Category Archives: General Interest

Don’t Forget to Love You

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”    ~Buddha

“I was grumpy when I got up and then I took it out on my kids,” Lori said. “I was just lazy and didn’t want to get up.”

Lori had a good reason for wanting to stay in bed a little bit longer. She’s a nurse and had worked late the night before. Needing her rest was warranted.

But the voice inside her head tells Lori she “ought to” spring out of bed full of sunshine and tireless enthusiasm every morning. Regardless of what else might be happening in her life, she should be there for everyone who needs her… and that’s everyone!

Sacrificing herself for others is a common theme for Lori in every arena of her life. Saying no—or saying yes to herself—seems selfish to her. “I can’t let people down,” she says.

That mindset leads to exhaustion and exhaustion is a recipe for guess what? Grumpiness.

Excessive and irrational guilt is the enemy here. A browbeating inner bully is the driving force behind Lori’s failure to set boundaries. It’s also responsible for her exhaustion and eventual grumpiness. She’s caught in a vicious cycle: her grumpiness leads to guilt, which leads to overextending herself, which leads to exhaustion, which leads to grumpiness.

Lori needs to learn the language of grumpiness and kick guilt out of the driver’s seat.

Rather than being critical of herself, she needs to listen to what her body is telling her. It’s an unparalleled tool for communicating what we need. Young children don’t seem to have a problem with this. When they’re tired, they take a nap. When they need to play, they play. When they need time by themselves, they take it.

And interestingly, when they’re grumpy, they don’t judge themselves. That comes later… after the programming phase of their life is launched. That’s when they’re trained on how they “should” be and what they “should” feel guilty about.

Yes… we should be responsive to the needs of others, and oftentimes sacrifice is called for. But wisdom should be the driving force—not guilt. With wisdom at the helm we take into account the whole picture, including what’s best for our well-being. Balance is the key. That always includes compassion for ourselves.

 

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2020

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I Want a Silverback Father!

I’m certain we could learn a lot from silverback gorillas. Not about grooming habits, but about the way they care for their young.

The movie Instinct stars Anthony Hopkins as an anthropologist who lives among a community of gorillas for two years. He starts out as a detached observer, but it isn’t long before they win over his heart. He admires and adores these powerful yet gentle creatures and is especially touched by their undying devotion to their young.

Gradually, he is accepted as one of them.

One day, sitting among the gorillas as they groom themselves and nibble away at leaves, he becomes aware of a constant, attentive gaze that embraces them all. The gaze was coming from the “silverback,” the name given to the chief male—the elder or overseer—of the gorilla clan. His job is to protect and maintain order.

“It’s an amazing experience—the feeling of being watched over,” the anthropologist observed.

The gravity of that simple statement struck me. I wonder . . .  do our children feel “watched over” by their fathers . . . and in this manner?

I think a lot of kids feel “watched,” but not “watched over.” To me there’s a huge difference. To be “watched” implies a suspicious, critical eye. “Watching over” combines guidance with compassion.

Sam Keen, author of Fire in the Belly, has this to say:

In the quiet hours of the night when I add up the accomplishments of my life, those things that rank first, in terms of true success, have to do with my children. To the degree I have loved, nurtured, and enjoyed them, I honor myself. To the degree I have injured them by my obsessive preoccupations with myself, with my profession, I have failed as a father and a man. The health, vitality, and happiness of the family is the yardstick by which a man, a woman, a society should measure success.

To the dismay of many men and their children, that lesson is typically learned in hindsight. One such father put it this way: “Men fall into the trap of believing what their family needs most is a secure financial foundation. This isn’t so. The foundation comes from the heart, not the wallet.”

Turning again to Keen: “We learn to trust in a world that contains evil when we come crying with a skinned knee and are held, hurting, in arms; and the voice that is forever assuring us, ‘Everything is going to be all right.’”

Boys learn how to use their masculinity—in both positive and negative ways—by watching their fathers. Keen says, “A boy naturally learns how to be a man by observing how his father treats women, how he deals with illness, failure, and success, whether he shares in the household chores, whether he cuddles and plays.”

Keen mentions how his priorities as a father have gradually changed. “First time round as a father I had truckloads of rules, oughts, ideals, and explanations—all of which kept me at arm’s length from my children . . . . Lately I have come to believe that the best thing I can give my children is an honest account of what I feel, think, and experience, to invite them into my inner world.”

We frequently hear the term “the absent father.” This doesn’t necessarily refer to the actual physical absence of a father. It can also refer to emotional absence. Children need to feel that there’s a special place in their dad’s heart reserved just for them. They need to see a certain delight in his eyes when they talk to him about their day or when they share their dreams and achievements with him. They hunger for his full attention—chunks of time in which he’s not distracted by schedules or electronic devices.

They need to see their father as powerful, but not “powerful” as in domination or through tough displays of fierceness or force. A father of young children once told me that good fathers are good leaders and that being a good leader requires a delicate balancing act. He said, “I must maintain an air of authority, but I have to be the right type of authority. I’m learning that the best leaders lead without squashing the spirit.

So, good fathering is about a warm and receptive heart. It’s about being involved and interested. It’s attentive to needs and distresses. It nourishes self-worth. It protects, guides and maintains order. It’s about cherishing and listening. It models strength, self-restraint and kindness. It comforts when there are tears. It accepts when there are mistakes and failures.

Being watched over is an amazing experience! The world needs more “silverback” fathers, wouldn’t you say?

© 2020 Salee Reese

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Moms are Perfectly Imperfect!

 

Moms are easy targets for nearly all the psychological ailments that afflict their children … and our world for that matter. Consider for a moment, the troublesome members of our species who populate our planet. When it comes to assigning blame, doesn’t the finger get pointed at maternal rearing? So under the weight of such immense responsibility, why don’t mothers just hide out in a cave somewhere? Who could fault them?

In essence, hiding out in a cave is exactly what Denise—a mother of six—did for years.

She really didn’t have to. Why? Because perfection is impossible and therefore hardly necessary.

But because Denise never understood this, she would always steer clear of family gatherings that included her grown children. She found those visits almost unbearably wounding.

In our session, she expressed her anguish:  “I just can’t bear hearing their stories about what I did wrong while they were growing up. I look forward to seeing everyone, but the next day I’m literally tortured by all the guilt!”

Denise knew they didn’t intend to hurt her. Their tone while telling the stories was always lighthearted, so she recognized their innocence. But knowing all of that didn’t ease her elephant-sized guilt.

And her suffering was only amplified when her birthdays were celebrated.

“If they give me cards and gifts, I feel uncomfortable,” she said, “like I don’t deserve them.”

Denise’s exaggerated guilt has its roots in her past. “I wanted to spare my children the hardship I endured … and obviously,” she said with tears welling up, “I didn’t do a very good job at that.”

Lowering her head, she continued.

“I have this picture of what a perfect mother is supposed to be and do, and I always fall short of that,” she said.

Such standards are unrealistic.

If we expect perfection from ourselves we’re headed for unavoidable disappointment and inevitable internal scorn. The simple recipe for over-the-top guilt is to have zero tolerance for our own imperfections.

Denise needed to ease up on herself. I pointed out that she’s overlooking a vital fact: Children have a marvelous capacity for bouncing back or rising above negative circumstances. It’s called resiliency—a quality innately cultivated in an environment saturated with love. That love and acceptance is sensed by the child even when parents are disappointed or annoyed with them.

Since Denise had informed me earlier that she is “proud of the people my children have become,” I was convinced her children had always sensed they were loved.

“Yes, you made some mistakes as a parent,” I said, “but it sounds to me like you parented with love as the constant backdrop.”

I conveyed to her that guilt is a clear sign that a parent has a caring heart. One father told me: “Those of us who care are distressed by the things we’ve done wrong as parents.”

Perfection is unobtainable. Things are always falling apart, getting dirty, disappearing, dissolving and running amok. We can’t get everything right even if we try–at least, not for long. We will have burnt toast, traffic delays, a losing score, and botched recipes.

Since imperfection seems to be built into the system, isn’t it possible that it might even have a purpose?

I try to keep in mind something that Joseph Campbell said: “Out of perfection nothing can be made.”

Perhaps we need bumpy roads, rained-out picnics, derailed plans, stubbed toes, and yes, even imperfect parenting. Let’s face it, if Mother Nature wanted perfection, we women would be having babies once we hit fifty-five and older–way into our wiser years.

Denise was laughing while I explained my theory. We both were.

“When I look back on it,” she said, breaking into a grin, “I have told them that I did take my vitamins and stopped smoking while I was pregnant, so at least I waited until they were born before I started messing them up!”

We laughed some more.

She went on: “The weight of the future rests on our shoulders, but we mothers can only do so much. And for all the power we supposedly have, we’re not even getting paid!”

Denise walked away from that session a thousand pounds lighter. Later she wrote to tell me what her new outlook did for her: “I was able to invite my children to my home and enjoy the experience. It was Mother’s Day and I felt such love for them, for myself, and for my mother who must be looking down from heaven and smiling.”

She ended her letter with this:

“I think being a mother is a most difficult job, for which we have no instruction manual. Wise people over the ages have said that pain is the path to spiritual strength. Today, I am feeling much less guilt about the pain I’ve caused my children, knowing they’re strong and they’ve survived my-less-than perfect parenting skills.”

Denise has left her cave of shame and pressure–hooray! Lucky for her, and lucky for her children, too.

 

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2020

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Go Find Another Well

Time and time again, Christi tried to quench her thirst from a dry well.

The analogy describes what it’s been like living with her boyfriend, Tony, for the past six years. The anguish she’s felt is comparable to someone slowly dying from thirst. Although he called her his girlfriend, his participation in the relationship was halfhearted at best.

Christi held out—hoping that some day—if she just hung in there long enough, her dreams of a future with this guy would come true. Well, that all came crashing down around her when she discovered he was dating another woman.

No question, dashed hopes and rejection are a lot to endure. Loving support from others is a welcomed comfort, but it falls short of soothing a wounded heart. Recovery takes time, long moments of silent reflection and acquiring a new perspective.

In our counseling session, I could easily see the grief and betrayal in Christi’s eyes.

“I served that man for six years!” she said. “My life revolved around him!” She went on to explain all that she gave up—what she sacrificed personally—for him.

“Christi,” I said, “I’m having a hard time thinking this guy deserves you.”

She lowered her eyes. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him,” she said with a sigh. “I guess I couldn’t love enough ….”

“Did Tony betray you or were you betrayed by a fantasy?” I asked.

She looked puzzled.

“Did you read more into this relationship than was actually there?” I continued. “Did you imagine Tony to be something he wasn’t?”

“Ye-e-s … apparently so,” she muttered.

We spent the next several minutes contrasting her fantasy against reality. He didn’t invite her to go places with him. He showed little or not interest in the things she liked doing. He wouldn’t call or text her after business trips. Rarely ever, actually. He didn’t make her birthday a special event or even get her a gift! 

Where was the tenderness? Where was the concern for her needs and wants? Where was the concern for her feelings? It flat out wasn’t there.

For six years, she made excuses for him in her mind, all in an attempt to avoid the bold truth. She ignored all clues that told her they were ill-suited. And the clues where everywhere.

For years–before meeting Tony–Christi had yearned for a companion who was as devoted to her as she was to him. She imagined that Tony would be that guy.  “I kept thinking if I just got it right, he would come around—he would love me better,” she said.

How sad for Christi. She had used Tony’s lukewarm interest in her as a measure of her own worth and adequacy. Instead of asking herself: Do I measure up to what he wants? a better question would have been: Can he fulfill what I need in a partner?

Enduring the status quo wasn’t wise. She should have moved on, freeing herself to seek a more compatible partner.

I let her know that what her heart yearns for is right. What was off-kilter was expecting it to come from him.

I explained that she’s seeking love in places where love is in short supply. It’s like going to the same well everyday hoping to fill her cup with water. The well is  dry, so quenching her thirst is an impossibility. She returns each day, though, anticipating more than a mere trickle. It never happens.

“One of the things you need to see,” I said, “is that there are other wells spanning across the landscape in every direction, as far as the eye can see. But you tend to be blind to them.”

“I can’t argue that miserable truth,” she said solemnly.

As our session wore on, Christi started putting things together. “I can see that I don’t value myself very much,” she said. “And I’m like my mom—her life revolves around my father. It saddens me how she’s given up so much of herself just to make him happy. Well … it seems I’m no different. Hmm.”

Christi’s learned pattern is being challenged because the well did something extraordinary: It uprooted itself and left her behind, thirsty and confused in the dust. Painful as that might be, ultimately, the “well” did her a favor. She’s now forced to explore the offerings of other wells.

But before jumping into another serious relationship, Christi needs to figure out why she blames herself when love isn’t reciprocated, and why she denies herself other potential opportunities. Why does she undervalue herself?

Once she deals with the problem at its roots, the next time a well runs dry, I’m convinced she won’t stick around. Feeling deserving of more, she’ll seek water elsewhere. There will be no stopping her! It’ll be impressive.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

(c) Salee Reese 2020

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Did You Spit on Somebody’s Pet Turtle?

If a third grader got in your face, accusing you of spitting on his pet turtle, you would be thinking: Well now, that’s pure ridiculousness. I’ve never been near his pet turtle and, for that matter, I didn’t even know he had one.

Being perceived wrongly is an opportunity to practice believing in yourself.

So … instead of taking it personally and jumping in to defend yourself, you remain composed—you might even be amused. No matter what, it would be difficult to take offense. Why? Simply because you don’t have a shred of doubt that the accusation is groundless—it’s sheer distortion on their part.

No matter their age or the role someone plays in your life, when they wrongly accuse you of something, it’s important to see it as sheer ridiculousness … and chill.

People who accuse and distort are everywhere. (We even do it ourselves at times—it’s a human trait.) Some folks do it innocently—that is, they simply have their facts wrong. But then there’s that handful of people who use it as a means to attack or gain power.

Let’s face it, reacting to nonsensical accusations is giving away your power. It goes nowhere and leaves you in a state of horrendous frustration, all in an impossible effort to straighten out that person’s thinking. It becomes way more stressful than it’s worth. You might as well try to turn cartwheels on the ceiling.

There’s absolutely no power—or dignity—when we operate from that space.

For your peace and well being, you need to get good at the art of remaining unflappable. How to do that? Treat any distortion as if you were just accused of something as outlandish as spitting on somebody’s pet turtle. Be amused. Say, “Nope. I didn’t do that … I wouldn’t do that.” Then just walk away. 🙂

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Wanted: A Gentle Caveman

Image result for 11 signs you're falling in love

 

          Knowing how to love a woman isn’t rocket science. Or is it?

Over the years, as a counselor, numerous men have sought my advice about women. They want to know how to navigate the baffling pathway to a woman’s heart.

Whether dating or in a long-term relationship, it’s not uncommon for a guy to receive mixed signals. One man described the predicament perfectly: “I’m convinced women want a gentle caveman. They resent power, yet they want a powerful man. They want to tell you how to drive, but they really want you to drive.”

His observations were reinforced when a female client told me,

“I want a man who takes control, but isn’t a controller.”

Indeed, a fine line to walk.

What does it mean to be a gentle caveman? How is it possible to be a man who takes control without being controlling? For answers, I went to the logical source—women.

Jodie, 36, said this about her boyfriend: “I need him to be strong enough to stick up for what he feels strongly about, yet sensitive to my needs and feelings.”

She gave an example. “I’d had a bad day and just needed to talk it out, but he kept watching his game on TV. I was crying, and instead of consoling me, he went to another room so that he could watch his game on another TV. That told me that something else was more important than me.”

I asked: “So if he were to be sensitive to your needs and yet stick up for his own, how would that look?”

“In that situation,” she said, ” I just needed for him to shut the TV off. I wanted to be chosen over everything else at that point.”

Jodie clarified that under ordinary circumstances, “It’s okay if someone doesn’t drop everything for you.”

So I asked, “What would an empowered, gentle caveman do if his partner wasn’t in a distressed state?

Jodie replied: “He would say, ‘Can we talk about this in ten minutes or after the game?’”

She pointed out that his manner would be tender and patient, minus any hint of annoyance.

“All I would need is the assurance of a time-frame,” she said. “It’s a matter of knowing that your man wants to devote time to be there for you.”

Courage and independence are other qualities attributed to a gentle caveman. Women respect a man who will draw the line.

Tara, 27 and single, said: “If a guy lets me walk all over him, I will. Instead, I need someone who’ll stand up to me and not be a doormat. Yes, I’ll probably get ugly if he actually calls me out on it. But I’ll get over it, and I’ll be even more attracted to him than before.”

The message is clear: Integrity is sexy.

As women, we admire men we can’t completely tame or train. Not to say we don’t try. We do, but the men we respect are those who respect themselves while simultaneously respecting us.

In the movie, “What Women Want,” Mel Gibson’s character starts out as your stereotypical rude, narcissistic, insensitive sexist. He’s convinced that he’s  admired and desired by every woman he meets. But when he acquires the ability to hear the private thoughts of all women, his ego takes a nose dive. He’s faced with the ugliness of his own behavior as seen through the eyes and minds of the disgusted women around him.

Aside from getting stung by the unvarnished truth about himself, he can’t help but learn about a woman’s genuine needs, her hopes and her true emotions. From that point on, he’s incapable of viewing women the same. The result? Respect and empathy.

According to the women I surveyed, powerful men have the courage to face feelings. This includes their own as well as the feelings of others. Gentle cavemen feel comfortable with their own tears. Tears don’t make them little, dependent or vulnerable, despite what some were told as children.

When a woman says she wants her man to take control, it means she wants him to take control over certain situations—not her. For example, women generally like it when men take the initiative and say, “Let’s go for a walk.” Or, “Don’t make any plans, because I’m taking you out.” Or, “I’ll drive, sweetie.”

And if the back-seat driver in her tries to tell him how to drive his car, the gentle caveman—in control of both his car and his reactions—simply says confidently and respectfully, “Thanks, but I’ve got things under control.”

Odds are she’ll like that.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2020

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Advice from the Animal Kingdom

 

Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, pinpoints how perfectionism impacts us negatively: “Not being perfect, we reject ourselves,” he writes.

It’s true. Many people condemn themselves for failing to live up to the often inflated, sometimes impossible expectations they set for themselves.

This can include failing to get a perfect performance review, a perfect score, a perfect grade, or keep a perfectly neat house.

Many of us put ourselves down for our lack of discipline, for losing things, for failing to accomplish goals or make deadlines.

Momentary disappointment in ourselves is understandable … even endurable. What doesn’t serve us is the prolonged self-badgering and self-loathing–dwelling on our imperfections and mistakes.

Ruiz comments on how we differ from the rest of the animal kingdom.

“How many times do we pay for one mistake? The answer is thousands of times. The human is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake.

“The rest of the animals pay once for every mistake they make. But not us. We have a powerful memory. We make a mistake, we judge ourselves, we find ourselves guilty, and we punish ourselves.

“If justice exists, then that was enough; we don’t need to do it again. But every time we remember, we judge ourselves again, we are guilty again, and we punish ourselves again, and again, and again.

“If we have a wife or husband he or she also reminds us of the mistake, so we can judge ourselves again, punish ourselves again, and find ourselves guilty again. Is this fair?”

Where does perfectionism spring from?

Rick, a client, was told by his boss that he should learn Chinese. Doing so would result in a promotion and new opportunities. But fear of failure—any failure—stood in his way.

In one of our sessions, Rick and I took a look at his past.

“As a child, I wasn’t praised for trying, “he said, “I was praised for getting it right.” Consequently, he refrains from attempting new things. The fear of being less than perfect has handicapped his life.

New findings suggest that teachers get better results when students are praised for merely raising their hands—for trying—instead of nailing the right answer.

Mastering anything requires patience and practice. We seem to forget that even something as basic as learning our alphabet was an evolving process—one that started with nothing but a bunch of perplexing symbols on a chalkboard.

Check out this illuminating TedX talk by Carol Dweck, a Standford University professor of psychology and researcher on mindset. She shares her findings on a fresh new model that activates ambition, motivation and confidence. The success rates suggest that it has the potential for being a game-changer in the classroom as well as in the workplace.  The results are promising—kids persevere in the face of “failure” and allow mistakes to motivate them instead of paralyze them. The meanings of effort and difficulty can be transformed to create a pathway to success rather than discouragement.

 

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Don’t be Bullied by Guilt

 

Just as there are good and bad bacteria, good and bad cholesterol, there’s also good and bad guilt.

Good guilt guides us in making wise choices. Bad guilt is the bully in our head that has a knack for running our lives…and sometimes right off the rails.

Tessa is a perfect example:

She’s been embracing healthy eating lately. “I gave up gluten, dairy and sugar…and I feel better!” she said. Unfortunately, her restaurant options are limited. But she’s learned where to go—what works for her.

Now then, as we all know, life has an uncanny way of presenting us with challenges as soon as we make a decision to overhaul ourselves in some way.

Tessa is no exception. Not long ago, her family invited her out to celebrate her birthday. They chose a nice restaurant and made the reservations. But the restaurant they chose was on her no-no list. She had plenty of time to suggest another one, but guilt got in her way. You might say it sabotaged her better self.

“It was a gift,” she said, “I just couldn’t disappoint them…I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.”

That’s what bad guilt does to us—it makes us not matter to ourselves.

“So who got disappointed instead?” I asked.

“Ahh,” she said, “me!–of course.”

Disappointment was only one part of it. She went into detail about how miserable she felt the next day.

Clearly, Tessa’s birthday was less than it could and should have been. Her guilt was misplaced. Where was the concern for her body? For abandoning herself?

Bad guilt bullies us into saying yes even when it compromises our health—even when it compromises our integrity.

Warm-hearted people like Tessa are experts at meeting the needs of others but amateurs at identifying their own. Life is presenting Tessa with an opportunity to become an expert at both identifying and then honoring her own needs.

I predict that the guilt-bully is in for a surprise!

 

 

(c) Salee Reese 2019

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

 

 

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Outsmart Your Guilt

 

 

Things go wrong when guilt’s the driving force behind our actions. That’s because guilt doesn’t do a good job of steering us in the right direction. It lacks intelligence.

Dru, 17, is a prime example. She didn’t want to hurt her boyfriend’s feelings, and as a result became pregnant. In our counseling session with tears streaming down her face, she expressed what was going on in her head the night she conceived:

“I didn’t want to do it! I didn’t feel right about it, but I would’ve been consumed with guilt if I let him down!”

The desire to give to others, the concern over disappointing or hurting someone, stems from a kind heart. That’s a good thing. It’s not such a good thing, though, when we hurt or disrespect ourselves in the process.

No question, Dru would be paying a hefty price for being dominated by guilt. Her future suddenly looked quite different, because the demanding responsibilities of motherhood would place her dreams, interests and much of her freedoms on hold.

Dru’s pathway for getting healthy entailed learning that self-neglect is wrong. She cared too much for her boyfriend and too little for herself. Her fear of letting him down resulted in letting herself down.

I remember her telling me that he would have acted hurt if she had said no to him on that fateful night. In the months ahead, Dru came to understand that hurting someone’s feelings isn’t always a bad thing. We all need to be told ‘no’ on occasion and to learn our limits with other people. How else do we become sensitive and respectful of others? We rob people of growing in these ways when we give in to pouts, angry outbursts, or other manipulative ploys.

Dru finally ended the relationship with her boyfriend.

I asked her: “In looking back, what did that experience teach you, Dru?”

“That I can’t let anybody have control over me again,” she said. “I can’t let someone suck my spirit from me. It drains me.”

“Exactly what drains you?” I asked.

“Worrying about people, needing to make them feel better,” she said. “I have this problem of wanting to make everyone happy even if it costs me my own happiness. It’s all so draining! But I’m getting stronger.”

I agreed—Dru was getting stronger. She found a new relationship and to her delight, she isn’t obsessed or burdened with worry about what he’s feeling, thinking, or needing. She describes the relationship as “freeing.”

“How will you know if this relationship turns unhealthy?” I asked.

She thought for a moment and shared her newfound insight—that pleasing someone else at the expense of her own well-being would be wrong. “If that happens, I’ll feel trapped and guilty for not taking care of him.”

She learned that guilt shouldn’t be in charge–she and her intellect should be running things.

It made me smile to see that Dru was “getting it.” Smart girl. 🙂

 

 

(c) Salee Reese 2019

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Don’t Be Nice All the Time

 

Over and over again, while growing up, Kari heard: “It’s better to give and be nice than it is to receive.”  Valuing the other person more than yourself was expected. So, today, she tends to be nice to everyone but herself. No surprise. When people mistreat or take advantage of her, she gives them a free pass. But Kari’s been waking up to that unhealthy pattern—seeing how it’s not serving her very well. Her current relationship is a perfect example, and right now, she would like to end the relationship but guilt stands in her way.

Guilt over caring for herself blocks her from doing the right thing.

Doug, another client, received the same training. “The way I feel good about myself is by being a good guy … doing for others.”  He gave me an example.  When an acquaintance of his, John, needed a phone, Doug agreed to sell him his $250 phone for $80. He even agreed that John could pay him later. Doug didn’t hear from the man for several weeks. Finally, when they bumped into each other somewhere, John paid Doug … but he paid him $50 instead of $80. When I asked Doug how he felt about that, he said: “I wanted to do the right thing.”

“Is it right to let others take advantage of you?” I asked. “How do others learn the same morals you were taught if you rob them of that opportunity?”

We talked at length, then Doug arrived at a realization:

“I should have stood up for myself,” he said. “Sometimes it’s right to upset people.”

Several years ago, I created a little story for the sake of illustration:

Imagine a classroom of small children—crayons in hand—each thoroughly absorbed in his/her own drawings. Jenny is sitting beside Joey, and at some point, he reaches over with his crayon and marks on her paper. Jenny objects, “No Joey!” while pushing his hand away. He stops, briefly, then repeats the offense. Again Jenny protests but this time she briskly moves to another spot in the room, taking her sheet of paper with her.

This scenario would have played out quite differently had Jenny been indoctrinated with the directive to always “be nice.” In that case, she would have wilted when Joey marked on her paper, letting him have free rein. Believing that objecting is hurtful, she would be ruled by restraint. Striving to be nice is a worthy ethic to teach children, but it should be a two-way ethic.

Niceness should run both ways.

Yes, Jenny should be nice to others, but she should also hold the belief that virtue applies to everyone else as well. Joey wasn’t being nice and that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Jenny’s actions preserved her well-being and dignity, but she also did Joey a favor. She gave him the opportunity to learn an important lesson: If I mistreat people, I’ll alienate them. They won’t want to be around me.

Had Jenny folded, submitting to Joey’s will and disrespect, she would have sent the opposite message.

We humans don’t grow when others are placating or pretending to go along with us. The best mirror we have available is the authentic response given by other people. No, it’s not always easy to look at ourselves through the eyes of others. It can be painful, but some deeper—truer—part of ourselves finds it gratifying to be shown the truth.

Protesting isn’t hurtful if done correctly. Being enlightened by truth is quite different from being punctured by it. When Jenny voiced her protest, she wasn’t being hurtful.

If Joey was hurt, he was hurt by the truth—not by Jenny.

When someone crosses a line, our instinct tells us to be self-protective. It’s the same instinct that protects us from eating spoiled food, stepping out in front of traffic, getting close to a raging dog. Psychological well-being is no different. Inner distress is a signal announcing the need for change.

Instead of just enduring, we’re supposed to listen to it and take action. Doing so is an act of love, both for ourselves and for the other person.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

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