Archive for December, 2016

December 29, 2016

Highs and lows, when it comes to functioning…..

by Rod Smith

Lower-functioning people, like lower-functioning families, are mind-bogglingly predictable. They invade boundaries, war over roles, suffer and inflict jealousies, wade in unresolved conflicts, wholesale gloom, demand inordinate attention, collect wounds, and are critical of any who cut loose of their tired patterns and conversations. They are usually rigid, right, and religious.

While I have empathy for such people and families, although it is usually wasted, and while some require intensive help to break their repetitive orbit, until such individuals and families are ready for change, the helper (counselor, therapist, coach) will spin his or her wheels on the client-designed treadmill until the helper becomes part of the client’s low-functioning litany of moans.

Higher-functioning people and families are wildly unpredictable. They care about what works, about what is kind, and how all or most people can benefit from their actions and attitudes. Who is in charge, who and who is honored is of little interest to them, largely because such concerns are eclipsed by the level of meaning that comes with living.

I hope you will get ahold of your life before someone else does.

May you define yourself before someone else does.

May you escape rigidity, religion, and being right, and find it replaced with ambiguity, faith, flexibility, and fun.

And, may it also be true for me.

December 27, 2016

Inordinate love of families…..

by Rod Smith

I have an inordinate love for families no matter how complex. After many years of listening, watching, and connecting the variables, I see several enduring truths:

  • Faith, language, culture, country, and levels of wealth or poverty don’t make too much difference to the ways in which people connect, disconnect, love or hurt each other.
  • Jealousy is jealousy, selfishness is selfishness, if you are rich or poor and no matter what your mother tongue or what continent is home.
  • Unwanted themes in families will repeat despite the best, most loving efforts of those who’d wish they wouldn’t.
  • Change is possible but securing it is easier said than done.
  • A problem that is ignored will not disappear. It will go into hiding and while it is in hiding it will brew into something more toxic shape and more pernicious than it was when it was first denied.
  • The keys of change for a troubled family are in the hands of the member (or members) who is willing to risk and lose all in the name of individual health and wellness. This person will be determined to remain connected to his or her family while they at one and the same time refusing to be sabotaged by its difficulties.
December 26, 2016

Planning for 2017

by Rod Smith

As 2017 looms I want to thank you for your very faithful readership throughout the years. This column was published and was on newsstands for the first time in March 2001 –  I think it was the 21st. And, it’s been going daily ever since. I repeat (having said it in many previous columns): when I write to you I am also writing to myself. I love my life – but it is far from perfect. The challenges I offer as you plan 2017 (yes, PLAN it) I also embrace:

  • Let 2017 be a year where you get yourself more and more OUT of debt. There is very little as draining as high-interest debt (or family debt) and to be free of it is indeed absolutely liberating. (Apart from home-bonds, my family is debt free).
  • Let 2017 be a year where you owe no apologies. You’ve said and you mean your regrets, you have asked for forgiveness where it’s possible, and you have done as much as you can to learn from your errors.
  • Let 2017 be a year where you evolve into the most generous person you know. As I have said many times this is not about financial wealth although it will involve substantial risk and courage and it will sometimes be about money.
  • Let 2017 be a year where you watch you own behavior more than focus on what others are doing or not doing.
December 18, 2016

Sometimes extremes are necessary…..

by Rod Smith

“Does severing ties mean you will never have to ever see that person again or be expected to relate to them at all? I am referring to your column from Friday where you gave ‘broad scenarios” where a family severance may be necessary.”

Extreme responses, like never having to ever see someone again, are sometimes necessary.

Extreme abuse or cruelty calls for extreme action. But, thankfully, things are not usually so extreme in families.

Just as I offered (with hesitation) the broad scenarios justifying cutoffs, I am going to offer broad stances or attitudes or truths to carry you into a family where caution is required but a complete cutoff may not be necessary.

  • Agree to not be alone with a person who has formerly victimized you in any manner.
  • Agree that you will not give a single penny to the person who has formerly used you for money no matter how convincing or “reformed” he or she may be.
  • Clarify for stance ahead of time. Highly manipulative people know how to “work you” and will take you by surprise.
  • Abusive people by definition don’t play by the rules of common decency and respect. Know that going in.
  • Remember that you are always in charge of you. This is not a selfish way to live. Surrendering your power to another usually is.
December 17, 2016

How I know clients (10 ways) are growing and getting well(er)…..

by Rod Smith

Ten ways I can tell clients are becoming stronger, healthier – some of the following begins to occur:

  1. They get spunky; they question authority, play with the rules, and break (benign) codes of behavior.
  2. They ignore the negative comments from others, comments that would formerly have impacted them.
  3. They (increasingly) reject the role of a victim – even if they have been one.
  4. They (begin to) see the bigger picture of their lives and they begin to strategize for what they really want.
  5. They (begin to) pay the price of wholeness – this means forgiving others, making things right wherever possible, and being clear where the lack of clarity lead to problems in the past.
  6. They (begin to) initiate their own fun instead of waiting for it to come to them.
  7. They grow in the ability to take full responsibility for their lives and blame no one anywhere for anything.
  8. They are aware of “sideways” frustration and anger and therefore careful not to visit unresolved issues on the “wrong” people – like taking out work frustrations on people at home.
  9. They (begin to) serve others in ways they’d never before though possible.
  10. When facing choices they take the choices with the most risk and ambiguity.
December 13, 2016

Who are the healthiest people in your family?

by Rod Smith

A dozen traits of the healthy members of your family:

  • They do not take sides even if it is to their apparent advantage
  • They expose gossip for what it is and refuse to be part of it
  • The are very much a part of the family but don’t appear to be trapped by any of the family’s problems – this can appear to some who are trapped by the family’s problems as if they do not care
  • They find reasons to compliment even the most difficult members of the family
  • They listen more than they speak
  • They speak well of family members and if they cannot speak well of someone they keep their silence
  • They avoid digging up the past unless it is in fun and to laugh at themselves
  • They accept criticism
  • They are unpredictable and appear to break the family rules
  • They show little regard for hierarchy or age while at the same time they are respectful to all
  • They are people you can trust with your healthy secrets but not with your attempts to get them to take sides against anyone
  • They know how to relax and to laugh and to have fun and they know how to work really hard and get things done when it is time to work


December 8, 2016

Avoiding necessary pain….

by Rod Smith

Seeking emotional pain is usually foolish. There are people who appear to intentionally engage in unhealthy relationships, who knowingly trade in deceit, who betray long-held friendships, and provoke jealousy. It is as if they get up in the morning with the goal of attracting drama at every turn and it seldom disappoints.

Then, there are those who avoid emotional pain as much as possible.

They refuse to be “up front” with what they need and want, they enduringly bury their dreams and ambition for the sake of “peace.” They tolerate all manner of nonsense in the belief that exercising their freedoms, developing their voices, expanding their horizons will be more painful than the life they have thus far created.

All growth and change requires some loss and loss usually – but not always – requires some pain.

Marching, or even limping, toward healthy and necessary pain and facing and embracing the inevitable necessary trauma of getting into a healthier place may be a terrifying idea for habitual conflict-avoiders and for those who persistently deny themselves a more fulfilling future.

But, it is worth it.

The vast majority of my clients who pay the price of pain in the immediate for something better in the future are overwhelmingly pleased they did it.

December 8, 2016

Teach them well….

by Rod Smith

Parents, please teach your children as I try to teach mine….

  • There is no substitute for hard work. If you cut corners, avoid doing things well, you will probably have to pay for it in the future.
  • “Please” and “thank you” are beautiful words and they should be used as often as possible.
  • Don’t interrupt adults who are having a conversation – and saying “excuse me” as you interrupt doesn’t make the interruption acceptable.
  • Wear clean clothes, use deodorant, and brush your teeth – do all this without having to be reminded.
  • Stand up for adults; offer your seat to adults, open doors for adults.
  • Ask for what you need; don’t demand what you need.
  • Listen when people talk to you. Checking your phone in the middle of a face-to-face conversation is downright rude.
  • Although you may not think it is so, your elders have a lot to teach you and you have a lot of learning to do.
  • When you are more aware of your rights than you are aware of your responsibilities the imbalance will ultimately lead you into trouble.
  • Earn more money than you spend – it’s as simple as that – or you will land yourself in trouble.
December 1, 2016

Friday solace

by Rod Smith

As you reflect on your life and on your family you may find some solace in the following….

  • No one is healthy and highly functional all of the time. It’s a sign of health to recognize when you are not doing well and you allow yourself a little room to mend.
  • Most people have a tough time learning from their mistakes and sometimes it takes a few similar errors and a lot of pain and sometimes expense before we get the message and resist making the same mistakes again and again.
  • The healthiest people and families are low functioning in some ways and at some times; the lowest functioning people and families a highly functioning in some ways and at some times.
  • Grief is a gift even if it not one you sought after. Some wounds and some pains will never heal or go away. The notion that “time heals” is not always true at all. It really is only sometimes true.
  • Things like excessive debt, unresolved conflict, harbored failure to forgive, and avoiding people you love can weigh on you more than you realize. These are energy and enthusiasm drainers that can lead to poor health, unwise choices, and further into the “hole” we need to escape.