Category Archives: Friendships

Eleven Ways to Kick Hurtful Habits

Old habits die hard.  Be it smoking, gossiping, raising your temper, pointing out others’ flaws, avoiding responsibility, or getting defensive, when something becomes familiar and comfortable, pathways get set up in the brain and it becomes a knee-jerk behavior. 

Here are a few tips on how to change a bad habit and be a better spouse, family member, or friend:  

1. Become aware of the problem.  When I was training to be a marriage and family therapist at USC, one of the things we would do is film sessions with families.  Then we would sit down with the families and let them watch the tapes.  It was amazing how many people would look at the videos and say, “I can’t believe I do that! I can’t believe I say that! I can’t believe I make those faces!”   It had been tough for them to see before because their behavior was so habitual and normal.  Therefore, when you discover or are confronted with something you do that hurts somebody else, don’t ignore it.

2. Be honest with yourself. Whether you have figured it out by yourself or it was pointed out to you, you have to acknowledge that you have hurt someone else.  You need to take a good look at yourself and admit you have a problem.  That’s the only way you’ll change your actions.

3. Apologize. Apologizing doesn’t just mean saying, “I’m sorry.”  It needs to be followed by, “What can I do to make up for it?”   The answer you get in response will help you find a way to make things right.  Furthermore, you can’t apologize and then do the same thing again. Repeating the hurtful behavior makes your apologies meaningless.

4. Think before you speak.  Before words come out of your mouth, ask yourself, “What do I really want to convey?  How will he or she interpret what I say?”  Anticipate people’s sensitivities. Take time to figure out what you’re going to say in a tactful manner, otherwise, button your lip.  Not everything that is true needs to be spoken.

5. Show empathy.  Instead of saying, “I don’t really understand why they’re getting so upset,” put yourself in your loved one’s shoes and feel what he or she is feeling.  One thing I used to do in private practice and still do with couples on the air is have one person defend the other’s point of view.  For example, if a husband comes home and isn’t very cuddly and friendly, his wife has to adopt his perspective.  She might say, “I had a long day at work and, on top of that, there was horrible traffic coming home.”  And then I do the reverse.  If a husband is complaining about why things aren’t neat when he comes home, he has to take on his wife’s point of view: “I had x number of things to do in addition to taking care of the kids, so I couldn’t make everything perfect.”  It’s amazing what a difference showing some understanding can make.  Just the look on the other person’s face when you defend why they do what they do is priceless.  (Just for fun, try playing this game tonight with your spouse!)                    

6. Control your temper. When you’re about to fly off the handle, remember the old “count to 10″ trick.

7. Practice, practice, practice. It takes about 30 or so repetitions to create a new habit, so stay with it.  As you probably know, one of my hobbies is shooting pool.  What’s fascinating to me is how if I miss a shot and try to do it again thinking I’m doing something different, I’ll hit it the exact same way.  I have to set up the shot seven or eight times until my brain sees it differently.  We’re like that with everything – it takes repetition for your brain to set down a new pattern and become comfortable with it.

8. Listen when others speak.  Instead of getting defensive and assuming everything is a criticism, allow other people to help you recognize certain ways you could improve.  Unless the person is downright mean and nasty, listen to them.  You may think they’re putting you down when they’re really trying to lift you up. 

9. Remember that relationships have to be a win-win.  If one of you loses in a relationship, you both do.  Always trying to “win” an argument is only going to cause more hurt.  For example, when a woman’s husband doesn’t want her to stay at home with their kids, I tell her to say how much more relaxed, loving, and available she’s going to be, and that she’s impressed with him as a man even though it’s going to be a little scary without the extra income.  That way it’s a win-win: he feels elevated and so does she.  If you can’t fix it so both of you feel like you’ve won something, then put the issue away and come back to it another day.

10. Believe in yourself.  You have to believe that you actually can change. Trying is no good – you have to do it!

11. Remind yourself that you want this.  You either want to be a better person or you don’t.  It’s that simple. 

What I Wish I’d Known in School

Being a kid can be tough, especially when it comes to school.  Here is a list of 10 things most of us wish someone had told us while we were students:

1. The most popular and highest achieving kids in school are NOT always the most successful in the real world.  Success in the academic bubble does not necessarily translate to success in work and real life.  While you’re in school, take heart and stay focused because slow and steady wins the race.

2. Just because you’re not part of the “cool crowd” doesn’t mean you’re not cool or unique.  I remember one time just before Christmas break, I was walking out of a chemistry exam and a guy in my class who rarely spoke to me came up and said, “It must be wonderful to be like you and not get nervous about big tests like this.”  I looked at him and laughed.  I said, “What the heck are you talking about?  I’m a wreck just like everyone else.”  It just goes to show you that not only is perception in the eye of the beholder, but it’s also not always on target.  The reason I seemed composed going into exams was that I developed a “leapfrog focus” (i.e. “When the exam is over, I’m going to see a movie/have hot chocolate/etc.), but that didn’t mean I wasn’t a nervous wreck.  I’m amused at how we can all look at each other and think something is true when it isn’t.  Everyone has feelings, insecurities, ambitions, and dreams that aren’t apparent on the surface.  

3. The smartest, most interesting, and most creative people usually aren’t the most socially comfortable or interested.  It’s the least popular, most focused kids who become the most influential and successful.  They’re the ones thinking day in and day out about the big things they’re going to do with their lives.  So if you’re one of them, don’t worry.  And if you’re not, don’t be mean to them.  You never know who’s going to be signing your paycheck or be in a position to help you down the line.  As they say, nerds rule.

4. Being different is actually good.  In the adolescent and post-adolescent years, there’s a lot of pressure to conform to the group, agree to their rules, and dress, talk, and behave a certain way.  It’s a matter of belonging.  However, even though there’s a lot of pressure to fit in and be like everyone else, you can get to the point where you lose sight of who you are at a time when you’re supposed to be discovering yourself.  Therefore, being like everyone else is in direct conflict with what you really need. 

5. Pursue what you love regardless of what people say. You have to remember that people in school are painfully limited in their perspective on the world.  Whatever it is that you’re really into, that you want to stay up late reading about, or you’re thinking about when you should be focusing on a lecture or studying may be the key to what you build your life and career around.  Don’t ignore your passion. It doesn’t matter if anybody else thinks it’s stupid – it’s your passion.

6. Extracurricular activities and internships are sometimes more important than academics. Interacting with the outside world gives you invaluable experiences.  The more you interact with adults, businesses, community groups and execs, the more comfortable you’ll be networking with them when you need a loan, a job, advice on your career, admission to grad school, etc.  Get outside the bubble of school and build a network.

7. Courses and majors in school do not necessarily correlate to opportunities in the real world.  I laugh at some of the majors colleges have, such as “Women’s Studies” or “Communication Studies.”  What the heck are you going to do with those?!  Some of these degrees simply aren’t pragmatic in the real world.

8. Teachers and professors are not the enemy.  Consider them as mentors and friends.  Talk to them often for advice and counsel.  Ask them for extra help, perspective, or just to go over something again.  When I was a professor, I really appreciated the students who came around and wanted to learn more. 

9. Your parents and family usually have your best interests at heart.  They may not always understand why you do some of the things you do, but give them the benefit of the doubt.  Don’t make life harder on your folks.  The better your relationship is with your parents, the easier life is going to be.  Period.  You need family. 

10.  Life is complicated – get used to it.  Consider all the frustrations you’re going through now as training for the really big stuff later.  Learn to deal with conflict, confusion, challenges, and tackling things you don’t like or understand in school because adulthood is a much more dangerous atmosphere.  Develop the coping skills you’ll need for the rest of your life.  The biggest war is not with your teachers or your parents, but the one you have with yourself over who and what you’re going to be and what you’ll stand for.

Video: Silly, Selfish and Cheated While We Dated

You and your ex-boyfriend are flirting with the idea of getting back together. However, there’s just one problem: before you broke up, you cheated on him and he still doesn’t know. Should you tell him?   Watch:

Read the transcript.

How to Say ‘No’

Are you scared of saying “no” to people?  Are you worried that you’ll look bad, not be liked, or come across as rude or selfish if you do? 

Sometimes we don’t want to say “no” because we think we’ll lose a friend or we want to help everybody.  But saying “no” doesn’t mean you’re rude or disagreeable.  It also doesn’t necessarily mean that there are going to be fights or burned bridges.  These are false beliefs we concoct in our minds.  It really all depends on how we say “no”.     

There are good ways and bad ways to say “no”.  The first thing you ought to do, if it’s at all reasonable, is to ask the person to let you think about their request.  You may not have the time or the wherewithal to handle what they’ve asked you to do because of some other responsibility or commitment you have.  Ask them to give you a night to think on it.  That way, it’s a “maybe”, not a “no”, and they at least feel like you have considered it.  If you realize that you really can’t do it, you need to tell them “no” but also say something positive.  The best way to say “no” is to a) say something positive and b) promise something else.  For example, say, “I really wish I could do ___ for you.”  (That’s positive).  Then follow it up with, “Although I can’t do ___, I can do ___.” 

This concept applies to all your relationships from work to your clubs and organizations.  Simply say, “Even though I really wanted to find a way to make ___ happen, I couldn’t.  However, I can do ___. 

Another tip: Give them a good reason why you can’t do something, not a list of excuses.  “I sprained my ankle, my kid’s off from school at that time, etc.” may all be legitimate reasons why you can’t do something for someone, but you should only give one.  You may think giving more excuses makes you look better, but in fact, it makes you look worse.  If you start giving multiple excuses, it looks like you really don’t want to do it.  If you tell the other person in one sentence, “I’m sorry, I would really like to do ___ for you, but my mother and father are coming to town and I haven’t seen them in quite a while,” it seems more like you give a darn.

Sometimes you may not be the best person for the job.  Tell them that.  Say, “I’d really like to do that, but I don’t think I’m the best person because I’m not good at ‘X’, ‘Y’ or ‘Z’.  But Bill or Mary is.” 

Somebody recently contacted me online at my Dr. Laura Designs store asking me if I could do a particular project for an event.  I told them that I would look into it.  I didn’t want to say “yes” because I didn’t know anything about how to do the particular craft, and I didn’t want to promise anything I couldn’t do.  I did some research and realized that the learning curve for me to figure out how to do it would probably be a month, and the project was due in a week.  So I responded back I would have loved to be able to do it but I couldn’t because I didn’t know how and couldn’t figure it out in time for the event.  I felt bad.  I don’t like to disappoint people and I really do like a challenge, but time constraints and my lack of expertise made it difficult for me to follow through. 

Finally, if you don’t want to help someone because you think they’re using you or they’re just a crummy person, you don’t need to say so.  Even though you may be thinking, “I hate your guts and I’d rather eat frogs than help you,” that’s not the kind of thing you should say to anybody unless you really want to get them out of your life for good.  It’s always nicer to tell a truth that isn’t so ugly.  Simply say, “I regret that I’m not able to do this for you.  I hope you can find somebody else to help you,” as opposed to, “Drop dead!” or, “Go to hell!”   

Learning to say “no” is important because many of you let other people devour your lives out of a false sense of obligation.  You end up having too much on your plate, which means you won’t do any of it very well, and that’s not morally right.  Sometimes you have to disappoint people in order to maintain healthy follow-through on the obligations you already have. 

 

Video: My Teen is Shy

Although high school yearbooks have categories for “Most Likely to Succeed” and “Class Clown,” there is no superlative for “Most Shy.”  The teenage years can be a difficult transition period, especially if you’re not an outgoing person.  If your teen is shy, I’ve got some tips to help them break out of their comfort zone.

Read the transcript.

Not Everything is Forgivable

I am really ticked off that so many experts, shrinks, religious leaders, and medical doctors say that if you’ve been wronged, regardless of how severely, you must forgive the person who wronged you or you are considered a bad person who will never heal.

I think that is some of the stupidest tripe I have ever heard expressed.

First of all, if unconditional forgiveness itself does not allow for judgment, how is it fair that other people can judge your virtue simply because you won’t find it in your heart to forgive somebody?  (Throw that at the next person who tries to judge you for not forgiving someone). 

Secondly, forgiveness focuses on the perpetrator.  A victim should not be fixated.  It freezes them and prevents them from getting on with their life. 

I want to tell you a story about someone who I have never forgiven.  This person – who shall remain nameless to protect their identity – was someone who I trusted to arrange something for me.  I put my mind, body, soul and savings into this experience, and this person did not take the responsibility to make sure serious information was checked.  And because of that, everything I put in was blown. 

They ruined something that meant a tremendous deal to me.  And, to top everything off, this person still wanted compensation.  I thought it would have been more professional and classy to say, “Since you did everything I asked you to do and I blew it, don’t pay me.”  But instead, they sent me a bill.  After some period of time, I finally told them, “The truth is I don’t, can’t and won’t forgive you.  This was your responsibility and you blew it.  You’ve been compensated, and I’m left here staring at my fingernails.”

As you can see, I expressed no forgiveness, and yet, I think it was still extremely healthy.  I get very frustrated hearing how many of you go through tragic situations or horrible things and then get pressured by people to forgive the person who wronged you.  The truth is, forgiving may be the worst thing you can do. 

Over the three decades I’ve been on the air, it has been horrifying to hear so many people say that they’ve been pressured to forgive a perpetrator.  I’ve listened to countless stories about families who have turned their backs on victims of crimes like sexual abuse because the victims wouldn’t keep their mouths shut, forgive their attacker, let things go, and get on with life.  There have been many women who have called in saying that they stood up to an abusive husband only to be cut off by their children because they wouldn’t forgive their abuser. 

That’s what makes a lot of people say, “I forgive you” – family members telling them that if they don’t forgive, there will be hell to pay.  Out of fear of being banished or messing up their family, many victims keep their hurt on the inside.  However, this becomes very toxic because they don’t and shouldn’t actually forgive their abusers. 

I say don’t give in to this pressure.  Most of the time, everyone in the family simply wants there to be forgiveness because it will make family functions seem normal.  But there are things that are unforgivable.

Another thing that infuriates me is when people say victims are supposed to forgive as a gift to their offender.  In my opinion, this takes responsibility away from the offender, and a lot of times, the forgiveness serves as a benefit to the offender.  I’ve seen sick things like people put on trial for molesting, torturing and killing children, and the parents say, “I forgive him.”  I just want to take those parents and slap them up one side and down the other.  Why?  Because they are betraying their children, that’s why.  They may be making themselves feel better and look really good, but they are betraying their children.  I find that despicable. 

After the Columbine High School shootings, mourners put flags on a hill with the names of the children who were murdered.  And beside them, somebody decided to put up flags for each of the psycho-creeps who shot them because they died too.  I went on the air that day stating that it was a desecration because showing compassion for evil is showing evil to the innocent.  That was one of the most disgusting displays of phony righteousness I have ever seen.  The parents who had lost their kids had to deal with flags for those creeps placed on the same soil as the ones for their murdered children. 

You should not forgive someone until they have earned the potential for forgiveness.  How do they earn it?  They need to follow the four “R’s”:

1) Responsibility — The perpetrator needs to take complete and absolute responsibility for what they’ve done.  They should not blame it on anyone else, their childhood, bullying, or moon spots.  If it was their own decision, they must take full responsibility for having made that decision without justification or excuses.

2) Remorse — The perpetrator must be truly remorseful.  Most people feel bad because they were caught or had to suffer consequences, however, that’s not true remorse.  The only problem with this step is that no other human being can tell for certain if another is truly remorseful.  People can say it, but we don’t really know what’s in their hearts. 

3) Repair — The perpetrator must do whatever it takes to repair the damage.  Some damage cannot be repaired.  I remember reading a story about a driver who plowed into a group of young people riding their bicycles.  One biker, who was a superior human being and an athlete, had his arms, legs, and just about every rib broken, and his brain would never be the same again.  People wanted the driver to be forgiven after creating a lifetime of torture for this young man.  To that, I say, “No!”

4) Repetition – The perpetrator must take whatever steps needed so that this action is never repeated.

A lot of you folks who simply forgive your drinking or philandering spouse over and over again only give them permission to repeat their behavior.  Don’t be weak. Follow the four R’s.

Everybody who has been hurt has to go through a grieving and healing process.  It often takes a long time.  No one can tell you how to do it or how fast to go.  If someone is obsessing over you not forgiving someone, tell them to leave you alone.

And if someone continues to lay judgment on you because you refuse to forgive what you consider an unforgivable act, send them to me.  There are things that are unforgivable.