The games people play, now
Last updated 3/15/2019 at Noon
I have a friend who seems to be asking for help. She complains about her 40-year-old son, unemployed, living in her basement apartment and smokes pot all day. She dreams of selling her house and moving to Connecticut, but does not move forward because her son ‘does not want her to sell the house.’ His contribution is that he ‘sometimes cooks for her.’ She says she doesn’t give him money. She has found excuses to reject every suggestion I’ve made, yet continues to complain.
Signed: At Wit’s End
Dear Wit’s End,
There several dynamics to understand in your friend’s situation. One that jumps to mind is why is your friend unwilling to use any of your suggestions? Eric Berne, MD wrote The Games People Play in 1964, and the observations of social behavior hold true today. The game your friend is playing is called, “Why don’t you, yes but.” Your friend is not really looking for a solution. Every idea is met with the same ‘yes but’ game. Have you thought about what your friend DOES get when she complains to you? Commiseration? Sympathy? Attention? If this issue went away, does she think no one would care or interact with her because she would have nothing to say? The brave thing for you to do is to ask her these very questions.
The finest thing a friend did for me when I was mired in my own mess was help me look at myself in the mirror using gentle questions and a lot of silence for me to think. You could be such a friend.
Another common dynamic is the underlying emotional blackmail the son is leveraging on his mom. In extreme cases it is classified as vulnerable adult abuse. He is using his mom. First, for shelter that he doesn’t have to pay for and, second, as a base for possible drug dealing. If mom is truly not giving her son money, then he is getting it from somewhere, and the most likely source is drug dealing. There is a huge risk to the mom. She could potentially risk having her property confiscated if she ignores the evidence.
The last issue is one of an emotionally difficult but beneficial-in-the-long-run decision by mom. It is called tough love. It works like this. Mom realizes that allowing her son to live off of her is bad for him in the long run. He will not grow up. He will not become responsible. He will continue to take and take and take. She finds her courage, sells the house, says goodbye to the son, and goes to Connecticut to hang out with other family and friends.
He is furious. She weathers it, and replies to every outburst with something like, “I love you, and I am doing this for your own benefit in the long run.” This is VERY hard to do, and mom needs a support system that counselors and friends can provide. She won’t do it unless she wants to and until she understands she is helping her son instead of enabling his irresponsibility.
My own experience helped me understand this in the case of my son. He did not want to go to college, but went straight to work and moved out at age 19. We were on good terms, he just wanted to be independent. I also had rightsized my living arrangements, and told him he was always welcome to come for food but he could not live here nor would I give him money.
Six months after he moved out he got himself fired for being tardy, then lost the room he’d been renting. His girlfriend’s family welcomed him to be at their house except for sleeping. So he ended up sleeping in his truck in their driveway [it was a safe neighborhood]. After three months of this, he got a job, and was able to pay rent. Now, four years later he is a reliable employee, never late, pays rent on time, and is careful with his money. Could he have learned any other way? Maybe, eventually. Was it hard? YES, about the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Close to the time I gave myself a buzz cut when chemotherapy effects hit. But that is another story.
We can spend a lot of time “fixing” your friend’s problems, but the only really change you can make is how you respond when she complains. What if she had no audience or sympathetic ear for complaints? How could you respond differently?
Support for issues like these, family and friend dynamics can be found in counseling as well as coaching. Counseling tends to be deeper, and can take time to achieve results. Coaching is very directed and tends to be quicker. Oftentimes clients work with both professionals focusing on specific projects and goals with coaching.
SharonAnn Hamilton, MBA, CFP®, MSFS is founder of Freedom Quest Academy, working with businesswomen who seek financial freedom and joyful living. She is a fiduciary, consultant, coach, and author. Email: FreedomQuestAcademy@gmail.com She facilitates The Council for Women, a faith-based group of women professionals whose mission is education for empowering women who want to be in charge of their inheritance, estate, and retirement. Want more? Write to: email@example.com