The Double Softy Syndrome Meets Locus Of Control

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 203 · Duration: 00:20:39

The Double Softy Syndrome Meets Locus Of Control

What do you do when your gifted and talented daughter is terrorizing the family and making everyone responsible for her misery?Click To Tweet We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast, The Double Softy Syndrome Meets Locus Of Control.

Today we’re hearing from Cammy from Joliet, Illinois.  And Cammy writes:

Dear Neil,

Our 17-year-old daughter has become a terrorist in our home.  She’s always had a strong personality and has gotten what she wanted from us. We weren’t too concerned since she generally got good grades. She’s played piano for 10 years and is extremely accomplished. But her demanding attitude and her lack of respect have been very trying. She’s the middle child and her older brother and younger sister avoid her since she always needs to get her way.  Both of them are much easier going and cooperative with us. Our challenging child usually has friends for only a short period of time. Then they tire of her demanding personality.  Now things seem to be coming to a head. She’s back in school and is extremely unhappy and is making it our problem. She complains about the students and kids who don’t invite her to events. She won’t come to dinner with us and complains that we don’t have food in the house. When she doesn’t get what she wants, she rants, rages, slams doors and puts us all on edge. I’ve always been the one to manage her and my husband would step in to help when I got fed up. She always needs one of us to calm her down and reason with her. Now it seems our best efforts are no longer enough, and things are getting worse.  She claims everyone in the house hates her and she is saying things that make me worried she will harm herself. She’s had counseling in the past but says we’re the ones who need counseling and is refusing to go. Where do we go from here?

Cammy from Joliet, Illinois

Now to Cammy’s question:

Cammy, it sounds like you and your husband have done a terrific job of supporting and managing your very challenging daughter. You say you’ve worked hard to calm her down and reason with her. 

Here’s the problem, it seems she hasn’t learned to calm herself down and use reason herself.  Instead, she continues to see the source of the problem as outside of herself. For her, the problem is the students who don’t want to invite her. The problem is her parents not having food in the house she wants. The problem is that everyone in the family hates her. Your lovely middle daughter hasn’t learned that the problem is her lack of insight, her inability to read feedback from others and adjust her social behavior accordingly. If she could do that, she’d solve the problem of not having friends and being an odd person out in the family. That begs the next question:  Why hasn’t she developed personal insight and the ability to read social cues?  And the answer is twofold:

Somehow Cammy, it sounds very much like she is a differently wired individual. She has a neurological difference that she doesn’t easily see and correctly interpret social feedback. 

Your daughter has many strengths; she’s academically advanced and she is apparently a gifted musician, a pianist. She’s got a great brain that allows her to do many things but easily reading social feedback and adjusting her behavior accordingly is not one of them. It seems your daughter has poor insight into her own emotions and what to do for herself about them.  

Part two of the answer to why she hasn’t developed these skills is that up until now, she hasn’t been required to learn them.  Cammy, you and your husband have been providing those skills for her.  You’ve made it your business, your job to calm her down rather than making it her business, her job to calm herself down.  You’ve offered her rational thought, rather than inviting and requiring her to use healthy reasoning. When both parents over emphasize support and not accountability, I call that “the double softy syndrome”.

You’ve acted as if she’s not capable of being in control of herself and doesn’t need to grow and develop her self-control.  It’s as if it is her job to tell you what’s wrong, and your job to fix it.  Now she’s a high school junior and this enduring pattern is continuing.  Soon she will be going to college and her lack of skill in these areas will be a real problem for her.  

So let’s get a couple of things straight here. Your daughter may be challenged in the areas of social emotional ability, but she is capable of learning and growing those areas. They may never be her areas of strength, but that’s fine, we all have areas of strength and weakness.  If you had a child who had a hard time with math, would you do their math homework for them every time they got frustrated with it, or would you offer help, yet require them to do the work? The latter I hope and the same should be true for this area, the area of social emotional knowledge and behavior. 

For your daughter to be able to function well independently after high school, she will need to take responsibility for how she deals with her feelings, and how she creates and maintains social relationships.Click To Tweet Right now, it seems she believes that responsibility and control over those things are outside of herself. If others are rejecting her, the cause of that and the power to change it is outside of herself.  Let’s call that “locus of control” or the location of control, within her or outside of her.  Parent-Teen Control Battles are virtually always about who is in control of what.  In this case Cammy, your daughter still needs to learn that she is responsible for and has control over how she manages her emotions. She is in control and has responsibility for how she manages her social relationships, with you, with her siblings, and with her peers.  

What parents can and need to offer is accountability to put that into action.  You can offer resources such as counseling and even empathy.  If she’s open to it, you can even offer guidance, but with a Control Battle raging as it is in your family, that will only feed the control battle because it will seem as though your advice is an attempt on your part to solve her problem, or you are responsible and have control over her problem; wrong message. 

Cammy, you ask where we go from here and the answer is, you get clear that the locus of control and responsibility for managing your daughter’s emotions and her relationships is within her, not with her parents.  And the locus of control over accountability for your daughter addressing these issues is within her parents.  That would be you Cammy and her Dad as well. 

Here is what you can communicate to your daughter.  You can write it down, say it out loud, both, and it will need to be the premise for everything that gets said going forward and I’ll call your daughter Julie.

Julie, it is clear that right now you are not a happy camper.  You are upset with the kids at school, your parents and your siblings. You want everyone to change so that you can feel better. You want the kids at school to want to include you, you want your siblings to be nicer to you and to want to spend time with you and you want us to do a better job of making you happy. Things have gotten so bad that now you are saying you want to hurt yourself.  

First and foremost, we want you to know that we care very much about how you are feeling.  We love you and want you to feel happy, successful, and empowered to go where you want to go in life, do what you want to do, and have the kinds of relationships you want to have. 

Clearly, you don’t believe you have the power, the capability to create this for yourself.  Somehow you believe that your friends, your brother and sister, and your parents have all the power, and you are suffering because we are all mean. It's terrible to feel you are at the mercy of everyone and have no ability to impact and create relationships in your own life. That feeling of powerlessness is terrible. 

Yet there is a solution to all this, and the solution is you. You are a gifted and talented young woman, yet your awareness of how to manage social relationships and how to manage your emotions are not your strengths. That’s fine, no one is great at everything, but you can get better, much better in those areas. The most important thing to be able to accomplish that is to know that the power, the ability to improve in those areas is within you.  The power to change those things is not with us or anyone other than you.  You are smart and talented and if you apply yourself to learning to build and maintain relationships, and if you apply yourself to learning to understand and manage your emotions, you will be successful. None of us are perfect at anything so you won’t be perfect at this and you shouldn’t expect yourself to be. But you should expect yourself to take responsibility for building and maintaining friendships, and relationships within the family.  

We love you too much to let this go any further without addressing this. From now on we expect you to:

  1. Come to dinner with all of us every evening and bring a good attitude with you.
  2. Clean up after yourself when you fix something in the kitchen.
  3. Manage your emotions so that you don’t yell, rant, slam doors, or otherwise get out of control in the home. 
  4. Respect your brother and sister’s space and if you want to spend time with them, ask them, don’t intrude on them.

Julie, somehow, we, as your parents have acted as if you couldn’t do these things and shouldn’t have to do these things and that is false, and unfair to you. You are capable of doing what we’re asking you to do, get better at building and maintaining relationships, and managing your emotions.  And adding  these skills to your many talents will assure your ability to have happiness and success in your future.  

We can make counseling available to you to help you with this if you like, and we strongly recommend it, you need it and you deserve it. But it is a resource, not a solution.  You are the solution.

Do you get the idea here Cammy?  I know you’re wondering, what if she doesn’t do these things and continues to do her raging etc. Since I don’t know exactly how things work in your family, I’m not sure what the privileges are that she has.  Keys to the car, cell phone, turning off her Wi-Fi access until she takes responsibility, apologizes, makes amends, etc. These are things you can discuss, but do not use them as threats. Your tone should be authoritative, clear, yet clearly positive about who she is and how you see her. Then when there is accountability and she is upset that privileges went away, simply remind her that privileges come with taking responsibility and taking control of her behavior. Her parents have resigned from that job.

So parents, therapists and folks who work with families, it’s important to view out of control situations as a misaligned “locus of control” whether it’s parents trying to help kids or control kids or kids trying to avoid responsibility and control over their destiny or they’re truly confused as Julie might be in the current case. 

The bottom line is kids are responsible for their behavior and parents are responsible for lots of other things, but not that.Click To Tweet  Parents can be responsible for offering resources, support, understanding, caring, and that critical ingredient to this soup, accountability. Once we get an understanding that the locus of control is within our kids, and believe in them, whether we’re talking about children, teenagers or young adults, they will be on a healthy path forward, learning and growing all the way. 

Thanks for tuning in listeners and special thanks to Cammy for sharing her challenge with us. If you’re looking for resources for your differently wired child, you can check out where parenting advocate Debbie Reber has a ton of resources and information for you. 

Before we close, let’s do this together, take a slow deep breath, hold and then exhale very slowly, ready?  Inhale through your nose, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, good, now hold, 1,2,3,4,5 and exhale very slowly 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10.  One more time,  inhale, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, good now hold, 1,2,3,4,5, and now exhale and send your stress away.  Are you remembering to slow down and breathe and do other easy positive things for yourself? They’re important because as I’ve said many times and I’ll say it again, this parenting business ain’t easy so self-care is essential; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.  Bye for now.

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