Confessions of a Therapist: Imperfect Expressions of (an almost) Divine Love

 

“Dad lets me”.. or worse, “Dad doesn’t make me cry like you do..”  (Ouch!)  If I hear either phrase one more time, I just might blow a gasket.  True confession: I have already blown several gaskets and my "little engine that could" is in the shop right now.
What do you do when your parenting style and temperament differs from that of your mate, and you constantly feel like bad cop to their good cop?  What do you do with feeling frustrated and angry with your kids and bitter toward your spouse? I’m a licensed MFT with 20 years of experience counseling individuals, couples and families and yet, I don’t have the answer to this right now.  So, I am doing the, “What would I say to a client?” thing to try to gain some personal perspective.  To start, I would probably empathize with how frustrating this is, and how it *feels* unfair, but I would also discourage blaming the partner for being who they are, and the kids for being well, kids. I would probably join my client by saying, “This stuff isn’t easy is it?”  I would validate the struggle to set clear boundaries and expectations with kids while showing them unconditional love. I would validate that the intention to raise responsible, considerate, respectful individuals is a worthy and noble pursuit, and one that is worthy to feel passionately about.  I would gently probe into what hurts the most about what is happening.  So here it goes: What really hurts is I don’t like conflict in relationships. I REALLY don’t like my kids thinking I’m mean and unloving toward them! Don’t they know I would walk through fire.. AND clean up all manner of body fluids AND go without anything so they could have what they need?  Answer: No they don’t.  They are kids, not parents.  Their consciousness is focused on what’s to eat, how can I get a B in English and still have a social life, and how long can I put off loading the dishwasher before my screen time gets taken away.  Note to self: I may have to examine my expectations about their cognitive/emotional maturity while I also try not to take it personally that they don’t /can’t think or love like me yet.  Let’s see, what else hurts: I feel unsupported by my spouse.  I feel abandoned to do the heavy lifting by myself.  What does this tap into? I’ve been through some REALLY hard things in my history, and felt very alone at times. I want my partner to make it easier for me (I know, that’s my job). I want my spouse to “get it” to feel what I’m feeling. What’s underneath that?   I want my partner to be on “team discipline" WITH me.  Without this, it feels like ( AKA,  *I FEAR* ) we will be divided and conquered, and our marriage and our kids will suffer.  This wife and mom has a very hard time with that.  What would you want your loved ones to understand? When I get upset, please don’t think I’m JUST being a witch* who is critical and angry at not getting her way (though that’s in there too, and I humbly admit it). I am mostly REALLY trying to stand up for something vital and precious to me.  Our marriage team,  our family, and the character of our kids are things that I feel very strongly about. They are worth fighting for, and I’m not going to stop. Even if it means fighting WITH THEM.
What am I willing to do differently?  I will try and watch my words and tone, so the message that I love you all passionately doesn’t get lost in all that verbal intensity and negativity!   Is there anything else you need or want from your family? Yes, one more thing, Would you sometimes please try to read between the lines, when I don’t do that last part very well? When I do get fearful and/or angry, lose my temper, utter not-so-sweet words. I know behavior like this doesn't cause very loving *feelings* toward a person, but please tell me our love is about more than feelings.  I really can’t bear the thought that my intense love for you is read as the opposite, or somehow because I'm overwhelmed with the importance of functioning well in my roles that this ends up causing emotional or relational harm!  In a word, I am asking for Grace, unmerited, and undeserved though it might be, and I promise to give the same in return.

Self-Care and Reclaiming your "Mojo"

We have all heard the advice to perform good self-care to stay healthy and happy. It sounds like good, reasonable advice until we find ourselves in the middle of a hectic schedule, and just working, managing the household, paying the bills, and attending to our primary relationships feels like all we can do before collapsing so we can do it all again tomorrow, and next week, and next month... Before you know it, you are existing.  Your healthy and happy seems to be replaced by surviving, and self-care sounds great but who has the time, energy or money for that?!  At this point, you feel like something is missing and it is. Your joy.  I like to say that MOJO stands for more joy. Here are a few steps anyone can do to get back their Mo' Jo', and feel like their true vibrant self again.

1). Create "white space" in your calendar.  Even a few minutes to eat slowly, take in some sun, listen to birdsong, pray, meditate, or daydream can have a major impact on your sense of wellbeing. Filling every moment of time creates a sense of urgency that fuels the stress response (fight-or-flight).  The only purpose of fight or flight is to ensure survival.  It works well, but at the cost of what we'd call thriving.  Better to elicit the relaxation response (homeostasis) by moving at a non-urgent pace when you can, which is most of the time, thankfully. That brings us to the next step.

2). Focus on the blessing.  A gentle shift in perspective can lead us out of the automatic pilot of survival mode, and into an expansive space of gratitude for the little things that add up to a rich life. Somedays this will be difficult, but it is a discipline worth cultivating. Breathing? notice the breath, something we take for granted until we can't do it. Walking? A gift. A bed to sleep in? You get the idea. "Count your blessings" may sound like hackneyed advice, but it sticks around because it works.

3). Soften the language of your thoughts. Ever notice how hard the words "gotta" and "should'" feel? As if they are chiseled into stone. How are these same tasks or desires different when they are framed as "I'm planning to do X" and "I'd like (or prefer) to".  Yes, these are merely different words, but words have power and nuance.  How we communicate with others and how we think makes a huge difference in how we feel and behave.

4). Move your body.  Before you start getting a guilt complex about not going to the gym, or the extra inches at your belt line,  just hear this:  Moving your body can be in any manner or intensity level that works for you. A morning stretch, swaying to a favorite song, a stroll through the park, all can be  refreshing, perspective shifting ways to feel new energy.  If you are inclined to do more than that, do it.  Intense regular exercise has great health benefits. Anything helps though, so be flexible in what you think of as movement.

5). Laugh.  One thing that happens when we get into survival mode is that life becomes overwhelmingly serious. Finding some comic relief, especially in the most difficult or irritating moments, is actually a great coping strategy and this ability is associated with more resilience and better health outcomes.  Laughing at the absurdity of a plan gone terribly wrong feels much better than "churning and burning" over it. Besides, its already done, right? Why ruin now over what we can't change from before. Which leads to our last step.

6). Accept the reality of linear time.  We can't change the past. at all.  Not one second of it.  What we can do is develop wisdom and perspective for the present and future.  So barring inventing a time machine, how do we accept losses born of mistakes and resulting from poor choices (our own or others')? Visit the past only as long as it takes to get the lesson.  Otherwise the burdens of the past stay in the present because we carry them forward with us. Our power to do anything is only in THIS MOMENT. Not in the past, not in the future. Only now.

So there are 6 things anyone can do to help lift energy, improve mood, shift perspective, reduce stress and feel more blessed.  What are some of your favorite ways to care for yourself?