Archive for April, 2011


Air Traffic Controllers fall asleep on the job? It’s a story of self-sabotage and putting others at risk. The Outer Child framework makes it easy to understand what goes wrong in the control towers and how to rectify it – and it’s not about blaming the victim.

It’s a no brainer that the graveyard shift would tend to fatigue more easily then the dayshift, right? Controllers who work in the middle of the night are left to get their sleep during the day. And supposedly, like everybody else, they need a straight run of eight hours or more. But we all know the distractions and exigencies produced during the day that could compromise their sleep span. It’s no small wonder that air traffic controllers can get tired.

But does this excuse the fact that… Okay, back up.

Take me for instance. My Outer Child minds me during the day, but at night, when fatigue sets in, my Adult Self is too tired to keep my hand out of the cookie jar.

Now, nighttime is okay if I’m not inundated with temptations; then, I can usually stick to my diet and take care of the day’s loose ends like a self-responsible person. But, if I’m surrounded with food, wine, and fun-loving friends, my Outer Child is able to convince me to go ahead and have the bread (no matter how full I am, I seem to have what my friend Peter calls, an extra bread stomach). It also convinces me, “Go ahead and have the dessert.” It rationalizes this (Outer Child is a master rationalizer) by saying, “You only live once” or “You’ll make up for it by starving yourself tomorrow (“tomorrow” is Outer favorite word)” or “Everyone else is doing it” (Outer is an infamous conformist) or “Eat all the bread and cake you want to get it out of your system for once and for all” (Outer, the con artist).

What about air traffic controllers? Might their Outer Children act up when their Adult Selves get tired, like at night, on the job?

The framework works like this: You have an Outer Child, an Inner Child and an Adult Self. The Inner child is all about your basic human needs and feelings. Your Outer Child is all about behavior – acting out behavior. And your Adult self is always in a power struggle with your Outer Child to get your goals accomplished on behalf of your Inner Child’s truest needs and desires. Your goal is to get to the gym; your Outer Child wants to lounge in front of the TV eating potato chips. This makes your Inner Child feel frustrated and bad.

It all has to do with self-abandonment. When Inner Child’s needs are forsaken, Outer Child comes to the rescue with a quick fix – an immediate gratification – a second piece of cake, a third glass of wine, a shopping spree, a trip to Vegas, a stolen nap – things that feel good in the short run but aren’t necessarily good FOR you. This creates a vicious cycle, leaving your Inner Child feeling more frustrated than ever.

Among Inner Child’s basic human needs, sleep would be an important one– particularly circadian rhythm sleep which is set for the hours of darkness. The graveyard shift causes controllers to have to override their circadian rhythms in the line of duty. This means they are not able to give their Inner Children the sleep they’re craving. And this self-abandonment creates a prescription for Outer Children to swoop in with its tempting quick fixes.

When controllers face fatigue and boredom, their Outer Children might suggest, “Let’s watch really exciting movies to stay up.” Or they might succumb to taking uppers to keep awake and downers when they get home and are too “wired” to sleep. As for the napping on the job, Outer can easily rationalize this with, “A power nap will make me refreshed, more alert, allow me to do a better job.” Or Outer might use denial (a favorite ploy): “I’m not tired. I’m not dozing off. I’ll be able to hear the pilots radio-in even if I just rest my eyes for a minute…” Or Outer becomes grandiose: “I can miss a day’s sleep and still do a good job.”

But hey, not all of this is on the air traffic controllers! Let’s look at the administrators who see fit to send people out on a life-and-death mission, sometimes alone, in the middle of the night! Without backups! Without special mechanisms that monitor fatigue! Without sufficient checks and balances in place!

The administrators seem to be discounting (abandoning) the depth of the controllers’ basic human need for sleep, imposing stringent requirements on them, and then pointing figures when they become overpowered by the pull of sleep. This tells you something about the Outer Children of the administrators – their unrealistic expectations, blame, passing the buck, though now that catnapping has come to public attention, they are scrambling to put a more tenable safety system in place (we hope).

When my Outer Child comes alive at night and decides to break my diet (etc.), what happens to my Inner Child? Well, she is dependent on my Adult Self to take care of her needs. And these needs simply get abandoned. My inner child wants desperately to fit into the beautiful clothes hanging in my closet that are now a whole size too small. And every time I gorge on bread and dessert, she has to wait longer. While she waits, she feels anxious, disappointed, bad about herself, and abandoned – abandoned by me for not taking care of her desire to look her best. She’s mad at me for letting Outer Child act so self-indulgently and ruin everything (again)! When do HER needs come first? Well, I do take care of them all day long when my Adult Self is alert, well rested, and running the show. But at night when tired, Outer sometimes swoops in and says, “Pass the bread.”

Using the Outer Child framework, it seems all too obvious what’s needed to fix the Control Tower problem: Inner Child’s need for sleep has to come first and foremost. And since sufficient sleep cycles can be neither mandated nor guaranteed, fatigue factors much be safeguarded with ample supports. Air traffic controllers deserve it and so do we.

Categories: abandonment, Outer Child

Just Which One Is the Abandoner?

I’m a therapist, a family member, and a friend, but no matter which role one I’m in, I tend to empathize with the abandonee.

That is, the person who received the slight. The one who WASN’T invited to the special party. The one who did a great job but got fired. The loving partner left for another.

Even as a kid, I rooted for the underdog. If I watched football on television, I got hoarse cheering for the losing team, unless they’d begin to win, and then I’d feel badly for the other team. It’s something deep in-the-bone in me, borne no doubt of my early experiences, and groomed me to become a specialist in abandonment.

Specialist or no, it’s not always so easy to tell just who is the victim and who is the perpetrator. Will the real abandoner please stand up?!

Sometimes people feel abandoned within a relationship. They endure an aching sense of chronic rejection. After years of feeling taken for granted, dismissed, ignored, or abused, they finally get up the nerve to leave. They feel entirely justified because they didn’t feel loved to begin with. They didn’t matter. Nobody claimed their heart.

Very often, I would even say almost always, the partner they are leaving goes into acute abandonment crisis – heartbreak like you’ve never seen the likes of.

So which one is the abandoner?

Of course the answer is both, but oh do I wish something could have been done to work on this problem sooner. It would spare so much pain.

Abandonment pain is the worst! And the “too late-ness” of the situation frustrates me tremendously.

I’d like to shout it from the rooftops. People have to stop abandoning each other. Lovers have to behave more responsibly. Spouses have to nurture each other’s basic need for love and acceptance. Friends, family, employers have to learn how to communicate and be open to feedback! People have to realize the pain involved in abandonment.

Here’s what complicates things: Some people are hyper-sensitive to rejection (abandonment). So they perceive rejection or insult in the slightest nuance, sometimes even when it is not there. Then they become difficult toward the person, creating a set-up where they wind up actually getting a negative response. Their fear of abandonment created a self-fulfilling prophecy. They feel like the victim, but don’t realize the extent to which they are the perpetrator.

This can take on an extreme form where people go around being belligerent toward others (getting even with them in passive hostile and not-so-passive hostile ways) based upon their misperceptions. These extreme folks have little or no insight and tend to blame all of their problems on the other person, not realizing the problems they caused.

No easy answers for now, just wanted to stroke the folks who find themselves sometimes on both sides of the victim feeling.

I Love You, but You Don’t Turn Me On

April 6, 2011 2 comments

Someone wrote to my Forum at about his partner of 20 years never being turned on by him. He claimed that she had been hot with other lovers outside of the marriage, but with him there was “No Lubrication” (title of his post).” They are in therapy and he asked if there is hope.

I told him, yes there is hope.

My biggest concern would be the couple and therapist failing to identify the real cause.

One possibility: Many people have trouble feeling sexual passion toward a “secure attachment.” They only get turned on when their lover is one of three things: 1) New, 2) Forbidden, or 3) Hard-to-get.

If your relationship has been calm, stable, and caring for a long time, this can be the problem! The sexual dynamic can peter out (if you know what I mean).

The antidote involves a whole new growth process, beginning with recognizing the real cause.

This paradox (the more secure the relationship, the lower the sexual passion) is extremely common. One partner or the other, after being able to take the other for granted, becomes sexually indifferent. So many husbands feel passionless toward their wives because they are “sure” of them. They benefit in all sorts of ways from the safety and longevity of the relationship – and have all sorts of positive feelings toward their wives, but the even-keel of the relationship reduces the sexual heat.

Likewise, so many wives lose sexual interest toward their husbands once they become “comfortable shoes.” This is why so many people in long term relationships have attractions to people outside the marriage – or why they “get headaches” at bedtime – or why the divorce rate is so high.

Partners can easily take each other for granted. The security and safety they give each other becomes like the air they breathe but can’t see. Recognizing this as the problem sets a whole new process within the relationship in motion – if the couple is motivated.

Usually it is only one side of the couple that begins to feel turned off. The other side usually craves more sexual attention – precisely because the rejection served as an aphrodisiac – intensifying the sexual desires for the “unavailable” spouse.

So what is the antidote? The couple must work together, all pressure must be removed, but a great deal of the onus is on the partner who has lost sexual interest. He or she must set about to integrate her sexuality with her attachment feelings. In other words, s/he must learn to experience sex not as a hot conquest of a hard-to-get lover, but as a more sober expression of deeper feelings like caring, trust, and respect.

As obvious as this sounds, this is not an easy accomplishment for a lot of people whose sexuality has become linked with “pursuit.” Without the 1) Newness, 2) Forbidden-ness, or 3) Hard-to-get-ness, there is no aphrodisiac, their libido remains low.

It is nearly universal for insecurity to act as an aphrodisiac. When you sense your lover pulling away, your sexual energy toward him intensifies, motivating you to seduce him back into your bed. The key is to retrain your sexuality to respond even when this emotional tension is not present.

It involves a kind of Tantric approach to sexuality. You are no longer waiting for your passions to be spontaneously aroused by a hard-to-get lover. Since your partner is not hard-to-get, you must tap into your own creative energy. It takes time and patience – and a new way of looking at a new level of sex – a type of sexual caring, sharing bond that can grow and develop between two people