Good enough parenting

SECTION FOUR

THE CORE EMOTIONAL NEED FOR REASONABLE LIMITS

Chapter Thirteen

THE DOMAIN OF IMPAIRED LIMITS

The third domain of schema clusters is known as “Impaired Limits”. To the extent that parents do not meet the core emotional need for reasonable limits, we believe their children will experience the opposite—Impaired Limits. This means that their children will be at risk of developing some or all of the lifetraps in the Domain of Impaired Limits, namely, Entitlement, Insufficient Self-Control, and Approval-Seeking. This chapter explains these three lifetraps in detail, and contains an additional segment called “Basic Safety Zone”.

The Lifetrap of Entitlement / Grandiosity

The first maladaptive schema (lifetrap) in the domain of impaired limits is entitlement / grandiosity. The core message of the entitlement lifetrap is, “I am special and better than other people. Rules should not apply to me. I should always come first.” This lifetrap is rooted in a desire for power and control.

Children with the entitlement lifetrap will grow up to believe that what they want or need should always be a priority. It is okay for them to cheat on tests or at sports, and they minimize it. They do not need to fasten the seat belt when the plane is taking off, they can drive while under the influence, and they generally get angry when they do not get what they want. Entitled individuals do not care if getting their way disadvantages others; they don’t think twice about changing the rules when playing a game. As long as they win, that is what matters, and they do not have any awareness of the pain others feel. They have a warped sense of fairness, and may accuse others of being selfish instead. They rarely, if ever, put themselves in other people’s shoes. They are usually not in tune with others’ feelings, but are totally in tune with their own. When challenged about their behavior, they often think that people should accept them the way they are.

Children develop the entitlement lifetrap in two ways. Being told that they are more special than other kids, having no limits, and never being made to take responsibility for their actions, words or moods, produces “pure entitlement.” In her revealing book, Disarming the Narcissist, Wendy Behary says these children grow up into “purely spoiled narcissists,” unable to be thoughtful of others.1 It is this kind of entitlement we are trying to prevent when we talk about meeting the core emotional need for reasonable limits. The second way that entitlement is produced is a bit more complicated. This is called “fragile entitlement”. This form of the lifetrap comes not from being spoiled, but is a reaction to unmet core emotional needs for connection and acceptance or realistic expectations, and is rooted in either the defectiveness lifetrap or the emotional deprivation lifetrap. When needs for caring and recognition are not met, a response of “I have to take care for myself” and “No one else is looking out for me” develops. The lifestyle and behavior look the same as “pure entitlement”, but it is important to understand that the behavior of these narcissists is covering up a lot of pain from unmet needs.

Entitled children will often become leaders (at school, in sports, or in gangs) who boast about not taking “No” for an answer. Highly entitled individuals do not like to hear the word “No”. They may even receive compliments for their natural leadership qualities and for being so determined in life. They do not like to work under others, since they do not like rules, but they do not mind enforcing rules with others. Adults with the entitlement lifetrap generally hate being vulnerable and sharing about their weaknesses, but they love to boast about their strengths. Because of their bullying, they have power, and they achieve results by infringing on other people’s rights. Very few people with this lifetrap volunteer to seek help or see their need to change. Why? Life is good, since they get their way most of the time. Without intervention, entitled children who grow up to be entitled adults rarely get to the point where they can see that relationships are a two-way street, and that by becoming open and vulnerable, rather than being demanding, self-serving, or bullying, they are more likely to get what they really need—a satisfying and caring relationship. We believe that adults with narcissistic and entitled behavior can change, but it makes much more sense to nip it in the bud when we see it in our children than trying to change them when they are older.

Early family environment that might cause this lifetrap to develop:

• There were no proper boundaries in the child’s life early on; he set his own limits. Even if there were limits, they were few, and revolved around him achieving excellence in one or more areas.

• The child was shamed a lot growing up, and to avoid feeling shame, he overcompensated and shamed others.

• The child was allowed to throw tantrums and often got his way because of his strong will. His anger was a manipulative tool to get what he wanted.

• The child was not taught to care about others.

• Insufficient attention was given to recognizing the child’s accomplishments and he was unduly criticized. His response was to become excessively demanding.

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Figure 13.1: The Lifetrap of Entitlement (Javier as an adult)

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Figure 13.2: A Possible Early Environment Which Would Likely Contribute to the Entitlement Lifetrap (Javier as a child) Go to Appendix 1

The Lifetrap of Insufficient Self-Control / Self-Discipline

The next maladaptive schema (lifetrap) in the domain of impaired limits is insufficient self-control / self-discipline. The core message of the insufficient self-control lifetrap is, “I should not be uncomfortable.” This lifetrap leads people to express their emotion negatively, avoid difficult tasks, and give in to temptation. It interferes with healthy adult behavior like relationship reciprocity, and setting and achieving goals.

Children who are not given limits, are neglected or not given disciplined role models, will usually develop this lifetrap. Almost all children struggle with self-control growing up, which is normal. However, if they develop this lifetrap, they may, as adults, have difficulty controlling their impulses. Their fits of rage or sexual promiscuity or over-eating or whatever may evolve into an addiction. They also may have trouble working at a task for what others would consider a reasonable length of time because they feel bored. People with this lifetrap may set out to do a task, but they easily get distracted. If a task seems too difficult, they will give up.

People with the lifetrap of insufficient self-control have a hard time making themselves uncomfortable, or delaying gratification. As children, they did not learn the value of persevering to accomplish tasks, or the principle of not giving into short-term pleasure. If they are in a position of authority, they will delegate more than they should. Discipline is a challenge for them. Much of what they do is based on their desires, and they can be rash in their decision-making. Only when this lifetrap brings them to a low point in life will they start to realize that have to deal with this problem. It is worth noting that people with this lifetrap are sometimes quite likeable because their spontaneous side is very attractive. This charm may carry them far, in spite of a lack of discipline.

Early family environment that might cause this lifetrap to develop:

• The child’s parents were not very involved with her while she was growing up. Her parents left her to set her own limits at too young of an age, such as when to sleep, how long to play, what to eat, how much TV to watch. Early on, she was allowed to act on her desires.

• No consequences were set when the child got out of line. Because the child’s parents were not involved, they did not know what she was up to. They were too busy with their own work and schedules.

• Since the child’s parents were too busy, she was brought up by grandparents or by nannies, who spoiled her and gave her whatever she wanted.

• The child was naturally talented. She did not have to try that hard to succeed early on in life, and her parents did not sense the need to teach her perseverance. As life became more challenging, the child avoided pursuits that would require much perseverance.

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Figure 13.3: The Lifetrap of Insufficient Self-Control (Young Jin as an adult)

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Figure 13.4: A Possible Early Environment Which Would Likely Contribute to the Insufficient Self-Control Lifetrap (Young Jin as a child) Go to Appendix 1

The Lifetrap of Approval-Seeking / Recognition-Seeking

The third and final maladaptive schema (lifetrap) in the domain of impaired limits is approval-seeking / recognition-seeking. The core message of the approval-seeking lifetrap is, “I must seek the approval of others above all else. If other people do not approve of me, something is very wrong.” This pattern of thinking is about defining who we are through the eyes of others rather than paying attention to our own needs and desires.

Children who develop this lifetrap will struggle to form an opinion about themselves outside of what others think and feel about them. They are not secure enough to trust their own instincts. This lifetrap is not about achieving a self-imposed high standard, or about feeling superior, but about craving other people’s approval.

People with this lifetrap feel that their world collapses when they sense that others do not think highly of them; when the opposite is true, they feel elevated and happy about themselves. They put a lot of energy into drawing attention to their good deeds. Given how much they are controlled by what others think, they do not really develop an authentic sense of self with their own values and preferences. As a result, they cannot truly be fulfilled. At work, people with this lifetrap are consumed with what their colleagues and especially their boss think of them. Even if they are doing a great job, it is the approval of others that will decide how they feel about themselves. They lack their own convictions and suppress their preferences at the expense of being liked by others.

Early family environment that might cause this lifetrap to develop:

• The child’s parents emphasized the need for status, looking good, or recognition in such a way that it was part of their normal family conversation.

• The child’s parents boasted about themselves. If and when they were praised by others (e.g., appearing in the papers or on TV), they made it into a big deal.

• The child’s parents bragged about their achievements and who they knew.

• The child’s parents focused more on how things looked at home, rather than what was inside the hearts and minds of their children.

• Self-esteem had nothing to do with the child liking himself, and everything to do with others approving of him.

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Figure 13.5: The Lifetrap of Approval-Seeking (Jono as an adult)

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Figure 13.6: A Possible Early Environment Which Would Likely Contribute to the Approval-Seeking Lifetrap (Jono as a child) Go to Appendix 1

Basic Safety Zone

An extremely important component for this core emotional need involves protecting children from the dangers of early/inappropriate exposure to sex and violence. In particular, this is related to dangers on the Internet (porn, revealing personal information on social networking sites, lurking pedophiles, scams, inappropriate YouTube videos, and the like), listening to inappropriate song lyrics, as well as inappropriate and sexually explicit books, movies, and TV shows.

Parents need to understand how using the Internet without limits can have dire consequences, affecting their children for life. In an age where two-year-olds surf the Internet on their dad’s tablets, parents must be urgent about setting healthy limits for their children. Given the fallout, this is not something that should be taken lightly.

The Influence of Media

Contrary to the opinion of those who argue that watching TV and playing violent computer games have little negative effect on children, there is overwhelming support that the opposite is true.2 We strongly believe that parents need to exercise control regarding what they allow their children to watch on TV and online, how often they are allowed to access social media, and what kind of video games they are allowed to play.

Studies show that kids who play inappropriate video games and watch inappropriate TV programs, YouTube videos and movies are exposed to thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of murders, along with hundreds of hours of vulgar language and unhealthy relationships.3 Even if children are not influenced to act out what they are watching, they risk strengthening the vulnerability lifetrap (see Chapter Ten), convinced that the world is a mean and a dangerous place; this would inhibit autonomy and interfere with forming healthy adult relationships.

Parents who doubt whether they should limit their children’s “screen time” have to ask themselves if they are happy with their kids being raised by “the other parent”. The Other Parent is the title of a book authored by James Steyer and Chelsea Clinton; it is also the nickname Steyer and Clinton have given to the media. This “other parent” directly and indirectly teaches our children material things buy happiness; looks are more important than character; women are objects to be used and thrown away; drunkenness, drugs and the like are part of growing up; aggressive and violent behavior is no big deal; killing people is part and parcel of everyday life; sex outside of marriage is fine, even without commitment; flirting is no big deal, even if you are married; children always need more freedom; and strict parents are old-fashioned.4

Most experts advise parents not to allow children to have a TV or computer in their bedroom, as it is difficult to monitor and promotes isolation. They also advise parents not to turn the TV on during meal times and when the family is talking. Media experts also agree that parents should establish guidelines about how much TV should be viewed during school days, and talk about limits for holiday times as well.

We would add that parents should discuss what movies the children should watch, what to avoid and why. Parents would do well to make use of websites like www.kids-in-mind.com. (Kids-in-Mind rates each movie according to the amount and intensity of sex, violence, drugs, and vulgarities.)5 Parents and children should have frequent discussions regarding gaming, TV and Internet content, song lyrics, and social media, and content of texts/chats. It should be a given that all computer, tablets and cell phones have filters to avoid access to pornographic websites.

Parents must impress upon children how what they watch and hear will have a big impact on their future choices. Parents should not underestimate the powerful influence of TV, computer games and the Internet. In the end, parents who take this kind of basic safety seriously and introduce healthy limits (and help their children to agree eventually with these limits) will increase their chances of protecting their children from many harmful outcomes.

We have included a long “Research Revealed” portion to correspond to this Basic Safety Zone. Here are a few tidbits—please read the rest when you have time. (RR13.1)

• Heavy online users are more likely to get into trouble, and are often sad, unhappy or bored.6

• Young people are spending about 54 hours per week consuming media which is more than some adults spend at work.7

• The strongest factor associated with early teenage sexual intercourse for male adolescents was viewing pornography between 14 and 19 years of age.8

• Researchers studied a remote village in British Columbia before and after television was introduced; they found that two years after TV arrived, violent incidents had increased by 160%.9

• Among children ages 8-14, incidences of psychological trauma (including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress) increased in proportion to the number of hours of television watched each day.10

Louis Lowdown

When Sonia and David were in the same kindergarten, I (Karen) organized a play-date with a mom from the school. It was our first and last one. (I should have known better; my kids had told me the boys were bullies! Still, the mother was so nice; I had thought, “How bad can they be?”) During our time in their home, my kids ran to me in the kitchen for protection several times. The misguided mother would shake her head helplessly as her children disobeyed her every word and ran riot throughout the house. I’ll never forget how dumbfounded I was when the mother uttered, “I always thought that if I gave my children everything they wanted and didn’t say ‘No’ to them, they would be so happy they would obey me out of gratitude.” Summoning all of my self-control, I politely said, “Wow, that’s an interesting parenting philosophy. My philosophy is a bit different.” At that moment, I truly thought the mother would say, “Oh please, tell me your philosophy; what do you do?” However, she just stared at me blankly, then smiled and said, “Oh well, I guess that everybody has their own way.” I almost fainted. A few minutes later my kids gave me a look that said, “Mum, we gotta’ get out of here!” Boy did we have lots to talk about on the way home!