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Olga Khazan: Do you call this approach something? Michael Bennett: The important thing is not what therapy you follow but that you stay grounded in common sense, and whatever therapy or therapies you're pursuing, you ask yourself repeatedly, have I reached my limit? We certainly share a lot with DBT, a kind of CBT for people who have intensely destructive feelings—dialectic behavioral therapy. Particularly because it started out with the idea that it was directly for people who were suffering terribly.
The idea that there's so much life you don't control, and to accept that and still be a person, is still very hard. I think there's a core of that in Judaism and Christ parables, and in Buddhism. So there's nothing new about this. Sarah Bennett: The first step is accepting what you can't control. So many people who come to my father—they want something they can't have. So it's going into accepting what you can't control, the factors that are out of your hands, and seeing what you can do with what you can control.
And learning to be proud of yourself not just for accomplishing what you can, and not beating yourself up for what you can't. And admiring your ability to withstand a feeling of rejection, and the frustration and the pain, and keep going on towards a more reasonable goal while being a good person. Figuring out your own values and sticking to them. That moment when you can laugh at how much life sucks and open your mind to the idea that, there you are. What are you gonna do? Khazan: How would you say that this differs from other advice that you see out there? Sarah: Well, from what we know—and we are two people that have never read a self-help book—they seem to put the onus for happiness on the reader.
I've had too many friends who made Secret collages. It's not your fault. You really can't control your happiness, no matter what a book says. Michael: I think there ought to be a law that you spend a certain amount of time right up front looking for the limit and preparing yourself for it.
You go in the hospital and right away you start to think about what the limits are—what does it mean if things don't go right? We should think like that about psychiatric problems. Khazan: It sounds like setting your own personal standards and values is key to your philosophy, and it also sounds like those can vary pretty widely from individual to individual.
Michael: It comes from my experience—certainly in my life but also with my patients I knew in the mental hospital, many of whom had to live life with severe deficits. But some of them became such good people. They helped one another. They dealt with pain and disability.
They were heroes. And some of those people were just inspirational to be around. But this is more of a book about solving problems. Sometimes the search for the source of a problem can be a distraction, and it can also be a disappointment. Will it just be rumination on all these bad things that have happened to me?
Or, what is a more active action I can pursue that can have a more possible positive and constructive outcome? Michael: We know … getting at what you really feel can be liberating, and important. Which is that saying what you really feel is like letting go of intestinal gas: It le to a moment of catharsis but it poisons the air for everyone around you. They had to just acknowledge that the pain wasn't going to go away. It was always going to tear at them negatively and they were going to have to fight it in a more cognitive way—they were going to have to determine that according to their values, it was still worth moving ahead.
Do you want to explain that? A lot of people who go to a shrink for the first time … they think Freud is going to be in the room. And then there's a goofy Canadian in a mustache who uses dirty words. As my father said, to take things less personally. Do you have any tips on how people can do that better? Sarah: He has more constructive ones, but earlier we were talking about values. I'm good to my parents. All the little things that you think are important in your day-to-day life. And that's the consolation. It's hard to continue to do what you think is important when you're faced with something shitty on a daily basis.
Some people deal with that, and they become shitty to their kids, they become mean to people around them, they get fired from their job because they stop showing up. You deserve to give yourself a pat on the back for living a normal life in adverse circumstances. You're going to wonder what you did wrong, what you could have done and should have done. But that if you can do an inventory based on your own values, you're really doing a good job. That deserves higher praise. I would be encouraging, I would point out the positives.
A lot of the messages we get about relationships are that once you get everything figured out sexually, the whole ship rights itself. Michael: I think that expectation is really dangerous. A partnership with all that life throws at you, and even more stuff that gets thrown at you when you have a kid. It's really hard, and you're tired and angry, and if in addition to that you expect the feelings to be positive and loving and warm, you just feel like a horrible loser. Then you're much more likely 10 or 20 years later to really love them. I've seen people through a lot of divorces.
Sarah: People also, over the course of long relationships—their interests change, and their interest in sex changes. If you are with someone that you have vetted in this way, that you know is reliable, that you know you can trust in certain ways, that you have a more substantial connection with, [then] if the sex fades you have less to worry about. Especially when you get older. Could you explain the thinking behind that? Michael: If you find that your parent is one of those people who is really just a jerk, it's sort of like forgiving a cockroach for being a cockroach, or a snake for being a snake.
Forgiveness tends to assume that people had a choice and made a bad choice. Whereas, what I think you run into more often is somebody who didn't really have a choice, they're just bad. The one you want to forgive is God, for having to live in a world where jerks have as many kids as anyone else.
Sarah: What people seem to conflate forgiveness with is getting someone to admit what they did, and to beg for forgiveness. Let it go in a way that you don't feel compelled to [wait] for them to have that revelation. Because waiting for that is probably going to be painful or disappointing.
Popular Latest. The Atlantic Crossword. In Subscribe. Put down the talking stick. Stop fruitlessly seeking "closure" with your peevish co-worker. And please, don't bother telling your spouse how annoying you find their tongue-clicking habit—sometimes honesty is less like a breath of fresh air and more like a fart. The elder Bennett is a psychiatrist and American Psychiatric Association distinguished fellow.
His daughter is a comedy writer. Stop trying to forgive your bad parents, they advise. If you happen to be the child of a jerk, that's just another obstacle to overcome. In fact, stop trying to free yourself of all anger and hate. In all likelihood you're doing a really awesome job, the Bennetts argue, despite all the shitty things that happen to you.
A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.Come fuck feelings
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