Often in this world we don't get what we want. One of the ways this tends to play out is in people's 1st real attachment based relationships - their parents. We all recognize that parents are suppose to be loving and supportive, but unfortunately this is often not the reality for many people.
In my work, and in my personal life I meet a lot of people who are struggling with the fact that their parents simply aren't able to show up for them in a positive way (healthy, mature, loving, and non-hurtful). Instead they (or possibly in this case, you) are stuck with who you get. Sadly the truth may be that you will never feel validated, supported, loved, listened to, or honored in a positive way by the people who created you. And that really sucks. I'm sorry. You deserve better. You deserve someone who can be there for you and allow you to be your authentic self and still know that you are worthy just as you are of love, affection and understanding.
So, what do you do if this is the case? What do you do if your mother can't see past her own emotions long enough to be present with your experience? What do you do if your father takes anything tender you do and turns it against you? What do you do if all you've ever known is hurt from the people who are suppose to love you?
Well, there are lots of things you can do, unfortunately none of them are easy, and none of them feel like they should be your job. So, in this instance it might be totally appropriate to get really pissed off. Pissed yet? Good, cause you're gonna need that energy to take the next steps (keep in mind that these steps aren't really linear, you may bounce around and need to redo steps repeatedly at times, and that's okay).
1. First get some support - I'm not saying it has to be therapy, even though I believe therapy is IDEAL for this kind of support, but please find someone who will listen to you, tell you that you are worthy, and acknowledge that what you parents are doing (or not doing in some cases) is seriously messed up. See this person often throughout the steps, and start to believe that they know what they are talking about when they say you are worthy of love, acceptance and peace.
2. Define your boundaries. This is a super hard one - figure out what is and isn't acceptable to you, and start setting limits. You might feel alone, you might feel unworthy, but trust me, you are worth it. Now since you are boundary setting that also gives you a chance to be heard (to be assertive). If this means you need to tap into a B*tch side, go ahead, tap away, because boundary setting is about making yourself safe, and you deserve to be safe. It is also about letting others know how to treat you, which is essential if you want to be treated well.
3. Onto the next step - Grieve. Yep, I said grieve. Take time to acknowledge the loss of the dream of the parent you always wanted - maybe it's a dream of having a sober mother, or an openly emotional father, or a parent present at your wedding. Regardless if it is not happening take some time and allow yourself to feel sad about that loss of the dream, it was a good dream, and I'm sorry it didn't come true. If you want take a moment to reflect on the hardship of losing a dream.
4. Now (& throughout the process)- Be kind to yourself. Recognize you are doing hard work, and that you haven't been treated with the love and support you deserved. So start giving it to yourself. Do things that make you feel good, take a bubble bath, go for a walk, play music, do whatever nurtures your soul, and do it often. You are doing hard work, and you deserve to be treated well, especially by the person with you the most, yourself.
5. Lastly - Be open to exceptions. Do not get your hopes up, but it is true that at times people change, and sometimes people do come around and treat others better. This might occur with carefully selected opportunities (meaning allowing some people access with boundaries established if you feel comfortable), however, this is a very slight change. So, if you are not seeing an inkling of change don't open yourself up for more hurt from that person. It sucks to realize but sometimes mean and hurtful people will always be mean and hurtful. However, if an exception happens be open to seeing it.
6. The really last thing - continue to recognize that you are worthy, you are importance and you are a champion in your own life. This life can get better, but unfortunately not everyone who started out with us are going to cross the finish with us, and that is okay. So, just continue to work on running the race.
On another note, this dynamic with parents often filters into partner selection and problems with relationships, so stay tuned for additional writings on this topic. In the mean time, continue being awesome.
Lately I've been feeling pressed for time. Before December started, I knew it would happen. Looking into my crystal ball (aka monthly calender), I knew there was simply too much to do and going on before the holidays were upon us. I also knew the culprit, Thanksgiving. Dang the day of thanks being a whole week later than most years! It threw off my internal time line.
Even knowing this would happen ahead of time I find myself getting irritated at times by the simple "too muchness"of what needs to happen within the time that is left. In relative shape, I am actually in a good spot - all of my holiday shopping has been finished, my house is decorated, our holiday cards are out, and I know what's on my calender and to be expected of me during the next month, but internally my inner self is still throwing a bit of a tantrum (no, too soon, stop, slow down, I don't have time for this, etc). Boy can my internal self sure be a cry baby, or what? However, instead of getting sucked into the internal wha-wha that wants to happen, I've been being intentional about self-care and attempting to live in a different frame of mind. I used to watch this hilarious show, Better Off Ted, (that like some other hilarious shows got canceled too soon), and although I only got to see 2 seasons one joke a character once made tends to stick in my mind. She said "My mother always said 'You say what you say, and then you've said what you've said'". Fantastic isn't it? Although it was meant as a joke I often give myself this line as permission in my life. Permission to accept myself, my circumstances, and how I am preforming (and for this former perfectionist how I preform/show up in life means a lot to me). So, as the holiday season continues to chug along, I continue to reassure myself that I can only do what I can do, and then I've done what I've done, and that's okay.
So, today as you are chugging through the stress of the holiday season, remember that you are one person and what you are doing may not feel like enough, but it really is. You can only do what you can do in this moment, so take a breath and be present in it. This is your moment to be, do and experience, so do it, and remind yourself that it is okay. You're gonna get through this.
Holiday times have a lot of family and social engagement. Our time and mental energy is one of the greatest gifts, we have, so don't just give it to anyone. Be clear about who you are spending time around, how much time, and how to re-energize yourself inbetween.
Don't just give your energy away, but safeguard it from those whom intentionally or unintentionally may harm you. I know the idea of family is always great, but lets be honest, some families are made up of people who are simply not safe to be around for your own mental health. So, evaluate how much of your time and energy should be spent with those who unintentionally or intentionally do you harm. I know it would be wonderful to see your family for the holidays, but if your mom is a verbally abusive narcissist who berates you nonstop, you really don't need to spend time with her, even if it's Christmas. Your time and energy is a gift, and it's not to be given lightly.
Around this time of year, we all get sucked into certain obligation engagements with others, but even in those situations you have some power. Before going in decide how long you plan to be there, where you plan to stay, what your exit strategy could look like if conversations turn hurtful, and how to care for yourself in the process. You have some power, don't let other's strip it from you.
Also, and I can't stress this enough. Sometimes people in your family may intentionally or unintentionally cross your boundaries, and although I joke with people about punching loved ones in the throat when they cross these boundaries, that is seriously not what I would recommend. However, it is important to let people know when they are offending you, and how they have crossed a boundary, and ideally how you can reconnect and have a better relationship now.
For example - let's say you are doing well on a diet, and have decided what you can indulge in over the holidays, and a loving relative makes a comment about what you are putting in your mouth. Well, first off lets be clear - This IS rude behavior. Whether they mean to be rude or not, their comment is unnecessary and impolite. What you put into your body and the choices you make about your body are your choices, and unless your pregnant or a child no one else should be informing you on your choices (unless you've asked for their opinion, and if you are pregnant only your doctor or nutritionist should be informing your choices, not well intended loved ones). So, first try a gentle approach to their comment i.e. "I apprecite your concern for my body, I am aware of the choices I am making." Then politely change the subject. If this doesn't work try something less subtle - "When you talk about what I am eating, I feel judged, which usually makes me what to eat more, I know that is not your intention, so lets just say that comment wasn't helpful, and move on." And perhaps blunt "My therapist jokes about punching people in the throat when they bring up my eating. I don't plan to punch you for that comment, but maybe the next one... (and smile real sweetly)." *Seriously don't punch them, even when they REALLY deserve it.*
OR lets say someone crosses a relationship boundary. For example, you arrive early for Christmas dinner to hear that your parents have also invited your ex-boyfriend. Again lets be clear - unless your ex-boyfriend is actually their son too (which hello, that would be a messed up boundary, and hopefully isn't the case here), he doesn't belong at a holiday meal where you will be present. You are the family member, you have priority, regardless of how much they liked your ex, or if they want to get you back together, this is a boundary violation. So, first off, I'm sorry that you're parents are totally sucking, and second you need to talk to them about it, and hopefully prevent the event from actually occurring. Now, I am likely making you uncomfortable even saying so, but even if your ex, is sitting in the living room, it is NOT too late for your parents to uninvite him. Yes, it would be uncomfortable (for your parents) and him but lets face it, it ALREADY is uncomfortable for you, and likely him. So, boundaries talk: "Mom, after relationships end it is hard. I don't feel comfortable having Jim Bob here. I know you didn't intend to hurt me, but that is what is happening, and I would like him to leave." if this doesn't work, and I know this sounds extreme, I recommend setting a more difinititve boundary. "Mom, I want to stay and celebrate with my family, but with Jim Bob here, I won't be able to do that. To keep myself safe I will need to leave. I don't want to do that and would prefer if that you choose to spend time with me, and instead ask him to leave, but if that is not your choice, I will go elsewhere, and then we will need to talk about this again after I'm less hurt and angry". Very blunt "Having Jim Bob here, is NOT okay. You are choosing him over me, and I am your family. That is not okay. Now I need to leave to be okay, but Mom, you and I are not okay because of this I'd like us to be okay again in the future, which means we will have to talk about this some other time." *consider punching mom in the throat, just kidding, please do not do that*.
So these are just a couple examples of setting boundaries after a boundary violation, but hopefully you get my drift.
Boundaries can be hard, and they are essential to keep you safe. The other thing to center on during the holiday season is your sanity, which means SELF-CARE!!! If you need permission to care for yourself when life, family and obligations are stressful here it is. Do self-care. Do what makes you feel re-energized and cared for. Honor your body and your spirit. Self care makes you able to tolerate difficult situations and make you more tolerable to others. It is not your gift just to yourself, but your gift to everyone. Self care is your friend, and during the holiday season we all need a friend.
You know that moment when you pull up on the tub lever informing the shower system to stop pumping water out of the faucet and instead redirect it to the shower head? This morning I thought nothing of that very action, until a moment later when I had my head under the streaming shower head, and heard my dog barking. The barking triggered a reaction in me, instead of staying under the delightfully warm water, I turned the other lever and abruptly ended my shower before any lather, rinse and repeat could begin.
You see just like I indicated to the shower that I wanted a shower and not a bath by pulling on that lever, my dog was telling me something. He was saying, "hey, I'm ready to poop now", and the part that made me feel a bit disgruntled was about the context. The inner voice in my head started screaming, "I need to leave in the next 30 minutes. We've already had a walk, and then while my breakfast was hot, you rang the bell, so we waited outside while you spun in your spot 3xs, and then decided, oh wait, I guess I'm not ready to poop yet". Given that it was 6:30 in the morning, I had already been outside with the dog 2xs, and now my hair was wet, and it is very cold outside...I was a little irritated. Wait lets get real here, I was pissed.
Thankfully my husband also heard the bark, and came to our rescue, taking the dog outside, and sending me back to the shower. So why am I telling you all of this? Well, here's what I thought as I pulled up that lever a second time. Things change, they do, it's inevitable, and there is not always going to be someone who can rescue you from your own irritation. Our plans often don't work out. I've written before about how important it is to grieve lost dreams, or planned for hopes that will never be but I haven't talked about that momentary choice that needs to happen to rescue yourself. That choice to go on. To pull that internal lever, and tell yourself just one more time This will not beat me. I can get through this medical diagnosis, heart ache, child's tantrum, job loss, etc. Because in the moment action is still needed, and when I say action I really mean HOPE. You can be that hope for yourself.
So today as you struggle with the unexpected hardship you face, take a moment and pull on your lever. Redirect your thoughts to hope and the possibility of good in your life. Yes, this is not what you expected or want, but it doesn't have to beat you. Rescue yourself to whatever extent is possible at this time. Choose to go on.
Taking the smallest step in the right direction is still movement towards where you want to be, and many small steps can add up to a huge distance. But this isn't a "baby steps" post, this is about what to do after you've taken a small step.
Widen your gait. Meaning, great, you've taken a small step, now make it a tiny bit bigger than before and see how that feels. This may sound basic, but sometimes basic is what you need, and here is the plain and simple truth - repeated small successes make you feel more confident in taking on bigger things. It builds your history of success, which is a pretty awesome thing to do if you think about it.
So, how does this apply to real life and what am I really talking about here? Well, it depends on what you are working on. If you need to build back up your relationship with your partner, start small - set a timer for 1 minute, and talk (with respect and authenticity) to your partner for that minute, focusing on the positive and not allowing fighting to come into play. When the timer goes off and your temper hasn't, awesome. Chalk that up as success and tomorrow go for 2 minutes, or maybe even later that night go for 2 minutes.
Or if you want to eat healthier - put 1 piece of a vegetable on your plate with 1 meal a day (i.e. broccoli). Then once you have eaten that meal and successfully eaten that one piece - praise yourself for eating a vegetable, and tomorrow see if you could do two pieces of broccoli or 1 piece at 2 meals. Again praise yourself, and don't let the guilt voice take over about how you "should be eating healthier". Instead do the small, and see what you can start building into.
Same thing with exercise. Start small by walking 1/2 a block one day, or for some of you this might even be too big (in that case modify it - like make a goal of walking your driveway). The next day see if you can go the whole block. Praise yourself for what you are doing that is different from the day before, and keep going adding a tiny bit more each day. Or if you know you should take the stairs but it still seems like too much, take the elevator to 1 floor below your floor, and then take the last flight of stairs the rest of the way up. I know it might seem a little silly but this is all about getting you used to success and the feel of doing things a little bit different and leading up to your desires for your life.
You can do this, you are worth it. Start small, often we fail because we take on too much too quick, so instead ask yourself What is the smallest thing I could do today to move me towards my dreams...and then do it.
One of the things I always tell my clients is that things will likely get worse, before they get better. But here's the important part to remember it usually does get better. When you are in the throws of sadness, and fits of anger, remember that this is the middle. There is a better and that is the point you are working towards. It can get better, and in reality when you are down deep, there is a lot of opportunity for things to get better.
So hang on. Do the basics of what you can do in the time you can do it, and give yourself a bit of a break over what you can't control. Maybe even work towards forgiving yourself and accepting that although it's not pleasant this is just the way things are right now. The important part to remember is that this situation/mood/feeling/experience is temporary, and although it sucks, you can move through it, and mostly likely will.
So hold on tight, and keep going. Remember when you are climbing a mountain, sometimes it can feel like you are staring at a wall of massive rock, but just take a moment to imagine the view from the top, and how you'll feel when you get there. You can do this, just keep going.
Therapy is an emotionally taxing experience, plus without good insurance reimbursement it can be hard on the pocket book. So, how do you get the most out of therapy?
1. Find the right fit. The number one predictor of success in therapy is your therapeutic relationship...that means your relationship with your therapist - what that boils down to is your feeling of being heard, understood and connected to your therapist. So, if you are doing therapy and you just don't feel like your therapist gets it, or gets you, FIND A DIFFERENT therapist. Seriously, I'd much rather have a person end therapy with me to go to another therapist than give up on therapy all together.
2. Show up. You might think this is a given, but it can be hard for many reasons for people to follow through with therapy. But here is the obvious truth, people can't get help from a therapist unless they see a therapist. If you have begun the path towards healing, hold on and go with it. The best thing you can do to increase your odds of therapy actually working is to show up for it. Come to your appointments, and have them frequently until things are easier, then you and your therapist can discuss tapering down or ending therapy.
3. Be honest. Lying to your therapist only hurts yourself, your relationships and your potential for healing. Your therapist doesn't care about you "presenting well" and knows that real life can be difficult; heck it's why you are here. Be honest about what is happening, the good, bad and ugly. There isn't much you can tell me that I haven't heard before, or heard something a lot worse. Go ahead and try to surprise me.
4. Be authentic with your emotions. If you start to cry or get angry, you don't need to hold back, or pretend the emotion isn't there. Emotion is an awesome communicator. I want to know what those tears would say if they could talk, so give them some space and a voice to be present, and be heard.
5. Accept the process. There are going to be good times and bad times with therapy. In fact, I often tell my clients that they should expect that things will likely get worse before they get better. But that is okay. I know it doesn't feel okay, but not judging yourself on how you are experiencing therapy or how fast you are improving is important to your success. Therapy is a process of wound care, and many of these wounds have been going on for years. The process of healing can be painful, but true healing needs to happen at a deeper level, so that means pulling off the band-aids or the scabs to get at the root of the pain and working out of that woundedness.
6. Write things down. There have been times were a client has left my office totally pumped about what we talked about, and the next week they return deflated, and say "I forgot that thing you said that helped me". Sometimes I'll even write things down for my clients, but it is a great tool for you to jot down what hits home. Especially since in the future you won't need me and there will be things that happen in your life that help as long as you remember them. If you get into the habit of jotting things down now, just think of the resource bank you will be creating for yourself!
There you have it, the steps to improve your odds of therapy working. Plus one more thing to keep in mind... There is Hope for you; it can get better.
We live in an era where,there is a motivational poster for everything. Don't get me wrong, I love a good encouraging, loving mantra as much as the next therapist. In fact I often encourage the use of mantras to begin increasing positive self talk, but seriously sometimes its just hype. And well, sadly, there are times when circumstances out weight all the hype, and reality can still suck.
I'm sorry. I don't mean to be all, dooms day, but it is the truth. There are bits of hardship and sadness that the right words from a friend or loved one can lift you out from, and then there are the depths of depression, the throws of grief, and the agony of pain that no motivational poster or soft word from another can touch. Although I would love just the right words to make those things better, a few words or phrases are just not gonna do it.
It is a process.
Recently I've had to go through more process in my life than I expected. I am used to helping other process through things, and am rather patient about the pace of growth and the hardship that is experienced when someone is raw and healing. But in my own life, it is harder to practice patience.
In late August I hurt my back, and I modified my life (mostly my workouts) and routines around the house to accommodate my new pain. Things were tender, and some days were worse than others but overall there was improvement. Then in mid-September I re-injured my back to a debilitating level, as in I couldn't sit in one position for more than a minute, I couldn't sleep, and I simply couldn't function. I did stretches, I watched countless videos about how to alleviate back pain, but instead it only got worse, and so did my mood.
I began seeing a chiropractor 2.5 weeks ago, and thankfully that has reduced the pain remarkably, but that didn't happen quickly. It took 6 sessions with a chiropractor before I was given the green light to try a gentle workout again, and unfortunately my bed is still too soft to sleep on, but I have faith that I will get through this, it just won't be quick.
Last week after session number 4, the chiropractor remarked "oh, you actually have a personality now." which I found quite funny. It was also very true. When I was in excruciating pain, I didn't feel like myself, it was hard to function let alone joke, or be cheerful, or available. It was a good reminder for me about how slow the process can be when there are things outside our control going on (an unwelcome reminder, but still good in a way). Yes, those quotes, or blog posts from others with words of encouragement or similar stories of despair turned to triumph can be inspirational to read, but not when a person is at the absolute bottom of themselves. Then people who say motivational things seem a bit vapid and unsympathetic, because to hear motivation and have it be truly inspiring a person has to be ready, and sometimes being ready takes its own process to get to
So today, please consider just how hard simply functioning might be for a person, and give them a little more empathy. Yes, they might not be bubbling forth with exuberance and joy, but they might be doing a whole lot better than the day before so don't be down on them about where they are at, and instead give them some space for their process. And if the one down is you, be loving towards yourself and be patient with where you are... and of course consider seeing someone like me to help ease the burden. You don't have to be in this agony alone.
Years ago I had a long distance relationship with a man who lived 4 hours away. Our relationship revolved around the nightly phone calls, weekends together, and the occasional extended weekend. Months into the relationship I sat him down for a very important talk. You see, while I enjoyed our time together, the end always had a torturous feeling, not because our time together was ending, but because by the time the last day came around I was always extremely uncomfortable.
You see earlier, before we ever started dating I had heard him joke that "women don't fart, burp, or poop. They just don't." And although I knew this to be false, apparently that thought of what his "ideal woman" was like stuck in my mind, and thus, and (sorry for being so graphic) other things stuck in me when he was around, making for a rather uncomfortable experience by the time a weekend was up.
You see, I've always known my mind was powerful, but until that time I really hadn't given much thought to just how powerful my unconscious was. And holy smoke, it turns out my unconscious is a body builder. You see, our beliefs whether conscious or unconscious shape how we show up in the world, and whats even more radical is that they also shape how our physical body shows up the in world as well.
Recently I was doing one of my favorite nerd out activities while in the car, listening to various "ted talks" and I stumbled upon a great one: Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend. For those of you who haven't heard it, I highly recommend it. Or if you want to live longer, take a listen since she goes through some great interventions to make longevity even more possible in your future. Anyway, Kelly talks about how our thoughts about how stress affects our body actually changes some of the physical effects stress has on our body. Did you get that? The way you think about stress affects how your body reacts to it. So, if we can shape our thinking, we can create healthier interactions to things that largely feel out of our control. Talk about an awesome muscle move there, it is truly fascinating stuff.
So this week, I invite you to take a moment and play with some of the conscious (and unconscious) thoughts you have, especially the ideas that may be making you uncomfortable or holding you back. Are you suffering with the weight of perfectionism, or a concept that just doesn't seem to fit your identity anymore? It's okay to rework that into something that feels more pleasant, even if it means an uncomfortable conversation or two. You are worth it, and seriously, no crap, what you think matters, even if you are not thinking it very loudly, so think positive things about and for yourself. You're worth it.
Thoughts and musings to consider.