276: Ask David: Why Are People the Way They Are? with Special Guest, Dr. Matthew May
Here are the questions for today’s Ask David, featuring special guest, back by popular demand, the extraordinary Dr. Matt May, and of course, our super-special hostess, Dr. Rhonda Barovsky!
- Why is my dad the way he is? Why are people the way they are?
- What can you do about positive distortions?
- More Should Statements!
- How can you talk to someone who refuses to talk to you?
Why is my dad the way he is? Why are people the way they are?
Hi Dr. Burns and Dr. Barovsky!
I love your show. Keep up the good work!
I’d deeply appreciate your time and insight.
My dad is 70, my mom is 67, and I’m 38. Throughout my life my dad has done things like he did earlier tonight.
I was at my parent’s house and my mom was telling me how Thanksgiving was going to be at my parent’s cabin with the whole family like we have in years past at which my point my dad firmly said “No.”
My mom asked “Why?” and he just shook his head and shortly after walked out of the room to go to the bathroom, shut the door, and said “no” angrily three times in the other room to himself but loud enough for she could hear.
He’ll seemingly randomly act extremely possessive by angrily forbidding family get togethers, or my mom from doing things, or family to borrow things. He’ll just say “No” without further explanation.
Always, always, upon asking “Why?” to his “no.”
He’ll either say angrily, “Because I said so!”, say nothing, or just repeat “No” further.
My mom says sometimes “Can you just gave me a reason?” and it’s the same “No”, silence, or “because I said so.”
I don’t jump into the aforementioned back and fourth communication because I know such a person can’t be changed and don’t want to make an argumentative mess.
He’s never displayed any comfort with expressing the slightest vulnerability. He’s very, very silent. All of my life he has displayed bullying type tendencies. Whenever I visit my parents he always shows tremendous eagerness to want to scowl and berate people for the tiniest mistakes (even people he doesn’t know in public, like cashiers.) I think even the most skilled of five secrets practitioners might be outmatched.
My mom tonight, and all my life, has asked me why is he like this?
I’ve been haunted to try understand this question all my whole life too.
So, I’m putting the question to you Dr. Burns and Dr. Barovsky:
Why is someone like this?
You must’ve heard of similar situations and have insight?
I want to feel compassion and understanding for him. I don’t want to live with baggage.
And mainly, mainly I just want to relieve myself from anger thinking should, labeling, and overgeneralizing thoughts like “He shouldn’t act like this”, “He shouldn’t be such a bully”, “He’s being a jerk.”
I can certainly understand your sadness, frustration, and anger, as well as your love and concern for your mom.
Scientists don’t yet know why people are the way they are. My focus is on helping people at specific moments of interaction when they want help. You have not asked for help in this email.
I do make this type of statement in practically every Ask David episode, but have not had much luck in getting people to listen, because the general questions that have no answers keep rolling in.
You say that your dad cannot change. To my ear, this statement is both blaming and untrue. People change at every moment of every day.
The real question I always have is this, and it might not interest you. Do YOU want to change the way you interact with him?
You and your mom probably both do things that trigger him, like silence, or asking WHY when it is abundantly clear that this response has a 100% guarantee of triggering him.
I apologize if this is not the answer you were looking for!
What can you do about positive distortions?
How much information is there in the book (or a particular podcast) on how we address positive distortions most effectively?
It is mentioned briefly that these can be more difficult to overcome, because of the more positively perceived “benefits”, which may also be re-enforced externally (such as “yes, he is such a nice person, nobody wants him to express any frustration or anger occasionally – not even he himself want to do this!”).
It affects motivation to any change, or, at least, creates ambivalence.
Some more on this would be great, please.
Good question, and I will schedule it for an Ask David. As you point out, there usually isn’t much motivation for change when it comes to positive distortions. Positive distortions trigger habits and addictions, violence, mania, marital conflicts, and narcissism, to name just a few areas.
Each is handled differently, but dealing with motivation / resistance is key in every area.
More Should Statements
Can you help me disprove my negative thoughts? I manage to disprove them, but they return after a few hours.
- “A loser is someone who lives at home with his parents after he turns 18.”
- “I should be bold, confident, and secure.”
- “I should be better than I am.”
Sorry you’ve been struggling.
The first thing to do is A = Assessment of Resistance, since resistance is the key to nearly all therapeutic failure. Tools would include the Paradoxical Invitation followed by the “Miracle Cure” question: What are you hoping for? What kinds of changes are you asking for?
This is important. For example, you mentioned a problem with procrastination. If you have a procrastination problem, the strategies would be completely different.
Other tools at the “A” portion of the session would probably include
- The Magic Button
- Positive Reframing
- The Magic Dial
- The Acid Test.
If you decide that you actually DO want to change the way you think and feel, given the fact that you’re still living at home, a few of the many methods that could be used include:
- Identify the Distortions
- Explain the Distortions
- Individual Downward Arrow Technique
- Semantic Technique
- Cost-Benefit Analysis
- Let’s Define Terms
- Be Specific
- Examine the Evidence.
- Double Standard Technique (DST): For example, would you say these things to someone else? Our son has been living with us for a while, but I don’t think of him as “a loser!” My wife and I are actually happy to provide some support while he is sorting out what he wants to do next.
- Paradoxical DST
- Externalization of Voices with three strategies:
- Acceptance Paradox
- CAT (Counter-Attack Technique)
There are many additional techniques that could be used. But first, the action would focus on resistance and motivation. Tackling the distorted thoughts before completing the “A” step is usually not a very good idea!
David D. Burns, MD
How can you talk to someone who refuses to talk to you?
Hi Dr. Burns,
I came across your book and podcasts during a time in which I was having a hard time communicating with my adult son. They have helped me tremendously in acknowledging my part in the problem. While I’ve done a lot of work on my own self-esteem, anxiety and depression, sadly it has come a little too late as my son does not want to talk to me and we are estranged. Any thoughts or advice on how to reach out to a loved one in this situation? Now that I have been practicing for the 5 secrets I want to better connect with my son and work through our issues?
I’m so sorry that you are estranged from your son. Have you done the written exercises in my book, Feeling Good Together? That’s a good place to start, as this very topic is addressed in the chapter on how to talk to someone who refuses to talk to you. The method that can be helpful is called “Multiple Choice Empathy” or “Multiple Choice Disarming.”
We will likely illustrate it on the show.
Rhonda, Matt, and David
Rhonda and I are convinced that Dr. May is one of the greatest therapists on the planet earth. If you have a question or would like to contact Dr. May, please check out his website at: (www.matthewmaymd.com)
Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California, but due to Covid-19 restrictions is working mostly via Zoom, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is a Level 4 Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and trainer and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Check out her new website: www.feelinggreattherapycenter.com.
You can reach Dr. Burns at email@example.com.
This is the cover of my new book, Feeling Great.
It’s on sale right now on Amazon, and it’s ridiculously cheap!
The kindle and audio versions are available now too! Check it out!
Very beautiful as usual! Thanks a lot.
Thanks, William! d
Well done! I loved the intro pertaining to Emily Dickinson. Not sure if it was intentional – but she was basically an isolationist. The majority of her poems were published after her death as a result of this condition. She would definitely fit into the category of someone that didn’t want to speak to people and would be a challenge to talk to.
Yes, I think she spent a great deal of time alone, but yearning for love, perhaps. d