Do I Honor a Dishonorable Mother on Mother's Day?

Do I Honor a Dishonorable Mother on Mother’s Day?

Might sound harsh, but not all mothers need to be honored on Mother’s Day. Many of the clients I work with have had mothers that were emotionally neglectful or abusive. Often times, the manipulation and mind games don’t get easier into adulthood, especially if you’ve continued to have a relationship with mom either out of need (she does babysit after all) or out of fear (my family will judge or disown me), or out of guilt (she is my MOM).

I’m writing this post to give you permission to change this unhealthy dynamic.

Sometimes you might say to yourself “mom my did the best she could” but as you look into your child’s eye (or any child for that matter), you also know that you couldn’t imagine treating your little one the way your mother treated you.

You know that no matter what you do, your mother will never be satisfied and mitigate your accomplishments.

If something horrible happened to you, it was obviously your fault for allowing it to happen….

The only time you hear praise from your mother is when she brags about you to her friends and usually shares the “sacrifices” she made that resulted in your accomplishments. Everyone thinks your mom is great (she is about image after all). But you know her true colors. The lack of love and support, the judgement and blame, the chronic feelings of being not seen and unimportant. You can’t tell anyone either – no one would believe you.

Particularly for my clients that fall into this or like categories, holiday’s can be stressful, especially Mother’s Day. You don’t feel mom deserves anything, and you know whatever you do won’t be good enough anyways. You could just not celebrate and spend time with your own family (if you have one or alone or with your friends if you don’t have one), but that would be seen as selfish and everyone will think I’m a horrible person. It’s a pretty tough space to be in.

Working through the deep issues takes a lot of work in therapy and can be a real tough road, but my clients do find that not just the every day stress, but days like Mother’s Day can becomes manageable and maybe even enjoyable! If you’re not there yet, I’ll offer some tips that might be helpful in the meantime, but I invite you to consider doing the work to heal these emotional wounds, because they are not healed by time.

1. Do only what feels authentic to you – OK. I know I’m hitting you with a tough one off the bat. If you want to see mom face to face, what is the time limit or cap you can put on that time? If you don’t want to see her but want to send a card or gift – do that. Can’t find a card that fits? Write it yourself and focus on what you do like about mom (but don’t be passive aggressive). If you don’t want to see mom, then don’t.

2. Use Self-compassion on younger parts – Child parts that feel to blame, not good enough and unimportant can likely be activated on such a day. It’s important to respond to these parts of self with compassion and love. “I understand you feel that way, but we don’t need to take on that guilt, mom wanted us to feel that way to keep us down, but that wasn’t love, we are loved by others who don’t bring us down, and I love you, I don’t blame you for the past.”
– OK so it likely takes a lot of therapy to get to this point, so if you’re not there yet, know this is possible.

3. Don’t give way to inquiring minds – Other family members or people who talk to mom might push mom’s agenda on you with the guilt or serve as middle man to pass information on if mom is upset by the boundaries you set. It’s important to set firm boundaries, “Since the issue involves mom and I, I will only talk about it with her and not anyone else.” “I understand it doesn’t make sense to you based on the information you have, but ask that you don’t place judgements on me for doing what it best for me and my health.” Again, these boundaries are hard to set and often require a lot of work.

These tips, I understand, are likely difficult to do without the right support systems in place, but if you are at this place in your journey, they might hit the spot for you. If you’re not there yet, then I invite you to know with internal work in therapy, you CAN get there and don’t have to be stuck forever. But don’t get down on yourself if you’re feeling trapped in your situation. On this Mother’s Day I offer you support and that I understand the situation is difficult to navigate and hope that one day it gets better for you.

If you want to dive deeper into this subject on mom check out my previous post “Will my mother ever understand me?”

You don't need to invalidate others to validate yourself

You don’t need to invalidate others to validate yourself

Scenario:

New mom walks into a cafe to meet her two other friends for lunch. 20 minutes past noon when the expected arrival was 12pm. Feeling sad, guilty and exhausted, she approaches the table…

New Mom: (carrying her baby who is sleeping in the car seat) “Hi, so sorry I’m late. The baby wanted to nurse shortly before leaving so I had to do that before I left. It’s so nice to see you guys! I’ve just been so cooped up in the house, sleep deprived, and frustrated. I was really looking forward to a magical time with my little one, but honestly, I feel more depressed than I ever have in my life.”

Friend: (who recently had another miscarriage) “Well, It does sound exhausting, but personally, I would be delighted if I had a baby. I don’t care that it means I would get less sleep. Babies are a blessing.”

Other Friend: “Well at least both of you are married. I’m still single. I’ll probably never have a family…. I’m running out of time.”

End scene

Now, I know all to well the frustration of hearing someone complain about something that you’re working hard for and don’t have, or something that you cannot have because of your biology, or never have because of situational things, but if we express that frustration as invalidation to the other person, we are creating a very lonely life, because who will want to support us when we are so invalidating to others?

Who the hell would want to be one of these people out for coffee together? I know I wouldn’t. No one is supporting each other, and they have to bring each other down in order to validate their own feelings and own problems, rather than supporting and loving each other.

Sometimes I would get home from gatherings with friends and realize that I sometime felt worse, or more alone. This was weird for me because I am an extrovert and am usually hyped up from gatherings. It took me a long time to realize what was happening. I was feeling misunderstood, unsupported, and silenced.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t do this, but honestly I never saw it as a problem. It’s what people did and said, and that’s how conversations would go, not really thinking they should be done any differently. As I started to change, I recognized these little digs that happen all the time. These invalidating statements that just feel shitty.

That’s the sad part about it all is that it IS considered normal and it just seems to happen without question. It’s done to us, so we do it to others and there the cycle goes. Round and round and round…. (as my 2 year old would say)

Here is an alternative response a friend can make:

Friend: “Wow, I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling that way. Sometimes I get so caught up in the desire to have a baby [getting married] that I don’t even think that having a baby could be a challenging time. Is there anything we can do to help?”

It’s important not to be nice and supportive ONLY to expect it in return otherwise you will become resentful. However if you give and give and give and are feeling the relationship is not serving you, you can set boundaries around it.

We all want to be validated, but we can’t go about it by just invalidating the person who is talking and trying to present the fact that your problem is worse. Try validating the person who first presented the problem and when the conversation moves to you as the focus, then talk about your struggles. You might actually find that your needs are better met ;)

Next time you are at a social gathering, I invite you to stop and think and ask, “does this sound invalidating” if so, I invite you to explore supportive statements rather than invalidating ones. Sometimes it might be as simple as saying “that sucks.” If the person is looking for a solution, feel free to offer one, but making your problem sound worse isn’t a solution… Solutions usually sound like “have you tried…? what worked for me was….. So and so had that happen and they…..”

So how am I ever going to feel validated if all I do is just validate others?

Well, like I said, for the most part when we are kind to others they give back in return due to the rule of reciprocity… it’s built into our DNA.

Other things you can do is to ask for it! Say, hey, I’m struggling with some things, can I process them with you? That might set the stage for the person that you’re looking for validation. If the person still isn’t validating let them know how their response feels invalidating, they might need to be educated that you didn’t like it because everyone is different, so we need to make our emotional needs know. What Suzie wants is different from what Johnny wants…

Last but not least VALIDATE YOURSELF. Yup! That’s right. The best thing you can do for yourself is to validate yourself with love and compassion and not put all your eggs in one basket for someone else to validate you. Although helpful, it is never enough when others validate. You ALSO need to validate yourself too, or else you’ll continue to spin your wheels and feel like you never get anywhere.

Why I bought an alarm clock in 2017

Why I bought an alarm clock in 2017

This isn’t going to come as a surprise to many people, but I have a Facebook addiction problem. I spend more time on it then one would recommend as being healthy. I know over the past couple years my use increased a lot – I mean I always used it a lot before and before facebook there was myspace and AOL instant messenger and I’ve basically been connected to the world at large since age 11 but there has been something excessive or unnerving to me recently and having the motivation and desire to want to change it.

Over the past year with stepping further into self-employment Facebook has been a means of connecting with colleague around the world, learning how to run a business and furthering my skills and education. I believe this really increased my use as before it was just a social thing and it has just gotten to the point that it has infiltrated so much!

I knew I needed to do something….. but what?

I’ve been experimenting with solutions because there is a lot of good and benefit that come from social media and FB use (for me I know others don’t feel that way). The first thing I tried was deleting my app off my phone so I would be restricted to desktop usage. Which resulted in me missing social functions and using FB too much while at work. I did this a few times and currently have decided I need to have it on my phone so step two was to take off my notifications – which is helpful – when I’m busy. But still not helpful when I’m “bored” aka “avoiding shit.”

This week I started my most recent step which is not bringing my phone to bed with me. I talk to clients about sleep hygiene all the time and for a while my sleep hygiene was on par but has gone downhill the past couple years and I need to address it. It got worse when I was nursing throughout the night because what else are you going to do? That’s right… go on your phone.

I have heard of the solution of not bringing the phone to bed but I’ve always just said “well my phone is my alarm clock.” I always thought it was stupid to have an alarm clock. I mean I don’t think I’ve had one in maybe 10 years! Therefore I never really entertained the idea of buying an alarm clock and leaving my phone in the kitchen upon bedtime. Until now.

Finally I got over myself and said “just buy a fucking alarm clock.” So I did.

I specifically googled “cordless” because I didn’t feel like dealing with cords and shit. I wanted to buy something small without the bells and whistles like a radio…. Pretty advanced stuff, I know. And I wanted something that looked good to me. $40 and a few days later I got my brand new alarm clock in the mail!

Easy peasy.

I just started using it on Monday and I know it won’t solve ALL of my problems, even my problems with phone and social media use, but I do believe it will be a solid step in the right direction.

I hope that by using my alarm clock I will
1. Improve my sleep quality
2. Calm my mind
3. Allow me to be present with myself and others and
4. Reduce dependency on Facebook
5. Increase productivity

I know that’s kind of a tall order but I know there are more steps to be taken, and I can’t take the next step until I take this one… I guess I could jump ahead, but jumping has always been a scary thing for me and sometimes I need to feel it out a bit in the beginning before I jump two steps at a time. Even then I go back to one step cause bigger steps are more tiring and sometimes I need a breather to recover.

I’m excited to give this a try for a couple weeks and see what this step it will provide me. I’m curious as to what my next step will be and what that is going to look like. But 2017 needs to have some simplification and focus… And I know I can’t simplify and focus when I’m scrolling through FB, whether it be for fun, or for business.

When to push through_ And when not to

When to suck it up and push through? And when not to?

This, by far, is a huge struggle in many areas of life for me and a lot of other people I know. There are two schools of thought on this:

Suck it up and do it anyways

Whatever task you need to do in order to obtain your goal you must continue to do it regardless of how much you don’t want to do it.
Tasks including:
Waking up at 5am for a 5 mile run even though you slept like crap. Or sitting down to write your book and you are feeling completely uninspired or making a salad when you really want some mac ‘n peas…. :-p

The “suck it up and do it anyways” is a method I’m familiar with. My parents weren’t super strict but they didn’t let me do whatever the hell I wanted all the time either. Expectations included getting your homework done before watching TV or using the computer or my room needs to be clean and chores need to be done before hanging out with friends. These are pretty standard expectations. Even though I didn’t WANT to do my homework or clean my room or do my chores I sucked it up and did it anyways and was later awarded for fun. Delaying gratification has never really been a struggle of mine, as I’ve obviously had a lot of practice with it and almost always ended in a positive way.

When I was training for my ultra marathon I also had to do this… run even though I was tired, run even though it wasn’t convenient, keep going even if I’m walking…. Just suck it up and get it done.

The suck it up and do it anyways method has proven to be successful in obtaining goals that I really want to obtain.

BUT I’ve also had some issues with this method. Sometimes it has caused me to run while injured – that didn’t end well (I still struggle with this but have improved) or sometimes it means that I write something and read it later and it was a piece of shit and felt like a waste of time. Sometimes it takes me so long to do something that I might make more of a mess, make more mistakes, and somehow piss other people off because I’m in a mode and a mood…. Does.not.end.well.

This leads me to the other school of thought:

Honor yourself

Over the past few years I’ve been working on this new way of knowing and being. After getting injured too many times, after getting into too arguments for no reason, after my anxiety and rigidity left me only feeling frustrated, depressed and not reaching my goals in the way I wanted to, I thought… there has to be another way.

Maybe when I truly, honestly, am so exhausted that sleeping in could be a good thing?

Or when my knee is really hurting, yoga could be better?
Or maybe when I’m feeling low on energy, making some food instead of writing would be helpful?

Or maybe, wearing what I feel like wearing, instead of what I think I should be wearing would feel good?

Or maybe it’s stepping away for a few hours or even a few days from something, because my heart isn’t in the right place?

Before I keep going, you might be saying, “But Stacey NO!! I can’t do that. I’ll end up depressed on the couch for weeks getting nothing done if I honor myself. I will eat myself into oblivion and never go to the gym again. I will become a useless piece of shit because I know at the core that is what I will become……”

I hear you

I feel stuck… I want to honor myself, but I don’t trust this way of being… so I think I’ll just go back to the tried and true method of sucking it up… It works… It’s not the best strategy… but I’m all about what works…..

How can I make the “honor yourself” method work for me? It sounds pretty awesome. Doing what I want, when I want… It’s like this perfect lifestyle that I just don’t think is possible……

Here are some things to work on to experiment with this new method.

Fucking trust yourself

That’s right. The reason you aren’t honoring yourself is because you don’t trust yourself. At your core you fear you will become the person that you despise. Which could be a parent, a sibling, a boss, a toxic friend… whoever…. Know YOU ARE NOT THAT PERSON. And you never will be because you have intention not to be…

1. Trust that your feelings flow and they end. Feelings are like waves and can be super intense but they subside. Sometimes storms last longer than we want but eventually the waves will calm, the sun with rise, and a sense of peace will be restored, but you gotta ride out the waves.
So instead of “suck it up buttercup” and do it anyways… what about riding the waves of the storm?
Fuck, that’s even scarier… you damn right it’s scarier!

2. Know you have support to help you through the storm… Use it. You might be reading this and tell me you literally have no support – I believe you so first step might be working on gaining that support and there are specific things to do for that but I’m not going to get into that now. But for the majority – you have the support. Know they are there and call upon it when needed if the storm is pretty stormy… When you feel held, it’s a bit easier to have confidence in and trust yourself.

3. Practice checking in with yourself and developing a greater sense of self-awareness. You might be surprised how many times you actually want to be productive. Sometimes you wanna go to the store and buy food and do some cooking. Sometimes you want to clean the house or a room in the house. Sometimes you wanna get outside and move. Sometimes you wanna sit down and write your heart out. The problem is when we CONSTANTLY push and push and push and hardly ever honor ourselves… we aren’t in practicing with hearing ourselves and we are so exhausted when we DO tune in you hear, “help me” And you’re like “fuck, I’m a lazy piece of shit. I just wanna binge on Netflix or eat bag of chips.” But really your body it so worn down that it can’t fathom anything else. The emotions have not been felt through and they’re hanging out in the background giving you signs to notice them. If we check in more, you might actually be surprised that your body does want to move, your mind does want to create and your heart does want to love.

RECOMMENDATION:

If you want to try something new and have a specific goal in mind I do recommend doing a bit of the push through method at first. If you haven’t done something before, then your body and your mind isn’t familiar with it. So I recommend testing yourself and your limits to create some better awareness. So if you’re writing a book for the first time then develop a practice and stay consistent within reason. Be aware of what you learn about yourself. When your practice is down pat, then start being flexible with yourself and tuning in more.. But the initial push in the beginning might provide you with valuable insight like knowing at what point it really IS healthy to step away and when if you push for 10 minutes you get into a flow… just get to know YOU.

If you have very specific goals and deadlines, then pushing through might be the way to go to reach that… but if so I might also recommend if you’re pushing harder in one area of life to work on more flexibility and intuition in another to balance it out.

There is no right or wrong, but I’m encouraging you to play with this if you’re feeling burned out.

It’s an experiment of knowing yourself and sometimes pushing is necessary, but the more aware you become the more you realize that pushing might not always be necessary and will learn to trust that the natural wave will come and go and you’ll be ready for inspiration again in a day or two and you’re still productive without the annoying side effects.

You might have to change some things in your life like letting go of responsibilities in order to allow this new flexible, tuning in nature… but it’s a journey and we can talk about these next steps another time.

I could go more about this topic, but I think this might be a nice place to stop for now. I’d be happy to know what you think in the comments below.

The secret to finding out what you want

The secret to finding out what you want

Instead of asking my clients what they want (because they don’t really know) I instead ask, “what do you enjoy?”

“Want” is a loaded question and oftentimes isn’t rooted in reality. I want my debt to go away. I want all the crap in my house to disappear and it be designed professionally. I want to be able to run and workout when I want to. I want my business to run itself without putting work into it. I want to make enough money so my husband can stay home and make me dinner every night :-p I want a lot of things. And like I said, they’re not really rooted in reality. And if I keep focusing on what I want and not getting it, I get frustrated, upset and sad pretty quickly.

Asking yourself what you want is too overwhelming because when your brain hears the word “want” it goes to certain pathways in the brain that have developed a close relationship with the word “want.” Your brain might go to these ridiculous things I just mentioned above or maybe your amazon wish list, because that memory is closely related to you list for Santa when you were a kid and thumbing through the JC penney catalog and circling all the things you want. Its rooted in the memory of seeing an ad on TV and saying, “mom I WANT that.” Which is now just seeing it on TV or the internet and buying it with your credit card. Those are the pathways that are lit up when you hear WANT. Not really constructive toward building a happy, purposeful, fulfilling life, now is it?

Now think about the word ENJOY.

Notice what happens to your body when you hear or say that work in your head. Where does it go?

My body relaxes a little when I hear that word. It also immediately goes to the outdoors. A sunrise, the woods, sky, clouds, trees, green…. It goes to people and laughing and fun social situations…. I notice a half smile (for all your DBT nerds out there) on my face. I feel a sense of calm energy in my body with slight anticipation and delight.

Wow, what a different experience than the word want. Weird.

Like I said, it’s because those two words have different associations in our brain going all the way back to childhood.

So I want to share this “secret” with you.

Instead of asking yourself what you want, ask yourself what you enjoy.

Not, “What do I want out of life?”

But, “What do I enjoy?”

What puts a half smile on my face?

What makes my body feel good?

What makes my mind feel relaxed and at ease?

These are the questions that will help you work on building your life toward one of happiness and fulfillment. Not what you want but what you ENJOY!

If you enjoy flowers spend less than $10 for a bouquet and they last two weeks. That’s less than $5 a week on something you enjoy. You might find you like flowers so much you start to make your own flower arrangements, or you might pick up a hobby of planting flowers in the spring and learning more about plants, arrangements, gardens, landscaping etc.

This is how something you enjoy can turn into a hobby…. And even eventually a job if that’s what you desire.

Hobbies are important, in my opinion. They’re not just something to pick up in your spare time, they are an essential part of our being, our day to day, our passion and what makes life more enjoyable.

If you’re finding yourself at a loss for what you would even like to do for a hobby use this advice. Like I said, first substitue want with enjoy…

What do I enjoy?

Answer the question and do that thing (even if it’s small and silly). Just a small step will do. Don’t go to step 10. You likely won’t get anywhere. Stay small.

Cultivate what you enjoy and watch it grow.

You may become more involved in it, or you might be satisfied at the small step.

Doing something for yourself, something you enjoy, is a great step you can take toward taking care of yourself. Your body and your mind will thank you for listening.

If you try this out, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

Gaining direction and organization in the new year

Gaining direction and organization in the New Year

The past few years I’ve been working on becoming the master of my own self.

When I was younger I learned how to draw and color by looking at other things and copying it. I learned how to paint in a class that told me every step. As a small child, paint by numbers was my jam.

No creativity. Just directions.

Directions are great. I’m awesome as following directions. My mother was very good at teaching me this and she is doing it with my 1.5 year old daughter who will pick up my empty bag of chips and spontaneously throw them in the garbage.

This skill allowed me to perform well in high in school, graduate with a lot of scholarships and good grades to have money to go to a private school and become “successful” by obtaining my masters degree and doing well on the job.

Directions Rock.

A few years ago I got into running (again). Training plan, printed it out, did what it said, ran a half marathon. Easy peasy. Overtime the plans stopped working and injuries started. WTF.

“I just want someone to fix this for me.  Just tell me what to do and fix it.”

As I’ve gotten older there have become less and less directions and more gray areas.  My clinical supervisor tells me “well that’s a clinical judgement” or “a clinical call” “based on your assessment” “whatever you think best.”  

Well shit, life started getting a lot harder because, lack of directions. No one was telling me what to do anymore. I was now to be the master on my job as a therapist, the master of my body with running. What else am I expected to do?!

Getting back to where I started, the past few years I’ve been working on becoming more intuitive again, and learning and knowing my body, my mind, my craft… playing, doing, knowing, exploring.  It’s been a wild ride!

In getting away from the “directional based” way of living and becoming more the master of myself, some important things went out the window.

Keeping track of stuff… writing things down, numbers, budgets, organization… in order to change I literally threw it ALL out the window.  

I have been throwing these skills out the window for years as I’ve become a more “in tune” runner and “in tune” clinician but an out of tune bank account, task list and more.

Fuck.

I want to thank Allison Puryear because I was bitching about how I used to be this organized and goal directed person and now I’m not anymore and she asked a question that I can’t remember what it is anymore but along the lines that sometimes when you try to change one behavior another one goes out the window too. Welp, that’s what happened!

In 2017 I’m going to work on finding my direction and getting organized. 

Why am I sharing this with you, you ask?

I’m sharing this with you because the idea of losing something I thought I had when changing something else was relatively new to me and I like to share “new to me” information with anyone who wants to absorb it. It makes complete sense that one change could change something else, but I never thought I would lose something I thought I had.

I also realized that maybe I never really “had” it. I realized that I received direction externally most of my life and it wasn’t until the past year or so that I had less of the external motivation of direction and when I went internally for it, it wasn’t there, because I’ve never worked on it, because I’ve never had to.  So this really interested me as well that I wanted to share. What are things we THOUGHT we were good at or had, but it was really external and not internal?

The great thing about personal growth. You’re never done and there is ALWAYS something to work on. And sometimes it’s really crappy when it’s something you always had, and always identified yourself as having and then wake up to realize that you never really had it all along, it was someone else’s.

Well friends, now it’s time for me to own my direction, get organized and find myself someplace new.

Dear Grieving America, 2016 election

Dear Grieving America

Dear Grieving America,

I understand you are scared. I understand you are sad. I understand you are afraid.

Fear does not bring unity. Fear breeds division. Fear is not rational. Fear is held in your amygdala providing you with body responses that you do not want to have.

Acknowledge it. Know it. Tend to it.

Your fear is an illusion on what you FEEL may come. It is not productive. It will not help our country. It will not help disadvantaged populations. It will not bring change.

Please tend to you fear. The country needs you to not be afraid right now. In a time of division we MUST come together and that can only happen with understanding, love and hope.

Share your fears with your friends, be heard and understood. Keep the fear off your newsfeed. Have a cup of coffee with a friend. Get together and talk about your values with like minded people. Meditate. Be mindful. Relax. Get a massage. You will be OK. The Country needs you to be OK. You cannot advocate for change if you are not OK.

When you are more in your “okayness” take a step back. Find values that you SHARE with trump and his supporters. That’s right, you share values with them.

Whether it be getting rid of lobbyists, implementing term limits, paid maternity leave for women… I’ve even heard him say he wants to protect and support our LGBT community. I know we can’t believe everything that comes out of his mouth (or anything?) but if we go by that logic we can’t believe the negative either. Yes, it’s a shot in the dark, we don’t know, but please lets start on the places that we DO stand together on.

If we can get behind the republican majority on the SHARED issues then that can be a focus and we can make something positive over the next 4 years and in that time maybe the DNC will get their shit together and not let greed inform their decision making.

Liberals have been so worried about the black population, the Hispanic population, Muslims, refugees and more that we have disregarded the white working poor who have made their voice heard in this election. They too have been suffering. We not only let them suffer but we ignored them and they got louder and louder until now, and their voices have been heard. If we KEEP ignoring them we will push them further away. Listen, activate, change, and bring together. To further understand what I’m talking about PLEASE listen to this podcast.

Yesterday a client told me that balance only happens in motion. Standing straight is not balance because it is static and balance is the coming back to the center.

The right have felt off balance for some time now and the country asked to come back to center. The country is trying to balance itself out. A whole group feels ostracized, ignored, and devalued. We can’t have people feeling like this in our country.

We MUST love them. We MUST be compassionate. We MUST love our country and ALL the people inside of it. If LOVE trumps HATE then we must act in accordance with our believes. Your fear is not congruent with your speak. You actions toward conservatives are not congruent with your proposed compassion.

Please. Take a deep breath. Tend to your fears and your wounds. Fear will not drive us forward, but healing and love will.

Will my mom ever understand me

Will my mother ever understand me?

Most of my clients struggle in their relationship with their mother by feeling unfulfilled, not understood, ignored… it is a difficult issue that is visited often in therapy.  My clients wonder if the relationship will get better, but the first part is understanding mom, her past and how that has a role in the process. Below I demonstrate this process via a made-up conversation with a client.  I talk a lot in this conversation to communicate the information but an actual session would usually look much different!

Dialogue:

Client: My mom was physically abused by her father and she favored my older sister – my aunt. They never get along – her an my aunt.  I shouldn’t have anything to complain about though, because I wasn’t beat. My dad worked a lot and mom made sure we had what we needed.  So my mom thinks I should be more appreciative to her. I try to be, but at the same time I feel like she just doesn’t understand me or even really knows who I am.  

Me: It’s great your mom was able to make some changes for you by not allowing physical abuse in the house and I can see she wanted you to have a better life. It’s one thing to enforce no physical abuse in the home, but another beast to handle emotions differently.

Client: What do you mean, Stacey?

Me: There is an art and comfort level in working through emotions. Growing up, it sounds like your mother must have felt unsafe most of the time. Being abused, especially in the home is so tragic not only because of the act of the abuse, but because your HOME is not a safe place and that is a huge loss.

Being in a perpetual state of feeling unsafe increases anxiety symptoms and it is difficult to experience calm. Hopefully your mother developed some positive coping skills to feel safe that may have been activities in school, going for walks, or out playing with friends, but maybe she was expected to come home after school to make dinner, watch and manage her siblings and continue to be in this unsafe environment. I wonder how your mom coped with such a difficult upbringing.

Client: Well she did leave the house at a young age and I think some of her boyfriends at the time weren’t really that good. So I’m sure she was trying to escape from that.

Me: Let’s do an exercise (does affect management worksheet)

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Client: My mom would say things like:

“You shouldn’t feel that way”  or “no I didn’t do that” – she denies everything.  She doesn’t really remember what I have to say, and when I tell her how I feel she says I’m attacking her and never admits to blame because she is the mom…

Me: I can see why your mom didn’t want you to experience negative feelings as it’s hard to see loved ones suffering, however it sounds like you felt like your feelings are wrong which is negative judgement and essentially tell you how to feel and what feelings are “right” and what feelings are “wrong.”

I’m also wondering if mom feels you are attacking her because she was verbally abused as a child and her nervous system is just reacting because she hears she did something wrong.  Taking responsibility for how she is contributing to your feelings is just too much for her to handle because she would have to feel and based on the exercise we did it sounds like she shuts her emotions down a lot or channels them into anger or anxiety.  

Client: That makes sense, I just wish she would take the time to understand me.

End scene

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This is a rough example of the trauma cycle. We often don’t look at how emotions were handled in the home growing up and why emotions were handled so poorly. My clients often report not being able to manage their emotion (being too sensitive) or feeling cut off and disconnected (shut down). It takes a lot of education, knowledge, awareness and practice to make some of these changes that are deeply ingrained in the psyche.  It helps to understand not only a little bit about what mom experienced growing up but how it explains that she didn’t have the skills to be able to help you in the way that you needed to. It is an unfortunate circumstance but my clients report receiving a lot of insight and ability to make steps to move forward when there is a basis of understanding.  

Without understanding, self-blame happens easily.  It makes sense.  Usually we are punished when we did something wrong “you don’t treat your sister that way, now go to your room” you know you are punished and miserable because you did something wrong.  When you are miserable, feeling ignored, misunderstood and sad in your room and didn’t do anything you begin to find reasons to understand.  “Well if I do this,  maybe she will treat me differently; if I was only better at __ maybe she would love me…. If I only…”  This is the message that gets hardwired neurons firing creating highways to self-blame and low self-esteem.  By understanding the trauma cycle, we know our character is now flawed, we are not inherently bad or unlovable, we are figuring out how to make it in the world, how to be loved, how to be accepted and our behaviors just follow suit.

Meditation Reflections

Meditation Reflections

I wrote a whole blog post about my “experience” of meditation for 3.5 hours on October 2nd. I wasn’t happy with what I wrote so I walked away from it and decided to come back to it later. While the words sat there I continued my meditation journey over the course of the week and I realized that I felt I was SUPPOSE to share some amazing reflecting after having meditated for a ridiculously long time.  

Even though my brain knows better, I keep believing that meditation is suppose to be this transformative experience and after meditating for 3.5 hours I am to come out an awakened being with a whole new outlook on life, never experience stress and be this wonderful, magical creature.

Nope, I’m still me. I still have flaws and struggles and feelings and all of these human experiences.

Even though I know my expectations are incorrect I easily get caught up in the “answers” to life and it’s hard to ignore the “next best thing.” I hear about what everyone else is doing and their lives are obviously better so I “really gotta do this thing” because I want things to be better….

I often fall victim to this way of thinking more that I’d like to admit 

I’m not saying to not meditate and not saying it isn’t helpful or anything. Don’t stop meditating. What I’m sharing with you is my thought “I’m gonna have these awesome reflections and then I’m gonna blog about these awesome reflections” is a bogus thought filled with way too many expectations, pressures and assumptions.  

My Experience

On October 2nd I meditated at a friends house for 3.5 hours. 20 minutes of sitting followed by 10 minutes of walking.  In complete silence and doing nothing by observing my mind.

Part of my goal in doing this was to become regular about meditating.  For me it is one of those things that “I’ll do later” and I’ve never gotten into a true daily practice. By investing so much TIME into it I figured it would help me to keep going, even if it was only for 10 minutes a day.  

Sure enough, that worked. I have since meditated for 10 minutes a day. Was it an amazing week filled with living from intention, creating space for myself and experiencing clarity of mind?

No, it was actually one of my worst weeks I’ve had in a long time

That’s not what I expected to happen…..

Do you ever have the experience of finally trying to ground yourself again, make solid changes and go about things differently in order to seek improvements and you are putting all this mental energy into it and doing things differently then you get crappy results?

Yea, that’s what happened.  I’m not going to get into the details but I know this phenomenon has happened to me before, and I know it has happens to my clients. (At least I know I’m not alone).

I THINK what happens here is we say we are going to do something and do it and expect immediate results and might say “well I’m doing everything from my heart/or with good intention/or I’ve thoughts this through” when really we haven’t, we just think we are doing that thing because we said “I’M DOING THIS THING.”  It takes more than just saying, “I’m doing this thing” and doing  it for a few days. It’s that ongoing practice, ongoing awareness, ongoing falls, ongoing get-back-up-again thing.  

My takeaway of my 3.5 hours of meditation, followed by silent eating, followed by over a week of DAILY meditation practice is this shit takes time.  Don’t expect results early.  Don’t expect major life changes.  My forebrain knows this, but the part of me that wants magic to exist needs to learn things the hard way (WHY DO YOU EXIST MAGICAL PART OF ME?!).

The magical part of me is the part that believed in Santa, it’s the part that hopes for big changes to happen in the world, it’s the part of me that believes I can make a difference in the world and therefore motivates me to do my job every day…

Ok, it’s a pretty important part of me and I can’t let it go because it goes overboard with expectations, hopes and dreams sometimes.  I just need to listen to it more and keep it in check so that maybe it doesn’t have to keep learning the hard way… over and over and over again… because that fuels the cynical part and I’d perfect not to give that guy any more fuel.  The world gives it enough as is.  

In conclusion I’d like to say, “Thanks world for continuing to teach me this lesson.” It is a lesson that will keep coming back to me until one day, it might stick, and I won’t have to learn it anymore.  

Your therapist has been in therapy

Your therapist has been in therapy

I actually hate the stereotype that “therapists are therapists for a reason” indicating likeness of past issues and struggles with mental health.  It actually makes me cringe a little when I hear that….. What I can tell you, though, is –  it is a good thing if your therapist has been in or is currently in therapy.

Not all colleges require their graduate students to receive therapy, but it is often highly encouraged. Honestly, I would like it if social work/psychology/counseling programs to push it more and describe why it is necessary (in my opinion) in becoming a therapist. In addition to all the papers, graduate school is 2 years of extensive self examination, assessment and reflection.  I thought nothing was going to make me grow and challenge me as much as grad school did….. and then I opened a business.  Oye Vey!

We have often worked and trained very hard to understand what it is like to sit in your seat

We know it is uncomfortable, we know what it is like to want to dig your heals in, and know how it feels to be challenged or called out on something. It is my belief that by revisiting the experience in your seat, we are better in tune to how to respond and best promote growth, while being compassionate, empathetic, and challenging all at the same time.

I actually spent a part of my life wishing something was wrong with me so that I could go to therapy.  Silly right?  Or does that alone qualify as a need for therapy? ;-)  In High School I had a friend that went to therapy but never opened up and it didn’t help as a result, and I wished I had that because I wanted to open up. I had so much to let out that I never wanted to tell my parents, and even my closest friends. I didn’t even want to think the thoughts.  I wanted an outlet and I couldn’t have it, because there was nothing “wrong” with me.  I was a high achieving student with an amazing family and support system.  No one knew I wanted this.  I’ve never told anyone.

I finally was able to get myself in therapy in graduate school.  I was paying for it as it was included in the cost of the program, so I finally marched my butt down there.  This was a good decision.  I was nervous to go. I also didn’t want my classmates who were interning in the counseling center to see me, even though I was open with my friends about going.  This helped to break the stigma barrier and to allow the permission to seek out therapy whenever I wanted it.

I realize as an adult, and as a therapist, I can go to therapy whenever the hell I want to

I didn’t need to have a horrible upbringing or experience a massive trauma. I can have little problems; I can have big problems.  Therapy has helped me understand things about my upbringing that I didn’t realize were affecting me in certain ways.  It doesn’t mean it was a bad childhood, but our childhood shapes us, and understanding it can help to figure out how to tackle current problems and to really understand and know ourselves. Therapy can also provide an unbiased supporter to really reflect on feelings without worrying about the reaction of someone else.  It’s a great gift, therapy is.

Have I worried about therapists with a lot of issues serving other people with a lot of issues?  Yes, I have, and I do.  I mainly worry when they are not getting the help that they need as that leads to projection and a whole sort of issues that makes me worry for the client.

I believe that the therapy we provide can only go as deep as we are willing to go with ourselves.

I really value going deep and bringing myself to those places for my own well being and to be able to tolerate and provide the space needed for my clients when they go there too.

Do therapists have to always be in therapy?  No, not all the time.  But it’s super great, especially when life throws curve balls.

When I reflect on the colleagues I have and who I am most likely to refer a client to, that person is in or has been in therapy.  They are often the colleagues I see to be most competent in their job.  In my opinion, personal growth is an essential part of your therapist resume.

I wanted to share this with you today because my clients often find it comforting to know that therapists go to therapy, and not because they are crazy, and not because our clients drive us crazy, but because we value knowing ourselves, going deep, and becoming the best therapists we can be.