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Newsletter Dated: 3/1/2008 6:49:49 PM
Subject: Happiness Tips from Tina: Comfort the Little Orphan Girl
Wow! Can't resist sharing this -- every author's dream hometown paper article. It begins with a teaser on the front page showing cover pic of Money, Sex and Kids,
http://www.sc-democrat.com/index_news.htm and the full article is here:
http://www.sc-democrat.com/news/02February/22/therapist.htm I'm thrilled!
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Happiness Tip: Comforting the Little Orphan Girl
When life hands me a very difficult time, and I feel defeated and overwhelmed, I enter a hopeless and helpless state of mind I think of as The Little Orphan girl. This is the way I felt, as a teen, when I lost nearly my whole family, father, aunts and uncles, between the ages of 12 and 18. Needless to say, I was devastated; and I also survived and eventually, thrived. But little orphan girl doesn’t remember that I made it through – she sinks into despair. When I realize this is going on, I know I have to snap out of it, get into adult thinking mode, and comfort and reassure that sad little part of myself.
Everyone has a similar mental place they can get stuck in – sometimes, people call it “depression” although it’s not really clinical depression. It’s just a form of mental exhaustion, perhaps due to grief, frustration, disappointment or some other problem. Transactional analysis calls this sad and anxious child part of the psyche the little professor, and here’s how it works, and what to do about it.
Everyone laughs when they describe a small child as “four years old, going on forty.” Small children can often seem wise and capable beyond their years. If a child has parents who are absent, incompetent, immature or neglectful to the point that the child’s well-being is neglected, the child often takes charge and tries to keep things together. He or she uses observation, imitation, experimentation and pretending to solve problems and keep things together when the parents are not functioning well. Often this is an oldest child, who also takes responsibility for younger siblings, and becomes a substitute parent for them as well as I or herself. Eric Berne, M. D. the developer of Transactional Analysis theory, called such a child a “Little Professor.” Robert Phillips, M.D., describes how this happens in his monograph,
"Structural Symbiotic Systems":
“When Tom reaches twenty-four months of age, he has had sufficient healthy parenting so that he is generally willing to relate to others pleasurably and to explore his small world with enthusiasm.
“On a particular day he toddles into the kitchen where Mother is baking a cake for Father’s birthday. His senses excited by the sight of Mother’s busily relaxed body and by the combined smells of her body and bubbling chocolate, he looks up at Mother and smiles. She smiles in return and, permission granted, he scurries happily to another room to explore, experiencing more stimulation from eye-catching and tactily-differing objects. Soon he returns excitedly to the kitchen, bent perhaps on his first show-and-tell, alive with sensation and awareness.
“But - what is this! There sits Mother in the corner of the kitchen, hunched over in a tense position and crying, with sharp edges on her sobs. Tom’s world is suddenly disrupted - he whimpers and gets no response from Mother.
“What has he done or not done to account for this catastrophe, Tom wonders in his small magical mind. Tom does not know and might never know that during his brief absence Mother received a telephone call from Father who angrily criticized her for omitting his habitual salami sandwich from the lunch-bag. Bewildered and fearful, Tom waits and waits and finally takes a desperate dare for survival. He awkwardly moves toward Mother, awkwardly extends his arm, and awkwardly pats her shoulder, uttering the magical words “I love you.”
“And with the suddenness of magic, Sobbing Beauty immediately comes to life again in Tom’s world. Mother catches rapturous Tom up in her arms, wets his face with her redemptive sadness, and pronounces the words which will become the curse of grandiosity, “You’re my wonderful little man! I couldn’t get along without you.” Tom’s small chest expands with pride, his head swells with self-righteousness, and he is immersed in a lethal mixture of liquids which someday might drown him – environmental tears, in combination with an internal bath of both adrenalin and acetyl-choline.”
Little Tom has now taken over the role of comforting and parenting his mother. If this only happens sporadically, he will learn some useful skills, and still have a mother who is capable when he needs her. But, a child with a mother who is habitually helpless, perhaps drunk or incompetent, soon forms a habit of caretaking. Highly intelligent and resourceful children can do well enough at caretaking to get a lot of praise and gratification from their accomplishment.
Further problems arise when the Little Professor is smart enough to be successful at the caretaking. For such a child caretaking and “acting as if” he or she knows what to do become strongly ingrained habits. A child with this background often grows up to be a highly competent, but stressed and anxious adult. The anxiety is a result of pretending. No matter how successful and competent the person becomes, no matter what he or she achieves, it never seems real. The Little Professor feels like a child who’s pretending to be a grownup.
Until you do the work to separate your childlike self from the past, bring it into the present, and acknowledge all your adult experience and expertise, you will feel as if someone else must be running your life.
Recovering from Little Professor syndrome is not difficult, once you realize you’re behaving in this way. The key is to recognize your competence as an adult, and to learn to identify the difference between using your adult intelligence and using your childlike ability to “fake” what you’re doing. Reassure yourself that you survived whatever was devastating in the past, and you can get through this difficulty, too.
Guidelines for using grownup thinking
1. Pay attention to signals: Notice when you feel anxious about what you’re doing, especially if you’re having anxiety attacks with rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath. This is a strong indication that you’re in “Little Professor” mode. With practice, you can learn to identify the signals that you’re anxious.
2. Use logic: Ask yourself some logical questions about what you’re doing and feeling: Is there a good reason to be so nervous? What am I afraid of? What’s the worst that could happen? How can I make sure I’m OK? Simply asking these questions, or questions about the facts, such as who, what, when, where, and why; will help you think more like a grownup.
3. Move into adult mode: Remind yourself of all your adult experience and competence. Remember you are not a child.
4. Consider your reasoning: Ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Can you explain it logically? If not, perhaps it’s a reactive, rather than a rational decision.
5. Develop a plan: Make a reasonable plan to accomplish whatever you want to do, break it down into steps, and stick to it. This will reduce the chances of being sidetracked by emotional reactions.
When you stay in adult mode, you’ll find that it’s much easier to distinguish your true responsibilities from those that belong to others. You’ll feel much more competent, and much more in charge of your own life.
Adapted from "It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction" (New Page) ISBN # 1-56414-548-4
© 2008 TINA B. TESSINA
If you want more, here are some related articles you can download from my website at http://tinatessina.com/monthly_column.html
Attitude: From Negative to Gratitude
The Colors of You
Coping with Critics
Emotions as Weather
Getting Out of Your Way
Handling Anxiety Effectively
Into Every Life
Letting Go of Anxiety
The Meaning of Life
Patterns of Change
Resolving Inner Anarchy
Surviving Loss & Thriving Again
Weaving The Web
Winning The War Within
Your Bestest Friend - You
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Wishing you joy,
Tina B. Tessina, PhD
Re: Your Heart’s Desire
THANK YOU. This was soooooo true. Appreciate you thinking to send to me. Ho hum. I will survive, and on that same note I feel like I am losing myself. I will let you know how it goes.
Hi, Janie: I hope this month’s newsletter helps you keep hold of yourself.
Nice newsletter (as always) but of course, this one really struck me. I don't NEED anyone else. I do WANT someone else. I function so much better as part of a couple. That's my heart's desire. I stated it. I'm going to get it now. :) (and you KNOW how I get when I decide something!)
Yes, Scott, I know how you get, and I believe in you.
Great newsletter and great timing. Thank you so much. Cheers, Sheri
Thanks, Sheri – I appreciate your support.
Hi Tina: I had to reply to this newsletter because I'm a romantic. I find your newsletters so interesting and useful. When I feel misguided or something's just not right, I read some of your past letters and it uplifts me and sets me in the right direction. Thank you for being there and for all your wonderful cards and newsletters...Luv Ya, Eddie
Thanks for telling me, Eddie – it makes my day.
I forwarded your message last week to several friends. I'd never thought of an addiction as representing a need to fulfill one's purpose. In an abstract way, I'd recognized an addiction as a spiritual yearning. Thanks for caring about not wanting to lose touch with me!
Love and hugs, Ramona
Love and hugs back to you, Ramona. I love it that you shared the newsletter!
Amen, Tina! Thank you for helping me begin to listen to my heart's desires... the results have been amazing. New life, new love, new adventures! Nikky
Good for you, Nikky – and thank you.
RE: The Shape of Peace
Beautifully written, offering so much hope. Dawn
Thank you, Dawn.
You offer so much optimism and perhaps we will all see the shape of peace, nicely written.... Be always safe, Karen
Thank you, Karen – it’s what I hope for, too.
There is such hope and tranquility in this poem. It makes my heart and soul feel like there is, indeed, a possibility for peace. While it may not be here, it WILL be in heaven. God bless you. Kathy
Thanks, Kathy, may you have peace, also.
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