Are Relationships Always Worth Rescuing?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

As a relational species, we are often inspired to step in and get involved in the lives of friends and family members who may be experiencing difficulties. However, there often comes a time where the physical and emotional costs cause us to question if our involvement is truly in our own best interest. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen reflect on their personal rewards from helping out a family member.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brian Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by brainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. Today we're going to talk about something very personal and special. We're going to give you an update on a situation we have been going through now for what, 10 months? About 10 months?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes.

Tana Amen: The title of this is are relationships always worth rescuing? For me, it would depend on when you ask me that question, right? Growing up in a fairly chaotic environment when I was young and having some pretty difficult relationships in our family it was easier for me to walk away. I'd made it easier to walk away and build walls, and if things got too chaotic, if there's too much chaos and drama, "Bye bye. I'm out. I'm leaving," because it was a defense mechanism. It was my way of protecting myself, protecting my family. I had this crazy rule, it's like this no drama rule, especially at certain times in my family.

Times in the morning when I'm getting ready with Chloe and we have our little rituals it's like, "Nope. You don't get to call and create any drama in my life between the hours of X and Y." I made it so rigid that, that almost was drama causing. No one was allowed to call me with any problems or anything during these hours because it was my way of handling drama.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Your way of dealing with the drama.

Tana Amen: My way of dealing with it. We talk a lot about how to deal with things in your lives and we deal with patients and it's really easy to talk about some of this stuff when it's not your own family.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And we've had plenty of drama in our own homes-

Tana Amen: Both of us.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And in our own lives, and obviously here at Amen Clinics where we see patients who have mental health issues. Plenty of drama.

Tana Amen: We believe normal's a myth. Normal is a myth, and I like to say sometimes normal's overrated. I've-

Dr. Daniel Amen: But about a year ago-

Tana Amen: Right. Yeah, about a year ago.

Dr. Daniel Amen: About a year ago there was serious drama.

Tana Amen: A really big situation that happened. My sister, I hadn't spoken to her for quite some time, didn't really even know where she was for a while. I got a call that her ... What had happened is her children had been taken by CPS, DHS or CPS, Child Protective Services. I didn't really understand why. She was not an abusive person, but we didn't really understand what was going on and they were out of state. We got involved, and at first I did not want to get involved.

And I'm like, "Here we go again. It's drama. It's drama and I have my no drama policy." I'm like, "Whatever it is, I just can't deal with it." Then I'm like, "Wait, we can't do that." And Daniel, of course, did like, "If you don't want to get involved in drama, family drama, never marry a psychiatrist who wants to save the world. I'm just putting that out there right now. Just don't do it." No, he's amazing. I don't know if there's anyone in my family that you haven't tried to rescue at this point. He-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And been actually fairly successful.

Tana Amen: Yes. Been very successful actually. You said, "We have no choice. This is ..."

Dr. Daniel Amen: You can't let children go into foster care if they're a part of your family.

Tana Amen: No, I agree with that. The thing that got me was when the kids when into foster care. There was no why we could not get involved.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Adults can make choices to use drugs, to not use drugs, to work, to not work. You don't have to be around that because you become like the people you spend time with. But I'm one of seven children. Family's always been incredibly important to me, and when I saw that family just blow apart and the government get involved I'm like, "No, we have to get involved."

Tana Amen: And that's when I went, "You know, you're absolutely right." Then the question becomes at what level do we get involved? We had to get the kids out of foster care, we knew that. But at what level do we get involved? He's like same thing he aways says, "Bring her down. Let's scan her. Let's figure out what's happening," because we actually didn't know what was happening.

I have to say we're going to update you. She's becoming just one of our biggest success stories right now. It's been amazing. That relationship for me has really turned around and healed, but more importantly on Mother's Day she got the kids back and that was just huge. The kids are back with her right now. That relationship is healing.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It was about October and September the kids got taken away, and bumps and set backs, but through consistent loving behavior, mostly on your part, lots of coaching-

Tana Amen: A lot of coaching from my team.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And my favorite picture is initially you go, "Your kids are involved. You need to put on your big girl panties ..."

Tana Amen: Let me clarify that. She was devastated. I mean, imagine.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Suicidal.

Tana Amen: Suicidal. She was suicidal because she lost her home, her family, her kids, didn't have a job. Everything all at once. One of those stressors is enough for someone to sort of lose it. She had everything, everything happen all at once. She was suicidal. Some of her behavior became erratic understandably because of that happening. At that point I was like, "You need to suck it up. I'm not kidding. Right now you need to be a warrior and you need to put on your big girl panties. I'm not kidding."

The joke with us now is I bought her a pair of big girl training paints because that was our joke between us, and now she keeps them as a reminder to put on your big girl ... She looked at me and she goes, "Did you just tell me to put on my big girl pants?" "I did. I'm not joking."

Dr. Daniel Amen: That actually became the theme of this rehabilitation. I think Tana's next book is going to be called "Put On Your Big Girl Panties".

Tana Amen: Right. It is. But I have to tell you, for me, there's a few things I want to talk about with this live chat. It was hard. I'm not lying right now. It was hard. There were points along this journey that it was hard, but the payoff now is amazing. We talk a lot about eternal value. I don't think there's anything that could probably be more important than this. Seeing that relationship not just with us, but with her, with her kids and the whole family coming back together. It's pretty amazing. But I got to tell you, it was not easy. There were points that I questioned whether I wanted ... How much more can I do? How much more do I want to get involved?

I've never had panic attacks in my life where I literally had nightmares and panic attacks. I was having nightmares. I was having panic attacks, waking him up at midnight going, "I can't do this. I just can't do this." I don't consider myself this psychically gifted person, but I knew that there were some things happening just intuitively like my body was telling me, "You need to handle this very carefully." I was having these panic attacks and I knew that if we did things wrong I really believe that my sister would be absolutely suicidal.

We were careful how we handled it, and I think the way that we did it was beautiful. We made sure we boosted her, and we put most of the work on her so that she would have to build herself up so that she had the confidence then. Rather than us just swooping in a recusing her, we did the hand up, not hand out thing where she had to do the work and she had to work to get them back, and that way when she got them back she didn't feel like we just did it so that she felt like a failure. She felt like she actually had to work hard, and now she feels successful and she feels more confident, but-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And she has a job and she's excelling at the job.

Tana Amen: She's working. Absolutely. She's doing amazing. The other thing is I had to have a team myself. To caretakers out there, or people who are going through this, I get it. Because I was like there were times I wanted to drown her. I wanted to strangle her. I was frustrated.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Let's not say too much of that in public.

Tana Amen: Okay, but it was true. It was true. It was hard, and they need to know the truth. It was hard. It's really easy for me to sit here and talk to patients and draw little diagrams and go, "Okay. It's not going to be easy. Every day they're going to have setbacks," but when you're in the middle of those setbacks it's not easy.

Dr. Daniel Amen: What's the term for setbacks?

Tana Amen: Curious, not furious. I was furious.

Dr. Daniel Amen: When somebody does something you like become curious why did that happen rather than angry and judgemental. Angry and judgemental doesn't help. And the goal is what can I do to be helpful in this situation.

Tana Amen: I got lucky because I had an amazing team. I was furious, but I had you and I had one amazing social worker. Not, some of the, not so much. But one that was absolutely amazing. She is ... Literally I'm thinking she's just racking up points in heaven because she's ridiculously committed. She would look at me and she's like, "It's not time to give up. I've seen worse get better," and I'm like, "Okay." Then you were just always right there. With that kind of a support system ... You need a support system. If you're the one involved in the trenches and the day to day, you've got to have a support system. Figure out who that can be.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That family who's bipolar, or you have a family member who's an addict, or they're just acting erratic. The first thing we did was scanned her. We went how much of this is biological versus just a bad character.

Tana Amen: It was complicated. We don't need to go into all of it, but it was complicated. Like many of you deal with, it was complicated.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Then we actually found out she had something called Irlen Syndrome. She'd been in 19 accidents. It's a visual processing disorder. Through a series of steps she became more stable. You were her primary coach. All in an effort to get these kids in a stable environment because we don't want them growing up with the same drama and trauma and then just perpetuating this negative cycle of behavior.

Tana Amen: But what was really interesting is when I get feedback now from the social worker and she's like, "Her insight's actually amazing. She's a good mom." Things went off track, and that can happen. What is it you said, it's more normal to have a problem at some point in your life than it is to not have a problem. This isn't unique to us. It's not unique to you. At some point someone in your family is likely to have a problem.

Rather than feeling shame or running away from it just understand it happens to most families at some point. When she got the right treatment, to hear that from the social worker, she's like, "No, she's actually an awesome mom. She's got amazing insight," but when all of those stressors stacked in her life it snapped. It just snapped. Anybody can do that when-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And ultimately one of the best things that ever happened to her because she was really going sideways, going the wrong way, and now will be stronger than every before, and that's just critically important.

Tana Amen: And now she's got a support system. That's really good.

Dr. Daniel Amen: What are some of the big lessons?

Tana Amen: One of the is the team. I actually wrote it down because this is really, really important. What we said is we titled this are relationships always worth rescuing. The truth is I think you also have to know about the relationship with yourself, and you can answer this better as a doctor. I don't know if that's always true because it depends on whether or not it's abusive to you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. Some toxic relationships are not worth rescuing because they damage you. I was reading a quote by Pastor Rick Warren who's a friend of ours, and he said, "Sometimes God encourages people to leave your life. Don't chase them."

Tana Amen: Stop chasing them.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Stop chasing them.

Tana Amen: You also have to understand and be kind to yourself and love the relationship with yourself. I did a lot of praying. This one was worth rescuing, not question, and to see them whole as a family again is just ... That's enteral value, right?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Joyful.

Tana Amen: Don't give up. I had that team that helped me not to give up, and clear boundaries. I still have my no drama boundary. I still have those rules in place. Everyone understands what those boundaries are, but I also had to learn how to be a little more flexible and it's not easy, but it's okay. It's okay to have boundaries too so everybody's very clear, and sometimes those boundaries, they create safety.

One of the reasons that my sister wants to be near us is because she's like, "It's safe near you. You're actually like the mom that I really need," is because those boundaries for her are really important and she's come to love them. Boundaries aren't a bad thing. They're really healthy. Those were some of my lessons. I don't know, what about you?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Stay with it. Understand the brain. Your brain can have problems like your heart can have problems or like your immune system can have problems and you have cancer. It's just crazy to me that when people's behavior gets really sideways people become so judgemental.

Tana Amen: I was one of them.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But we would not be judgemental if they had cancer or they had a liver infection or they had a bone disease. It makes me so sad because most psychiatrists never look at the brain. We really don't, in a crisis of behavior, we don't as a society put the brain in the center of that crisis and go, "Is it working or not working?" I testified in a death penalty case. I was just writing about this for a new book I'm working on. And this guy killed four people in 11 days on a meth run. When I went to court with his very damaged brain and explained it to the jury the prosecutor was not happy.

When he got up to cross examine me he said, "Dr. Amen I understand you grew up Catholic." I said, "Yes sir." He said, "As a Catholic don't you believe in evil?" I stopped and I said, "Yes sir. I do believe in evil, but I'd never call anybody evil unless I could scan them first." I think we just have to begin to change our paradigm when people's behavior goes rouge. When it goes bad, when it's not helpful somebody should be asking, "Is there a brain component to it?"

Tana Amen: I really want to honor you for a second because I was one of those people. I was extremely judgmental. When I met you, didn't want to date a psychiatrist, didn't want to be psychoanalyzed. It was black and white. You do a bad thing, you should be fried. Because my life was so not easy growing up and I wanted rules. I mean, not kidding, rules in place to protect people.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And you had judgment.

Tana Amen: Judgment big time. I wanted to be the judge and the jury.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Judge Tana.

Tana Amen: Yes, judge and jury. But that was like a defense mechanism for safety. It was really hard. We had some interesting conversations let me tell you. It was really hard for me to even imagine relaxing that judgment at all ever. But when I saw what you do, what we do, begin to effect my own family and heal my family where I could then begin to heal relationships ... Are all relationships worth rescuing? Dear Lord. It healed my relationship with my dad after not talking to him for decades and now my sister.

This is really important and it's not easy to change something you've believed for a long time, even if what you believed wasn't totally accurate. But I want to honor you with that. It's still a hard thing for me to let go of sometimes because it kept me safe. But it doesn't mean that it can't be better than it was.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You're going to make me cry. And the fact is, if you don't look you don't know. Somebody who had 19 car accidents, really. You think their brain is going to be-

Tana Amen: I thought she was just a really bad driver and irresponsible.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right, but she's irresponsible when she had a visual processing disorder and that's how you get 19 car accidents.

Tana Amen: Let me just tell you. I want to talk about that for a second. She thought she wouldn't tell anyone because she thought they would think she was seriously crazy. She would see these weird halos and weird lights in laser beams. She can't be under fluorescent lights but she wouldn't tell anyone because she's like, "People are going to think that I have schizophrenia or they're going to think that I have some weird ... They're going to lock me up if I tell them that." Instead, she would just go around driving and getting into car accidents. People would just think that she was irresponsible and shouldn't be driving. We got her the glasses for Irlen Syndrome, bam changed everything. It was really kind of creepy and eerie.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I think a couple of the big things, we did a SPEC can on her. We then gave her nutrients to help heal her damaged brain. We discovered she had the Irlen Syndrome.

Tana Amen: Yeah, her vitamin D was six.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Her vitamin D was like awful. Give the brain the nutrients it needs. Get them a great coach so they can begin to get their thoughts better clearer. All of a sudden what we saw is her family begin to heal and there's just nothing cooler than being involved in that. Over the weekend we saw them. The little girl, she fell and Tana helped her. Tana acted like Tana always does. She's the nurse, and she looked at her and said, "I want to be like you." She now has a really cool model of healing and somebody to look up to. Are relationships always worth rescuing? The answer is no. If you're with someone who's beating you, absolutely not.

Tana Amen: But it is worth rescuing yourself. That's the relationship you should work on.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Thanks so much. Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of the Brain Warrior's Way and the Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook we give away every month.