HOW TO RAISE A DELINQUENT TEENAGER

By Peter Roussos, MFT


Adapted with permission from:
HOW TO RAISE A DELINQUENT CHILD
By: Susan A. Caldwell, M.A.
767 Academy Drive
Solana Beach, CA 92075
(760) 632-0793


  1. Wait on your teenagers. Clean up all their messes. Always do and fold their laundry, make their beds, and cook every meal for them. Keep their household chores to an absolute minimum. Do not expect any reciprocation or help from them.

  2. Indulge your teenagers’ every wish; buy everything your teenagers want and give them all the spending money they request.

  3. Allow your teenagers to watch any T.V. show or movie, listen to any music, and read any book or magazine without checking for appropriate content. If by chance you find inappropriate content, pretend it’s no big deal.

  4. Never show any interest in what your teenagers are learning or doing at school. Never help them with their homework.

  5. Bail your teenagers out of any consequences for their actions. 

  6. Talk disrespectfully about authority; always take your teenagers’ side against a teacher, neighbor, or police officer. 

  7. Do not require apologies, amends, or restitution when your teenagers damage property. Chalk it up to “kids will be kids”.

  8. Make excuses whenever your teenagers misbehave, and certainly do not correct their inappropriate behavior.

  9. Set no limits OR be inconsistent in enforcing the limits you set.

  10. Allow your teenagers to tantrum for at least one hour, then give in to any of their demands.

  11. Be arbitrary about house rules; give no reasons for them and do not allow your teenagers to participate in developing them.

  12. Impose no consequences for inappropriate behavior or breaking house rules, OR threaten your teenagers with all manner of consequences and never follow through on any of them.

  13. Quarrel and fight frequently in the presence of your teenagers without coming to any resolution of the conflict.

  14. Immediately fulfill your teenagers’ every need, and never allow your teenagers to learn to wait and delay gratification.

  15. Lose your temper and resort to name-calling when your teenagers misbehave. If possible, publicly criticize and embarrass your teenagers when they misbehave.

  16. Give no moral or spiritual training to your teenagers.

  17. Do not listen to your teenagers’ feelings and do not help your teenagers to learn how to describe their emotional experiences with words. If they say something that makes you uncomfortable, change the subject.

  18. Avoid regular family meetings where leadership skills might be developed and cooperation learned. Invite no input from your teenagers regarding family decisions.

  19. Send your teenagers to religious services while you go to brunch or the gym. Do not participate in the life of a faith community which could nurture yours and your teenagers’ growth.

  20. Never ask your teenagers to forgive you for making a mistake, losing your temper or forgetting something important.

  21. See your teenagers as an extension of your own ego, feeling ashamed if your teenagers make a mistake and proud of yourself if your teenagers are successful.

  22. Expect your teenagers to do as you say and not as you do. 

Peter Roussos, M.A., MFT

CA Lic MFC 34711

AASECT Certified Sex Therapist

Address: 1125 Camino Del Mar, Suite F 

Del Mar, CA 92014

Tel: (858) 755-2505
Email Peter Here



THE BEAUTY OF MARRIAGE

By Peter Roussos, MFT


“Marriage” is one of the most rewarding, yet challenging experiences that human beings can have. When I use the term “marriage” I am talking about a committed emotional and sexual relationship between two people, heterosexual or gay, legally married or not. By its very nature, marriage and the experience of loving presents people with a never-ending series of growth opportunities. One of the fundamental forces of a committed relationship is to challenge people to grow and mature, and to develop an ever-increasing ability to tolerate intimacy.

Our marriages are always putting opportunities for growth in front of us. Whether or not we choose to do the work necessary for growth is another issue and is by no means guaranteed. An unhappy marriage is often a product of stalled growth and a limited tolerance for intimacy by the partners. Many committed relationshipsend, and divorces occur, well before the couple has done enough growth work to really know what their potential is as a couple and what their intimacy tolerance is as individuals

This is not to say that divorce is “wrong”. There are very healthy reasons to divorce and healthy ways to do it, but premature divorce is tragic, even more so when children are involved. By not facing the challenges in our relationships that lead to personal growth, we deny ourselves not only opportunities to realize the potential between our partner and ourselves, butmore importantly we deny ourselves opportunities to develop our own individual capacity for intimacy. By not doing the growth work, people often move from one unhappy relationship to another unhappy relationship with intimacy stalled all along the way.

There are many stereotypical ideas about what “intimacy” is. Many people believe that intimacy is primarily about sex. Others believe that intimacy should always be comfortable and pleasant. Many view intimacy as something that women are capable of and men are destined to struggle with. All of these views of intimacy limit people in their ability to see the tremendous growth potential that being in a committed relationship provides.

Mature intimacy is a process of self-definition and self-revelation to others. Intimacy also requires a willingness to “see” and understand our partners for who they really are. With the requisite honesty, intimacy will often be uncomfortable, and will always be deeply meaningful.

Our level of “differentiation” is what determines our capacity and tolerance for intimacy. 
Differentiation is a psychological process that determines how we function in relationship to ourselves and to other people. Murray Bowen, M.D. identified and developed the concept of differentiation. David Schnarch, Ph.D. has further developed and applied Bowen’s differentiation theory. The following description of differentiation comes from the work of David Schnarch, Ph.D.

1) Our level of differentiation determines how well we are able to self-validate (maintain our own sense of healthy self-esteem). At higher levels of differentiation, our sense of self-esteem is not based on how other people think, feel or behave towards us.

2) Another element of differentiation is our ability to self-soothe (manage our emotions in healthy and effective ways) when we experience the emotions of other people. At higher levels of differentiation, we are better able to maintain our composure (not over react or withdraw), and stay engaged when others are expressing their emotions to us. We are able to stay emotionally connected even when we are uncomfortable with, or don’t like, what someone else is expressing to us.

3) Increasing our level of differentiation is a growth process. Another aspect of differentiation is the willingness to tolerate discomfort for growth. Personal growth and intimacy often involves conflict, anxiety, and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Increasing our tolerance for these kinds of discomforts in ourselves, and in others, increases our capacity for growth and intimacy. By pushing ourselves to do things that we find difficult (for example, being assertive with someone even if we think there may be disagreement and conflict) we learn new skills and we grow.

4) Our level of differentiation determines our ability to define and express our sense of identity (our sense of who we are, what we think, what we feel, and what we want) and to be receptive to others defining and expressing themselves to us. The ability to be assertive and maintain healthy boundaries (being able to set limits with others; being able to say “no” to others) is part of the differentiation process.

5) Our level of differentiation determines how well we are able to maintain and protect our sense of personal integrity (our moral and ethical beliefs). At lower levels of differentiation, we are more likely to sacrifice our integrity to avoid the anxiety and tension of disagreement and conflict, and to engage in destructive behaviors such as addictions, infidelity, deceit and other unhealthy forms of self-soothing.

These 5 elements of differentiation are essential parts of intimate relational functioning. Personal growth in these areas increases our tolerance for intimacy. Increased intimacy tolerance leads to a healthier sense of self and a healthier sense of connection to others.

David Schnarch, Ph.D. refers to marriage as “a people growing machine”. This is a wonderful description of the natural processes of marriage, and how marriage is constantly presenting us with opportunities to increase our level of differentiation and thereby increase our tolerance for intimacy.


A healthy, dynamic relationship is often not easy, but the most meaningful things in life rarely are. Our marriages truly are inviting us to grow.



The Pain Of Grief And Loss.

By Peter Roussos, MFT


Whether it be, the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, changes in one’s health, or even the loss of opportunities or material possessions, our lives are marked by beginnings and endings, of being together and then being apart, of having and not having.


Grieving is the process through which we resolve losses. While often painful, grieving is a necessary healing process that enables us to live with loss, and to learn and grow from it. Without healthy grieving, loss experiences can be consuming. The pain of grief can overwhelm and constrict us with little or no respite. In the midst of grief, it is not unusual for people to report that even routine tasks, such as cleaning a room or paying bills, all seem unmanageable. If grief goes unresolved over the long term, impairments in physical, social and emotional functioning can persist.


Our culture does not do an adequate job of teaching us how to deal with grief. We live in a "pull yourself up by yourboot straps and get on with it" society. We often don’t know what to say to people who are dealing with loss. Discomfort with our own painful feelings and the feelings of others often pushes a premature and arbitrary ending of what is considered an "acceptable" amount of time for grieving.


There is no one "right" way to grieve. It is a very individual process. Many people have asked how long the grief process lasts? There is no schedule to grief. It takes as long as it takes. Grief is not a linear process. It is more often like a "roller coaster" with unpredictable ups and downs and with shifts back and forth through the different stages or phases.


There is, however, a readily identified "wrong" way to grieve, and that is to deny it. Denial of the thoughts and feelings of grief requires tremendous emotional energy. Incompletely grieved losses can have a cumulative impact with new losses triggering more difficult emotional reactions because of previous loss experiences that have not been completely grieved.


What does it mean to completely grieve? Loss leaves an indelible mark on us. Healthy grieving does not mean forgetting, but rather involves integrating our memories, and honestly dealing with positive and negative emotions in a way that allows us to hold a balanced and more complete understanding of ourselves and who or what we have lost. Healthy grieving allows learning and growth and increases one’s capacity for empathy for others.


Hurting more does not mean we loved more. As grief begins to lift, it is not unusual to experience guilt and fear about feeling better. It is important to challenge the idea that grief is a measure of love. It is not.


Giving ourselves, and others, the permission to experience grief is the key first step in being able to begin to face loss and move through it. While people have different needs when it comes to openly talking about their grieving, do not assume that someone does not want to talk about their loss or that someone is not willing to listen to you talk about your loss. These concerns can be directly addressed in the form of questions such as: "I would like to talk with you about the death of my mother. Would you be open to that?" or "I know that your mother passed away. Would you like to talk about it?"


Just listening to someone talk about his/her grief can be an extremely powerful way of helping. It is not realistic to expect that we should be able to offer words that will take the pain of loss away. What matters most is the willingness to be in the presence of someone else’s pain, and our willingness to have others be in the presence of our own pain. This willingness is experienced through dialogue and attentive listening.


Social support is extremely important for healthy grieving. There are many community support services available. Hospice groups, churches, community mental health programs, and hospitals are just some of the community-based organizations that provide grief support resources. Contact these kinds of groups for specific referrals in your area.


A trained mental health professional can be an invaluable resource as well. Loss can bring up unresolved issues that can be most effectively addressed in psychotherapy. Some signs that you might benefit from work with a therapist would be:


  • depressed and/or anxious mood that persists, or becomes more severe, several months after a loss.

  • increase in alcohol or drug use to cope with painful feelings.

  • sleep or appetite disturbance as well as disinterest in things normally experienced as pleasurable.

  • persistent feelings of hopelessness and/or helplessness.

  • suicidal thoughts.

  • the sense that your grief is lasting "too long".


Working through our own feelings of grief and loss can give us a greater understanding of our relationships and ourselves. Facing our own grief and loss also prepares us to respond to the grief of other people with compassion and empathy.  So while grief can be very difficult and challenging, it is a tremendously meaningful part of life that can be embraced as an opportunity for learning and growth. 

​​ Peter Roussos, M.A., MFT, CST

Couple, Individual and Family Psychotherapy Services 

​AASECT Certified Sex Therapist

(CA Lic MFC 34711)

Articles




WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO SUSTAIN PASSION? 

By Peter Roussos, MFT


My experience in working with couples who come to therapy because of sexual difficulties is that unsatisfying sex or a lack of sex is consistently preceded by, and perpetuated by a pronounced, often profound, sense of emotional disconnection between the partners.  These couples often talk about a “lack of intimacy” between them.

There are many stereotypical ideas about what “intimacy” is. Many people believe that intimacy is primarily about sex. Others believe that intimacy should always be comfortable and pleasant.  Many view intimacy as something that women are capable of and men are destined to struggle with.  All of these views of intimacy overlook the core dynamic of what it means to function intimately, which is the gaining of knowledge about oneself and one’s partner while being emotionally engaged and connected.

Mature intimacy is a process of self-definition and self-revelation to others.  It is about knowing and understanding ourselves, and having a willingness to show who we really are to our partners.  Intimacy requires a willingness to “see” and understand our partner for who he/she really is.  With the requisite honesty, intimacy will often be uncomfortable, but will always be deeply meaningful, because it is fundamentally about emotional connection. 

The level of intimacy between a couple is determined by each partners’ ability to tolerate the discomfort that often comes with being emotionally close to someone. Intimacy often means saying things that your partner may not want to hear, or your hearing things from your partner that make you uncomfortable.  It is the couple’s ability to stay engaged and connected during such discomfort that allows them to work through issues that challenge closeness.

In sex, expressing our wants can be very uncomfortable especially if we think our partner is going to react unfavorably.  People who are anxious about tension or disagreement will often not express their sexual feelings thus sacrificing aspects of their sexuality in the process.  Boredom and disconnection can quickly follow.

I have often had the experience in my work with couples where one partner accuses the other “of not being interested in sex”.   As I explore the issue further the partners who are supposedly not interested in sex, often report thattheymasturbateregularly, and that they are interested in sex and fantasize about sex.  The “high desire” partner is typically surprised by this news and is faced with the uncomfortable realization that they have been wrong in their thinking that their partner is not interested in sex.  The truth is that the supposedly “low desire” partner is interested in sex, but they have, for a variety of reasons, lost desire for the partner

Further discussion with these kinds of couples usually reveals patterns of disconnection that often start with limited communication, and overwhelming demands of work, home, and parenting. These couples typically have little time for each other.  Often the partners discover that they have lost respect for each other.  This is especially common for couples when one partner thinks they have made a good faith effort to address the marital issues only to be stonewalled by the other.   Sex suffers greatly under these circumstances, because it is difficult to feel healthy desire for someone you feel you don’t “know” anymore, or someone whom you do not respect. It is difficult to feel desire for someone whom you don’t think understands you or appreciates you.

Many couples lose touch sexually because they don’t make time for each other. Connection needs to happen inside and outside of the bedroom. Desire is sustained by non-sexual behaviors that demonstrate love, consideration, appreciation and respect.

Couples who are willing to openly face, struggle with, and work through sexual challenges are often able to achieve tremendous personal growth and to develop a deeper level of intimacy with each other.  By learning how to better manage their anxiety and discomfort, these couples are able to develop a greater desire for intimacy and a greater tolerance for closeness and connection. Their sex lives blossom in the process.

So what does it take to take to sustain passion in a marriage?  Passion is part of a relationship in which the partners are able to tolerate healthy, mature intimacy with each other.  Passionate sex is driven by honest expression of one’s self, by openness and curiosity about one’s partner, and by mutual respect, and consideration between partners.  It is this level of connection that allows couples to sustain passion for each other, and to continually develop their sexual relationship over a lifetime. Couples who have this kind of intimacy tolerance find that while aging may limit what they do sexually, their depth of connection with each other, and their sense of passion for each other, is limitless.





What Do We Want For Our Children? 

By Peter Roussos, MFT


If you ask parents how they want to raise their children, most would agree that raising our kids to be capable of healthy relationships, able to manage the inevitable stressors of life, committed to taking good physical and emotional care of themselves, and helping them be able to live up to their full academic, career, and social potential, are goals that most parents have for the children.
 
Differentiation is a psychological process which determines how a person functions in these areas of life. Our level of Differentiation governs our self-image and how we behave in relationships with other people. 

There has been much focus on parenting and children's self-esteem in recent years. What is healthy self-esteem? Recent research suggests that in and of itself high self-esteem is not nearly as beneficial as been touted over the last several decades. High self-esteem that comes with a sense of entitlement or comes without compassion, without respect, and without integrity, is narcissism, and raising narcissistic children is one of the worst ways to prepare them for a healthyandwell balanced adulthood. 

Differentiation is not the same thing as self-esteem. The capacity for self-validation that develops through differentiation is part of maintaining a healthy sense of self-esteem, but the areas of emotional functioning that Differentiation governs are much broader than self-esteem. 

As a growth process, Differentiation fosters self-respect with respect for others. It encourages the development of patience, openness, and a sense of responsibility. Differentiation determines a person's ability to maintain healthy boundaries and to have deeper emotional connectedness in relationships, and it ties all of these qualities more strongly to a person's sense of integrity. Self-esteem that is tied to these qualities is healthy self-esteem. 

Another aspect of Differentiation is the capacity for healthy emotional self-management or coping. To better understand this, I want to describe unhealthy emotional coping. It can be thought of as: 

1) Having a limited capacity for introspection difficulty exploring one's emotions, particularly emotions that are uncomfortable. 

2) Having a sense of entitlement that limits the taking of responsibility, and the ability to delay gratification. 

3) Engaging in unhealthy self-soothing through drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, impulsive sexual behaviors, impulsive spending behaviors, or other forms of poor self-care. 

Healthy emotional coping can be defined as: 

1) Having a capacity for introspection- the willingness and ability to acknowledge and explore one's feelings. The ability to communicate about one's experience in appropriate and effective ways. 

2) Having the ability to manage disappointment, to bounce back from disappointment. 

3) Being patient - the ability to delay gratification, and the ability to set and work towards goals. 

4) Having the ability to tolerate discomfort for growth. 

5) Having the capacity for healthy forms of self-soothing. 

6) Having a strong sense of personal integrity. 

Healthy emotional coping is essential for healthy resiliency . Both healthy emotional coping skills and resiliency are things that parents can teach their children and are skills that can be practiced.ˇ 

An article by Nan Henderson in (Feb. 03) The Prevention Researcher outlines nine approaches to resiliency building. 
 
These are:
1) Communicate to your child the Resiliency Attitude and the message that they have the ability to get through whatever the challenge is. You don't want to underestimate or minimize your child's perceptions of the challenges they face, and you want to support and encourage your child's tapping into their strengths and believing that they can get through.

2) Adopt a strengths perspective. Dr. Martin Seligman is one of the foremost experts doing resiliency research. He is quoted in the Henderson article as follows: "The best set of buffers we have against substance abuse, against depression, against violence in our children, have to do with human strengths- identifying them, amplifying them, nurturing them, getting people to lead their lives around them". 
  
Help your children to identify their strengths by looking at challenges that they have successfully faced in the past and what strengths they might draw on from those past experiences in dealing with a current problem. Challenge their thinking that focuses on their perceived deficits or weaknesses- what is wrong with them as opposed to what is right. Help them to have a more balanced view of themselves

3) Provide healthy care, nurturance, and support. 

4) Set high but realistic expectations for success. 

5) Encourage your kids to contribute to others. Your children helping and supporting other people in the resolution of their problems helps your kids resolve their own. Encourage your kids to be involved, to be compassionate, and to be helpful. 

6) Encourage healthy relationships. Research has shown that people who are positively connected to other people, such as family, friends, clubs, groups, sports teams and who participate in enjoyable activities do better in life. 

7) Set and maintain clear boundaries. Encourage your children to be assertive. Establish and enforce clear and consistent family rules. 

8) Help your kids develop essential life skills such as communication and listening skills, and conflict resolution skills. Help them learn how to identify the skills they will need to face life's challenges as they encounter them and to determine how to gain new skills. Encourage them in their resourcefulness. 

9) Give it time- don't give up on yourself or your kids. With awareness, commitment and practice, you and your children can develop all of these skills.

Your Vision For Your Marriage 

By Peter Roussos, MFT


I receive more comments about my article, “What does it take to sustain passion?”,  than any other article that I have written. Most of the comments that I receive are from people who tell me that my article accurately describes the sense of emotional distance and disconnection that they feel in their marriage. People relate to my description of how couples lose touch with each other and how such losing touch can lead to sexual issues between the spouses. Over time, such emotional disconnection becomes more and more destructive and leads to broader deterioration of the emotional ties between the couple.

Marriage is most difficult when partners have lost respect and empathy for each other. Couples experiencing that kind of pain come into therapy desperately wanting help and often pessimistic about whether or not they will ever again have a healthy sense of intimate connection with each other. Such fears maintain distance between the partners. Neither of them wants to be hurt more than they already are. This fear of being further hurt results in continued defensiveness, which perpetuates the pain and distance that separates the couple.

Healing and growth in marriage requires a “leap of faith” that things can be different, that we and our partners can learn how to respond differently to stressful, painful situations. This kind of growth is called “Differentiation”, something that have I written about before in previous articles. Those articles are also posted on my website.

Couples who define a “vision” for their marriage are better able to make this necessary leap of faith. A vision for marriage is like a business plan for corporations- it defines a philosophy and goals and establishes parameters by which performance can be measured. A couple’s vision for their marriage helps them identify both their strengths and the specific areas in their relationship that need work.

Defining a vision for one’s marriage involves each partner thinking and communicating about their core values, what they want for themselves and each other, and how these values and wants are incorporated into the different facets of the marriage. This kind of exercise is something that is often done as part of pre-marital counseling or programs like “Engaged Encounter”, but is rarely done in an ongoing way after marriage.

It is beneficial for couples to regularly review their vision for their marriage. Doing so helps couples ensure that their marital vision is evolving and responsive to the challenges that life and marriage bring. When couples think and talk about how the realities of their marriage compare with their vision for their marriage, they will be more aware of the areas of the marriage that need work and better able to focus their constructive efforts towards improvement, thus moving closer to the ideals of their marital vision.


And when it comes to working on improving a marriage, neither partner can expect the other person to work harder, or more diligently, than they themselves are willing to work.  It never works in marriage if partners expect to play by a "different set of rules" than they hold the other person to.  The most successful marriages happen between partners who feel they are in it together and that they are sharing the inevitable and necessary sacrifices of marriage in a manner that both partners experience as "fair".


One of the best descriptions that I have seen of the work of marriage comes from an article entitled “Happily Ever After” published in the November 12,1995 edition of “The Family Therapy Networker”. The authors Judith Wallerstein and Susan Blakeslee define what they regard as “The nine tasks of a close relationship”.


  1. To detach emotionally from the families of childhood, commit to the relationship, and build new connections with the extended families.

  2. To build togetherness through intimacy and to expand the sense of self to include the other, while each individual carves out an area of autonomy.

  3. To expand the circle to include children, taking on the daunting roles of parenthood from infancy until the child leaves home.

  4. To confront the inevitable developmental challenges and the unpredictable adversities of life, including illness, death, and natural disasters, in ways that enhance the relationship despite suffering.

  5. To make the relationship safe for expressing differences, anger, and conflict, which are inevitable in any marriage.

  6. To establish an imaginative and pleasurable sex life.

  7. To share laughter and humor and to keep interest alive in the relationship

  8. To provide the emotional nurturance and encouragement that all adults need throughout their lives, especially in today’s isolating culture.

  9. To sustain the innermost core of the relationship by drawing sustenance and renewal from the images and fantasies of courtship and early marriage and maintain that joyful glow over a lifetime.


I have found it useful to give this list to my clients and to ask them how this compares to what they want for their relationship. With the possible exception of having children, I have yet to have any client tell me that these things are not important to them. As my clients develop their vision for their marriage, they are better able to develop a plan for positive change. I hope that this list will be useful to you as you think about what you want in your marriage and how to make the most of it.



How can therapy help you make positive changes in your life. 

By Peter Roussos, MFT


How does psychotherapy help people make positive changes in their lives? How will it help me to lead a more satisfying life? These are very important questions that should be considered by anyone thinking about starting psychotherapy. Understanding how a therapist conceptualizes relational functioning and how the process of change occurs will help you to decide if the therapist's approach and way or working are a good "fit" for you and will help you to achieve your therapeutic goals.


There are many different approaches to psychotherapy, many different "theoretical orientations" that guide the therapist in the work with clients. A psychotherapist's theoretical orientation is what guides how he or she conceptualizes client issues and how to treat those issues. The therapist's theoretical orientation forms the rationale for the interventions that he or she uses and is the foundation for the work that occurs in the therapy.


My theoretical orientation focuses on the psychological process of "differentiation" which defines how we function in relationship to ourselves and to other people. I view the central goal of therapy to be helping clients to increase their levels of differentiation.


Differentiation is a psychological process that determines how we function in relationship to ourselves and to other people. Murray Bowen, M.D. identified and developed the concept of differentiation. David Schnarch, Ph.D. has further developed and applied Bowen's differentiation theory. The following description of differentiationisfrom the work of David Schnarch, Ph.D.


1) Our level of differentiation determines how well we are able to self-validate (maintain our own sense of healthy self-esteem). At higher levels of differentiation, our sense of self-esteem is not based on how other people think, feel or behave towards us.


2) Another element of differentiation is our ability to self-soothe (manage our emotions in healthy and effective ways) when we experience the emotions of other people. At higher levels of differentiation, we are better able to maintain our composure (not over react or withdraw), and stay engaged when others are expressing their emotions to us. We are able to stay emotionally connected even when we are uncomfortable with, or don't like, what someone else is expressing to us.


3) Increasing our level of differentiation is a growth process. Another aspect of differentiation is the willingness to tolerate discomfort for growth. Personal growth and intimacy ofteninvolves conflict, anxiety, and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Increasing our tolerance for these kinds of discomforts in ourselves, and in others, increases our capacity for growth and intimacy. By pushing ourselves to do things that we find difficult (for example, being assertive with someone even if we think there may be disagreement and conflict) we learn new skills and we grow.


4) Our level of differentiation determines our ability to define and express our sense of identity (our sense of who we are, what we think, what we feel, and what we want) and to be receptive to others defining and expressing themselves to us. The ability to be assertive and maintain healthy boundaries (being able to set limits with others; being able to say "no" to others) is part of the differentiation process.


5) Our level of differentiation determines how well we are able to maintain and protect our sense of personal integrity (our moral and ethical beliefs). At lower levels of differentiation, we are more likely to sacrifice our integrity to avoid the anxiety and tension of disagreement and conflict, and to engage in destructive behaviors such as addictions, infidelity, deceit and other unhealthy forms of self-soothing.


I define anxiety as the experience of emotions that we find unpleasant and/or uncomfortable. Anxiety management and tolerance are key components of differentiation. Learning how to tolerate and more effectively manage our anxiety is what allows us to develop a broader range of healthier and more effective responsestoanxiety provoking situations. Said differently, by learning how to more effectively manage our anxiety we are able to change our ways of responding and behaving in stressful situations. We are better able to face and challenge our fears and to do things that we find uncomfortable- things that we know are good for us but are difficult to do.


How do we learn how to more effectively manage anxiety? Learning healthier and more effective ways of "self-soothing" is essential. Perhaps the most important step to better anxiety management is increased willingness to face anxiety provoking situations rather than trying to avoid them. We increase our anxiety tolerance through experience by successfully facing and self-soothing ourselves in anxiety provoking situations.


How does anxiety tolerance through differentiation lead to change? Unhealthy or ineffective management of anxiety limits the possible responses that we might make in a given situation. By tolerating anxiety more effectively we are able to consider different responses that we previously might have thought too uncomfortable. Assertiveness is a good example of this. People who avoid the potential anxiety of disagreement by not asserting what they think, feel and want have limited ways of responding when potential disagreement becomes apparent. Unassertive people often relinquish what is important to them. In so doing, they avoid the discomfort of conflict but sacrifice some of their integrity in the process.


If, however, unassertive people learn how to more effectively manage their anxiety about conflict or disagreement, they don't have to relinquish what is important to them in order to stay comfortable. They can define and choose other ways of responding. In this example they might decide to set and maintain limits and boundaries. By more effectively tolerating anxiety they can behave in ways that preserve, rather than sacrifice, their integrity.


A friend once told me that "Change happens one choice at a time". This is a wonderful description of how change often requires the proactive making of different choices. By helping my clients to increase their levels of differentiation, my psychotherapy services facilitate my clients developing the courage and self-esteem to make different choices, to positively change their behaviors, and to lead more satisfying lives.



Reducing Parenting Conflicts For Married, Post-Divorce, And Blended Step-Families 

By Peter Roussos, MFT


Disagreement and conflict is a natural and important part of relationships, and the ability to manage disagreements and conflict is a key measure of relationship functioning. When disagreements and conflict are handled in healthy ways, the relationships between the parties (and the parties themselves) are strengthened. When disagreements and conflict are handled in unhealthy ways, the relationship and the parties suffer.

For married couples with children, disagreements about child rearing can be a significant source of conflict and distress. For divorced families, disagreements between the parents about child rearing can lead to protracted tension, conflict, and litigation. In stepfamilies, the couple is faced not only with the same parenting issues that married and divorced familiescontendwith, but also the issue of stepparent authority. The parenting figures in a child's life can include parents, stepparents, grandparents, and any other adult that is in a position of parental authority. In this article my references to co-parents and co-parenting refer to all parental figures in a child's life.

How we were raised is a primary influence on how we think about the role and methods of parenting. It can be challenging for people who were raised in different ways to come to mutual consensus and agreement about how best to parent their children. Being able to come to such agreement, however, is beneficial to parents and their children. Obviously consensus and agreement reduce tension and conflict. Achieving consensus around parenting issues also helps parents to present a consistent, more "united front" to children, and children do better with consistent parenting. 

While parenting disagreements can be uncomfortable, they also represent a teaching opportunity for our children. Just as we learned about relationships by observing our parents, so do our children learn from our parenting. If we are able to approach disagreements with a spirit of flexibility, cooperation and collaboration, we not only have a better chance of resolving issues in a manner that is healthier for all parties involved, we have also modeled for our children what effective and healthy conflict resolution can be. Every conversation is an opportunity to model appropriate and effective communication behaviors to our children.

It is best for children if all of the parent figures (including stepparents from re-marriage) are working together to reduce parenting conflicts. This is not always possible; sometimes the level of acrimony between parents is such that they are not able to even speak to each other without conflict erupting. Parents need to understand that such discord sends a very powerful, destructive message to children. What children observe in the interactions between their parents is a primary influence on how the children think about marriage and how it is supposed to work. When parents are not willing to work together, their children learn to be uncooperative.

In biological and psychological terms, children are a composite of their parents. When there is negative commenting by one parent about another, children can experience those negative comments as a reflection of themselves. These kinds of negative parenting behaviors have an unhealthy impact on the child's self-esteem and set a poor example of how to manage disagreements and conflict.

Effective communication is a key aspect of being able to resolve disagreements. There is a great deal information available about the do's and don'ts of effective communication. Quite frankly, there is so much information that it can be overwhelming. Here are two basic communication skills that you have probably heard before, but that are often overlooked in times of contention and stress. These skills can be very helpful in reducing the intensity and defensiveness of disagreements, and they are worth practicing.

1.) Use "I" messages. Using "You" language when expressing criticisms or complaints is much more likely to stimulate a defensive reaction from the person you are talking to. 
2.) Distinguish between your thoughts and feelings and take responsibility for them. If you hear yourself say, "I feel that….." recognize that you are really describing a thought, and not a feeling. It is important to distinguish between thoughts and feelings because it is your experience of feelings that indicates the significance and depth of a particular issue to you. How you articulate your feelings informs others of that significance. 

Here is an example of less effective communication: "You make me angry. I feel that you are undermining my authority with the children." 

A more effective and appropriate way of communicating this would be: "I think that my authority with the children is undermined when you contradict me, and I feel angry about that."

When parenting conflicts occur, do not begin your discussions by focusing on what you disagree on. It will be more useful to begin by defining as specifically as possible (the more detailed and specific, the better) the following. You may want to write out:

1.) What your parenting goals are for that specific issue. What is it that you want your child to learn? BE AS DETAILED AND SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE.
2.) For each parenting goal, define why the goal is important to you and how you think it serves your child. BE AS DETAILED AND SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE.
3.) For each parenting goal, define what you think needs to be done in order to achieve that goal. BE AS DETAILED AND SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE.

When all of the parent figures (include stepparents) have completed their lists, sit down and discuss what you have come up with. Begin by comparing your lists, looking first for your areas of agreement. It may be, for example, that you agree on goals but have different views about how to achieve those goals. 

When you begin to discuss your areas of disagreement, communicating why each goal is important to you provides additional information to the other parent about your thoughts and feelings about the issue. As you are discussing these items, talk about how your own upbringing has shaped the way you think and feel about the issue. Be open to talking about your concerns; what is it that you fear might happen to your child if you don't fulfill your parenting goals? How does your upbringing influence your fears?

I can't stress enough the importance of being detailed and specific. It will help each of the parties involved to have a better understand his/her own viewpoint and the different viewpoints of the other parties. With more information each party will have a fuller understanding of what the areas of agreement and disagreement are. You need to understand exactly what the areas of disagreement are before you can begin looking for solutions.

After you have shared your viewpoints as outlined above and after you think that you have a good understanding of the other parent's or stepparents' position, you can begin brainstorming. Brainstorming is the generation of ideas for possible solutions to the disagreement. For brainstorming to be most useful, it is important that initially any and all ideas be included. As you begin brainstorming, don't reject any idea as unreasonable; get all of the ideas out on the table and then together you can cull through them rejecting

elements that don't work and integrating elements that do. The objective is to see if together you can arrive at a way of approaching the parenting issue that all the parties involved (parents and children) can feel good about.

Consider involving your children in your parenting discussions. Giving children the opportunity to express and have their opinions heard communicates to them that what they think and feel is important. This is an affirming experience that supports healthy self-esteem. Again, when it is appropriate for an issue, including your children in your parenting problem-solving discussions can be helpful to you and them. If you are able to include their ideas in your solutions, they are more likely to "buy in" to your solution, and they will be more likely to comply with it. 

If after hearing and fully understanding your children's ideas you choose not to utilize them, just having the opportunity to express their ideas and to be fully heard may help your child be more accepting of what you decide. It also shows the child that effective communication does not mean always getting what you want. Some examples of appropriate parenting discussions to include your children in would be things like: homework schedules, bed times, weekend curfews, household chores, and consequences for misbehavior. 

If after going through these steps you are still at an impasse, try exchanging viewpoints. Take your spouse (or co-parent's or child's) position and discuss the issue with you representing his/her side of the issue. At the very least, his/her feedback will tell you if you really understand his/her viewpoint. This may also help you establish an empathic connection with him/her.

Consider doing some research for parenting disagreements that involve different viewpoints about what is developmentally appropriate for kids at your children's ages. Your child's teachers can be a useful source of information for you. You may also want to do some reading about child development. Your child's teacher or school counselor should be able to recommend some books to you. If you have girls, I would encourage you to read: Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Ph.D. For boys, Real Boys by William Pollack, Ph.D. is also excellent.

If disagreements persist, you and your spouse or other co-parent(s) may want to consider a consultation with a therapist or collaborative coach. Such services can help parents develop more effective communication, negotiation, and problem solving skills. Information about such services is available on my website: www.peterroussos.com.

Sometimes the parenting issue that appears to be fueling a dispute is not really the core issue. Parents might find themselves arguing about their children as a way of avoiding dealing with deeper issues within their marriage. As uncomfortable as the co-parenting tension is, it may be less anxiety provoking than directly dealing with deeper marital issues. A consultation with a marriage and family therapist can help you identify and address the deeper issues.

In families where there has been a divorce, arguments about the children are often symptomatic of unresolved issues and emotions related to the marriage and ending of the marriage. In such circumstances, a consultation with a therapist can also be very helpful.

For step families it is very important to discuss and define what the stepparent's role and authority is. The blending of families can be quite challenging and can have a significant impact on the forming of the new marital relationship. Here again a consultation with a therapist can help.

The reality is that the only person's behavior we can really control is our own. Ultimately all you can do is invite your spouse or co-parent(s) to join you in trying to improve parenting behaviors. Whether or not they choose to do so is up to them. Regardless of whether or not they decide to join you, your improved skills and behaviors will better serve your children and will support your own sense of integrity, which will be healthy and important modeling for your children.