Why Blaming, Scolding and Criticizing don’t work

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Why blaming, scolding, and criticizing don’t work.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Ways to tame the blaming, scolding and criticizing.

We all know someone who relies on these techniques and we know that these methods of communicating don’t make us want to do what they are asking. In many families, this becomes the primary way in which people communicate even when the person doing the blaming knows they don’t like the feeling of being on the receiving end of this sort of communication.

You can recognize someone doing these behaviors easily, but recognizing when you are doing them and changing to more effective behaviors takes some effort and practice. Responding to a scolder with scolding does not solve the problem. It only further escalates the conflict.

Blaming as communication.

Blaming is one of the three “communication stances” described by Virginia Satir, one of the founders of family therapy, and others of her colleagues. She describes people as communicating in three basic ways – Blaming, Placating and congruent communications.

Blaming is the looking down on others stance, it includes all sorts of putting the person you are talking to down and making them “less than.”

Placating communication scrambles the message.

Placating might be described as the “victim stance.” We see puppies take this stance when they roll over and expose their bellies. Children will cower when yelled at. Placating says I give in. It says nothing about agreeing.

Congruent communication.

Congruent communication is the preferred mode in which people talk to each other as equals. Congruent communication does not look for whose fault it is that things are out of whack. the goal here is understanding.

Criticizing sabotages communication.

Criticizing has been described as attacking the person, not the action you want to change. Scolding includes a range of behaviors, verbal and physical that is designed to make the person being scolded “smaller” and the scolder feels more powerful and in control.

Some authors have suggested there is a difference between “complaining” in which you ask for a change and “criticizing” in which you just run the other person down in an effort to get revenge. One way to become more aware of these behaviors is to actually practice them until you recognize when you are doing them. Ben Furman has described some of these behaviors related to scolding. Done as a group activity the behaviors can be exaggerated until they become downright funny.

Here are the things a good blamer, scolder, and criticizer should be able to do automatically.

1. Tower over the person to be upbraided.

Parents have a natural advantage here. They are taller to start with. But if the person you are trying to demean is near your size, wait till they are seated and then pulling yourself up as much as possible and crowd in close so they can’t get up. In a pinch, a ladder or standing on a chair might help.

2. Stick your finger in their face.

This gesture, the universal sign of I am right and you are no good works, best if the finger motion includes several wags. Practice the up-down pound them into the ground move and the left-right “bad dog” move.

3. Leave no doubt that they are totally worthless.

Use plenty of words that leave no room for them to ever make it up to you or redeem themselves. You never, you always and other categorical statements should prove their worthlessness.

4. Demean their intelligence.

Statements like “anyone with half a brain would know” are especially good. Remind them they are dumb, stupid and that they have none of that rare commodity “common sense.” It helps to remind them how much common sense you have.

5. Ask questions for which there are no answers.

Don’t you understand that—?

Why did you do that?

6. Call them names.

Calling the person you are talking to “stupid” or “idiot” is sure to get a dramatic response out of the person you are talking at. Not a positive response necessarily, but a huge response none the less.

7. Be as vague as possible.

Never ask specifically for what you want and if by some chance they should request a clarification fall back on the old standbys “you know what I mean” or “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand anyway.”

8. When all else fails try threatening.

Remind your children that if they don’t start doing as you tell them you will ground them for life. Threatening to take away the cell phone till they turn thirty can be especially ineffective. Make threats as large, outlandish and impossible as you can. No sense in threatening with something you might actually be able to do.

Now should you want to really communicate in a positive way, which may be harder and require more work, then reverse the process and do the opposite of the things described above.

There you have it, 8 suggestions for becoming really good at Blaming, Scolding and Criticizing and one antidote for poor communication.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Why relationships fail – two large reasons

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Couple drinking

Couples relationship with alcohol.
Photo courtesy of pixabay

Two major causes are responsible for the majority of failed relationships.

Most of the research in this area has been done by Marriage or Couples Counselors but the results of these insights are applicable to other relationships, particularly the relationship between boss and employee. The major reason for relationship failure turns out not to be the thing we most expect.

Conflicted relationships fail and they often end early.

We expect couples who fight a lot to have a bad relationship and for the relationship to fail. That does happen – sometimes but not as often as you would think.

Relationships with lots of negativity, constant conflict are likely to end fairly soon. Gottman has done a lot of research in this area and he tells us that these relationships commonly end in the first seven years, with an average length just over five years. These relationships are easy to spot lots of obvious arguing and fights. Sometimes there is violence. The police in every town know where these couples live.

After a few years of non-stop conflict these couples part. Often they are still angry with each other and they may have to make the exchanges of the children at a supervised site.

Sadly what often happens is both parties get into new relationships and they discover that the second or eighth time is no better than the first. Gottman tells us based on his research that almost 70% of fights are about things for which there is no solution. She likes green tea and he wants black or it could be religion, politics or any other area of preference. Much less often a couple disagrees about something where they might be able to work out a solution that makes them both happy.

In other relationships, like jobs and friendships, people who have these kinds of conflicts quit jobs, get fired or don’t stay around long. Sometimes they have an employment history of lots of short-term jobs. They may also have an arrest record for domestic violence or bar fights. They are also likely to have over-close friendships followed by a complete rupture of that relationship.

Getting into hugely negative conflicts is not the same as being assertive though some people confuse getting there way and giving in with being assertive or being victimized.

As dramatic as unrestrained conflict may be it is not the major reason that marriages fail. It is also not, in my experience, the reason productive employees leave companies or that long-term friendships end. There is a bigger cause of failed relationships.

Relationships without love, friendship or caring take longer to fail but eventually these couples pull apart.

In these couples, there is nothing positive between them. They have no fun together and often prefer to live the majority of their lives apart. Now I know that there was a time that couples like this stayed together till death do them part, but that was a long time ago.

Couples in these kinds of relationships describe themselves as feeling “dead.” There is nothing that the couple has in common and eventually, the relationship ends. In the workplace, these relationships are devoid of positive regard for the other party. The only things the employee hears from the boss are the complaints and the errors. The only time the employee seeks out the boss is when they have a grievance. Neither may enjoy coming to work anymore. They forget to ever have anything positive to say about each other or about the goal their organization is pursuing.

So often couples start out the relationship describing themselves as best friends, somewhere along the way they forget that the best of friendships require work and they require shared experiences. These couples are especially prone to the “empty nest syndrome” or the “we only stayed together for the sake of the kids.” Eventually, the kids grow up and move out on their own and this couple is stuck with each other. Sometimes they are able to recreate a positive relationship but often there are no feelings left to build on.

These are not the couples who are content with each other and who are comfortable whether alone or together. They are the couples who hate to be together. There is always tension in the air if they are both in the same room but the discomfort never erupts into overt hostilities. In these relationships, neither partner makes an effort to consider the other and you will never see one comfort the other in times of pain. These are empty and uncaring couples.

So there you have it, two kinds of relationships that end on the rocks. The openly hostile violent relationships may end first but the hidden dislike eventually takes its toll. Just avoiding fights is not a solution to relationship failure. Creating more positive experiences together than negative ones is the safest route to keeping the relationship intact and healthy.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Warning – Gremlins are hiding in the send button!

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Computer

Internet.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Why do emails suddenly change after you click send?

Mine keep doing that. I am getting worried. I need to find a solution to this issue. The email message looks perfect. Nothing underlined in red. Not even a smidgen of green or purple. But let me click send and the whole message changes color and the misspelled words appear. What could be causing this?

I thought there must be something wrong with my computer. So I began my search. It took a while but now I have the proof. My suspicions have been confirmed. There is something wrong with my computer. I don’t want to scare you but this could happen to you also.

It does not appear to be a computer virus. I have checked for all the usual symptoms. No part of my computers anatomy is hot to the touch. There are no noxious fluids leaking from any orifice. These are the usual signs of illness in family members and I checked them all first.

Now I know that computers are not flesh and blood but it is reassuring to know that I have ruled out that possibility, still, the problem persists.

When my cat gets sick I take her to the vet. The veterinarian was no help on the computer problem. His commuter is doing the same thing mine is. He referred me to a specialist.

An x-ray of the computer failed to detect anything hiding inside that did not belong. The specialist was baffled. At least that is what I think his email said. Much of it was misspelled and run together. His computer seems to have caught the virus. Can you catch an email virus by sending an email? Checking – Checking.

Carefully I have reviewed my email list. There seem to be some really sick people on the list.

Now I am not talking about clients, I expect them to have problems. But the sickest people on my email list were colleagues. I am especially fearful of anyone with a Ph.D. I have placed their email addresses in quarantine but the problem continues.

If it was just an occasional misspelled word I could cope with it. But the transposed letters have caused some embarrassment, especially when I send them to my boos. He was especially unhappy with once sentence that was supposed to read – not- and the gremlin changed to – Nut. People are also upset with things that come out like “some time of a problem.”  The one where I said I was “thinging about you,” also caused some problems.

Now I have always had difficulty with initial sonsonant counds. Ever since I first learned the story of Finder Cella and the Sgly isters and the Chince Parming mhe seets at the dancy fress ball. Some people call these spoonerisms, others call them mtupid sistakes. But my computer problem seems to be worse than that.

Other people’s computers are speaking a language like “newspeak.” They have words like U for you and LOL for launch our litigation – or something like that. I might be able to cope with learning a new language to be able to email but my computer just is not fat consistent.

I type out the word You – that is clearly what I mean. It looks right – I click send – and now it says ou or Tou or even Uou. Who keeps changing the letters?

Whne I typ nto it comes out not and ot is transposed inot to. It is al merry confusing.

For a while, I thought it might be the mouse. I got one of those new wireless ones. Ever since I got it the cat has taken to sitting on top of the computer and watching the mouse. They yesterday the mouse disappeared. The cat is looking awfully proud of herself but the self-transposing letters continue. I am chalking it up to gremlins.

A quick search of the internet shows that I am not the only one who has suffered an infection of gremlins. Apparently, American Motors Corporation (AMC) had some Gremlin connection from 1970 to 1978. I didn’t read the whole article but I doubt that that Gremlin and the one in my computer are in any way connected.

Still, I thought the severity of this problem required me to warn you.

So should you receive an email from me, or read a blog post in which the letters seem to have been rearranged to make them more nonsensical than usual, you will know it was not my fault. The gremlin did it.

I hope this gremlin warning made you smile. Happiness it one of the greatest cures for much of what ails us. So what makes you happy? How might you achieve a happy life? Till next time.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Mindfulness on a full brain

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Waterlily

Mindfulness and meditation.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What is all this mindfulness stuff?

And how can I possibly include that in with my cognitive behavior therapy?

Problem-solving in mental health as in life has always been pretty straightforward for me. If we are applying the wrong formula to a problem then we keep getting the wrong answer. Once we learn an improved formula all we need to do is turn the crank and out comes an answer.  Get a head change, a new way of seeing things and the problem changes from unsolvable to a manageable size. So we work on core schemas, automatic thoughts, irrational or dysfunctional beliefs. And we work on acceptance – radical acceptance. So the whole mindfulness thing troubled me—until-

There have been a lot of articles recently on mindfulness. Now I feel that this has its uses. Religious and spiritual practices have their place. And I am as much in favor of candles and herbal scents as the next person. All this has its time and place. And we know that if the client believes in something it will probably help. But do mindfulness techniques have a place in modern scientific, best practices, forms of treatment. Then I read some things that made me think.

Siegal has written and talked about mindfulness and recently I happened to read some things he had written on the subject. They made sense to me from a logical rational perspective.  Let me try to explain this as I get it and hope not to do too much violence to the science.

Scientists have discovered mirror neurons in the brain. Now if all they did was see someone else doing something and result in us knowing how to do the same thing that would be the end of it, one more way to learn stuff.  But these mirror neurons detect patterns that allow us to infer why someone is doing what they are doing. Learning these patterns makes our world a more secure and predictable place. This has a lot to do with understanding attachment theory.

If when we reach for more food at the table we get slapped – we learn to not reach but ask which may be a valuable learning experience for a young unsocialized child. But if the response varies depending on the amount of alcohol mom has consumed, what we may learn is the pattern that the world is a scary and inconsistent place. The pattern of asking may be adaptive and is quickly forgotten if we encounter a situation where it is not expected. The pattern of seeing the world as a frightening place is likely to last a lifetime.

So the mirror neurons help to explain how we learn basic core ways of relating to the world.

But there is more.

Mindfulness teaches the practice of paying attention to how we feel inside. As we come to recognize how we are feeling it becomes easier to recognize feelings in others. This is sometimes called the “expert” effect. If you are an expert on antiques you will spot them and probably will notice the cheap reproductions also. If you are not an antique expert you will see things you like or don’t like but lots of stuff will go unnoticed in the piles of other stuff. Same thing with feelings and empathy.

Seeing people express love will teach you the pattern of love.  But if the people you live with don’t show love or show it inconsistently then you may be unable to recognize the pattern and to replicate it. This does not mean that people whose early caregiver did not love them as much as they wanted will be unable to love. What it does mean is that it may be harder to recognize and express love in later life.

Lots of people in recovery, from drugs, alcohol, mental illness or dysfunctional caregivers report they have difficulty with trust issues. Most came from situations where it was not safe to trust on a regular basis so they never learned the pattern.  Some recovering people have spent so much time being deceitful to cover up and continue their addiction they no longer recognize the truth when they hear it. Their mirror circuits have not had trust images to reflect back and incorporate into their catalog of patterns.

So how will mindfulness techniques help someone who has trust issues, attachment problems or dysfunctional behaviors? How might these approaches help counselors in helping clients?

By becoming aware of our inner feelings and thoughts we can begin to dispute dysfunctional beliefs. We can learn new more functional patterns of meaning in life. We can recognize our feelings of anger, mistrust, and fear and test these feelings to see if they have a basis in reality. And we can learn from recognizing our own feelings to have empathy for others.

Counselors can especially benefit from mindfulness techniques by becoming better able to present an empathetic other who can participate in a corrective emotional experience with the client.

More to come as I research for that book I am writing on resilience.

Wishing you all the mindfulness you care to have. Hope to hear from some of you.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Why can’t we communicate?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Talking to yourself

Communication.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Eight ways to improve communication with your teens.

Therapists get lots of questions about communication. Couples want to know how to communicate better; parents want to know how to communicate with their kids.

What many people mean by wanting to improve communication is “How can I convince them to do what I want them to do?” That is not communication. It may be assertiveness training, or manipulation or just normal parenting skills but it is not communication. Maybe improving compliance would be a good topic for a future blog. That is not what this one is about.

Communication is about the ability to hear and be heard even when we may not agree or like the message we are receiving.

Dictionaries, like Encarta, have multiple definitions for the word communication. The word means variously, exchange of information, a message, a sense of mutual understanding, sympathy and many other related things.

Here are some suggestions for improving communication with teens, some of these suggestions are appropriate for younger children; most would help adults improve their communications.

1. Communicate early and often.

The time to open communication with kids is as young as possible. Parents often spend the early years telling kids, not listening to them. If the only time you talk to your child is to correct them, preach at them or give them your guidance it is unlikely that suddenly they will by some miracle begin to communicate with you. Communication should be a two-way street. The good news is that it is probably never too late to open up communication but as the child gets older it becomes more difficult. So parents who start communicating, really listening to their child, have a big head start on parents who wait till the kid is a teenager and then decide to open the lines of communication. Communication is a skill. The more you practice it the better you should get at it. By having good communication with your child you teach them how to have good communications with the others in their life. If your primary way of communicating is by yelling and making the kids wrong, they will probably yell at their kids and their spouse. The better they become at yelling the more likely it becomes that you will get to yell at them some more when they divorce and move back into your house with the grand-kids. I am hoping this is not sounding like a good idea.

2. Listen don’t tell.

Have you ever met someone who tried to do all the talking? How did that feel? Did it make you want to spend more time around them? It is no different for your kids. There is a built-in bias with parent-child communication. Your kids want you to like them. They will censor what they say. If you do the talking they will skip the hard to say things about the mistakes they make and the feelings they have. So the more you talk the less likely your kids are to tell you anything. If your kids no longer care what you think, it is not because you have good communication. You are already losing the battle. Seek help NOW!

3. Be available to talk.

Good communication with kids can’t be scheduled in advance. Yes, absolutely, you need some regular consistent time to spend with kids. You also need to schedule some time for yourself and your partner. Having good communication with yourself should be a priority. Communicating with your partner is only important if you plan to keep them. (Did you get the sarcasm there?) If you want to improve the relationship with your child, make talking with them a priority. Work toward a life where you can always interrupt what you’re doing to communicate with your child. If you can’t talk right now, let them know you want to talk and will get back to them as soon as possible. Then make sure you do get back to them. This method helps hugely with spouses, partners, co-workers, do I need to keep going here?

4. Listen for the feelings, not the facts.

If you are taking notes while they are talking you will shut down the communication. It is important to make sure you have heard them correctly. Profession counselors are taught to summarize and reflect back what the client has said. We want to be sure that what we heard is what the client really meant. The teen who gets turned down for a date is feeling badly. Telling them they are young, they will have lots of chances, you know you aren’t supposed to be getting serious at your age – none of these things is helpful when they are full of tears. Right now hear them. There will be lots of time for teaching moments later. Sometimes we need to interject some reality testing here. Because the kid’s friend didn’t want to do something with them does not mean no one wants to be around them and they will never have a friend. Because we have a feeling does not make that a fact. It is not just kids who mistake feelings for reality. Speaking in front of a group may feel scary, it is probably not life-threatening. Something’s that sound all good and fun, like some of the new drugs or sexual activity turn out to be a lot more dangerous than they seem. Teach your kids not to mistake how they feel about something for the facts.

5. Try to think about what they are saying not what you are going to say next.

If we are busy planning our response we will miss a lot of the key parts of what the kid is saying. This is true for most other situations. Most of the time what you will say in response is really not that important, right now. Wait till later for your turn. Didn’t someone important say it is better to hear than to be heard? If you don’t recognize the quote look in that big black book that is gathering dust on your nightstand. No, not the phone number book, the other big black one.

6. Remember the first rule of parenting – parents need to be parents and kids should be kids.

You are not your child’s best friend. This is really painful for some adults. They want their kids to like them so the kid can say anything, do anything and it is O. K. That is not a good Idea. We should be able to hear what our child says, no matter how much we dislike the information but that does not mean we should do nothing. Kids need to learn that there are something’s that are not appropriate to say. They learn that by adults letting them know that what they have said is not acceptable.

7. It should be O. K. for your teen to talk with someone else.

Ever notice your child’s friends will tell you things that they haven’t told their parents. You are not so ego-involved with the neighbor’s kids. If they failed a test you can comfort them. Harder to do when your child fails, you are picturing the not-graduating from high school scenario, the no college live at home forever plot. If your own kid says I flunked the Algebra test you might recoil in horror. With the neighbor’s kid, you can take it in stride. By the way – if your kid’s friends never talk to you, check the mirror and wonder why. Talking to your friend’s parents is a natural teen behavior. Don’t be insulted if you kid talks to someone else, be happy they have someone they can confide in. Just make sure their friends and friend’s parents are someone you feel good about them talking with.

Sometimes kids need to talk with a professional, maybe this will be someone in your church or at their school. Other times you may need to seek out a Licensed Therapist or Counselor. Don’t take this as an indictment of your parenting. Knowing when your kid needs to talk with a professional is a sign of your maturity. Knowing when you need to look for help for yourself is also a good sign.

8. Watch for changes in the mood or behavior of your teen.

Kids who withdraw or isolate are at high risk. New friends, especially the kind they never wanted to be around before is also a warning sign. Kids who are turning to drugs, especially alcohol abuse are at high risk. These are tough times to be a kid. Lots of peer pressure, it is a scary world. Kids who suddenly don’t want to do things that they used to like are at high risk. Changes in sleep and appetite for no apparent reason should worry you. The kid who used to talk to you but suddenly won’t talk to anyone should concern you. No one likes to think about their kid having problems but suicides, drug and alcohol abuse and self-mutilating are all on the rise. The kid who least wants to talk to his parents may have the greatest need. When you can’t get your child to communicate it is time to look for help.

My special thanks to my office colleague Wendy Brox, LMFT who suggested this topic and whose ideas help me in writing this.

Let me know what you think about these tips and as always questions, comments, and ideas for future blogs are welcome.

David Miller, LMFT, LPCC