Tag Archives: depression

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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Your Inner Judge Is a Liar

image-self-love

“Talk to yourself the way you talk to someone you love.”  

Brené Brown

Self-criticism is learned—we don’t come out of the womb with that tendency. I’m talking about the self-esteem-destroying self-talk that buzzes around in one’s head endlessly. Like a virus that invades the brain, it constantly judges and condemns its host.

Infection takes hold early in childhood after repeated exposure to pathogens like belittling comments, looks of contempt, and ridicule. In time, we start to believe what the virus is saying. It tells us we’re bad for messing up, selfish for wanting something, cowardly for being cautious, mean for speaking up, weak for crying, and a loser for our failures.

What’s really sad is we give the virus more credibility than the nicer treatment and messages we receive from kind-hearted people. Their messages are seen as inaccurate.

The good news is that the virus can be annihilated. We can unlearn self-criticism.

Sophia—a client in her 20’s—is a good example. She began the process of unlearning by becoming aware of the constant babble of negative self-talk occurring in her head. Before that, she accepted it as a valid part of herself—it seemed to belong.

That’s all changed. Acting as her own ever-vigilant investigator, she became determined to root out and destroy any belittling self-talk that deflates her self-esteem and joy. How are they destroyed? By questioning the validity of all thoughts that tell her she’s defective, guilty, bad or inferior in any way. Increasingly, she—not her conditioned brain—is the master of her opinions about herself.

I’m proud of her!

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

Names used in this post are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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It’s a Ducking Habit

 

duck

Tish shines when she’s with her friends and coworkers, but around her boss she loses that shine.

“I go small the minute I step into her office!” she said. “I’m just like someone who’s been physically abused—I duck!”

Tish’s boss and her parents have some things in common.  Her parents didn’t invite or make it safe for her to express her views. It appears her boss is the same way.

Tish grew up in a home where working through problems—talking things over—just wasn’t done. Instead, powder-keg overreactions were the norm. Tish found shelter in laying low . . . or by ‘ducking.’ It became her coping mechanism.

Ducking can be more than a physical response. It can also be a psychological one. Whenever we walk on eggshells or cater to someone’s moods, we’re ducking. When we’re anxious about someone’s reaction and it causes us to stifle ourselves, we’re ducking. Keeping our mouth shut when something ought to be said is a form of ducking.

Being direct, honest and straightforward can seem just too risky and threatening. But the alternative doesn’t serve us very well, either.  When we make a habit of ducking, we desert ourselves. Our true self gets buried. Call it a recipe for life dissatisfaction and depression.

For example, ducking is hurting Tish’s chances of moving up in the company. It inhibits her from getting her needs met and her concerns heard and resolved.

By ducking, she’s guaranteeing she won’t be listened to.

Ducking behaviors served Tish as a child. They protected her. But today, such behaviors are a mere habit—a conditioned response—and do more harm than good.  She can change, and she must, if she wants to cultivate a better scenario for herself at work and elsewhere.

I explained that the first step is to realize that there are people out there who welcome open dialogue. They don’t mind being disagreed with, and they don’t blow up or make people walk on eggshells. They care about the points of view of others, and they respect the fact that problems will crop up.

“And they look forward to jointly resolving them with you,” I said.

The next step is to stand tall. “Be the strong person you really are, Tish!”

It’s in her. She listed off plenty of examples of being her bold and bigger self. In fact, when Tish isn’t ducking, her strength, wisdom and drive are forces to be reckoned with!

Her boss needed to see that. As it was, Tish was selling herself as a pushover. Her boss couldn’t respect her because Tish wasn’t respecting herself.

Shortly after that session, Tish told me how she successfully confronted her boss about a problem—one that her boss had been refusing to address for a long time. It’s getting resolved.

Yes!

 

(c) Salee Reese 2016

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

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Stay Out of the Mud!

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Setting boundaries includes placing limits on what we’re willing to do for others.

Sometimes, we make the same mistake a bazillion times before finally waking up.  It’s exasperating! One of  my clients knows this experience all too well. His mistake was believing he had to rescue other people—mainly women. If they weren’t happy, he felt guilty and responsible. It left his spirit heavy almost all the time.

At some point, he realized that sacrificing himself senselessly was self-destructive so he chose to rescue himself, instead.  I knew he had reached that step when he wowed me with something he had learned while growing up on the farm:

“You can’t get a pig out of the mud if it doesn’t want out. More often than not, you end up in the mud yourself–you get muddy. Pigs like to soak in the mud. Why try to get that other person out of the mud when they want to be there?”

(c) Salee Reese 2016

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After Grief

Misty path thru the woods

One of the hardest parts about a loved one dying is the sense of disconnection. I can relate to that awful feeling—I’ve experienced it many times.

A special person comes to mind. For nine full months, I grieved his death. It seemed like all color had left my world during that time. Joy was virtually nonexistent. In fact, I think I avoided joy—clinging to grief instead. I somehow believed our connection would stay intact if I remained in that grief-space. Not only that, I thought that moving on seemed like letting go . . . even dishonoring what he meant to me. A betrayal of sorts.

I was wrong.

At the end of those nine months, I came to realize something: Joy—not misery—is the space of connection.

An image of him in my mind prompted that sudden shift in my perception. He was looking lovingly into my eyes . . . and he was joyful. Radiant, in fact—a far cry from miserable. I smiled back and a warmth I hadn’t felt for nearly a year filled my entire being.

This is how they communicate, I thought.

I can’t see, touch or hear him anymore, but I can experience nearness.

Now when I think about him, I smile. That smile immediately ushers me into a joy-space. It’s the only space he can be in and the only space where I can find him.

That comforting image of him wasn’t new. It had penetrated my consciousness before, but I’d ignored it.

I’ve discovered that others have experienced something similar.  When I tell people I saw my sister and my father smiling ear-to-ear after their deaths, invariably they start nodding knowingly. We then begin to share our stories.

Yes, grief has its place. It sets the stage for an intimate connection with ourselves and with the truth and depth of our feelings. In a way, grief can be comforting as it shuts out the noise and artificiality of everyday life. It’s a silent walk down a gray and misty path.  We need that for our goodbyes and reminiscences.

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

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The Truth about Tears

inside out

“Only strong people allow themselves to feel pain.”

–Heather, 16

If you haven’t watched the movie Inside Out, drop everything and head for a theater immediately! The story takes place inside the head of 11-year-old Riley, where five key characters reside—all representing her main emotions: Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness.

The story carries a powerful message about the important role each emotion plays in our life, including those less desirable emotions such as sadness.

In the movie, Sadness starts out as a bother but ends up the hero. That’s because she knows how to handle Riley’s problems. Unlike the other emotions, she knows where to take things so they can change for the better.

She’s also the only character who demonstrates  empathy. When Riley’s imaginary friend—Bing Bong—from early childhood, becomes sad and discouraged, Joy is powerless, but that isn’t true of Sadness. She listens in the only way that counts—at the heart level. Bing Bong got better.

And when Riley’s parents got in touch with their sadness over Riley’s sadness, they were capable of listening. The result? Things got better. Prior to that, Riley believed that the only allowable emotion was joy. And in the movie we learn that joy has its limitations.

It was apparent that Riley was sheltered from negative emotions from the start. Therefore, she was poorly equipped to deal with the stresses and heartbreak of moving to another state at the age of eleven.

As I lost myself in this movie, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Heather, whom I quoted above, a teenager I counseled who was grappling with overwhelming sadness. Her parents were oblivious to that fact until they found her suicide note. Read her story here.

Both Riley and Heather needed the freedom to feel, and the freedom to express it. They needed to be understood, and that was best accomplished when their parents felt with them.

When I asked Heather: “When you’re hurting, what do you need most from your mom? Do you need for her to be strong?” Without any hesitation, she replied:

“No! I need to see her feelings. Showing feelings isn’t being weak—it’s being close.”

That says it all.  Thanks, Heather.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) 2015 Salee Reese

 

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Freedom is Creating a Fabulous Elephant!

elephant 1

“It takes one a long time to become young.”  

–Pablo Picasso

I remember hearing about an 8-year-old girl who painted a picture of a fabulous elephant. What made her elephant earn the distinction of being fabulous? She used a wide array of colors.

Unfortunately, her teacher was stricken with an adult brain and was therefore incapable of seeing the fabulousness of that elephant. So instead of enjoying the unique creation, she felt it her duty to inform the little girl that elephants are not multi-colored.

The little girl had an immediate comeback:

“You don’t know elephants very well.”

No, we adults don’t know elephants very well—we don’t know a lot of things very well because our perceptual filter is so narrow. Children, on the other hand, are not confined to a rigid idea about reality. They don’t deliberately think outside the box . . . they just don’t see the box. The box doesn’t exist.

And for that reason, one could say they’re intimate with the realm of freedom. Writer and educator Ashley Montagu wrote about this rare freedom children so readily possess. In an article for Psychology Today titled, “Don’t be Adultish,” he suggested that we “preserve the spirit of a child, of youthfulness, inquisitiveness—the curiosity that is so evident in children. An open-mindedness that is free to consider everything, a sense of humor, playfulness—all these qualities we are designed to develop rather than outgrow.”

I like that. How unfortunate that so many of us mistakenly carry around the notion that we’re supposed to outgrow such traits. Doing so is something I call self-abandonment and a recipe for either a boring existence or depression.

No wonder we grownups are inclined to turn to the bottle, the pill, wild parties and so forth to remedy this sorry condition. But, as we all know, those things are merely band-aids. They’re no substitute for reclaiming our lost self.

Think about it, do children seek out the substitutes? No. They don’t have to. They’re neither enslaved by convention or weighed down by adultishness.

The child within each of us contains the seeds for authentic happiness.

The path to reclaiming that inner child looks different for each of us. I had conversations with Drake, Bud, Jane, and Garth about walking that path.

There can be no change, no opening to a new way of seeing and being as long as we continue to tightly grip that which is no longer working. We have to be willing and ready to let go.

And we attain the know-how for doing that by becoming young again—young enough to be able to paint a fabulous, multi-colored elephant!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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