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Making Molehills Out of  Mountains/Reclaiming Your Personal
Power in Your Relationships

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By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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The Magical Elixir

Wise men appreciate all men, for they
see the good in each and know how
hard it is to make anything good.
-Baltasar Gracian

The deepest principle in human nature
is the craving to be appreciated.
-William James

She tried hard to fight back her tears. As her chin quivered, she absent-mindedly rubbed her hands. It was as if she were trying to exorcise every last emotion from her being. The hurt and anger burned white hot in her belly. As she laid in bed, feeling beaten down one more time, she reflected upon the years of futility they had put her through.

Her whole life, she had endured the pain of being discounted. Her feelings, thoughts, and beliefs, all the times she tried to exercise her own choices, washed away in a sea of kindness that communicated the cruelest message of all, “I know what’s best for you.”

All those times. She wanted so desperately to just once receive a knowing nod, a kind word, a look of support rather than that G.D. frown. Oh that frown said it all. “I only want what’s best for you, dear.” Somehow that sentiment implied  “I’m the only living authority on that subject.” That frown seemed to be a license to meddle, to undermine, to rob her of every sense of individuality that she possessed. That damn frown gave a whole new meaning to that once innocent sentiment, Father Knows Best.

Just once she would like to be appreciated for who she was, not what they had tried to mold her into being. Couldn’t they see it, accept it? Why couldn’t they honor her? It was as if she were invisible. Yet, she didn’t know how to fight back.

Self-doubt. Self-loathing. Toxic shame. The war waged on inside of her, the war that tears a child apart when she’s  torn between wanting to win her parent’s love and approval and honor her own desire to be appreciated as a separate adult of value and worth. 

The fight always took so much out of her. Standing up to them; afterall, maybe they were right. Whereas you and I look to our parents to provide the emotional sustenance to help create our sense of self, all she got were the toxic double messages that implied, “We will only appreciate you if....”

And so she waged the war that expressed her pain in a hundred different ways, but never resolved the issues between her and her parents. She drank at them. Used cocaine at them. Sexed at them. Last month, she had her third abortion at them.

It was the only way she knew how to fight back. It was the only way to break through the deafening silence, the subtle judgments, the crushing blindness.

How could they be so blind to what they were doing to her? The weight of her unexpressed anger made her spirit bow much as if it were an anvil crushing her shoulders. Beneath that anger oozed the hurt from a wound rubbed raw from years of feeling unappreciated, unrecognized, quite simply not valued. 

Recognition. Appreciation. Feeling valued. That’s the battlefield upon which much conflict is waged between two people. There’s nothing so tender as our longing to be appreciated by the people in our lives. Whether it’s our actions or our sense of self, we feel so much better when somebody acknowledges the value they hold us in.

I told you about my friend Stephanie Phillips. She has an older sister, Abby. Abby taught me a lesson about how empowering it is for her when I let her know that she’s worth my time and consideration to help her become who she wants to be.

Last week Abby and I were playing basketball. She was frustrated by the limitations that her age and size imposed on her. She let me know in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want to play ever again. So we sat down and talked about what was troubling her.

“I don’t want to play anymore, Frischie,” Abby adamantly declared.

“Why not?” I asked.

“It’s too hard. I just can’t make a basket.”

“You know, Abby, when I watch you play, I can see how much talent you have for the game, but I know what it’s like to feel so discouraged. Would you mind if I tried to help you a little?” 

“Really, Frischie, you really think that I’ll be able to learn how to play better?” Abby asked, somewhat hopefully.

“Abby, there’s no question in my mind. I know it’s hard for you to see right now. But if that’s what you want, then I want to help you all I can.”

“How can you help me?”

“Well, we could practice together, a couple times a week. I can give you some pointers.” 

“Really? You mean it, Frischie, just you and me? You’d really do that with me?” Abby asked. Her eyes were as big as saucers.

“Absolutely, Ab’. If that’s what you want. You’re worth it to me.”

Feeling appreciated is a tonic for much of what discourages us in our lives. However, sadly enough, in many relationships, appreciation often is held hostage to pettiness and spite. Is your relationship a celebration of who your partner is or a never ending chorus of what they are not? It’s as simple as the age old question, is the cup half-empty or half-full?

Think about this. Do you dwell on honoring your partner or bemoaning how they have disappointed you? Does your sense of entitlement and self-indulgence override your willingness to honor your partner?

When your urge to withhold overrides your willingness to acknowledge your partner, how does that impact your partner? What does it stir within anyone’s soul when they are feeling unappreciated? Most importantly, how do those feelings impact the well-being of your relationship?

How many of us give voice to that ache, our never ending desire to be acknowledged, to be recognized for the person we are and the things that we do? It’s such a simple word, appreciation. Yet, it’s a sentiment that gets buried in the smoldering resentments, all the unfulfilled needs, the unmet expectations, and the buried fantasies that can overwhelm any of our relationships.

Is there a connection for you between unvoiced disappointments, hurt never expressed, buried feelings from your partner’s disapproval, and conflict with your partner?

I see it time and time again. The conflict may be complex but the seeds that give birth to the conflict is simple enough. Appreciation is the heart and soul of what solidifies a relationship. Knowing that there’s another soul who’s on your side, who will acknowledge all the blood, sweat, and tears that you are expending, makes the game of life a little more simple.

So think about how it may be true for you. Think about how the conflict in your relationship may be a smokescreen for something much larger. Relationships require cooperation, sacrifice, give and take. The lubricant that keeps your relationship engine running smoothly is acknowledgment, recognition, and your willingness to articulate your appreciation for your partner.

Let’s look at appreciation from your point of view for a moment. How important is it to you for your partner to express their appreciation of you? How do you feel when you believe that your partner has not acknowledged you? Do those feelings get expressed to your partner or acted out? Have you ever let your partner know how important it is to feel appreciated by them?

Let’s walk through this step by step. Make a list of those qualities you possess for which you deserve to be acknowledged by your partner. Perhaps it’s the consideration you exhibit towards your partner. Or the way you act responsibly towards your partner. Maybe you feel especially proud of the fact that you keep your partner’s favorite cookies in the cupboard at all times. Whatever those qualities are, make the list as long as possible.

Now, look closely at this list. Think about all the times one or more of those items has gone unnoticed. How did that make you feel? Take at least three of the items listed above and write down how it makes you feel to have each quality go unacknowledged.

The next step is extremely important. It’s important to develop an awareness of how your hurt feelings get expressed--in words or in deeds? One premise of making molehills out of mountains is that you need to express your hurt rather than act it out. Acting out your hurt only perpetuates conflict rather than resolving it.

What actions do you use to express your hurt? Do you use the silent treatment? Do you take a hiatus from the relationship? Do you burn your partner’s dinner? Do you forget to take the garbage out? Do you throw a temper tantrum?

The most important thing to remember is that when appreciation is withheld, there’s invariably going to be hurt feelings. Whenever there are hurt feelings, the potential  exists for conflict. Our goal is to better handle conflict by expressing our hurt rather than acting it out.

Your willingness to express your hurt is an important key to resolving the underlying relationship issues. Your willingness to express your appreciation for your partner will go a long way towards insuring that your partner will return the favor in kind. That is the ultimate formula for reducing the hurt and resentment that two people feel towards each other.



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


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