Archive for Psychology

Helping the Helper

When I teach classes about counseling or to students who want to be counselors in the future, we talk about “helping the helper.” I make sure they know that being a caregiver of any sort is challenging, emotionally draining, and really truly physically tiring. It’s no joke, I tell them – we talk about health psychology research that tells us that caring for others (or one other) takes mental and physical energy that can cause symptoms in the caregiver themselves. So I tell my students this, not to scare them, but so that they know that self-care is necessary. Therapists and any caregiver in general need self-care. It doesn’t matter if you are a therapist or if you work with terminal children; you need self-care.

Or if you’re a caregiver for a terminal or sick spouse.

Today I came home from work and took a nap, like I do. Mike had gone to the grocery store to get dinner after work, which he hates. When I woke up, it was almost dark and the TV was on, but there were no dogs or humans in the house. The groceries were on the counter. I put on shoes and found Mike and the dogs sitting in the driveway. He was drinking beer(s) and had been chain smoking. I knew he had wanted to do work for his classes, so I knew these behaviors were nonproductive (therapist speak).

I knew he had already cleaned up the kitchen, which before I got pregnant he would not have done. He has completely changed from the lax “relax then do what needs to be done” to “do what needs to be done then relax” person (which is more like me), probably due to the fact that I can’t do these things myself anymore (which he knows bugs the crap out of me). But I also know my husband; he goes rounds with mood disorders sometimes, depression particularly. Drinking a bunch instead of doing schoolwork was not a good sign, to my trained eyes.

As I walked up, he stated, “I already did the dishes.”

“I know,” I responded, standing in front of him. I could see tired, depressed, and frustrated on his face. “Want to come in and get your schoolwork done?”

He snorted. “I’m too drunk for homework.”

“Ok, I’ll make dinner then. Did you work on your PowerPoint at school today?”

“Yeah, I got all the pictures I need, I just have to put it together.” He paused. “It’s tough,” he mumbled, looking away. And I knew he wasn’t just referring to schoolwork. So I went and got him another beer and left him alone on the tailgate of his truck.

Monday he took a Botany test and didn’t do as well as he would have liked, and he had been pretty proud of that grade before this test. The PowerPoint was supposed to bring it back up. He wanted to impress his teacher, but was having trouble with the computer program on OpenOffice. And he had a paper due, but couldn’t get his program to make graphs like he wanted to look cool (and I had no idea how to do them to help). He also has a wife who is sick, tired, can’t breathe, and can’t do anything short of work and sleep. So all the cleaning, cooking, cleaning after cooking, pet care, etc. has fallen to him. And he’s done it all without complaining, even going above and beyond to do things that make me happy.

Typically, drinking by yourself (if you’re my husband) indicates the middle of a spiral of depression. But I’m pretty sure this is his version of helping the helper. And that’s ok. I’ll bring you a beer for that. So tonight I made dinner – granted it took a while because I had to sit down a few times. And he kept asking if I was ok. And I was because whenever I sat down I was putting my feet up on a footstool he bought for me.

Mike’s right; it is tough. No two ways about it. Being there for someone else, hell practically being someone else (doing all the things they normally do) is tough. And if you’re the helper, you need to have that time to deal with it however you deal with it. But I applaud you for doing it, and I’ll let you know that the person you’re helping appreciates it more than you know.

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The Psychology of People Who “Hate People”

You’ve most likely met someone who says that they “hate people,” “don’t like people,” “think people are stupid,” or some variant of that. Humans are social creatures, so how is it possible that some people “hate” all others? Do these people really mean what they say?

A week ago I was sitting outside the Westin San Antonio on the River Walk after a conference with three engaging folks. Someone mentioned that they did not like people, and we all agreed that generally, we did not like most people. An awkward silence ensued – if none of us liked “people,” what were we doing sitting around with people? Were we not enjoying the discussion and the company? I quickly made a point to say something to the effect of, “I don’t like most people, I should say that. Because I am enjoying sitting here with you all.” Everyone agreed, and we moved on with the conversation.
This discussion got me thinking though – of the four people in the discussion, all of us were educated and worked in areas that required working with others. I teach college and interact with students, other faculty, and staff all day long, not to mention the fact that I am married (to a person) and have friends (who are people). I realized that the statement “I don’t generally like other people” means something other than what the words represent (otherwise, what am I doing?).

After years of introspection, observation, and education in psychology, I have come to a conclusion. It’s not that we (myself included in this group) don’t like most other people. Instead, people who state this have very high expectations for other people. Realistic or not, these expectations guide their interactions with others. As you can imagine, most people (the ones we don’t like) don’t measure up to these high expectations.

What is it then that we are expecting? In all honesty, we are expecting a miracle – we want others to understand us, to recognize our moods and interact with us accordingly, to know what we believe to be appropriate for certain situations (and behave accordingly), to know what we’re interested in and discuss it intelligently with us (because we are knowledgeable about it, or at least believe we are), and to think about things in the same way that we do. With all these expectations, I literally cannot understand how it is that someone with these views DOES find people that they “like.” Thinking about myself (and others) in this way, I wonder, “How the hell do I have friends? How did I get married for God’s sake?” I think the answer to this comes in the development of these expectations.

As we grow up, our personalities are influenced by both genetics and our environment. We find certain likes and dislikes, or maybe we’re taught them; either way, we have them. We interact with others, and those interactions can be positive, negative, or somewhere in between (or different for each interaction). We got off into the world and inspect others based on what we have learned is “right.” We’re told by society and our parents that we’re supposed to have friends and people that like us (and vice versa). For the group of “people haters,” it is possible that their experiences with others were more negative than positive – they started off with high hopes for others (that were learned through childhood and adolescence), but found most others soundly “lacking” in meeting their expectations. They began to form a “schema” or mental representation that others do not meet their standards. This view isn’t conscious, we’re not aware that we have high standards and that others aren’t reaching them. But we’re aware that “something’s not right.” That something translates into a view that “I cannot expect others to meet my expectations,” which could then translate into “I don’t like most people.”

So if this is the case, that people have created this view of disliking most others throughout their lifetimes, how do they have friends? How do they get married? I’ll tell you – they find each other. In my observations, most people who don’t like people have friends who…don’t like most people. My husband and I connected on this very issue. When you meet others who feel similarly, you recognize that “I don’t have faith in people” very quickly. You start talking about friends and realize that both of you have few of them. And people who “don’t like people” are typically standoffish about creating friendships. While they may have many acquaintances (who they may not really “like”), they have few friends. But typically they “mate for life,” meaning that once they have a close friend they work very hard to maintain that friendship.
The question then becomes how do they “get” friends? The answer – very carefully. “People haters” are typically standoffish at first, and weary of quick emotional connections. They are always watching others for signs that this person is “not like them.” But a “people hater” is also very astute as to what the other wants – refer back to The Miracle List. So if you want to make and keep a friend, as a “people hater,” you listen. You engage in dialogue. You remember what the other likes and do it for them/give it to them. Essentially, you demonstrate to them that you are “worthy” of friendship by being The Miracle.

So what have we learned about the person who says they “hate people?” We’ve essentially learned that they have high expectations of others, so high that their expectations are difficult to meet. They’re standoffish because yes, they are evaluating you for your worthiness. If you “pass the test,” you’ll know because they will lower their guard and may tell you about the negative experiences that they have had that have led them to where they are.

As a “people hater,” I feel that this writing has put them in a positive light, but in all honesty I believe that their expectations are so high that they cause their own pain, suffering, depression, and negativity. Most of their expectations for others cannot even be met by themselves, yet they still maintain them and evaluate others’ worthiness based on them. Is this right? The only answer to this is, “This is,” meaning that it occurs. Right or wrong, people have these experiences; they hold these expectations. They evaluate themselves and others based on these expectations. With this knowledge, you are better able to understand what you and others mean when they say, “I hate people.”

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