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  EntitlementRoadblockSign

                                       “It's My Right to Be Happy!”

 
Lewis’ statement reflected an underlying belief about entitlement that was now threatening the survival of his relationship with Laura. During their three-year marriage he had often felt disappointed with her, and his frustration finally reached a boiling point. His recent anger outburst toward Laura prompted her to call the police. The two policemen who responded did not seem to be impressed with Lewis’ effort to defend his anger with the explanation “It’s my right to be happy.” After evaluating the situation the policemen discussed with him the need for self-control, warned him about the potential for violence, and encouraged him to pursue professional counseling. Another trip to their residence would probably result in his arrest. To get rid of the policemen Lewis promised to seek professional help although he knew that he would never carry through with the promise, simply because he was not the real problem. He believed that Laura was the one who was failing to do what she should do to make him happy through accommodating and satisfying what he wanted. Her treatment of him seemed unfair, and he was not happy.

During the three-year marriage Laura’s frustration level also continued to escalate. She was growing weary of Lewis’ unrealistic expectations and the double standards he set up for their relationship. She knew that their relationship was very unhealthy, but her efforts to get Lewis to work on the marriage had been fruitless and futile. From her perspective Lewis was blind to his entitlement mindset that fed his self-centered attitude and selfish actions. Tragically, both spouses felt hopeless and saw little happiness in the future of their relationship.  In their marital journey Lewis and Laura had collided with the Entitlement Roadblock.

When Laura first met Lewis she was not aware that he was traveling through life on the Entitlement Highway. Like his co-travelers Lewis believed that he possessed an inalienable right to happiness regardless of personal effort or life’s circumstances. Because of his entitlement mindset he frequently felt frustrated and angry as people and circumstances were not cooperative with his expectations and requirements. Driven by his inner belief system Lewis continued to create suffering for himself and for everyone with whom he had a personal relationship.

The suffering experienced by Lewis* and Laura* is a predicted reality when individuals possess and practice an entitlement mentality. The suffering is predictable; thankfully, it is also preventable. To prevent a tragic collision with the Entitlement Roadblock we must understand the harmful mindset and undertake a process of personal reconstruction of beliefs, intentions, and actions.

 

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                                       “WLoveLangugesCouplehy Don’t I Feel Loved?”

 
Janet’s question was one that her husband, Jonathan, had heard before—in fact, numerous times. He felt sad and confused about Janet’s question because he knew that he loved her very much. Throughout their eleven-year marriage he had tried very hard to show his love, but his efforts seemed fruitless. Regardless of his positive actions she maintained that she did not feel loved by him. During a recent discussion Jonathan acknowledged to his wife that there had been many times during which he did not feel loved by her. That acknowledgement resulted in a rather heated argument about her frequent efforts to show love to him.*


Okay . . . let’s stop and raise an important question. To some extent can you identify with Janet—or with Jonathan? Probably so. Many married couples struggle with the issue of “not feeling loved.” Clearly, in some marriages the love is not felt because the love is absent, perhaps having been destroyed by years of abuse and/or neglect. For these couples the legal marriage lives on but the personal relationship has perished from emotional malnutrition or behavioral poisons. In other marriages the two individuals continue to love each other, but each one consistently feels misunderstood and unloved. In describing their marital love many individuals could confess “My spouse may love me but I just don’t feel it.”

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  ChildKnockingAtDoor

                                       “It’s Just Me.”

  

That’s what I heard when I asked, “Who is it?” Here’s what happened. One morning years ago I was in my bathroom in the midst of shaving when I heard a knock on the bathroom door. Without opening the door I asked rather loudly, “Who is it?” From the other side of the door a small voice responded, “It’s just me.” Libby, my four-year-old daughter, apparently needed something. Her self-description triggered in my mind a thought about some work I had been doing in regard to building self-worth. With that thought in mind I opened the door and knelt down in front of my preschool daughter. Cupping my hands around her little cheeks I looked her straight in her eyes and said, “Libby, you’re not ‘just me.’ You are someone special!” She smiled and ran off toward her bedroom, forgetting for the moment her original mission. I closed the door and resumed the shaving process, only to hear a few moments later another knock on the door. Libby was back. Again I inquired “Who is it?” The same little voice said, “It’s just me.” There was a short pause, followed by the statement, “No, it’s not just me. I’m someone special!” Needless to say, I quickly opened the door and gave my precious daughter a huge hug.

 

Libby is no longer a four-year-old girl. Now called Elizabeth, she is a grown-up lady with her own family, consisting of her husband and three marvelous children. Although thirty-three years have passed since that childhood event Elizabeth has not lost her specialness. In fact, if asked about her worth she would still respond in a similar manner: “No, it’s not just me. I’m someone special!”

How I wish that every child—and every adult—would be able to affirm “I’m someone special!” in an appropriate, healthy manner. Sadly, such is not the case in our current culture. Many children and adults struggle with and suffer from issues of self-worth. Some suffer from an unhealthy inflation of self-worth while others struggle with an unhealthy deflation of self-worth. Either extreme is detrimental to an individual’s health and happiness. Our challenge is to discern the meaning of self-worth and to develop a level of self-worth that promotes health and happiness. Let’s explore that challenge by taking a brief look at three important issues: the significance of possessing self-worth, the sources for pursuing self-worth, and the strategies for preserving self-worth.

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  GrandparentHandsMissHer

                                       “I Just Miss Her!”

             
These four words captured the heavy sadness that Maria* felt as she grieved the death of her grandmother. Even though her grandmother had died several years earlier Maria was still experiencing the impact of the loss. She grieved the loss of the close relationship that they had enjoyed with each other. Maria deeply loved her grandmother and appreciated her positive qualities that influenced and shaped Maria’s character and lifestyle. After seeing the tears and hearing many glowing descriptions of her grandmother I was not surprised to hear Maria say, “I just miss her.”

Maria’s story is not unique. On any given day many individuals share her experience in that they also are grieving the loss of a special grandparent. The loss that is experienced and the grief that is felt testify to the positive impact that grandparents can have upon grandchildren. The extent of loss is clearly correlated to the type of relationship that the grandparent and grandchild had with each other. Tragically, too many grandchildren do not acknowledge or appreciate the specialness of a grandparent until a funeral occurs and good-byes are said. Thankfully, other grandchildren are fully aware of the special meaning the grandparent has for them, and they actively seek ways to maintain and enrich their intergenerational connection.

What determines whether the deceased grandparent is missed or not? The level of loss is determined by several factors. In all probability a grandparent will not be missed if the relationship has been shallow or nonexistent. Unfortunately, many grandparents do not want connections with their grandchildren and therefore intentionally keep an emotional and physical distance. In other situations a grandparent might work very hard to reach out to and connect with a grandchild, but the grandchild is resistant and unreceptive to the grandparent’s efforts. In either case there is no solid relationship to be missed and grieved when the grandparent dies. In contrast, the loss is heavy when the grandparent maintains a positive and consistent connection with the grandchild who wants and welcomes the relationship. Such was the case with Maria, and the loss of her special relationship with her grandmother was deeply grieved.

However, grief is only one aspect of the loss process. As time passed and as Maria grieved the loss of her grandmother she discovered an increased ability to celebrate her grandmother’s life. To some extent the two processes of “grieving the death” and “celebrating the life” overlapped each other. The grief component was stronger at first but gradually gave way to a growing sense of life celebration. Maria’s ability to celebrate her grandmother’s life was a clear testimony to the type of person her grandmother was as well as to the kind of positive relationship she tried to have with Maria. Their example is worth imitation by other people who desire to have a healthy grandparent/grandchild relationship.

Let’s face one reality: with some exceptions grandparents die before the grandchildren die. That being the general case, let’s consider an important question for grandparents. How do you want to be remembered and missed by your grandchildren when you die? That question might generate additional questions. For example, has your personal influence or practical impact on them been more positive or more negative?  If you continue to relate to your grandchildren in the same way you’ve been relating to them will they mourn and miss you when you’re no longer physically alive? If you want them to miss you what changes do you need to make in the way you interact with them? Perhaps a more basic question might be “What kind of ongoing relationship do you want to have with your grandchildren?” That relationship will determine the reactions you receive from your grandchildren both while you’re alive and after your departure.

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  SeniorSinglesStickman

                                       “How Do I Survive in a Singles Lifestyle?”

             
Peter’s* question emerged from our discussion about the changes brought on by the death of his wife. Although five years had come and gone since her death Peter was still struggling to adapt to his new lifestyle as a single man. His grief work had been hard as was his adjustment process. Now, at age 61, he wanted to move forward with his life. “I need to do more than just exist,” Peter stated. “I don’t want to get married again, but I do want the rest of my life to mean something. Frankly, I’m having a hard time just surviving day to day. I haven’t prepared myself for being single at this age. How do I survive in a singles lifestyle?”

Patty’s* struggle was similar to Peter’s situation, except her singleness was the result of an unexpected and unwanted divorce. At age 56 Patty was forced to face a single lifestyle that presented changes and challenges that she felt ill-equipped to handle. However, ready or not, the harsh reality of being “single again” hit her in the face with the dawning of each new day. Because of several important factors, including her children and her financial situation, Patty made a clear decision to remain single for the duration of her life. For her a second marriage would be too risky on multiple levels. Like Peter, she also struggled with the same question, “How do I survive in a singles lifestyle?”  

Preston* also struggled with being single, but, unlike Peter or Patty, he had never been married. As a young adult he had hoped to get married, but now at the age of 57 Preston had given up on his dream of sharing life with a wife. For many years he had lived as a single adult, but those years were difficult and challenging, perpetuated in part by his inability or unwillingness to accept the reality of singleness. He felt tortured by the thought that as a single he was missing out on life as a married person. His suffering was compounded by his belief that his singleness meant that he was not good enough or not appealing enough to get married. After traveling a single adult journey for many years Preston was still asking, “How do I survive in a singles lifestyle?”  

Can you identify with these individuals? Are you a senior adult and single? Before you respond you need to know that I’m using the age of fifty-five as the starting point for the Senior Adult journey. With that age in mind would you qualify as a senior adult trying to survive in a singles lifestyle? If you do qualify, to what extent are you currently struggling with survival?  If the word “struggle” seems to fit your situation you can be assured of this fact: you’re traveling the same highway with many other Senior Singles. As you’ve no doubt discovered, that highway can get quite bumpy—and scary! If you’re struggling with these bumps in your journey I invite you to travel with me as we explore survival on the Senior Singles Highway. 

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                                  Oh, Am I Driving?

 
I was reminded of this question recently by a discussion about family leadership. According to the story I heard, as two elderly ladies were traveling toward their destination the driver consistently violated traffic signals. The passenger held on for dear life as the driver ignored several stop signs and even drove straight through a red traffic signal. At that point the passenger became desperate so she asked the driver, “Didn’t you see those stop signs and that red light? Are you okay to be driving?” Her elderly friend looked surprised and responded with her own question, “Oh, am I driving?” Her question came to my mind as I was pondering the status of many contemporary families that are tormented by turmoil and torn by tension. In these families the issue is “Who’s driving?” In regard to leadership many parents are often uncertain about their roles and responsibilities, and their uncertainty paralyzes them into inactivity. While these parents are uncertain other parents are simply unwilling to provide the leadership that healthy families require and deserve. These unwilling parents know what to do; they just choose not to do it.  

Whether the issue is uncertainty or unwillingness one conclusion is clear:  too many contemporary families are in a serious state of leadership crisis. Through apathy or abdication too many parents withhold from their families the direction and discipline needed for basic survival.  Through oppressive and abusive leadership other parents are ineffective in the creation and maintenance of a healthy family. Any family with leadership problems is a family in crisis, and the clouds overshadowing the journey along the Family Highway are indeed dark and ominous. Without effective leadership a family fulfills the “runaway stagecoach” metaphor of family relationships. I heard about that metaphor years ago and have since seen its manifestation in many family units. The metaphor connected with me because in my childhood I saw movies about the Old West in which the “bad guys” would typically kill the drivers and the driverless stagecoach would then head for the nearest cliff, while the passengers inside the coach would yell and beg for rescue from the impending disaster. That’s when the “good guy” would show up and stop the horses at the last possible second, saving the passengers from death and salvaging the movie for another episode. In the metaphoric picture the “family car” is speeding toward the proverbial cliff with no one in the driver’s seat to stop the racing engine. The children in the back seat are yelling and screaming. On the back end of the car are the two parents, holding on for dear life, with hands latched onto the rear bumper and with legs flapping helplessly in the wind. Tragically, because there is no “good guy” who magically appears to rescue the family in distress another “family car” is lost over the cliff of Leadership Crisis. Clearly, family leadership is an issue worthy of our most careful attention.  

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