.

In another instance, a father had been raping his daughter and she reported him to her school counselor at public school. The counselor reported it to the police and Child Protective Services. The report to police and Child Protective Services was not acted upon immediately. Days after the victim made the report to her counselor, her father sent her to a residential treatment center to avoid investigation and prosecution of his crimes. The girl spent over a year in residential treatment before someone at the program believed she might be telling the truth and called the school counselor to verify. After spending a year in an environment being called a bad kid and told the rapes didn't happen, the truth came out and the father was prosecuted. But, this is one of the few cases where the truth saw the light of day.

It is not unusual for parents to be neglectful and/or abusive towards their children. And, sometimes the neglect and/or abuse is not obvious. Some parents "play the victim" and find ways to make everyone else the "fall guy" for their own misdeeds and faults. I've spoken with parents by phone and in person who neglect their children and emotionally abuse their children in my presence. I often struggle with the best way to respond to such a situation and weigh the risks versus the benefits of saying something or reporting these abuses. For instance, one parent, with whom I have spoken frequently, often yells at her children and neglects their needs. She is more concerned with her own need for attention and unable to give the needed attention and affection to her children. This same parent institutionalized one of her older children and has almost exhibited Munchausen by proxy in inventing a disease for her older child and then blaming her own lack of responsibility and attentive parenting on the institution itself. The institution/program was definitely abusive. But, this parent fails to accept responsibility in her choice to send her child away in the first place and wants all of the attention and sympathy for herself.

In other situations, I've witnessed parents lie about their children or hate their children because they are gay or have some "imperfection" that the parent can't accept. Some parents have stated they will institutionalize their child if they receive less than an A in every course in school. And, I've known victims of institutionalized abuse who were enrolled in a program simply for getting an A-/B+ on a report card. Many parents reading this blog will likely agree that such is extreme and absurd. But, the larger problem is that the programs will accept children on any basis and will not refuse any new enrollment because it means cash to them. So, we have a system where children can't win.

Often good, well-adjusted kids, are sent to programs for some absurd reason that most people would think is ridiculous. But, once enrolled, the programs know that they must get "dirt" or manufacture "dirt" on an otherwise good kid if the money and enrollment is to be "justified" and to continue for a long-period until the cash cow is milked dry. Children are forced to write letters confessing to things they've never tried nor done that would make any character on HBO's "Oz" look saintly. And, neglectful and hateful parents believe the false confessions or go along with them in order to get out of being responsible for their child for as long as possible.

Neglect is the most under-reported form of child abuse and is not always apparent. Children can be neglected physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. And, the markers are not always easy to read. They can take the form of a child who stays quiet and out of the way. Or, they can take the form of a child who acts out in order to get "negative attention". As Scott Walker stated in our interview, children who act out are doing it for a reason. And, it is up to the adults in a child's life to find out the reason and address the underlying problem. When we institutionalize our children, we are abandoning them and neglecting them. We are showing clearly a disinterest in their lives and an unwillingness to bond with and understand them. Children deserve much better from us.

I would recommend parents spend less time on Facebook or commenting on "America's Got Talent" and more time getting to know, understand, and love their children. It is easy to send a stranger away. And, it is difficult to send away someone you truly love, appreciate, and respect. Please take time to know your children and give them the attention they need and support they deserve. Start by being honest with yourself and with your children. Remember respect is showing consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others and that it should always be mutual. And, don't use fear as a means of controlling children. Children learn what they live and live what they learn. Live by example and be a source of love, honesty, respect, and compassion. This will benefit you and enrich your life and the lives around you for a lifetime.