Tag Archives: growth

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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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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The Love in Goodbyes

 

They share one thing: the tomb they inhabit called their marriage. It’s as cold and lifeless as a mausoleum’s marble walls. Merely coexisting in physical proximity to each other, they rarely utter a word—only when necessary. Long ago, they gave up occupying the same bed—even the same bedroom. Detachment characterizes their marriage.

Is it a marriage? Legally, yes—emotionally, no.

Years ago, Beth and her husband underwent a psychological divorce, a condition of disengagement and indifference. The original intimate connection they once shared and enjoyed is broken.

The growing gap between them became evident to Beth after their children left home. At that point, Beth realized that she and her husband live separate lives, each absorbed in pursuing their own individual interests.

Beth sought counseling because she can no longer endure the way she is living. “I’m lonely in my own house,” she lamented. Although they are mutually involved in various social functions, “we’re not companions,” she said. “There’s no life in what we do together.”

Her marriage has been reduced to a habit, not something she cherishes. Feeling stifled in such a cheerless and deadening existence, Beth wants a divorce. But fear of the unknown anchors her. Although hardly rewarding, her marriage is familiar territory, representing a comfort zone. So staying together assures security and keeps Beth from having to deal with the unknown.

Another roadblock is guilt. She’s tortured by the thought of hurting her husband. Yet, in reality, Beth is hurting him more by living dishonestly. Maintaining the illusion that all is well—merely going through the motions—is a form of deceit.

“If he knew the truth,” I asked, “would he choose to stay married? Would he really want to stay in the relationship if he knew you were there only because you can’t bear hurting him and because he’s a comfort zone for you?”

Beth suddenly got that distinctive “the lights just came on” look.  After a few seconds of gathering up her thoughts, she said, “I have never–ever!–entertained that thought before.” She relayed how she found that both “disturbing, yet strangely freeing.”

Physically she’s still married, but her spirit has moved on. “You didn’t cause that to happen, Beth, so it’s not something to feel guilty about. We can’t tell our soul what to accept, what to do and where to be.”

Divorcing her husband isn’t a hostile act waged against him. It’s an act of honoring truth, while also honoring herself and her husband.

Since Beth can’t be what she isn’t and can’t feel what she doesn’t, she should love him enough to release him to pursue more gratifying connections with others.

Call it a higher form of love.

“If the relationship is no longer rewarding for you,” I said, “it can’t be rewarding for him either.”

Yes, it will be painful for him, but better to experience the pain of truth, than to go on living a make-believe existence.

Fantasy doesn’t nourish—it leaves us empty and unfulfilled.

When relationships end, our knee jerk reaction is to cast blame—aimed at the other person or ourselves. Sometimes that’s  appropriate . . . but in Beth’s situation it wasn’t. In fact fixating on causes and blame can distract from the deeper truth:

Life is a flowing stream—change is an inevitable fact of life. Nothing stays put even if we would like it to.

We also tend to believe that divorce entails turning off the love. Not so. In fact, such thinking merely amplifies suffering because souls are tormented by estrangement.

Soul bonds never die—they undergo a metamorphosis.

Ironically, for Beth, living a lie has created more distance than falling out of love. The fearful and guilt-ridden side of Beth has clung to the status quo, while her more alive self is pulling her in the opposite direction—toward a life relevant to where she is now in her growth.

“Embrace your life, Beth, and go where your soul wants to take you.”

“Then what do I tell my husband?” she asked.

I told her to warmly convey her truth along with her heart’s regret. “You didn’t anticipate or plan this,” I said. “Something in you shifted. You’re not the same person you were twenty years ago. It’s something you hadn’t counted on. Tell him that.”

Sadness and grief always accompany letting go. I urged her to join hands with him and walk through the pain together.

It’s the loving way to say goodbye.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

 

 

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Unexpected Gift

 

“I don’t take responsibility for what’s going on in your head.”

That’s what Gordon wishes he had said when his girlfriend completely misinterpreted him . . . again.

It all started when she called to tell him how bored and miserable she was at work. According to the work schedule, she had the day off, but they needed the money. Bills were starting to pile up because Gordon had been sick for several days and was forced to take time off from work, so he’d been borrowing money from her to handle his half of the bills.

After getting free of the bug, he returned to work and started earning an income once again. But it would take a while before they were completely out of the woods.

Gordon was feeling nothing but respect and gratitude for his girlfriend’s generosity and work ethic.

After the call, he quickly rearranged his schedule so he could surprise her at work and help alleviate her boredom. As he drove to her restaurant, he felt immense tenderness toward her and was looking forward to brightening her day.

He walked in. She looked up and saw him smiling. Her face got very serious. “You need money, don’t you!” she said gruffly.

He froze . . . stunned.  She had completely misread his intentions. Though deeply hurt, he managed to stammer out a few words in defense of himself: “No . . . why would you think that? Nothing like that. You told me how slow things were and that you were bored, so I came!”

As usual, nothing he said made any difference. She didn’t budge from the distorted picture she had of him.

The whole event had a sobering effect on Gordon.  “I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “She automatically assumed that just because I was visiting her at work—where she makes tips—that I came with my hand out, wanting some of her hard-earned cash.” He thought she might jump into his arms, or smile gratefully, or even just grin a little. The more he thought about it, the more it hurt.

“What kind of guy does she think I am?” he said. “I don’t even come close to the type of person she imagines me to be. Only a cold-hearted jerk would respond to someone’s call for help by showing up with the intent of asking for money. She doesn’t know me at all!  And the person she thinks I am isn’t even someone I’d want to be associated with.”

Once Gordon’s eyes were opened, he realized that this scenario had defined their relationship for the entire three years they were together.  He also saw just how much unhappiness he had swallowed during that time.

This latest event was a reality check. He came to realize that he could no longer stay in a relationship that was so costly to his well-being.

“Without knowing it, she gave me an incredible gift.”

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) Salee Reese 2018

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