Browsing the archives for the relationships tag.
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Useful Book on Social Networks: Connected

Resources

In my recent article “Can We Expect Other People to Help Us?” I mention the book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by sociologist Nicholas Christakis and political scientist James Fowler. Connected is a fascinating work that examines social networks widely enough to provide a broad understanding and specifically enough to provide practical insights.

The questions Christakis and Fowler ask cover a lot of ground. How do social networks form and change? Why do we have them? What’s the difference between looking at the individual behavior of a number of people and looking at their social network? How is a network different from just a group or class of people? What does it mean to be closer to the center or the edge of a network, and why does that matter?

Christakis and Fowler show us a variety of networks and a variety of things that pass through them: money, illness, recovery, weight loss, smoking behavior, ideas, suicide, happiness, altruism, delusion, sexual behavior, and a lot more. They describe how we influence and are influenced not just by the people we know, but by the people they know, and even by the people those friends-of-friends know, our friends-of-friends-of-friends. (Interestingly, they offer substantial evidence that the influence more or less stops after those three degrees.)

The book has some limitations that are worth knowing about. Notably, they sometimes describe the impact of social networks as determining behavior instead of influencing it–for instance, saying that if a friend of a friend of yours gains weight, you will gain weight yourself (instead of saying, as is more accurate, that you will be more likely to gain weight). In some cases it sounds as though they feel that individual behavior has no impact on anything at all, though I don’t think that’s their intention.

Regardless, the book is often fascinating and offers a lot of meaning and food for thought. If you’re interested social networks, whether out of curiosity about how they affect you or out of interest in understanding human systems, it’s well worth a read.

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Mental Schemas #8: Enmeshment and Undeveloped Self

Handling negative emotions

This is the eighth in a series of articles that draw on the field of schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. You can find an introduction to schemas and schema therapy, a list of schemas, and links to other schema articles on The Willpower Engine here.


Where do you end and I begin?
A person with the enmeshment schema is completely wrapped up in someone else’s life. It’s often a parent, but it can be anyone with a strong personality: a husband, a wife, a boss, a brother or sister … even a best friend. Enmeshed people ignore their own preferences and ideas and order everything in their lives according to the needs of the parent or other person they’re enmeshed with.

Some common feelings enmeshed people have are:

  • They/I/we couldn’t survive without this bond
  • I feel guilty if I keep anything separate
  • I feel completely smothered

Enmeshed people almost always have an “undeveloped self”: they don’t know what they want or need, what they prefer, where they’re going in life, or what would make them happy. It’s possible also to have the undeveloped self problem without the enmeshment problem, to feel empty and directionless and uncertain of wants and needs without necessarily being wrapped up in another person.

There’s a related schema called “subjugation,” where a person feels like they must act according to other people’s wishes, but instead of feeling closeness, subjugated people usually feel resentment, anger, and despair. An enmeshed person feels smothered; a subjugated person feels crushed. I’ll talk about subjugation in a separate post in future.

Enmeshed people and other people with undeveloped selves usually end up that way because of parents or other figures in their lives who are overprotective, abusive, or controlling.

Disentangling
In order to make progress in their own lives, enmeshed people first have to come to feel it’s OK to separate from the other, to be their own person. If they’re able to get to that point, they can begin to reflect on what they themselves really like, want, need, aspire to, and believe. Really knowing who we are and what’s important to us personally in life is what allows us to develop.

There are some dangers for an enmeshed person trying to get out of enmeshment. For instance, sometimes it can happen that an enmeshed person separates from the other by deciding that they hate everything that person loves, and vice-versa. Unfortunately, this still isn’t finding an individual self, because just doing the opposite of someone else still means that one’s decisions are based on another person.

Another danger is of getting out of an enmeshed situation is falling right into another–for instance, leaving a too-close relationship with a parent by getting into a romantic relationship with someone who has a very strong personality and becoming enmeshed with that person instead, or working through enmeshment in therapy and separating from the other person only to become enmeshed with the therapist. (Good therapists take pains to prevent this from getting very far!)

So the other goal, in addition to finding one’s own preferences and identity, is to learn how to have healthy relationships with other people, relationships that are connected but not enmeshed. The best tool I know of for this is mindfulness, being aware of our own thoughts, feelings, and preferences from moment to moment in our lives. It’s only when we lose track of our own thinking that we can get overwhelmed with someone else’s.

Ending enmeshment and developing the self take a lot of hard work and understanding, and can often be especially well helped by a good cognitive therapist.

Photo by Djuliet

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Mental Schemas #2: Mistrust

Handling negative emotions

This is the second in a series of articles that draw on the field of schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. There’s more information about schemas and schema therapy on a new page on The Willpower Engine here.

The Mistrust Schema
People with the Mistrust Schema expect bad treatment from others. They tend to think or say that they always get the worst of things, that other people want to do them harm, or that it’s not safe to trust others. Having a Mistrust Schema means feeling deep down, on a gut level, regardless of logic, that other people cannot be trusted, that the only safety is in keeping others at a distance.

Mistrust Schemas can be complicated or maintained in part by a person who avoids close connections with others out of fear of being hurt. This kind of avoidance encourages others to shun or disregard the person with the Mistrust Schema and makes it especially difficult to have any relationship that could prove the mistrust unfounded.

A person with a Mistrust Schema may also tend to jump to conclusions about others’ intentions and motivations, leading to unfounded accusations or preemptive counter-strikes–both of which, needless to say, tend to make others less well-disposed toward the person struggling with mistrust.

The Mistrust Schema generally is built early in life in response to abuse, whether emotional, physical, or sexual, by a person in authority or by anyone who is deeply trusted. A child who is mistreated will often naturally adopt a strategy of assuming the worst of other people in order not to be put in a vulnerable position again if it can be helped. While this behavior may help with the original untrustworthy person, it gets carried over to everyone else as life goes on, creating an emotional barrier that encourages isolation and fear.

Overcoming a Mistrust Schema
Relieving and eventually overcoming a Mistrust Schema requires an act of faith: consciously deciding to trust a person from time to time. A Mistrust Schema expresses itself in part as the broken idea known as fortune telling, in which a person makes assumptions about how the future will be (in this case, assuming that others will treat them badly), or in the related broken idea called mind reading, in which a person assumes things about how someone else is thinking (in this case, assuming that they are planning something unkind). For a person to come to grips with this schema means first noticing how it is affecting their life, behavior, and especially thinking: perceiving that this basic assumption that others will be hurtful is causing thoughts to run a certain way, then consciously rerouting those thoughts.

For example, a person with a mistrust schema may see a family member’s number coming up on caller ID before answering the phone and assume that the family member is calling to say unkind things. If the phone is answered with a hostile tone and the person with the mistrust schema is unkind or suspicious in the conversation, this encourages exactly the kind of behavior the person is predicting.

To cause the phone call to go another way, it’s necessary to stop and change the thought “That’s my sister. She’s calling to harangue me again.” to something like “That’s my sister. She may be calling to say something unkind, something nice, or just to pass on news. If I act kindly toward her over the phone, though, she may possibly talk kindly back.”

Small instances in which a person can demonstrate that mistrust is ill-founded can add up to greater confidence over time that can be used in situations that require more trust.

I’ll also mention that a good cognitive therapist can often be very helpful when a person is facing a major or ongoing problem like an especially bad mistrust schema. Even without the help of a therapist, though, it’s possible to take a stronger role in shaping our own mental landscapes when we’re aware of and deal directly with our own broken thoughts.

Photo by  j / f / photos

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Relaxing a Little and Focusing on Positive Interactions at Zen Habits

Resources

Leo Babuta at Zen Habits posted an article on parenting yesterday that’s well worth reading. It’s interesting, because he doesn’t have a lot of hard evidence to back up what he’s saying, yet his points resonate strongly with what I’ve learned by trial and error (and there has been a lot of error, I can tell you) in parenting.

Several of his points about parenting, interestingly enough, touch on important elements of motivation. Several of his points have to do with surrendering immediate inclinations (like being angry or saying no or insisting on your own point of view) in order to improve your relationship with your kid and get a better outcome, and these are excellent examples of the impressive powers of surrender that I talk about in this post.

He also talks indirectly about a point I’ll get to in future posts, which is the value of investing in the important relationships in our lives. Positivity, following natural inclinations, and using happiness as a sign post also come up. I’m curious what non-parents might think of the article, and whether you find much in it that you can use elsewhere in your life.

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