Tag Archives: depression

Moving Through Grief

 

It has been two years since her husband, Trent, died. But to Amy it feels like yesterday.

“Why am I grieving?” she lamented. “I thought I was over it.”

I answered her simply: “We’re never over love, Amy.”

After his fatal car accident, she told herself she must be strong for the children. So she stuffed her feelings—locked them up in a steel vault deep within. The truth is, such attempts fail miserably. Denied or submerged feelings slowly creep into our everyday consciousness, so eventually we’re forced to face them. This is what happened to Amy, prompting her to seek help.

In our counseling session, I explained that when tragedy strikes, numbness is a natural response—an automatic defense mechanism—that cushions us from experiencing horrendous and often incapacitating pain. But such numbing is a temporary fix—it doesn’t heal the wound. Healing must occur before we can move forward, before we can be intact as a complete person, and before we can engage in our life wholeheartedly again.

On the emotional level, Amy needs to experience and talk about every aspect of the loss associated with Trent’s death, including the loss of his presence, his companionship and the loss of their dreams.

She needs to let herself miss the sound of his voice, his smiling eyes, his laughter, his scent.

He’s no longer there as a father figure for their children. That’s a loss.

Yes, he had flaws and idiosyncrasies. But she’s surprised at how insignificant they all seem now.

“It’s what made him unique,” she said fondly.

I suggested she set aside time to quietly reflect on Trent, letting her heart call forth countless warming memories.

“And if you feel moved to write, don’t resist doing so. Most likely, your instinctive wisdom is nudging you in the direction of healing,” I said.

To keep it simple, some people write down single trigger words associated with special memories.

“Maybe you’re moved to visit certain places, like favorite vacation spots. Go there again,” I insisted.

“Above all,” I said, “let yourself cry.”

I advised her to take her time—to be patient with the process.

Grief can neither be hurried nor directed. At best, we can only surrender to it.

I asked Amy about her childhood, how her parents dealt with negative emotions.

“Emotions weren’t dealt with,” she replied. “They were ignored—never discussed.”

As a result, when Amy’s dog died, or when she wasn’t invited to the prom, or when her best friend moved away, she felt isolated and alone in her suffering.

“So, do you think your children feel alone in their suffering—even two years later?” I asked.

She nodded.

Amy handled her husband’s death in the only way she knew how. And she believed she was doing the right thing for her children—by being strong.

“Your children need for you to be strong in a different way,” I said.

“Strength isn’t demonstrated by being emotionless, but by one’s willingness to face emotions head-on.”

Healthy coping isn’t exemplified by ignoring or hiding unpleasant emotions, but by going through them. It takes courage to grieve, and children benefit when they witness their parents embracing the process and coming out fully intact on the other side.

In contrast, emotional numbing may force a family to pretend the deceased family member never existed. This was true in Amy’s household. After Trent’s death, he wasn’t mentioned at all. Such silence and avoidance is akin to erasing him from every picture in the family album.

“That doubles the grief, Amy.” I said.

Not only did she lose him, she lost the memory of him as well.

“How can he touch your life—yet today—if his memory is eradicated?”

I went on to explain that a cloud of gloom persists because she’s looking at what went wrong instead of what went right. He showed up in her life. He added a strand to the fabric of  her existence that would not have occurred otherwise. He not only enriched her life but he also enriched the lives of his children. That fact should be celebrated.

I suggested she break the silence and get everyone talking about Trent. She should expect tears and laughter. Both are good. They will express and acknowledge Trent’s powerful impact on their lives.

Amy followed my advice, and now that she is bravely sharing her emotions with her children, things should soon be much better in their world.

An emotional wound is finally being allowed to breathe, and I think Amy will be surprised at how much healing can occur when emotions are allowed to see the light of day instead of being buried in a vault of silence.

 

(c) Salee Reese 2018

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Courage to Feel Deeply

 

In some households, tears are taboo.

Jill is one of six children. An adult now, she recalls her father being a harsh disciplinarian “who frequently beat us.” When the beatings produced wails and tears, he shamed and belittled them, demanding that they stop. Having to endure horrid, abusive treatment was bad enough, but then they were forbidden and chastised for expressing the very pain his abusive hand produced.

Sadly, Jill and her siblings were shamed for something that is as natural as breathing—shedding tears. Emotional repression—being restricted from crying—isn’t all that unusual. Children are frequently told things like: “Stop being a baby,” “Get over it,” “Tough it out.”

The effects of having our emotions hushed are far-reaching. For example, when parents disapprove of their children’s tears or sad feelings, it’s easy for the children to assume that their emotions are wrong. Even worse, children can form a negative opinion about themselves. They can begin to believe that something is bad or unacceptable about them at their very core. Why is that? Because our emotions are part of who we are. We quite naturally conclude:

“If my emotions aren’t acceptable, then neither am I.”

This early programming has a way of clinging to us into our adult years. And so today, Jill has difficulty shedding tears. The shaming and belittling continues, but now it takes place in her own head.

Jill is not alone. When Ken was a child and cried, his mother would say, “You’re just feeling sorry for yourself!” Instead of receiving comfort, he was criticized.

Neither Jill nor Ken were consoled for the emotional pain they suffered. As children, it wasn’t okay to talk about their pain. In fact, it wasn’t okay to have pain. The irony is that we feel emotion of some kind every second of every day.

Children who conclude that their feelings are not acceptable grow up to be adults who are unfamiliar with their own emotions, and therefore ill-equipped to handle them or the emotions of others.

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, says people who weren’t raised to know, appreciate, and acknowledge their own emotions have a hard time reading and accepting emotions in others. Consequently, he points out, they lack the ability to respond with foresight and sensitivity. This deficiency frequently results in bungled relationships, whether in the home, the workplace, or among various social acquaintances.

Buried or unexpressed pain doesn’t go anywhere. It just sits there and festers, producing a silent poison that attacks our joy and well-being. Many symptoms of stifled emotions include depression, sleeping difficulties, a constant knot in the stomach, or sudden angry outbursts.

Crying is nature’s technique for nurturing internal wounds and disappointments, both past and present.

Tears aid in the healing process, allowing us to move on. And far from indicating weakness, tears are a sign of maturity and strength. Think about it:

It takes toughness and courage to feel deeply, to hurt deeply, to grieve deeply. Only the courageous among us dare to do that. Tears are for the very gutsy, not the fainthearted.

So I asked Ken, “Is feeling sorry for yourself really all that bad? Who started that nasty rumor anyway?”

Sometimes compassion is forthcoming only from ourselves. And who’s better suited for the job? Who’s more understanding of our distresses? I would much rather see tears than self-belittling and unforgiveness toward oneself.

Here’s the advice I gave Jill:  “Overcome the mark your dad left on your spirit by treating yourself better than he treated you. Cry as often as possible. It’s the loving thing to do for yourself!”

Good advice for all of us. 🙂

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality..

(c) Salee Reese 2018

 

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The Seduction of Security

 

Oh, the soul-numbing effect of living within the confines of the familiar!

This was the theme that 41-year-old Angie and I discussed in our counseling session. She came to me wanting help with her depression.  “I just can’t seem to shake this no matter what I tell myself,” she said with a sigh.

Angie described her life as “comfortably predictable, but boring. I’ve always gravitated toward security.  I won’t take risks . . . I’m too afraid.”

Angie is not alone. Fear is the natural response to reaching the edge of the known and contemplating the next step into unfamiliar territory.

Let’s face it, security seduces us into staying put. But a life without risks is life standing still, a recipe for a dull existence.

Angie has been working for a printing company for several years. “I know that job like the back of my hand,” she said, “but it’s no longer challenging. I dread the thought of doing it for the next 30 years. I feel like I’m wasting away.”

“If you weren’t afraid,” I asked, “what would you do?”

Her face broke into a wide smile. “I’d go back to school and earn a degree in marketing.”

“Why are you drawn to that field?” I asked.

“I design all the posters and write the ads,” she said.  “When people contact us with inquiries, I’m the person they talk to. I like dealing with the public and I’m intrigued with the science and art behind selling a product.”

Unfortunately, Angie’s job description doesn’t include marketing, so she does it on her own time. And, because it’s a small company, opportunities are sparse. So if she wants to escape the prison of the status quo, she must sacrifice the security of the known. Hard to do.

Angie’s one of a multitude of people who have transcended—outgrown—their present set of circumstances.

What was once gratifying and rewarding is now stifling, whether it be a job, a role, a routine, a relationship or an environment.

When it’s time to move on, we sense it at the core of our being. We may try to ignore it, distract or even scold ourselves. From our bully within, we’ll receive an abundance of guilt-blabber about being selfish.

But those things fail at quieting the soul’s discomfort. When it’s time for change —when it’s time to grow —our soul lets us know, typically in the form of depression, as was true of Angie.

Three months later, Angie took the leap and signed up for classes. In essence, she chose to reject her predictable life and reach for greater fulfillment instead.

That bold step automatically eradicated colorlessness from her life.

I’m happy for Angie. 🙂

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2018

 

 

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The Universe Loves You

 

Even when you don’t.

Plagued with guilt and self-loathing, many of us are solidly convinced that as human beings we are fundamentally unworthy and unlovable.

It’s just not true. Our essence is pure. How is it possible to despise purity?

Maybe what we consider unlovable is our tainted opinion of ourselves—something we grew to believe about ourselves.

At birth we were given a name and later on, due to many early influences, we acquired a self-image. But neither comes close to defining who we really are.

 

Even though you’re convinced you’re undeserving of love

the universe disagrees with you.

Despite your low self-opinion, something’s loving you all the time, 

and that energy is enveloping you at this very moment!

 

 

(c) Salee Reese 2017

 

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Latest Wow: Goodbye to Insane Guilt

I remember when Vanessa wowed me with this one:

“I’ve spent 30 years hating myself, and I’m tired of it. I need to learn how to love myself.”

Self-loathing wasn’t something Vanessa was born with.  It was learned.

When we were babies, we had no innate sense of disgust with ourselves. If our rattle fell to the ground, we didn’t berate or despise ourselves. We didn’t suffer shame over it—shame isn’t even a reality to babies. So the incident didn’t become an indictment against our character and we weren’t left with the sense of being a bad baby . . . or bad person.

Clearly, we have a lot to learn from babies! 

Yet as adults, many of us lug around a truck-load of accumulated guilt and shame—the irrational kind. It’s overkill. Yes, self-scrutiny can be a good thing, and sometimes guilt is warranted, like the guilt for being nasty to a store clerk, or breaking something we borrowed. But we shouldn’t agonize over those things.

Guilt’s function is to awaken us so that we do some healthy soul-searching, correct our behavior and make amends. But guilt shouldn’t be a weapon we use against ourselves.

When I began working with Vanessa, shaming herself was a constant occurrence. The house was never clean enough, she didn’t exercise or diet enough, she wasn’t a good enough wife, and she didn’t give Carson—her baby—enough of her time.

To make matters worse, her “internal shamer” followed her wherever she went. After hanging out with friends, heckling thoughts like,  Maybe I wasn’t nice enough, or Maybe I talked too much, would torment her for hours.

Vanessa was convinced she was bad to the core. But I believed otherwise. In one of our sessions, she showed me a photo she had taken of Carson gazing at her with loving, happy eyes. That told me volumes. I couldn’t resist commenting, “Well, you’re certainly doing something right!”

Bad to the core? Hmmm. Vanessa’s negative self-appraisal just wasn’t adding up. She was just too warm-hearted, too caring, too sensitive to be a member of that club. She clearly didn’t meet the criteria.

So where did the self-loathing and irrational guilt originate? Her childhood. A steady diet of severe punishments, along with a constant barrage of critical and condemning messages took a toll. Feeling guilty and bad about herself became her normal.

In therapy, Vanessa came to see that she had been needlessly suffering all those years due to a burdensome, oppressive mental habit.

That realization is the crucial first step to freedom!

Motivation is another important factor, and Vanessa had plenty of that because of Carson. Her strong desire to raise him to feel good about himself was what nudged her into therapy in the first place.

The crux of Vanessa’s problem was her conditioning—and buying into it.  She bought into a lie. The good news: if she could buy into a lie, she could buy into the truth.

The truth was found by removing the obstacles that blocked her from loving herself and by disbelieving the internal shamer.

Vanessa got there and in the process she realized that Carson’s perception of her was the simple, beautiful truth!

Love and irrational guilt cannot coexist. One cancels out the other. When we’re in a space of loving ourselves, such guilt cannot get a foothold.

 

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2017 Salee Reese

 

 

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Poke the Tiger

“I pray every night that God will take my life.”

Vince, 56, apparently would rather die than leave a life-sucking relationship. He’s been with his wife, Gail, for eight years. And for the bulk of that time he’s been unhappy, merely enduring his existence instead of living.

In our counseling session, he depicted Gail as having a sharp tongue and a hair-trigger temper.

He recounted several irritating incidents of being nagged and belittled. Instead of objecting to this dignity-squashing treatment, he continues to tolerate it. “Why ignite her wrath?” he said. “I survive by withdrawing.”

“Why do you stay with her?” I asked.

Vince gave a heavy sigh. “I can’t bring myself to hurt her.”

When we protect people from hurting, we may be doing them a disservice. When offenses go unchallenged, we inhibit the soul-searching process.

“You love her, Vince, but maybe she needs to hurt a little,” I said. “The truth may hurt, but it makes us take a good hard look at ourselves and possibly grow. “She’s oblivious to the extent of your misery,” I continued, “including how badly you want out and your reasons why. How can she change for the better if she isn’t given that information?”

“You don’t know Gail,” he said. “She’ll explode!”

“Perhaps,” I said. “And it’s that behavior she needs to open her eyes to. Her temper, along with a few other habits, is chasing you away—and probably everyone else.”

Vince nodded. “It’s true. But how can I possibly tell her that?”

“Come from the caring you naturally have for her,” I said, “a space of compassion, one that’s non-critical and minus blame. In other words, don’t attempt it when you’re gritting your teeth and seething with anger.”

I suggested he write it in a letter because in a face-to-face encounter, defensive reactions are likely to be triggered in both parties.

Vince and I explored what he wanted to say in the letter. He wasn’t inclined to flat-out tell her of his intentions to walk out. That’s because he was no longer certain about that particular course of action.

He has hope—for the first time—that she might change. Vince has also come to understand how he’s been perpetuating the problem by biting his tongue.

His withdrawing behavior sent the wrong message to Gail: “Vince might not like how I’m treating him, but, hey, he still takes it, and he’s still around. It must be working.”

In short, because he continued to cooperate with toxic conditions, she failed to see it as toxic.

Cooperating with an undesirable or toxic system, situation, or person—pretending that all is well—merely reinforces it.

The question is, if he starts to assert himself in a respectful manner, will she change things on her end? Time will tell.

In the meantime, the letter. It needed to be a declaration stating that the status quo has been detrimental to Vince and their relationship. Here’s Vince’s letter:

Dear Gail,

I’m moved to write this letter because I love you and I want to improve our relationship.

Up until now, I have tended to keep my feelings locked deep inside myself. I don’t share them with you and that isn’t good. It isn’t good for either of us, and our relationship has suffered because of it.

I went to a counselor. I told her that I pray each night asking God to take my life. I’m miserable and I don’t communicate that to you. I should have a long time ago.

She helped me see that no one’s at fault here. We’ve fallen into a rut that neither of us can seem to get out of. It seems you’re critical of me almost all the time, and I feel like I can’t make you happy, no matter what I do. I clam up so nothing gets better.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can’t go on this way, Gail. But I have hope. I want to fix this. I want us both to be happy. I think we can be! I’d like us to go to counseling together.

Your husband, Vince

Along with this letter, Vince needs to stop withdrawing. When he feels nagged or when there’s been an insult to his dignity, he needs to learn to respectfully and immediately object.

Blocking the soul-searching process doesn’t do anyone any favors. Others remain stagnant if we’re not direct and truthful. Waking up someone who is blind to their behavior can be a painful thing, but if we really have the other person’s best interest at heart, the result will be better for everyone.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2017

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The Unhappy Chameleon

chameleon2

Doug wowed me with this in one of our sessions:

“I always wanted to blend in . . . like a chameleon.” Then looking away reflectively, he added, “You know, it takes a hell of a lot of energy to change my colors.”

He’s right. So why do we do it? It’s all about making sure we’re liked and loved. If we don’t make ourselves acceptable, we fear rejection. And rejection is a very lonely place.

We all do our share of adapting and approval-seeking. It only becomes problematic when we lose sight of our true selves. In the book, The Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner describes that condition as being “submerged” or “de-selfed.”

Here’s one of Doug’s examples: In the midst of ordering chicken from a menu, his wife interrupted, “You don’t like chicken—you like roast beef!”

He remembers his meek, defeated response at the time: “I guess you’re right. I don’t like chicken.”

Sadly, Doug didn’t really know what he liked. He was used to being defined by the outside world.

When I first met Doug, he described himself as unhappy most the time. That makes sense because de-selfed people can’t be happy. They live a compromised existence which includes spending endless amounts of energy pleasing and accommodating others. The end result is often depression, a depleted interest in life, and hidden anger forever percolating just below the surface.

Adrian was a card-carrying member of the de-selfed club when I started seeing her. Her comments echoed Doug’s:

“I’ve spent most of my life adapting to others,” she said, “disguising and burying myself to get approval. I’ve done it so well for so long, I now have difficulty grasping who I really am.”

“Who is the real me?”

“I’m a chameleon and I don’t know my real color.”

Adrian started submerging her true self at an early age. “My mom’s love would turn off if I didn’t say and do what she wanted,” she said. “I wasn’t allowed to have a self.”

Adrian’s habit of self-denying followed her directly into her marriage … beginning, actually, on her wedding day. Her father handed the newlyweds $500 with special instructions. “He insisted we use the money for having a good time on our honeymoon—and nothing else,” she said.

“Well . . . that didn’t happen,” Adrian said with a defeated sigh.

That incident was a snapshot of things to come. Adrian listed off a series of comparable incidents that took place throughout the 23 years of their marriage. She then lowered her head solemnly and said, “I think my mantra has always been: ‘Yes dear, anything you say.'”

Adrian so needs to speak up in this relationship. She needs to share the person she really is with her husband—not just with me. How else can she relieve her depression and resurrect her actual self? And how else can the relationship possibly change if she doesn’t change?

When Adrian first started therapy, she thought her problem narrowed down to two people, her mother and her husband. Her thinking: If only they would change. But she has moved beyond that and is realizing it’s not what others have done to her, but what she’s been allowing. Until she realized that, she was powerless to change things for the better.

Something very interesting happens when we communicate directly from the depth of our natural being. Our total person comes forward. Call it our true self.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

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