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Articles - Depression in the Family Business

Recognize and interpret problems before the crisis occurs

Thursday, October 31, 2002



By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

It may be time-consuming to learn that new computer program, or to revamp your marketing strategy, or to take time from work just to go for a walk, but in the long run you may save yourself a lot of grief. All too often we apply a band-aid when surgery was needed.

When problem solving the first question to ask yourself is, "Is this thing I am observing the signal or the problem?" Recognizing and interpreting the signals that others give us is quite a complex process I realize, but you can improve your skills. And if you are willing to take the time to learn, you can stop a number of crises before they materialize.

For example, I often hear from family business owners that they do not have enough time to attend to themselves or their personal relationships. It's all work and no play. This is a signal that if ignored will grow into a more serious problem.

You need to ask yourself why are you working so hard? Is that your goal? Most people own a family firm because they have a close-knit family who enjoys being together and who can share their talents in a join venture. But if you are too busy managing the nuts and bolts of the business and have no time to really enjoy and communicate with your family, aren't you overriding one of the reasons why you started a family business in the first place?

Mistaking signals for the problem is another common error. When a person is angry or aggressive, we tend to listen, but when a person is quiet or passive, we tend to ignore them. Actually, those behaviors are signals of something. Just what they are signals of remains to be discovered.

When one of my daughters was learning her math facts in elementary school, she would complain that she didn't understand. She hid her papers or just threw them away. She avoided math homework as much as she could. As a result, my husband and I were spending hours each week tutoring her, sometimes staying up for hours coaxing her to try. We even began to wonder if she had a learning disability.

When her teacher suggested that she might be manipulated us, I was shocked. She was always such a nice, sweet, lovable child. She never sucked her thumb or threw a tantrum (pretty rare, right?}. Could she be "snowing" us?

To test out the theory I set up a new system of rewards. If she completed her homework within 30 minutes, without any complaining and without any help from her parents, she could earn a fifty-cent "commission" on her allowance. It only took one day. She knew the math facts all along.

One husband was beside himself because his wife could not keep the house clean. The couple ran the business from their home. Although the husband was out all day with customers, the wife was at home taking care of the four small children, answering business calls, and running the company office. The couple had already problem solved somewhat and come up with occasional day care and even a once a month housecleaner, but still the house was a mess.

The problem was they were focusing on the messy house instead of what it represented. In this case, it represented that the wife was torn about her goals. She wanted to be part of the business, but she also wanted to parent her children. Making more time for her to clean the house, a chore she really didn't like anyway, wasn't the solution. What worked, however, was to set up a system where she could participate in both worlds without them overlapping so much.

The company office was moved from the dining table to a separate room off the garage. Then the wife devised a schedule that kept her work time separate from her family time. Using these two boundaries, the workspace and the time frame, she was able to be fully with her work and fully with her children when she wanted to.

The bottom line here is that all human behavior is meaningful. But the meaning may come disguised as signals that look like problems themselves. Alcoholism is a signal of a pervasive illness. Alcohol abuse, on the other hand, may be a sign of overwork, too much stress, a lack of parental guidance, or even confusion in the work place. If you try to solve the problem of alcoholism by reducing the person's stress at work, the alcoholic may just have more time to drink. Likewise, if you recommend alcohol treatment for the person who is abusing alcohol, they may stop drinking but find other self-destructive methods to cope with problems at work.

Whenever I am confronted with this dilemma (Is it a signal or a problem?), I ask myself, "How does this behavior make sense to the person engaging in the behavior?" Don't ask, "How does it make sense to me?"

If the behavior belongs to someone else, chances are it makes sense in their model of reality, which may look very different than yours. In the case of the couple with the messy house, what made sense according to the wife's model of reality is that the wife wanted to have a neat house but she wanted something else more. In order to get a clean house, it was necessary to help her accomplish what was more important first.

One final reminder, while some solutions are easy and superficial, many problems require deeper probing. While a band-aid may suffice for a while, it will save a lot of wasted energy and questioning if surgery is done immediately.

On that note, now is the time to learn that new computer program, revamp your marketing strategy, and take the time from work to just go for a walk.

Addiction 'conspiracy' of silence hurts the family and business

Friday, September 06, 2002




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Every night at about 10:30 or 11:00 the fighting would start and carry on for two to three hours or more until the couple got so tired they just fell asleep. This was the culmination of a long day at the office where Joan and Jack, wife and husband, worked side-by-side running their successful business.

By the end of the workday Joan frequently wanted to stop off at a bar for a drink to "unwind" before heading for home to dinner. Jack, in a separate car would go home, relieve the babysitter, and start dinner. When his wife got home she was relaxed and cheerful, the alcohol having taken the edge off of the day's stress. Two more glasses of wine at dinner contributed to her changing personality.

As the evening progressed, Jack would busy himself with settling the children down for the evening. He didn't mind doing most of the domestic chores because he understood that Joan didn't have as much physical stamina as he. When it was time to give the children a good night kiss, he would call to their mother, whom he often found napping on the couch.

A couple more drinks later Joan was no longer napping, no longer cheerful. Her irritability was growing. Dumbfounded, Jack could not figure out why she was mad at him. The accusations started flying, defensive walls shot up and the arguing would escalate to unreasonable and irrational proportions.

Alcoholism and other drug abuse is an epidemic in our country. We are all aware of the general problem nationwide. There are numerous programs in our schools to prevent drug abuse among our youth. The courts are less and less tolerant of alcohol related traffic infractions. Celebrities have established treatment programs to sober up movie stars and politicians.

Many employers are taking a hard look at the problems caused by drug abuse and alcohol addiction. Employers recognize the loss attributable to drugs in terms of lowered production, increased accidents, lower quality work, and loss of skilled employees. They have established employee assistance programs and redesigned insurance benefits to create treatment options for employees. These programs not only treat the addict, but the family as well because it is the strength of the family that determines the addict's success in treatment.

The concern reaches to the highest levels in most companies. Whether the employee is the president or the line worker, today's employers are cracking down on drug abuse. No one is allowed to jeopardize the welfare of the company or fellow workers by engaging in dangerous addictive behavior. But the goal is not punishment. Instead, employers want to rehabilitate and return a healthy employee to the job.

Yet among family firms, drug addiction and alcohol abuse are frequently overlooked. Many people who have worked in family firms, yet are not family members, talk about the "secret" at work. The secret that everyone knows is that there is a family member who is addicted or engaging in drug or alcohol abuse, yet no one is to talk about it. The family member is protected not only by the family, but also by a general conspiracy among employees.

In previous columns I have explained how this conspiracy comes to be. The function of the family is to nurture and protect its members. This function is alive and well in a family firm, and usually takes precedence over the welfare of the business or other non-family related employees. This is a rule that families have followed since the beginning of human civilization, and therefore is not likely to change.

If there is an alcoholic in a family firm, be they founder, spouse, son, daughter, or in-law, the family is likely to overlook, condone, deny, rationalize or minimize the problem for the sake of keeping the family system in tact. If the founder is alcoholic, alcoholism may be a family "tradition" that will be hard to break. That is, drinking may be interwoven into the fabric of family life and corporate life.

Leaders in family firms have a tough job. They must weigh the success of the business against the needs of the family. Allowing addictions to go untreated is no way to take care of either the business or the family. By ignoring the problem the addict accepts this as tacit approval of their behavior. And by ignoring the problem, the potential threat to the integrity of the family and business grows. Alcoholism and other addictions leads to the breakdown of the family, just what a family firm wants to avoid.

What can help members of the family firm address these problems is to consider that the addict is fortunate to have the backing of both his/her family as well as his/her business. With the support of the two most important systems in one's life, the addict has increased potential to succeed in treatment. They have a loving family and they have a job to come back to.

Another thing to consider is that everyone in the family has to support the decision to confront the addict and to seek family therapy with them. If there are dissenters, the addict will solicit allies to defend their continued drug abuse. While it is painful to acknowledge one's own addiction, it may be even harder to acknowledge the addiction of a loved one. Often family members feel helpless in the face of the overwhelming problems caused by addiction. Therefore, the "enable " the addict rather than face the problem squarely in the eye.

To deal with the humiliation of recognizing that a family member is alcoholic, education will help. Professional treatment centers emphasize that alcoholism and drug abuse are best understood as diseases. That is, the disease of alcoholism affect the personality in ways that change the one we love. While the alcoholic cannot help that they have a disease (many alcoholics are genetically predisposed to alcoholism), they must be held accountable for their actions. They must be confronted with their irresponsible and manipulative behavior so that they can change it. With professional treatment and ongoing support, they can be returned to their former productive and loving lives.

To learn more, contact Alcoholics Anonymous. They are listed in the telephone directory or you can go to their website -www.alcoholics-anonymous.org. You can also visit www.self-helpcentral.com to find recommended books on the subject.

In any case, if you are a member of a family firm, and you suspect a family member of addiction, do something now. You may the be the only one willing to take the risk to expose the family "secret." But once the secret is out, trust the strength of the family to meet the challenge of recovery. Families are forever, after all.

It makes good business sense to use emotions intelligently

Friday, May 17, 2002




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


"She has a sixth sense with her business." "He can always close a deal." "They always make the right investment decisions." Do you envy them? What's the key to their success?

Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, suggests that these differences among people may be due to your EQ, or Emotional Quotient. Research demonstrates that not all success in life is determined by IQ, but may rest more on how perceptive one is with regard to your emotions. Those of us who feel our feelings, interpret them correctly, and then act upon that information, have an advantage over those of us who rely solely on intellect to make decisions.

Among those of you in family firms, a high EQ is vital. Emotions run high in these businesses because of the multiple relationships. For example, it is foolish to ignore that the father-founder may have mixed feelings about a son-employee who is not getting the job done. If the father is unaware of his feelings, (and the son is also unaware), he may have a difficult time transitioning the son to a more suitable position.

Another style seen often in family firms is for the wives and daughters to be the managers of feelings, leaving the men to handle the intellectual facts. Employees know that the wife-/co-owner is the one to seek out when they are having a personal problem. The wife intuitively knows the EQ of the entire company and the husband usually relies on her for counsel. The only problem with this is that two heads are better than one. The husband is sacrificing valuable information if he is not tapping into his own emotional perceptions.

If it's true, as Goleman suggests, that those of us with a high EQ are more successful, how do we develop this side of ourselves? Then, how do we integrate this information with our reason? It appears to be a matter of mastering these three steps: (1) feeling your feelings; (2) interpreting your feelings correctly; and (3) acting upon the feeling information.

Because you are a living, breathing human being, you are capable of feelings, both physical and emotional. It doesn't take long to acknowledge those feelings and begin to name them.

Feelings are things like joy, irritation, hunger, fatigue, boredom, confusion, pain, anticipation, pride, embarrassment, tension, and so on. The list is endless and I often advise my clients to get a thesaurus or dictionary and copy down as many "feeling" words as they can find. It is important to refine your repertoire of feelings and feeling words so that you can expand your consciousness about your EQ.

It is also important to remember that you always feel your feelings first. Because of how you are "wired" thoughts or interpretations come after feelings. So it is useful to notice those feelings consciously before your conscious mind decides to ignore them or misinterpret them.

The second step is interpreting those feelings that you have just noticed which is no easy feat. The key element here is to realize that feelings are basically neutral. That is, they are neither good nor bad; they are just feedback. For example, if you haven't eaten for several hours, you will feel hungry. At first the feeling isn't unpleasant, but if you don't eat for days, hunger can be painful. The feeling of hunger is a message that you need to attend to your body by feeding it. But the hunger pangs should not be interpreted as punishment, just because they are unpleasant.

Anger is another example. Anger may feel unpleasant to you and therefore, something to suppress. However, the feeling of anger is neither good nor bad; it is just feedback about something that is important for you to know. Try to view all of your feelings that way. They are feedback in feeling-form about your environment. One person may be triggered to feel angry about something, while another may be triggered to laugh. Feelings are your characteristic way of sensing your environment.

This brings us to step three, acting upon the information you have interpreted from your feelings. In the case of hunger or fatigue, a decision is relatively simple to satisfy those basic needs. But decision-making is more complex when the feelings are part of a financial plan for your business, or whether to fire an employee. This is where EQ really helps. Those individuals who have trusted their EQ throughout childhood and have refined and developed those skills into adult life, are in a much better position to make successful decisions.

While there is nothing like practice and life experience, here are a few basic tips to improve your decision making by including relevant feeling information. 1. Always checkout your feelings before making any decision. 2. Inquire after another's feelings before proceeding to decision making. 3. Check your feelings again after arriving at the decision. 4. Remember that "feeling good" about something doesn't always mean that the decision is correct. 5. Be willing to acknowledge that you are afraid or angry or confused. Hiding these feelings from yourself may deny you powerful and necessary information.

Many of you know those successful people who seem always to be in the right place at the right time. They aren't really any smarter than you are, but probably they trust an "inner knowing" based upon using all of the resources available to them, emotional, mental, physical and even spiritual.

Keeping secrets in your family or business creates a tangled web

Friday, May 05, 2000




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

"It'll just make things worse if I tell him."


Janice was getting more and more anxious as the days and weeks went by. The bills were mounting, the creditors were calling, the first bank note was due in one month, and sales were miserable. Janice and her husband had just begun a business expansion that they had dreamed and planned for over the last five years. They were positive it was a winner and were thrilled when the bank backed them up. While Cary blazed ahead with building, hiring, warehousing and so forth, Janice as CFO handled the creative financing.

Unfortunately Janice was just a little too creative with the financing. Because the dream was too important she stretched things further than they could be stretched. Cary never questioned his wife and was unaware that they were heading for financial disaster. Janice on the other hand kept trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

When Janice first discovered her miscalculations, she was mortified. She was too embarrassed to tell Cary, so instead tried to solve the problem on her own. As the financial problems increased, she started shifting money from one account to another, staying one step ahead of her creditors. She convinced herself that Cary was too busy with the project to be bothered by the financial problems. She rationalized that these problems were temporary because any day now she would find a solution. Janice loved her husband and didn't want to disappoint him either. She felt he would be crushed to discover that not only would he have to halt the expansion, but that the entire business might go under. So she lied and she hid the truth in a variety of ways.

Since Cary was not very computer literate and left all of the number crunching to his wife, the secret was not hard to keep. Until of course, the bank called the loan. Then Cary and Janice had two problems to face. The financial woes were their immediate focus so as business partners they busied themselves untangling the mess that Janice had concealed. But as the dust settled from the financial nightmare, husband and wife had a to face a more serious crisis . . . how to restore the broken trust between them.

"What they don't know won't hurt them."

Even a surprise birthday party may be a secret not worth keeping, if the guest of honor doesn't like them. It is rare that secrets are a good idea and yet they are commonplace in family firms. The major reasons for keeping secrets are (1) to avoid disagreement and confrontation, (2) to protect someone from hurt feelings or even physical distress, (3) fear of punishment or embarassment for a wrong doing, (4) or just because you made a promise not to tell.

Why are secrets so bad if they don't hurt anyone? This is usually a rationalization. If you have to keep a secret, then it obviously affects other people. The content of the secret may or may not affect the other person adversely, but the question is, will keeping the secret affect the other person adversely? As we saw with Janice and Cary both the secret and keeping it powerfully affected the business and the relationship. There is no telling whether the couple could have saved their business had Cary known earlier of the miscalculations. However, by keeping the secret long after she should have told Cary, Janice seriously damaged the trust and the love between the two.

"But he'll get mad at me if I tell him the truth!"

No one likes an argument but it is foolish to think that you can go through life, build a marriage and a business without having disagreements. As compatible as family members may be, they are bound to disagree on some things and sometimes these disagreements escalate into angry confrontations. Therefore it is useful to develop conflict resolution skills, rather than avoid the anger.

The excuse that the other person will get mad if you level with him or her is a poor one. First, you never know if he or she will get mad. Second, even if he or she does get mad, the discussion doesn't have to end. Be brave and venture into conflict resolution. Third, the person may have every right to be upset that you withheld information (or fibbed) that affects his or her life. Think about it. How do you feel when a secret is kept from you, especially if your decisions depend upon the hidden information?

"It would be mean to be honest."

There is often the fear that you will hurt someone's feelings if you tell the truth, or worse that they will have a heart attack and die. The problem is that you have no right to assume responsibility for the other person's life or life decisions. When you keep a secret that affects the life of another, you are robbing them of the opportunity to take responsibility for their own destiny. Because Janice loved her husband, she wanted to insure the success of his dream. But by lying to Cary, she kept him ignorant of the information he needed to make a mid-course correction. He may still have failed had he known earlier what the financial picture looked like, but the success of the business and his own destiny would have been in his hands.

Essentially it is disrespectful to keep secrets. You are treating the other person as if they are incompetent to handle the truth. What makes you better able to handle the truth than the other person? Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes it is embarrassing. Sometimes the truth is a powerful leveler without which you would never know you are in over your head. When I received the phone call telling me that my ten-year-old daughter had just missed the cut for the soccer team, I had to tell her the truth. Not only had she failed to make the team, but that she wasn't quite good enough to play with this team. She cried and sobbed and was heartbroken over the failure. She even refused to eat dinner and went to bed early. However, the next day she obviously had learned an important lesson. She asked for new shinguards and went to the backyard to practice for next year's tryouts.

"I won't tell you unless you promise to keep it a secret."

Signs of maturity are honesty and reliability. When we give our word, we feel a strong compulsion to keep it, to be consistent with our image of an honest and reliable person. However, it is important to realize that promising to keep a secret is not a demonstration of maturity, but actually quite childish. As a businessperson, your success depends upon flexibility. Decisions made in 1982, while accurate at the time may no longer fit the business in the year 2000. You would be foolish to hold to old decisions just because you once made a promise. You are just as foolish to keep a secret just because you want to maintain an image of consistency.

Emerson once wrote, "foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." To make a promise to keep a secret in the first place is foolish, but you double your foolishness by keeping the secret when the evidence shows how damaging it can be. To cover for an alcoholic in the family business brings destruction on everyone. To withhold information from your spouse because one of the children has asked you is disrespectful of your spouse and the child's ability to handle the problem out in the open.

Oh what a tangled web we weave . . .

There may be short-term gain in keeping secrets, but the long-term outcome is not worth the risk, especially when working with the ones you love. Openness in all things is the answer, even if it is embarrassing, anger-provoking, or hurtful. Don't keep secrets, but if you already have, break them. Admit your failure, apologize to those you have lied to and make a promise you can live with. That is, promise to be responsible for your own actions, and allow others access to their own destiny through the truth.

Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S. Licensed Psychologist and Family/Business Consultant is the author of ENTREPRENEUERIAL COUPLES: Making It Work at Work and at Home (Davies-Black, Palo Alto, 1998). She can be reached at (360) 256-0448 or www.kmarshack.com.

"Overcoming" holiday blues, for yourself and employees

Thursday, December 04, 1997




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Every year as the winter holidays draw near there is a rash of stories on the radio and television and in the newspapers about coping with the Holiday Blues. While it is admirable that the media finds this kind of story worthwhile, I'd like to correct some misconceptions about the holiday blues. First and foremost among the corrections is that the problem is highly over-rated.

The truth is that the holiday blues don't start in November or even December. People hold off feeling miserable until January. The number of calls to psychologists dwindle to a trickle during the holiday months. Then the calls roar to an all time high in January for the entire year. Again in May there is another major increase in calls for help, sometimes equaling the calls in January. In August calls drop very low again, but not nearly to the low level of calls in the month of December.

Let's take a look at this phenomenon so that you can be better prepared to handle your Blues when and if they come, or recognize when a loved one needs help. It's really not hard to understand why we postpone depression during the holidays. We are distracted. There is a flurry of activity to keep us busy. The stores are very inviting with the decorations, music and multiple activities to distract us from normal life. There are concerts, plays, ball games, holiday specials on television, the latest holiday release in the movie theaters. The general atmosphere at most places of business is light. There is an understanding that the real work is postponed until January. There are parties and family get-togethers. Even if you have no friends or family and hate to shop, you can't turn on the radio or drive down the street without noticing the holiday preparations. All of this serves to distract us from our daily concerns. We are swept along into a river of denial about what our true life situation is all about. We come to believe that the holiday spirit is healing and rejuvenating and that all of our problems will melt away.

At the very least, we put our problems on hold because we are just too darned busy to attend to them. Then January hits like it has in our area for the last two years. We are flooded with feelings and frozen with fear. The holidays have come and gone and we are no better off. The same painful family problems exist. Love interests did not magically materialize over the holidays. The winter ski vacation leaves you feeling frazzled and in debt. You are as disenchanted with your work situation as before the holidays, and no closer to a solution. I call this time of year, the Post-Holiday Let-Down. And it is one of the most difficult times of the year for most people, whether or not you actually have something to brood about. In January, you can no longer allow distractions to keep you from the reality of your life, love or work situation. There are no distractions to facilitate denial. Just two to three months of dark, cold, dreary days, with no significant holidays to break up the tedium.

Then with the first hint of Spring, people start feeling a little better. If you can hold on during the darkest days and nights of January and February, the lengthening days of March and April give us hope that Spring will restore us and bring about the changes that are needed in our lives. When May arrives with sunshine and buds on the trees, we hope that we'll be well into our happy transformation.

Unfortunately, denial is not a useful tool when it comes to solving problems. Neither is praying for sunshine or a holiday. The truth is that May is the month during which the greatest number of suicide attempts are made. Again, our anticipation of problem resolution with the arrival of Spring is not justified. It is very painful to face the beginning of a new calendar year in January and a new growth year in the Spring, yet have no new agenda for one's life.

Just as with eating well and getting exercise, in order to maintain your psychological health, a regular routine needs to be established. It's hard not to be distracted by the holidays or a warm August vacation. Go ahead and enjoy these diversions. But recognize that they are not solutions. Be honest with yourself and do the hard work of revamping the lifestyle or personality that lead to your life/love/career dilemmas.

Do something each day to resolve these problems and to build a new plan of action for the days after the holidays. Some likely activities include reading and attending seminars on topics specific to your situation, meditation, increased levels of whole-person exercise such as yoga and tai chi, and joining a support group. Encourage family and friends to attend classes with you so that you have people with whom to discuss your thoughts and feelings. In this way you will realize that you are not the only one experiencing the Post-Holiday Let-Down. There are those few of you who actually do experience the holiday blues. Apparently you are not as easily distracted by the holiday hoopla. You may have the type of personality that is keenly aware of the world around you, which makes you prone to depression anyway. For example, there are plenty of things in the world to be depressed about. It's just that most of us ignore the situation even during times other than the holidays. So if you are one of these people it is vital that you seek the support and professional guidance that exists in abundance around you. Just because everyone else is in denial during the holidays, doesn't mean you aren't reading your situation correctly. If you are depressed, tackle the problem immediately. Meditate, read, attend classes and support groups and seek the help of a psychologist.

Depression is no Humbug, but you will be better prepared for the Post-Holiday Let-Down if you understand when it actually happens. If you expect the Holiday Blues in December, you may be unprepared to care for yourself when those blues actually come in January.

Love,hate, and guilt in the family business partnership

Sunday, February 23, 1997




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Love+Hate=Guilt. How many of you have this type of relationship with one or more of your parents? Or how many of you have felt like this at least once with your parents? Or are you suspicious that this is how your teenage or grown children feel about you? Unfortunately these feelings are all too common among parents and children. They are the natural byproducts of normal human development that has not been allowed to progress to completion. Anger and Love are healthy human emotions that emerge often in our daily lives. Learning methods to process these feelings constructively so that we can mature is the work of childhood. Guilt, on the other hand, is not a normal nor healthy human emotion (unless of course you have legitimately committed a serious offense). To feel guilty for being angry at your parent or child is a misunderstanding of the relationship. Nobody is perfect and so it is very likely that someone you love will do something that makes you mad, even if they don't mean to. You are under no obligation to stifle your anger or to feel guilty just because it is a parent who has misbehaved. Many people balk at the idea of Blaming their parents. They feel guilty for being angry at their parents whom they love and admire. They haven't learned how to reconcile those feelings of love and hate. They either feel guilty about their anger, but more often they deny it altogether. Blame isn't really necessary, but holding your parents (and others too for that matter) accountable for their mistakes is important. Just as you give others credit for their successes, it is important to note the failures, the misunderstandings, the faulty choices. By holding others accountable you accomplish two important goals. First, you are actually treating the other person with respect. You are offering them the opportunity to correct their error. In other words, you are treating them as if they are capable.

By stuffing your anger, you feel helpless and like a victim with no where to go with these feelings except to build up resentment (i.e. Love/Hate). Second, by holding others accountable, you are able to view your own flaws more objectively. Not only can you learn from your mistakes but from other's as well. Take your parents for example. Many adults tell me that they don't want to blame their parents for the mistakes they made, because the grown child should take responsibility for their life now. Yet that grown child is making the same mistakes their parents made; often that is the reason they are in my office! Because your parents raised you and because they are flawed, they made mistakes. You as a child made mistakes too. One of them is to develop the belief that you should feel guilty for being mad at your parents, even if what they did was wrong. By acknowledging what they did wrong (and right) you are better equipped to correct their and your mistakes. For example, a few years ago, my daughter Bianca was taking interminably long to get ready to go out. I was in my usual hurry to get somewhere, never planning quite enough time to prepare myself and two young children for an outing. I told Bianca several times to get her shoes on so that we could leave, but she was preoccupied with some toy and was not getting to the task. Finally in desperation, I grabbed her by the arm, pulled her down the hall and said "Let's go now!" She pulled her arm away from me, put her hands on her little hips and looking at me very disapprovingly said, "That is rude!" Several options whizzed through my mind at that moment, but fortunately I was amazed at her perceptiveness. She was absolutely right and she had the guts to tell me. She was four. I apologized for pulling her arm, told her that I loved her and informed her that because I was the mommy she had to put on her shoes now.

She obliged and we had a fun outing. If you want to clear up the Love+Hate=Guilt relationship you have with your parents or children, take a moment to do the following exercise.

  1. As honestly as possible, list your loved one's flaws, mistakes and even downright nasty traits. Make sure you include everything that makes you really angry about this person.
  2. Now list all of those traits you admire and are grateful for.
  3. As you review these lists, ask yourself, which traits are you carrying on, in the family tradition. Be honest. You might ask your spouse for feedback because you may feel so guilty that you cannot acknowledge your parents flaws, or your own.
  4. Finally, make a plan of action to change the negative counterproductive traits.

This little exercise is very revealing. By feeling guilty and by avoiding blame you may inadvertently be carrying on the same mistakes generation after generation. The goal of each generation should be to improve upon the goals of the last, not repeat mistakes. By holding your parents accountable you are more free to do this. I hope by now that you realize that blame is not really the answer, but that accountability is. Be respectful in your confrontations. Tell your parents what they did that hurt or angered you, but treat them as if they are human beings quite cabable of accepting responsibility for their mistakes and cabable of correcting them. This is especially crucial in a family business. How is the business to prosper if children coming up into the business never correct the errors of their predecessors? How is the business to remain competitive if you hang onto old ways just because you are afraid to confront a parent or grandparent? On the other hand, if you trust that your love for this person and their love for you is strong enough to handle the confrontation, you both benefit by getting things out in the open.

Work related stress - Is it a symptom or the problem?

Sunday, October 27, 1996




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


It may be time-consuming to learn that new computer program, or to revamp your marketing strategy, or to take time from work just to go for a walk, but in the long run you may save yourself a lot of grief. All too often we apply a band-aid when surgery was needed.

Here's just one real-life example. I had heard stories about cats, that they cold be territorial and even jealous. So I was not surprised when my cat, Misha, started having "accidents" in the house just after the birth of my eldest child. After all, her role as my "baby" was being usurped by the new little bundle.

I was prepared though, being trained in psychology. I introduced Misha to the new baby and played with the cat and baby together. I bought Misha new toys and kitty treats so that she wouldn't be jealous of the baby's new things. I made appoint of holding and petting the cat more often than usual, so she wouldn't feel forgotten.

But in spite of all of my efforts she continued to have "accidents." I was getting pretty frazzled with a new baby to care for and adjust to and a cat that was going off the deep end. I was about at the end of my rope one day when in walked Misha. I was sitting in the recliner feeding the baby, when Misha walked up to me, crouched at my feet and defecated right in front of me.

That did it. The next day, I packed up the cat and took her to the vet, threatening to leave her there if a solution could not be found. Within a few minutes after examining the cat, the vet advised me that she had cystitis and needed antibiotics. Needless to say within a few days, Misha was back to normal and using the garden instead of my living room.

How often have you been unable to solve a problem because you were looking in the wrong direction as I was with Misha? Or perhaps you thought the solution should be more complicated than it needed to be?

In my situation, I was just to darned smart for my own good. The solution wasn't nearly as complicated as I had made it. But this experience was a great reminder to me of how often we get lost in our own realities. As a psychologist I can easily thing everything is psychological, because psychology is a big part of my world

Problem solving with people is even more difficult than with cats. But the strategy is really still the same. The first question to ask yourself is, "Is this thing I am observing the signal or the problem?" In Misha's case, I was observing a signal coming from Misha that was creating a problem for me. In order to solve my problem, I needed to interpret Misha's signal and develop a solution that would take care of her problem before I could take care of mine.

Recognizing and interpreting the signals that others give us is quite a complex process I realize, but you can improve your skills. And if you are willing to take the time to learn, you can stop a number of crises before they materialize.

For example, I often hear from family business owners that they do not have enough time to attend to themselves or their personal relationships. It's all work and no play. This is a signal that if ignored will grow into a more serious problem.

You need to ask yourself why are you working so hare? Is that your goal? Most people own a family firm because they have a close-knit family who enjoys being together and who can share their talents in a join venture. But if you are too busy managing the nuts and bolts of the business and have no time to really enjoy and communicate with your family, aren't you overriding one of the reasons why you started a family business in the first place?

Mistaking signals for the problem is another common error. When a person is angry or aggressive, we tend to listen, but when a person is quiet or passive, we tend to ignore them. Actually, those behaviors are signals of something. Just what they are signals of remains to be discovered.

When one of my daughters was learning her math facts in elementary school, she would complain that she didn't understand. She hid her papers of just threw them away. She avoided math homework as much as she could. As a result, my husband and I were spending hours each week tutoring her, sometimes staying up for hours coaxing her to try. We even began to wonder if she had a learning disability.

When her teacher suggested that she might be manipulated us, I was shocked. She was always such a nice, sweet, lovable child. She never sucked her thumb or threw a tantrum (pretty rare, right?}. Could she be "snowing" us?

To test out the theory I set up a new system of rewards. If she completed her homework within 30 minutes, without any complaining and without any help from her parents, she could earn a fifty-cent "commission" on her allowance. It only took one day. She knew the math facts all along.

One husband was beside himself because his wife could not keep the house clean. The couple ran the business from their home. Although the husband was out all day with customers, the wife was at home taking care of the four small children answering business calls, and running the company office. The couple had already problem solved somewhat and come up with occasional day care and even a once a month housecleaner, but still the house was a mess.

The problem was they were focusing on the messy house instead of what it represented. In this case, it represented that the wife was torn about her goals. She wanted to be part of the business, but she also wanted to parent her children. Making more time for her to clean the house, a chore she really didn't like anyway, wasn't the solution. What worked, however, was to set up a system where she could participate in both worlds without them overlapping so much.

The company office was moved from the dining table to a separate room off the garage. Then the wife devised a schedule that kept her work time separate from her family time. Using these two boundaries, the workspace and the time frame, she was able to be fully with her work and fully with her children when she wanted to.

The bottom line here is that all human behavior is meaningful. But the meaning may come disguised as signals that look like problems themselves. Alcoholism is a signal of a pervasive illness. Alcohol abuse, on the other hand, may be a sign of overwork, too much stress, a lack of parental guidance, or even confusion in the work place. If you try to solve the problem of alcoholism by reducing the person's stress at work, the alcoholic may just have more time to drink. Likewise, if you recommend alcohol treatment for the person who is abusing alcohol, they may stop drinking but find other self-destructive methods to cope with problems at work.

Whenever I am confronted with this dilemma (Is it a signal or a problem?), I ask myself, "How does this behavior make sense to the person engaging in the behavior?" Don't ask, "How does it make sense to me?"

If the behavior belongs to someone else, chances are it makes sense in their model of reality, which may look very different than yours. In the case of the couple with the messy house, what made sense according to the wife's model of reality is that the wife wanted to have a neat house but she wanted something else more. In order to get a clean house, it was necessary to help her accomplish what was more important first.

One final word of caution. While my experience with Misha is a reminder that some solutions are easy and superficial, many problems require deeper probing. While a band-aid may suffice for a while, it will save a lot of wasted energy and questioning if surgery is done immediately.

On that note, now is the time to learn that new computer program, revamp your marketing strategy, and take the time from work to just go for a walk.

Alcoholism -- the secret of addictions in family firms

Thursday, February 01, 1996




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Every night at about 10:30 or 11:00 the fighting would start and carry on for two to three hours or more until the couple got so tired they just fell asleep. This was the culmination of a long day at the office where Joan and Jack, wife and husband, worked side by side running their successful business. By the end of the work day Joan frequently wanted to stop off at a bar for a drink to "unwind" before heading for home to dinner. Jack, in a separate car would go home, relieve the babysitter, and start dinner. When his wife got home she was relaxed and cheerful, the alcohol having taken the edge off of the day's stress. Two more glasses of wine at dinner contributed to her changing personality. As the evening progressed, Jack would busy himself with settling the children down for the evening. He didn't mind doing most of the domestic chores because he understood that Joan didn't have as much physical stamina as he. When it was time to give the children a good night kiss, he would call to their mother, whom he often found napping on the couch. A couple more drinks later Joan was no longer napping, no longer cheerful. Her irritability was growing. Dumbfounded, Jack could not figure out why she was mad at him. The accusations started flying, defensive walls shot up and the arguing would escalate to unreasonable and irrational proportions. Alcoholism and other drug abuse is an epidemic in our country. We are all aware of the general problem nationwide. There are numerous programs in our schools to prevent drug abuse among our youth. The courts are less and less tolerant of alcohol related traffic infractions. Celebrities have established treatment programs to sober up movie stars and politicians. Many employers are taking a hard look at the problems caused by drug abuse and alcohol addiction. Employers recognize the loss attributable to drugs in terms of lowered production, increased accidents, lower quality work, and loss of skilled employees. They have established employee assistance programs and redesigned insurance benefits to create treatment options for employees. These programs not only treat the addict, but the family as well because it is the strength of the family that determines the addict's success in treatment.

The concern reaches to the highest levels in most companies. Whether the employee is the president or the line worker, today's employers are cracking down on drug abuse. No one is allowed to jeopardize the welfare of the company or fellow workers by engaging in dangerous addictive behavior. But the goal is not punishment. Instead, employers want to rehabilitate and return a healthy employee to the job. Yet among family firms, drug addiction and alcohol abuse are frequently overlooked. Many people who have worked in family firms, yet are not family members, talk about the "secret" at work. The secret that everyone knows is that their is a family member who is addicted or engaging in drug or alcohol abuse, yet no one is to talk about it. The family member is protected not only by the family, but by a general conspiracy among employees. In previous columns I have explained how this conspiracy comes to be. The function of the family is to nurture and protect its members. This function is alive and well in a family firm, and usually takes precedence over the welfare of the business or other non-family related employees. This is a rule that families have followed since the beginning of human civilization, and therefore is not likely to change. If there is an alcoholic in a family firm, be they founder, spouse, son, daughter, or in-law, the family is likely to overlook, condone, deny, rationalize or minimize the problem for the sake of keeping the family system in tact. If the founder is alcoholic, alcoholism may be a family "tradition" that will be hard to break. That is, drinking may be interwoven into the fabric of family life and corporate life. Leaders in family firms have a tough job. They must weigh the success of the business against the needs of the family. Allowing addictions to go untreated is no way to take care of either the business or the family. By ignoring the problem the addict accepts this as tacit approval of their behavior. And by ignoring the problem, the potential threat to the integrity of the family and business grows. Alcoholism and other addictions leads to the breakdown of the family, just what a family firm wants to avoid.

What can help members of the family firm address these problems is to consider that the addict is fortunate to have the backing of both his/her family as well as his/her business. With the support of the two most important systems in one's life, the addict has increased potential to succeed in treatment. They have a loving family and they have a job to come back to. Yet among family firms, drug addiction and alcohol abuse are frequently overlooked. Many people who have worked in family firms, yet are not family members, talk about the "secret" at work. The secret that everyone knows is that their is a family member who is addicted or engaging in drug or alcohol abuse, yet no one is to talk about it. The family member is protected not only by the family, but by a general conspiracy among employees. In previous columns I have explained how this conspiracy comes to be. The function of the family is to nurture and protect its members. This function is alive and well in a family firm, and usually takes precedence over the welfare of the business or other non-family related employees. This is a rule that families have followed since the beginning of human civilization, and therefore is not likely to change. If there is an alcoholic in a family firm, be they founder, spouse, son, daughter, or in-law, the family is likely to overlook, condone, deny, rationalize or minimize the problem for the sake of keeping the family system in tact. If the founder is alcoholic, alcoholism may be a family "tradition" that will be hard to break. That is, drinking may be interwoven into the fabric of family life and corporate life. Leaders in family firms have a tough job. They must weigh the success of the business against the needs of the family. Allowing addictions to go untreated is no way to take care of either the business or the family. By ignoring the problem the addict accepts this as tacit approval of their behavior. And by ignoring the problem, the potential threat to the integrity of the family and business grows. Alcoholism and other addictions leads to the breakdown of the family, just what a family firm wants to avoid. What can help members of the family firm address these problems is to consider that the addict is fortunate to have the backing of both his/her family as well as his/her business. With the support of the two most important systems in one's life, the addict has increased potential to succeed in treatment. They have a loving family and they have a job to come back to.

Emotional information is as important as rational imformation

Friday, October 06, 1995




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


"Kitty! Kitty! Kitty" my four-year-old daughter screamed as she watched in horror the cat fall into a raging river and wash away toward the waterfall. We were at a matinee showing of a Disney movie, but the scene evoked such a torrent of feelings from Phoebe that I could not comfort her. She cried through the rest of the movie though the cat was eventually rescued. Upon our return home later, she insisted on checking on our own cat, Tolstoy, to make sure he was safe. And this movie was rated "G." Later when things had calmed down at home, I pondered why my daughter had been the only child to scream out and cry about the poor cat's predicament. Indeed, everyone seemed so startled by her outburst, that at first there was stunned silence from the other movie goers; then I heard a few giggles, from adults and children alike. My older daughter, age 7, sat quietly in the theater, not startled by the screen event, but certainly there were other four-year-olds who might have perceived the event as shocking. Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, suggests that these differences among children (and among all people) may be due to your EQ, or Emotional Quotient. Research demonstrates that not all success in life is determined by IQ, but may rest more on how perceptive one is with regard to your emotions. Those of us who feel our feelings, interpret them correctly, and then act upon that information, have an advantage over those of us who rely solely on intellect to make decisions. Among those of you in family firms, a high EQ is vital. Emotions run high in these businesses because of the multiple relationships. For example, it is foolish to ignore that the father-founder may have mixed feelings about a son-employee who is not getting the job done. If the father is unaware of his feelings, or the son for that matter, he may have a difficult time transitioning the son to a more suitable position. Another style seen often in family firms is for the wives and daughters to be the managers of feelings, leaving the men to handle the intellectual facts. Employees know that the wife-/co-owner is the one to seek out when they are having a personal problem. The wife intuitively knows the EQ of the entire company and the husband usually relies on her for counsel.

The only problem with this is that two heads are better than one. The husband is sacrificing valuable information if he is not tapping into his own emotional perceptions. If it's true, as Goleman suggests, that those of us with a high EQ are more successful, how do we develop this side of ourselves? Then, how do we integrate this information with our reason? It appears to be a matter of mastering these three steps: (1) feeling your feelings; (2) interpreting your feelings correctly; and (3) acting upon the feeling information. Because you are a living, breathing human being, you are capable of feelings, both physical and emotional. It doesn't take long to acknowledge those feelings and begin to name them. Feelings are things like joy, irritation, hunger, fatigue, boredom, confusion, pain, anticipation, pride, embarrassment, tension, and so on. The list is endless and I often advise my clients to get a thesaurus or dictionary and copy down as many "feeling" words as they can find. It is important to refine your repertoire of feelings and feeling words so that you can expand your consciousness about your EQ. It is also important to remember that you always feel your feelings first. Because of how you are "wired" thoughts or interpretations come after feelings. So it is useful to notice those feelings consciously before your conscious mind decides to ignore them or misinterpret them. The second step is interpreting those feelings that you have just noticed, which is no easy feat. The key element here is to realize that feelings are basically neutral. That is, they are neither good nor bad; they are just feedback. For example, if you haven't eaten for several hours, you will feel hungry. At first the feeling isn't unpleasant, but if you don't eat for days, hunger can be painful. The feeling of hunger is a message that you need to attend to your body by feeding it. But the hunger pangs should not be interpreted as punishment, just because they are unpleasant. Anger is another example. Anger may feel unpleasant to you and therefore, something to suppress.

However, the feeling of anger is neither good nor bad; it is just feedback about something that is important for you to know. Try to view all of your feelings that way. They are feedback in feeling-form about your environment. One person may be triggered to feel angry about something, while another may be triggered to laugh. Feelings are your characteristic way of sensing your environment. This brings us to step three, acting upon the information you have interpreted from your feelings. In the case of hunger or fatigue, a decision is relatively simple to satisfy those basic needs. But decision making is more complex when the feelings are part of a financial plan for your business, or whether to fire an employee. This is where EQ really helps. Those individuals who have trusted their EQ throughout childhood and have refined and developed those skills into adult life, are in a much better position to make successful decisions. While there is nothing like practice and life experience, here are a few basic tips to improve your decision making by including relevant feeling information. 1. Always checkout your feelings before making any decision. 2. Inquire after another's feelings before proceeding to decision making. 3. Check your feelings again after arriving at the decision. 4. Remember that "feeling good" about something doesn't always mean that the decision is correct. 5. Be willing to acknowledge that you are afraid or angry or confused. Hiding these feelings from yourself may deny you powerful and necessary information. My daughter knew that there was something terribly wrong when the cat fell into the river and she felt the shock of it throughout her body. Acknowledging the shock and allowing it to be there, lead her to a decision to check on her own pet back at home. If bad things can happen to a cat in the movie, they can happen to her kitty. Successful decision-makers use the same process as Phoebe did with the Disney movie experience. Many of you know those successful people who seem always to be in the right place at the right time. They aren't really any smarter than you are, but probably they trust an "inner knowing" based upon using all of the resources available to them, emotional, mental, physical and even spiritual.

Is your conscious your friend or enemy?

Friday, June 02, 1995




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Captain Picard of the Star Ship Enterprise is intent on the screen before him. He is standing firm and tall. His jaw is set and the tendons in his neck are extended. He is speaking in a stern and captainly tone to the Romulan captain on the enemy vessel. As the Romulan replies, Picard turns his ear toward Counselor Troi, who is standing on his left on the bridge of the Enterprise. He asks her advice, her empathic understanding of the meaning behind the Romulan's words. She nods knowingly and advises the Captain that the Romulan is speaking the truth, but that he is holding something back...that he is scared, though no signs of it show on his face nor in the tone of his voice. With this new information the Captain makes a bold decision. Then he turns to Number One and gives the command that saves the day. Those of you who are Trekkies relish these tense moments, fantasizing that you too are aboard the Enterprise playing the deadly games that the crew of Star Trek always win. But even if you are not a Trekkie, the allegories of Star Trek are remarkable. The relationship between Captain Picard and Counsellor Troi represents the importance of team work, or utilizing the talents of several people in making decisions for the whole. The relationship can also be viewed as the one we have within ourselves; the relationship we have with our conscious and unconscious minds, or with our intuitive and our analytical minds. Like Picard you can have a healthy relationship with your unconscious or intuition. You can trust her as he does with Counselor Troi. Or you can resist her input because you don't understand. And with lack of understanding, you can conjure up fear or anger. Picard accepts Troi's advice as valid feedback; incorporates it into his "map of reality" and creatively arrives at a decision. Then he entrusts that decision to his Number One to carry out for the benefit of the entire crew.

The third part of the equation for psychological health is to have the courage and to take action, like Number One. Creating a healthy balance between your unconscious and conscious minds is what we call Mental Health. Mental health is not just something that's an extra. It is vital if you want to run your family Enterprise just as Captain Picard does his starship. Being healthy psychologically means being able to utilize all of your mental resources. This requires the same attention and commitment as does your daily physical work out. If you miss a day at the gym, you can be set back for weeks. If you are inattentive of your psychological and emotional health, you can be set back for life. A few years ago we heard the expression, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Unfortunately many people take this attitude with their mental health. Only in times of crisis do they seek professional consultation. Similarly to waiting until after you have a heart attack to start eating and exercising properly, you may wait too long to attend to your psychological health until the dysfunction causes permanent damage. Or perhaps you have the attitude that you can handle any problem that comes your way; that in fact, you should not ever ask for help. Week after week on Star Trek we are witness to characters who try to go it alone and always the Enterprise outwits them because Captain Picard relies on his trusted advisers. Attending to your mental health is the willingness to "Boldly go where no one has gone before." Hire a psychologist. Explore that uncharted unconscious of yours to discover your latent talents or unresolved conflicts. Don't leave your weaknesses there for others to misunderstand or abuse. There is a Counselor Troi inside of you waiting to teach you about yourself and others. People who regularly attend to their psychological health are not only stronger emotionally, but they require less physical health care.

Research has shown that psychotherapy reduces medical and surgical costs in 85% of the studies. Also the research has demonstrated that among those individuals who are regular users of psychotherapy, they are the group who use medical and surgical procedures the least. Rather than the crisis management attitude of waiting until you are broken, it makes more sense to trust the humanistic slogan: YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE SICK TO GET BETTER. Individuals who attend to their psychological health prevent illness and improve their own personal well being. You will find that utilizing the full range of your conscious and unconscious talents, unburdened by neurotic hangups, creates opportunities that you never knew were there before. A healthy mind also draws to you other healthy people. In a family business or any endeavor for that matter, having mentally healthy employees, coworkers and family members can only improve business functioning. The old "if it ain't broke; don't fix it" mentality leads to mediocrity. In a family enterprise where there are two goals, that of nurturing a family and keeping the business competitive, there is no room for mediocrity. Within any average are extremes of excellence and extremes of inadequate performance. To compare yourselves to others is a waste of time. Instead ask yourself "how can I achieve excellence?" The answer is a simple one. Take charge of your Starship Family Enterprise as Captain Picard would do. Engage in psychotherapy to enhance your analytical and intuitive abilities. Cultivate your inner resources until they are healthy so that you can trust the inner guidance (Counselor Troi). Using your conscious and unconscious awareness as a team, you will have multiplied many times over the mental resources available to you. With this dynamic team in place, Number One (i.e., family members, managers, employees) is ready to carry out your ideas and plans in ways that only could have been dreamed before. Three to beam up!