Gridlock: Finding the Courage to Move On in Love, Work and Life with Jane Greer

Last Editorial Review: 10/23/2003

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Have you ever felt overwhelmed, stuck in an unfulfilling situation or relationship? Dr. Jane Greer shares her views on how to overcome emotional gridlock.

Event Date: 05/24/2000.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's Mind and Body Auditorium. Today we are discussing Gridlock: Finding the Courage to Move On in Love, Work and Life with Jane Greer, PhD. Dr. Greer is a nationally renowned marriage therapist who has been in private practice in Manhattan for over twenty years. She lectures across the country on marital, sexual, and family problems as well as on women's and sibling issues. 

The opinions provided by Dr. Greer are hers and hers alone. If you have any medical questions about your health, you should consult with your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only. 

Dr. Greer, welcome to WebMD Live.

Dr. Greer: Thank you, it's nice to be here.

Moderator: Would you like to mention your web site?

Dr. Greer: It's 

Moderator: What is gridlock?

Dr. Greer: Gridlock is the utter helplessness, feeling trapped, stuck, defeated, and having no control over the direction your life is moving in. Emotional Gridlock 

Moderator: What should you do when you sense you're becoming overwhelmed? What is the first step?

Dr. Greer: Well, I think the first step is to try and check -- ask themselves where in their life they're feeling overwhelmed. In a personal relationship? With a boss on the job? A sister they can't get along with?  The first pulse you want to take is "where is the gridlock coming up?"

Moderator: What is the best method to identify the source of gridlock?

Dr. Greer: Well, you really take a look at how unhappy you're feeling, how negative you're experiencing the relationship or experience you're in, how long have you been feeling this way? For instance in a job, have you been feeling bad for two months since you got a new boss? et cetera. Or, have you been really feeling unhappy and dissatisfied for a longer period of time, a year or two, and you've been saying you'll find a new job but keep putting it off? All of which points you back to the culprit.

Moderator: What exactly is the comfort zone?

Dr. Greer: Comfort zone is where you feel most safe, least threatened by change. Even though you're unhappy or even miserable with the guy you're dating, for example, you've been seeing him for three years, he keeps promising marriage but puts it off. You say you'll end it and start over with someone new, but you don't move out of your comfort zone for fear of starting over, or the unknown. Same thing in a job. Your comfort zone is a product of all the people with whom you feel comfortable, around the water cooler, out for lunch. Maybe you can take time off, you're not challenged, but you're comfortable. Even though you feel like you're not living up to your potential, it's easier than facing up to the reality of reaching out and seeking out something new.

Moderator: So challenge is a good thing?

Dr. Greer: Challenge is a great thing! Challenge is the energy that keeps life interesting, keeps us feeling alive and dynamic, keeps us feeling hopeful and encouraged, but also makes us frightened!! (laughs) The key is to meet challenge and embrace the excitement, and not get clobbered by the excitement that goes hand in hand with change. What I said in the book goes back to a phase called "practicing." Margaret Muller observed mothers and their children, how they responded in this early development period, kids going into the world on their own -- this is kids learning to walk, to actually explore without their mother. They eventually return to their mother, their sense of comfort and security. She called it refueling, refueling their batteries before they venture out again. The task is to go with the excitement of discovery, experience the mastery of finally being able to stand as a toddler, and not be helpless and dependent crawling on your knees. If mom was able to support and encourage the child, we learn to feel secure doing new things and being alone, on our own. If mom got anxious herself that you'd trip, and she pulled you back or discouraged you, you learn early on to feel scared and stay anxious. Part of being able to do new things is learning how to turn your anxiety into excitement. It's the difference between learning how to go to a party if you're anxious, or being all excited to talk to new people. Going to a party is often putting yourself in a new situation with new people.

Moderator: So are most people's anxiety problems rooted in their childhood or upbringing?

Dr. Greer: Much of the anxiety. Certainly medically, there's some physiological component to anxiety, but a lot of it comes from not developing and acquiring what's known as "binding" or "containing" our anxiety. We need to learn "self-soothing." When you were a baby and were feeling anxiety, your mom would come over and soothe you. She would come over and pick you up and hold you and you would feel soothed. Whether you were tired or hungry, you experienced relief from your distress. As we get older, there are things that we learn to do to calm and soothe ourselves when we're anxious. A lot of times people don't develop these coping skills effectively. Some people turn to cigarettes or alcohol or drugs or gambling or shopping, all of which are outlets to ease and relieve anxiety. One of the things that triggers anxiety, it's called "separation anxiety" -- is separating from a person or situation that they're attached to, even if it's a negative attachment. If they have negative feelings about a person, and a lot of things they don't like, it doesn't mean that they don't have emotional needs being met by the situation, that is, feeling safe, secure, feeling familiar, and not alone in the world

Mikey40_WebMD: How can one learn "self soothing" as an adult?

Dr. Greer: I have a whole chapter on how to soothe anxiety and lose guilt. One of the ways to go about it is to look at the actions that you can take to help yourself calm down when feeling anxious. Depending where you are, you can pick up the phone and call a friend, or take a walk, or write in a journal. Often putting things on paper is an easy way to move past them. Take a nice long walk or a hot bath, listen to some calming music. Learn what calms you down. Develop the self-awareness to know what will relax you. If you know that a hot bath will help you let go of tension. If you are anxious knowing you HAVE to call your mother or sister, know that you can get over it. Really becoming aware and taking responsibility so that you're not leaving yourself in this helpless state like when you were a child and needed your mother to come and soothe you. When you're in gridlock, you're very often at a crossroads.

Al_Pavy_WebMD: What is a serial pleaser?

Dr. Greer: Serial pleaser is somebody so plagued by guilt and in such need of approval by others in order to feel good about themselves, that they always say yes and put everyone else's needs above their own for fear of the other getting angry and withdrawing approval, love, and acceptance. The cause of this very often can stem from growing up in a family with divorce, or perhaps other difficulties, or simply two working parents.  So in order to get noticed and feel either mom or dad is approving of you, all of which are necessary for self-esteem, you learn early on that being cooperative and saying yes to them makes them happy, makes them say and do nice things for you. You carry that out of the family. If a girlfriend says can you help me with homework, and you say yes, she says "you're the best!" It carries over. You start to learn that it's a great way for people to like and think well of you. Over time you sacrifice all of your own needs, and it's a matter of time before there's a resentment and feeling of emptiness that no one's meeting your needs. The message you're giving everyone is "I'm not important, you're more important," and that will catch up to you.

Mikey40_WebMD: If you think you are a serial pleaser, what can you do about it?

Dr. Greer: First thing is to start to take a look at who you're saying yes to the most. Your mother? Your sister? Who's the person you say yes to most often. Ask yourself what you're afraid of if you say no? They'll get angry and tell you you're thoughtless and selfish? Do you feel if you say no that you're being selfish? Then start to look at your needs so that you can begin to prioritize and make them as important as anybody else's. Why shouldn't they be? Why are you the least important in your world? And then develop some comfortable responses to give people so you lead with a positive response. If your mother says, "Can you pick your sister up tomorrow?" You can say, "Gee, I'd love to help you out, I unfortunately can't do it tomorrow, but I can next week." You're letting them know you'd like to help, but you have another commitment. Give them an alternate time. If it's a one time situation, let them know that you'd be happy to help another time. Don't go from always saying yes to always saying no, but give yourself the option to say no but also to sometime say yes.

column_WebMD: If you feel that your girlfriend/boyfriend is a "serial pleaser," what actions should you take?

Dr. Greer: The best way to bring attention to behavior you want to change without them feeling attacked is by asking questions that show your concern. Like, "I noticed that you always say yes when so and so asks for your help. Does that bother you?" If they say, "No, it doesn't bother me," you could ask, "Why not? Don't you miss getting home earlier?" Ask first, "Does it bother you?" and then, "If not, why?" If they say that it does bother them, suggest "Did you ever think you had the option to say 'not this time?'" You want that they'll be open to hearing what you have to say.

column_WebMD: How do you spot a dead-end relationship?

Dr. Greer: A dead-end relationship is one where the minuses outweigh the plusses. You keep coming back to the fact that you're more empty, dissatisfied and depleted than you are happy and fulfilled. Consequently, you're often in an angry or resentful mood when with this person. It's like an emotional rash. When you're with them, you feel like you have a rash rather than peaceful and relaxed. You end up using a lot of denial. The tricky thing is that you don't know you're using it. One of the skills I mention in the book is keeping a denial document. It means that you forget the pain. It's not like you don't register that you had a horrible fight with your boyfriend. Rather a week later when you're well again, you forget the pain, and then you're hooked. You write down "December: this is what he said, and did, and called me" so later, when he turns it around,  you'll see over time that it's a pattern. You start to break through your denial and see things how they really are, and give up staying in a relationship based on what it should be rather than what it is.

column_WebMD: What are the "Fantasy Lover", the "Smothering Lover", the "Neglectful Lover", and the "Yo-yo Lover"?

Dr. Greer: The fantasy lover is the lover that you wish you had. You hold up everybody to that ideal and they never measure up. It's a way that people in the love rut I call "distancers" keep people at bay from unrealistic expectations. You can keep your distance, stay uninvolved. The smothering lover is the lover that is usually a by-product of the "clinger rut." They can't let go. They're possessive, controlling, can't tolerate separation because they're anxious. The yo-yo lover is also consistent with the distancer rut. The lover that can't live with you, can't live without you. Breaking up with you, then getting back together. After a separation, they get anxious and focus on things that they did love and want, and they return. You never know if you're coming or going. The neglectful lover is very often what women see in the staller rut, and men too. The people who are in marriages or live-in relationships where the other person deals with their own anxiety by being immersed in work or an activity, golf, or bowling, or going out with friends, that becomes primary. They need to do that first and foremost, more than being with you. You're left feeling neglected and even though they tell you they love you, they're not around.

gr_paula_WebMD: How can I recognize when I'm in one of thee ruts?

Dr. Greer: You can keep the denial document. It's a way to gauge how much pain and hurt you're experiencing. The other is the quality of the relationship helps you determine what rut you're in. The clinger rut means you're attached to someone but can't let go for the fear and anxiety of being alone. If you've been in a long relationship, like a marriage with children, and you fantasize about leaving, but put it off, then you're in a staller rut. You feel like it should end, but you haven't tried to do anything about it. A distancer doesn't get into the relationship. You have your finger on the eject button. If you have a hard time getting close to somebody and developing the kind of intimacy, you're in a distancer rut. The bouncer rut is bouncing between two people, for the unfaithful. You're ambivalent. You may find yourself in a "rutten" world. (laughs)

Mikey40_WebMD: How can one "move on" and still be friends with someone after ending a relationship?

Moderator: (If it's possible.)

Dr. Greer: It's possible! if you use your anger about a situation and what ended to take a constructive action by leaving and ending, and by not harboring anger and resentment, but you accept that things didn't work out without looking to lay blame. By appreciating the good that did happen, take that with you. Focus on what you gained, not what you lost. Often, one person is ready to move on and the other is not. Depending how you end things, one person may be terribly wounded, or the other is so guilt-ridden about leaving, it's hard to be friends. It's easier to come by when it was a mutual growing apart.

gr_paula_WebMD: Can you please define codependency? And what are the pros and cons of codependency?

Dr. Greer: There aren't very many pros as such. Codependency comes about when you're dealing with somebody -- it comes out of an addiction problem -- addicted to gambling, or drugs, or shopping, or eating. Generally somebody with an addictive problem like that, it affects you. As a result, you take on their problem and try and get them better, try and get them to change. Once you do that, you're in a co-dependent situation. They never feel the enormity of the problem because you take on a portion of it. You become known as an "enabler." The key is to figure out what YOU need to do differently. It's how you disengage and not only not foster the behavior, but to separate so you take care of the problem as best you can on your own. If you're dealing with someone who's drinking, instead of getting them to stop drinking, you determine a) you'll never get in a car with them, you'll arrange for a cab. You let them know where you draw the line as to where you'll be involved. If you know that they'll get belligerent, you have to talk to them when they're not drinking. Shift it from what you want them not to do to what you won't do.

Moderator: Are the serial pleaser personality and codependent personality linked in any way?

Dr. Greer: Yes, but I wouldn't say that all serial pleasers are codependent, nor all codependents are serial pleasers.

column_WebMD: Given that so much of our lives are dependent on external factors and large institutions, to what extent are we actually IN control of our lives?

Dr. Greer: That's a great question. We're in a lot more control than we realize. There are many choices we're free to make in order to feel in control. Certain situations -- if you need a job and the money, and you don't like your job, you can't make the choice to walk out. But you can make the choice to acquire more skills, education, to plot a job change over time so you don't feel helpless and stuck. Even if it's pouring rain out, you can make a choice to take an umbrella or raincoat to protect yourself and not feel helpless. While there are many things we cannot control, like being stuck in traffic, you can choose to turn on your favorite radio station, or tapes or CD's to soothe yourself. This is so you don't feel out of control. How you plan your time and build in techniques to soothe and calm yourself down are all ways to feel in control.

Moderator: If your past is largely responsible for your present state, what can you do about it?

Dr. Greer: If you could learn to become more self-aware, to develop better skills for keeping anxiety in check, to manage anger more constructively, you can really cover new ground and make strides. You've only been limited thus far, and "thus far" are the operative words.

gr_paula_WebMD: Why do you say "getting angry is not the problem, staying angry is the problem?"

Dr. Greer: Because getting angry is a way of expressing your needs. It cues you into the fact that, emotionally, someone is stepping on your toes, that you need to take action to fix things. If you stay angry, it means you haven't made the change necessary to get relief, and you're carrying too much negative energy that can lead to physical problems or depression.

Al_Pavy_WebMD: What are the worst effects of stress?

Moderator: And are there any benefits to stress?

Dr. Greer: Stress as a motivating force is extremely positive. When you're stressed and you use it to say "I better do this and this and this," you feel constructive and accomplished. When you have unrealistic expectations, you're going to feel that you're not meeting your own goals, and feel overloaded and overwhelmed, and that will heighten your anxiety, guilt and frustrations. Walking around with that, you'll feel your stress on a physical level, neck tension, ulcers, headaches, et cetera. You'll get irritable, snappy, bored, fatigued. You might start overeating. They're all indicators of too much stress.

Moderator: How can someone rise above inhibitions?

Dr. Greer: There comes a point where you just have to face your fear. Muster up the courage to be more expressive, and take the risk of a chance that what you're going to do may not necessarily please all the people, but if it pleases you, that's what's most important.

Moderator: Dr. Greer, thank you for joining us. WebMD members, please join us every Wednesday at 9 pm EDT here in the Mind and Body Auditorium for our live weekly event.  What was your web site?

Dr. Greer: My website is Thank you so much. Take good care, bye bye

The opinions provided by Dr. Greer are hers and hers alone. If you have any medical questions about your health, you should consult with your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

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