Tag Archives: guilt

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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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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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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Love Me Tender

 

Some people believe they’re detestable. In fact, the thought of being worthy of love and accepted–even cherished!–for who they are at the root level seems unfathomable to them. 

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to be content with ourselves.

So where do low self-opinions come from? Children internalize or see themselves as mirrored in their parents’ eyes. If that reflection is a positive one, then they carry around a positive attitude toward themselves. If that reflection is negative, then they acquire a negative impression of themselves that can last throughout their lives.

Two former clients, Mike and Lori, come to mind.

“My mother hated me,” Mike said in one of our sessions. “It’s oppressive to be hated by your mom. It takes the color out of everything.”

He’s right.

Mike’s mother never came right out and said she hated him. She conveyed it in subtle ways–through looks and in her overall attitude toward him. It wasn’t warm, caring, forgiving and understanding. Not at all. When he got in trouble–even for little things–she came down hard. She also seemed to never want him around. “Go away, don’t bother me,” was one of her favorite expressions.

Mike grew up hating himself and hating his life. No surprise.

Lori was raised under similar conditions. She and her siblings paid dearly–physically and emotionally–if they failed to toe the line.

That early conditioning resulted in anxious perfectionism, and when she would fall short of that unrealistic expectation, she would spiral down into a grimy pit of shame and self-loathing.

Lori would spend days immobilized, unable to socialize and unable to leave her home. It was a pattern spawned in early childhood–one she couldn’t shake until she sought help.

Both Mike and Lori were afflicted with shame.

Shame and guilt go hand in hand, but there’s a fine distinction. Guilt is what we feel when we break the rules, laws or violate parental or societal expectations. With guilt, we feel it’s possible to clean up our mistakes, learn from our misdeeds and move on. But shame is different–mistakes and wrongs are unpardonable.

In John Bradshaw’s book, Bradshaw On: The Family, he writes: “Guilt says I’ve done something wrong; shame says there is something wrong with me. Guilt says I’ve made a mistake; shame says I am a mistake. Guilt says what I did was not good; shame says I am no good.”

When we’re exposed to a steady diet of humiliating messages, those messages end up defining our being. Our pure sense of self gets lost in the contaminating process we call shaming.

Where’s the line between discipline and shaming? Healthy discipline guides and instructs. Shaming undercuts self-esteem. At an extreme degree it crushes the spirit.

Shaming communicates to children that they’re bad. How words are expressed is as important as the words themselves. For example, it’s possible to say: “You didn’t put the milk away,” but convey an attitude and tone that says, You’re bad!

I remember explaining to another client, Ethan’s father, that his son needed mentoring—not shaming. When 6-year-old Ethan kicked a cat, his father became furious. Among the nasty labels he shot at him was “cruel.” Instead of coming down hard on him, he should have viewed the situation as an opportunity to provide a lesson on kindness.

A non-shaming approach communicates that the action is wrong, not the child. It was appropriate that Ethan learned that it’s wrong to hurt animals. But he also needed his sense of self-worth to remain intact.

Ethan is but a tadpole–he’s just beginning to learn how to function appropriately on planet Earth. So the situation called for patient leadership, conveying: I’m at your side, son, ready to show you the ropes.

After all, it’s tender love that turns tadpoles into contented frogs.

 

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

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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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Don’t Take the Bait

When Jim returned home from his Saturday fishing trip, his wife, Marlene, was withdrawn—cold as ice. Alas, the all too familiar silent treatment had set in. He asked Marlene if there was a problem. With her head turned away, she murmured a mere, “No.” Remaining calm and unaffected, he said, “Well, you’re not acting as if nothing’s wrong.” He then encouraged her to say more. She didn’t respond. At this point, Jim had two alternatives: either invest agonizing energy into altering her mood, or just let it play out. He chose to let it play out.

A wise choice on his part because silent treatments are best ignored. Attempts to squelch them have a way of simply reinforcing them. Silent treatments are a substitute for verbalizing. As children, indirect communication may have been the sole option for some. Perhaps they were screamed at or ignored for speaking up directly.

As a young child, Marlene may have been taken seriously only when she got quiet and emitted vibes of being annoyed or hurt. If so, she learned that there is a greater payoff for going quiet than for speaking up. Her manner, though, is self-defeating in an adult partnership of equals. How can Jim be attuned to her needs if she alienates him—if he’s left in the dark?

Before he started counseling, whenever Marlene would go silent on him, Jim’s urge to fix the situation would be overwhelming. Tormented with guilt and unrest, he would try anything—short of turning cartwheels—to appease her. It never made a difference. Instead, it only left him feeling disgusted with himself.

Now, Jim doesn’t get caught up in those antics.

He has come to realize that the solution to dealing with Marlene’s silent treatments lies in changing conditions in himself as opposed to changing external factors.

In the past, if someone was withdrawn or angry with him, Jim automatically assumed he was at fault. But Jim is no longer inclined to accept blame that doesn’t belong to him.

In our counseling sessions, I emphasized to Jim: “Don’t be managed by silent treatments. Refuse to take the bait.” Instead, I urged him to practice integrity. Silent treatments are designed to control or punish. Thus the term “punishing silences.”

Inherently, they are an insidious form of aggression. Not only do the aggressors hide their weapons, they don’t see themselves as aggressors. Intent on believing they have been wronged in some way, they view themselves as victims and therefore feel justified to punish.

Being on the receiving end of a cold shoulder can be an intensely frustrating experience. Because there’s an unwillingness to discuss the unspoken complaint, people in Jim’s position are declared guilty without knowing why and without being given the opportunity to defend themselves.

The fair and open approach entails dialogue between both parties, mutually engaged in seeking a satisfying resolution.

Jim made such an attempt soon after returning from his Saturday fishing trip. In a forthright manner he invited open dialogue, giving Marlene ample opportunity to express what was on her mind. He wasn’t nasty about it, nor did he come off like a puppy deserving of a good whipping. He merely attempted to address an obvious problem.

Jim went as far with it as he could—the rest was up to her. Her manner exuded alienation, leaving him no healthy alternative to backing off. In so doing, the responsibility for Marlene’s mood was appropriately placed squarely in her lap.

Jim and Marlene went about their weekend barely speaking a word. The atmosphere was thick with silence—and tension. By Sunday evening the silence broke.

Apologizing for her behavior, Marlene explained what her problem was. She was disappointed when he chose to go fishing because she had been anticipating a romantic weekend—time with just the two of them. Ironically, since Marlene failed to be up front about her desires and expectations she sabotaged the entire weekend with her sulking. Her apology was a victory for integrity.

Had Jim manifested his former pattern of absorbing blame and engaging in feverish attempts to appease his wife, a different outcome could be anticipated. More than likely, the silence would have culminated with Jim groveling apologetically and Marlene enshrined in her self-righteousness.

Instead of surrendering to guilt, though, Jim displayed strength and poise, thus uplifting the dynamic between them. Quite possibly, Jim’s demonstration of unyielding integrity stimulated some healthy soul-searching on Marlene’s part.

Her use of silent treatments may become a relic from her past. Now, at least, Jim is breathing new life into the pattern of their relating. By changing his behavior, he’s stimulating Marlene to follow suit.

 

(c) Salee Reese 2018

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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You Really Do Know What’s True

 

Proceeding wisely through life requires a sharply focused awareness of our emotions. Being blind to them handicaps our ability to take effective action in any given situation.

Let’s say, as a small child, you hear a loud noise. Instinctively, you place your hands over your ears. Then you’re told, “It’s not too loud.”

Let’s say you fall down and get hurt and your parents tell you, “You’re not hurt.”

Let’s say you tell your parents you saw two lizards in the backyard and they respond by saying, “No, you didn’t!”

If this happens often enough, you may—understandably—begin to distrust your own experience of reality. The same goes for emotions. If our emotions are continuously discounted instead of being validated, we stop relying on them for useful information. Unfortunately, we learn to rely on how we’ve been programmed to think and feel.

Cheri was raised to doubt her own emotions. Consequently, she second-guesses herself whenever someone treats her disrespectfully. Nate, her 22-year-old son, is no exception. He has been doing it for years.

But Cheri’s waking up. “Enough is enough,” she said in our counseling session. She had reached that point after returning home from a short business trip and discovering that her house had been trashed. Without her knowledge, much less her approval, Nate had thrown a party while she was gone. It really wasn’t out of character for him to ignore his messes. And it wasn’t unusual for him to erupt in a rage when confronted.  He can be cooperative, but only when he wants something, and it’s at those times he pleads for a second chance. Up until now, Cheri has obliged him.

“What can I do?” Cheri asked. “I feel used.”

Merely teaching Cheri better methods for dealing with her adult son would prove futile. That’s because the source of the problem—her major stumbling block—resides in how she dismisses her own feelings.

Like her parents, Cheri tells herself how she should feel and think instead of listening to the wisdom of her emotions and using her better judgment.

Her actual emotional response toward her son’s blatant disrespect is a combination of pain, outrage and disgust. She may love him as a son, but she honestly doesn’t like the person he’s become. According to Cheri, he treats people poorly in all arenas, not just at home. And on several occasions, his troublesome behavior has led to problems with the law and with employers. It distresses her that his sole focus seems to be on self-gratification. Displays of sensitivity toward others or demonstrations of a social conscience are virtually nonexistent.

But Cheri’s criticism of her son—realistic as it may be—immediately activates strong feelings of guilt. She believes she would be mean and selfish if she stopped giving him chances, lending him money, doing his laundry and other such favors.

Ironically, she feels okay about judging herself, but feels wrong about judging her son.

When I pointed that out to Cheri, she said, “I was brought up to believe that it was wrong to judge others.”

I explained that there is a difference between open-eyed clarity and being judgmental. We possess discerning minds. That ability, along with our values and emotions, tells us when someone’s actions are just plain wrong. Emotions alert us to discomfort and repulsion—our mind tells us why. Both provide valuable feedback so we can respond appropriately.

I emphasized to Cheri the importance of listening to her soul’s indigestion.

“It’s telling you something.” I urged her to pay attention to that sick feeling in her gut. “We shouldn’t ignore what we find disturbing,” I said.

“I can’t differentiate between judging and what’s distasteful to my soul,” Cheri said. “In my mind, choosing what’s right for me is equivalent to judging.”

“Where did this idea come from?” I asked.

“I was constantly told as a child that I shouldn’t feel what I feel…that the way I felt was wrong. Any feelings, anger or tears were considered wrong. I wasn’t allowed to say what didn’t work for me. So I don’t feel I have the right to complain or to even expect my son to be different.”

I felt optimistic when Cheri left my office that day because awareness is the first step in re-programming ourselves. Hopefully, she will begin to override her guilt and start validating her emotions. And as a result, she will effectively respond to her son’s disrespectful behaviors.

He just may be in for a bit of a surprise. Hope so.

 

 

(c) Salee Reese 2018

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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