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NL: Hi everyone! My name is Natalie Ledwell and this is the Inspiration Show. Today on the show, we’re going to be talking about a very common subject and questions that come up for me very often inside on mind movies community. And that’s how do we deal with difficult family members? So I have a special guest with me that is going to be talking to me about this subject. He’s the author of about 50 books. He’s a retired family therapist and an active life coach- and definitely an expert on this subject. Before I introduce my special guest today, I just want to remind you that once the show is over, if you’re watching this show on Facebook Live or later on our YouTube channel, don’t forget to click the link below this video so you can take my 30-second quiz, so we can figure out what’s holding you back from success. So, please help me introduce my special guest today, Dr. Eric Maisel. How are you, Dr.Eric?
EM: Great. How are you, Natalie?
NL: I am fantastic and I’m so looking forward to talking about this subject today. Like I said, it’s a very common question that comes up within our community. But, before we do that, why don’t we talk a little bit about your story and your background, and how you got into doing this kind of work.
EM: The long story- I’ll start all the way back in the beginning. I thought I was a math and science boy, but then math and science stopped interesting me. I saw that I was interested in human beings and not in astronomical distances. So, after I got out of the army I got a degree in Philosophy, which is one of those things you do and you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s important because existential philosophy has always interested me. Human beings taking personal responsibility for their lives has been keen for me. Then I worked as a working novelist and a working nonfiction writer for a long time. Then I retooled as a California Licensed Family Therapist and worked with creative and performing artists, families and couples. Then at some point I stopped believing in the pseudo medical model therapy of diagnosing and treating mental disorders. I thought I was just working problems in living, not mental disorders. So I got out of therapy and I’ve been doing creativity coaching for probably going on 30 years now. But, I never lost my interest in family life and how families work. Because I’ve been working with individuals and because I’m in the mental health reform movement, I realized the extent to which we let go of the idea that circumstances and context matter. It’s as if everybody’s come down with some individual mental disorder, clinical depression or generalized anxiety disorder, with your kid ADHD or something, and that way of looking at human beings has prevented us, stymied us from looking at the context in which we find ourselves and the extent to which our families may be the problem- rather than just some individual so-called “mental disorder”.
NL: Right. So you said something very interesting that made my ears prick up. You said something about the “mental health reform movement”. What is that?
EM: There are two current paradigms that the universe accepts right at this moment. There’s the pseudo medical model of diagnosing and treating mental disorders that makes it seem as if mental disorders are something like medical illnesses that ought to be treated by things that they call drugs, but I would call chemicals with powerful effects. There’s that paradigm, which is really the predominant one supported by pharmaceutical companies, and most academics, and the major professional organizations. The second paradigm is the paradigm of expert talk. The idea that we can talk ourselves out of problems called psychotherapy, which is an odd idea that on the one hand it’s some kind of biological problem. On the other hand, it’s something you can talk yourself out of. Those are the two predominant paradigms and there are a lot of folks in what’s called the “critical psychology”, or critical psychiatry, or anti-psychiatry movement, but don’t believe that either of those are the right ways to look at human suffering, or the only way to look at human suffering.
NL: Right. So what is your method?
EM: The short- hand for it I call “humane helping”. It’s the idea that we don’t know, as opposed to that we do know and that adding a label- let’s say you come in and you say you’re depressed and I returned the favor and I say you’re depressed. I’ve done nothing there except engaged in a certain transaction that allows me to write a prescription.
EM: The average time that a psychiatrist sees with the new patient now a days is 15 minutes. What can go on except you saying you’re depressed, I agree, and I write your prescription. So there’s no investigating and there’s no honoring of not knowing what’s going on. Either of us, both of us, are not honoring that we don’t know what’s going on. You actually want the label probably because then you think you know what you have- that you came down with something called depression, or whatever, schizophrenia or whatever. You came down with something, so in a way you’re happy to get a label and I’m happy to be done with you in 15 minutes. So my way takes a little more time. We might have to talk about things. I might have to be a little pushy to find out what’s actually going on because we’re all tricky, defensive creatures and you’re going to not want to stop your smoking, or not want to tell me your secrets. Whatever it is you’re not going to want to do, you’re not going to want to do. So we’re going to have to be a little subtle and also supportive, compassionate and all of those words, but also very directive if we’re going to get at whatever it is that’s going on.
NL: Right. I love that method because I do believe that. Well, let’s talk about what you believe. So is there- do you find there’s a common thread, or there are common issues that come up for families that cause difficulty? Life?
EM: Life is the common thread. It isn’t reducible to anything in particular. It really isn’t for one person- or we’ll just do it simply. For one person, it’s the job they hate. For another- let’s just look at it simply. If 50% of marriages end in divorce, and if 75% of second and third marriages end in divorce, and if many more marriages ought to end in divorce that people are staying together for all kinds of reasons, we may be looking in three out of four married couples being unhappy. They’re probably unhappy in their different ways. Maybe one couple has no sex life. Maybe one couple- one person doesn’t respect the other person. We could name all the different ways, but that would just be a long, long laundry list by way of saying these are the things that human beings encounter. It’s not easy to be with another person. It’s not easy to be in a family. It’s not easy to be with another person.
NL: Yeah. Well those things you just listed sounded like they’re more symptoms of something that’s deeper than that.
EM: Well, yes and no. They may be symptoms, or they may just be the resentments you have. I mean, if you have an accumulation of resentments against your mate, that may be it. There may be nothing deeper going on there. It’s just that this is a person you don’t actually like. This is a person you don’t actually want to be with. One could poke around for some childhood something that’s causing you to be in this position now, but often there’s no childhood anything. It’s just this is what’s going on between the two of you. You’re not so- to- speak “compatible”; you’re not even friendly.
NL: Right, because my marriage ended about four years ago. We’ve been separated for about four years. Gratefully we’re still good friends and we’re business partners, and everything’s great. But, when I did some soul-searching and some work on myself after that, I also realized that for me it was resentment. There was a building up of these resentments of things that have happened earlier that I didn’t clear myself. So is there a way that people can move past that? Is there a way that you can help resolve that?
EM: Well, it depends on a given situation because in some cases, especially if the relationship isn’t a safe one, you probably want to get out. You wouldn’t want to get over it. You’d probably want to get out. So I would say it’s very, very particular. In the book, I talked about eight strengths and among the strengths are things like clarity and awareness. So, let’s say that one of your resentments is that your husband always comes late to everything. Let’s just say that builds up over time. It means more than annoying. It’s like it doesn’t feel fair and it feels like whatever agreement you base this relationship on is not being honored. So, first you would want awareness that this is what goes on because, as I said, we’re defensive. We somehow manage not to quite notice that he’s always later, or we keep always accepting whatever excuse he gives. One strength or skill would be to grow better aware that this is what’s actually going on. Then there’s the skill of clarity, which is then what do you want to do. It’s going to be different for different people. For one person, it might be this added to every other resentment means I must leave. Or, it might mean I’m going to speak very clearly to- my clients try to speak very clearly in sentences of seven words or fewer.
EM: As soon as we speak in long sentences we’re probably apologizing, or changing the message, or doing something. So this mate might want to say to her husband, “This isn’t okay” with a period and not more sentences that become criticism, or whatever they become. Just, “this isn’t okay” so that the message is heard. Then, of course, there would need to be consequences if the person still keeps coming late. There needs to be consequences for that, but the first step is recognizing that he’s always late, and then doing something about it.
NL: Right. So, tell me what the eight pillars are.
EM: The eight skills, or strengths, are smarts- just being smart about what’s going on. Strength- having strength to do what you know you ought to do once you figure out what that is. Calmness- which is a very important one because most people are silenced by anxiety. It’s not just that anxiety comes up in formal situations, or here and there. I think anxiety threats through our lives in a way and which prevents us from really being who we intend to be. So growing calmer is important. Then skill of clarity that I mentioned before- having a good sense of what you want to do. Then awareness. The idea of understanding what’s going on around you. Courage, because a lot of things scare us, not necessarily scare us like a tiger coming at us, but just scare us like we don’t like the consequences of saying something. So that requires a certain amount of courage to just speak, or just do what we think we need to do. Then, the skill of presence to actually be there with your -let’s say- your alcoholic son. Stay put and not leave the room and not notice that he’s drunk again. That kind of thing. Presence to stay there. Then, resilience because these matters keep coming back. You make think you can handle them. It’s like being in recovery, an addict in recovery. You haven’t handled it for all time. You’re just in recovery and there are probably slips coming, and lapses coming, and you may have to start the process all over again. So, as human beings we need, especially inside our family with the repeated Thanksgivings and Christmases, we need resilience.
NL: Absolutely. Do you give advice or some guidelines in the book on how do you open up a channel of communication like this?
EM: Well, I do give lots of advice, lots of ideas. Just one simple one is parenthetically I’ve been doing a lot of interviews. For a lot of the hosts, sibling issues have been very hot. In their families, they’ve been on the out with one brother, or sister, kind of forever. They know of lots of people who contact them in their role as hosts, who have been on the outs with a brother or a sister, lots of sibling- more than resentments, but estrangement and difficulties there. One of the things I recommend in the book is if you’re wanting to try some rapport with a sibling, meet in a new place. Really set it up. Walk by the beach, as opposed to meeting in the family kitchen yet again, where you both know what you’re going to say and what the outcome is- and nothing’s going to change. Try something different. It’s that- some of, actually a lot of, the tactics are that simple because I don’t think human beings can do very complicated things. We’re about at the level where we can do something like, “let’s meet someplace else and talk about this”.
NL: Yeah. Awesome. I mean, the book sounds like it’s such a wealth of information. So is there a story that you can share with us of someone that you’ve worked with that’s really been able to mend a relationship? I mean you know family is just- you were born with the family… That you’ve been able to work with that really had a big breakthrough?
EM: Let me say it two different ways, or tell you two different things. One just came up with a host a couple of days ago where she was reading the book. Her husband and her brother had been completely estranged. She had kind of given up on them ever talking to each other and given up on trying anything new, but she tried some of the things in the book- including having the meet in a different place. And some kind of truce arose from that. So this was just a very recent example of something being possible where it was thought that nothing good could happen with this relationship. In my practice, I’ll give you one example. I was working with a lawyer who thought that his issue was workaholism, who thought that he was spending too many hours at work because his bosses were always eyeing him and he needed to put in all the hours to make the long story short it turned out he was afraid to go home because he didn’t want to see how poorly his relationship with his wife was going. It actually rose to the level of a kind of fear. So he would stay later and later at work and, not just that, but after work could he go and work out… Which is another one of those things we do to avoid life.
EM: And so he come home tremendously late and completely fatigued and managed to get to bed, etcetera. The little kids he wasn’t seeing. So he was missing his chance to be with- because of his fear of seeing what was going on- he was not just avoiding the situation with his wife, but he was missing his life with his kids. So we had to work on that strength, the strength of courage. The courage to go home…. the courage to stop the workday at 5:00, or 6:00, or whatever was appropriate and actually go home and face this.
NL: Yeah. Fantastic. Now your book is called “Overcoming Your Difficult Family”. Is that right?
EM: Overcoming Your Difficult Family. That’s right.
NL: Yeah. From what- if you’re watching this show, you can see that there’s just a plethora of amazing wisdom in here, but also practical things that you can apply to your situation. If you’re having a challenge with family members, or a spouse, or- and I’m assuming even like close friends or anyone in your life, these principles can be applied there as well.
EM: That’s exactly right.
NL: Yeah. Dr. Eric, thank you so much for joining me today. If people want to connect with you, or get their hands on the book, where could we send them to do that?
EM: Well, any bookstore, physical or cyber, they can go. To know about what I’m doing they can come to my site, which is Ericmaisel.com. They can also drop me an email at [email protected]
NL: Beautiful. We’ll make sure that we have a link here so it’s easy for people just to click on that and connect with you. Thank you again, Dr.Eric it’s been an absolute pleasure talking with you today.
EM: Thanks a lot.
NL: Awesome. So, I encourage you to click on the link go through and get your hands on that book if you had- if you do have- a challenging relationship in your life. Don’t forget that once the show is over, if you click that link below the video, we’ll be able to take you through the 30-second quiz so we can figure out what’s holding you back from success. So, until next time. Remember to live large, choose courageously and love without limits. We’ll see you soon.