Tag Archives: healing

Call it Parent Power!

colorful explosion2

Laura’s petrified that her teenage daughter may be headed down a dangerous path.

While she and Kaitlyn sat across from each other in my office, Laura rattled off her string of concerns. Among her worries were slipping grades, Kaitlin’s recent choice of friends—some have been in trouble with the law—and a controlling boyfriend who habitually puts Kaitlyn down.

As her mother talked, Kaitlyn made every attempt—frantically—to disagree and voice her opinion. Understandably so. None of us likes to be cast as a loser, and in Kaitlyn’s eyes that was exactly what was happening. To Kaitlyn, her mother wasn’t listing concerns, she was listing failings. This same scenario was often played out at home, and with even more intensity.

I explained to Laura that during those times, Kaitlyn was defending her self-image. “She must resist your impression of her, because she has to believe in herself,” I said. “If she doesn’t, she’s wide open to all those things you’re worrying about.”

“Your influence as a parent skyrockets as you believe in your child.”

In fact, there’s no better way to arm a child for the challenges of daily life.

As parents, we have little control over what happens after our children become teenagers. A smaller child is much easier to influence. As they head for some danger zone, such as a stairwell, we swiftly reach out and grab them. We can’t do that with teenagers. But we can convey that we have confidence in their ability to master life’s risky stairwells on their own.

Laura won’t be able to dictate Kaitlyn’s choice of friends, and criticizing them will only backfire. Like all of us, Kaitlyn needs to feel valued and accepted, so if her friends are the only ones providing that fundamental need, she will lap it up like a starved kitten. And, let’s face it, when we’re starving, we’re not picky about what the food is and where it’s coming from.

When Kaitlyn feels good about herself, she’s more likely to make choices consistent with that good feeling. Her grades will likely go up, and putdowns will no longer be tolerated.

Laura can help make that happen. I advised her to do the following:

  • Instead of saying: “Be careful,” as Kaitlyn leaves the house, say, “I know you’ll be careful.”
  • Avoid lecturing her about all the dangers out in the real world. She’s heard them a zillion times from you already. Instead, tell her you know she will use good judgement no matter how tough the challenge.
  • Convey that you have confidence in her ability to handle controlling people by saying to her, “I know you’ll stand up for yourself.”
  • When she does well, acknowledge it and praise her. We too easily point out errors.
  • When she falls short, don’t lose confidence in her—she will be less likely to lose confidence in herself.

I also suggested that Laura add the following phrases to her everyday vocabulary:

  • Keep up the good work!
  • You can do it!
  • You must be so proud of yourself.
  • I believe in you.
  • I trust you’ll do the right thing.

By believing in her daughter, seeing her in a positive light, and trusting her ability to navigate life’s various challenges, Laura will indirectly bolster Kaitlyn’s self-image while safeguarding her with the strength of confidence. Consequently, she can’t help but influence Kaitlyn’s life for the better.

I call that extraordinary power!

 

Names are changed to protect client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2016

 

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Latest Wow: Anger’s a Mask We Wear

angry woman

“I don’t mind being the bitch … it gives me boundaries. It protects me from how vulnerable, wrong, and empty I feel inside.”

This was the first session Kate’s focus went inward. Before that, her focus had been on her outer enemies. Kate’s wow—one of many—had me jumping out of my seat that day! It was exciting to be part of her breakthrough.

A protective shield began forming when she was a small child. She didn’t feel cherished the way children should feel. Instead, she felt afraid—afraid of being attacked verbally by her father and shamed by her mother.

“Making the other person bad is my defense mechanism against feeling guilty,” she said.

Mostly, she was afraid of not being loved, afraid of not being even worthy of love.

“You wanna know what’s at the bottom of my anger?” she asked.

“What?” I inquired.

“I’m craving bonding … real connection.”

When Kate’s heart was hurting, she wasn’t comforted. When she yearned to be heard, no one listened.

“At some point I quit trying. I had determined that no one would listen and nothing would ever change.”

It’s a lot easier to be angry than to feel the sadness that accompanies hopelessness. In a strange sort of way, anger soothes the wounded heart.

Not surprisingly, Kate’s current relationships—including her marriage—are continually impacted by her powerful early family environment. For example: “Just like my parents, I go straight to being pissed. I don’t talk things over. Things were never talked over when I was a child.”

Kate reminded me of another client I was seeing, Lindsay, who shared Kate’s inflammatory, angry outbursts.  Her motivation was different, but the root cause was identical.

Find her story by clicking here.

Both Kate and Lindsay grew up in homes where they were not heard and felt disconnected from their families, particularly their parents. They coped by adopting anger as a mask—a protective shield.

Ironically, the very thing they have used for protection is the very thing that interferes with their getting what they so desperately crave. In short, anger works against them. It doesn’t cultivate closeness and understanding. In fact, it does the opposite. Kate’s husband can attest to that: “It’s hard for me to be soft with her if she’s angry.”

I applaud Kate for acknowledging her destructive patterns of relating, and for wanting to change. She’s also willing to remove the mask and face her buried pain. And she’s willing to test being vulnerable. All that takes courage!

I’ll walk that path with her. I’ll also be helping her establish healthier boundaries and a more effective substitute for anger . . ., er, bitchiness. 🙂

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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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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Missing Sasha

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just a dog2

Sadly, Carrie’s four legged friend passed away.

When she told me about it a day later, she struggled hard to fight back the tears. She was surprised to be so affected. After all, it was just a dog, right? Wrong. Psychological experts are increasingly acknowledging the importance of pets in our lives. Indeed, they provide companionship, loyalty and even love—all qualities of a true friend.

To move through the grief, I suggested that she write a letter to her furry pal. She did, and I was so moved by what I read, I urged her to let me publish it. I explained how it could help many, many people who have suffered the same loss. What’s more, that single letter described so perfectly the special bond between humans and pets.

She agreed to having it published. Here it is:

Dear Sasha,

I miss you!!! I am writing this letter to let you know how much you have meant to me. You have only been gone for a little over 24 hours and I miss you everywhere. I miss you at your dog bowl and at your bed in the closet. I miss you at the top of the stairs barking because you were no longer capable of making the long journey down. I miss you licking your paws endlessly and begging for the crust from our pizza on Sunday nights.

But most of all I miss you by my side. You have always been there when I was sick. You never left my side for days when I was down and out.

You were such an inspiration to me. Loyal till the end!

You were the smartest dog I’ve ever known.

You made us laugh so many times. Thank you for that. You will be missed by all.

I miss you so much.

Your jealousy of Amy [Carrie’s daughter] has always made us giggle. Seven pounds of dog trying to wedge in between us lying on the bed.

As I write this letter to you, I am realizing how much you made us all smile. In today’s world, you don’t always get a lot of that. Did I mention I miss you?!!?

Thank you for being my best friend. Sometimes I feel bad for saying that because most people consider their best friend to be a girlfriend, mother or spouse. (Humans!!!) My criteria for best friend is: faithfulness, understanding, loving, being accepting, never judging, taking care of my needs, listening to my problems. Yes, you meet all the qualifications of a best friend. I hope I was the same for you, because you gave me such great joy.

As I sit here and write to you, I feel as though I’m 10 years old. Not only were you my friend, but you were everything to me that my parents weren’t.

With you, I never felt alone—never felt judged. You were always on my side, always protecting me, and always standing up for me.

Did I mention I love you??? It’s lonely here without you. Some day there may be another dog in our home but he or she will never, ever replace you. I love you with all my heart.

Until we meet again!  I wish you Godspeed.

Love you forever.   ~ Mom

If reading this brought a tear to your eye like it did mine, good for you. 🙂

I welcome your thoughts!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2007 Salee Reese

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Heart Connections Live On

colorful heart

“You don’t grieve to distance yourself from a loved one, you grieve so they become a part of your heart.”

I just love that thought! It was one of the many insights my friend, Pat, shared with me several months before her body lost its battle with cancer. Throughout my life, I’ve had to say goodbye to numerous loved ones, and as you all know, it’s never easy. Grief is a pain like none other, and it doesn’t just go away by wishing it gone. It lingers until it’s darn well ready to leave.

Grief is inevitable and often necessary for the healing process, but prolonged torment is preventable.

Grief, I’ve found, is worsened and perhaps prolonged when we believe our connection to our loved one has been cut. The result is an intolerable sense of separation. That was my experience when someone I dearly loved died. I suffered for a long time until I realized that being miserable was the separating factor—not his death. That experience, along with a strong desire to relieve suffering in others, led me to write a book, When the Cage Dies, the Bird Lives. In it I write:

The death of your loved one

is a tragedy as long as you

experience it as

severing.

The heart grieves

when the mind tells it

that a cord has been cut.

But the mind is wrong!

The heart’s yearnings are right!

cords between people

~heart cords~

can’t sever

Ever.

My thoughts turn to Kay, a client whose seventeen-year-old son, Jerod, died in a tragic car accident. “He was my life!” she wailed repeatedly. I have to say, it was heartbreaking to hear such raw pain.

Kay was a single mom and Jerod her only child. For years, a major portion of her life had centered around his schooling, including various activities and sporting events. She was on a first-name basis with all of his friends and their parents. She knew each of his teachers and his coaches.

“A year ago, before the accident, I was into everything . . . I was an extrovert,” she said. “But now I don’t want to be around anybody. I just go through the motions. I’m not really present in my life anymore.”

She wanted to share memories about Jerod. She needed to. As she talked, she would sometimes cry. At other times, she would break out in laughter. I cried and laughed right along with her.

Later on, I brought up the subject of moving on. “What new doors have invited you in?” I asked. “If you view your life as a storybook, what does the next page have to offer? What would you like it to offer?”

She shook her head vehemently while blurting out: “I don’t want to let go of Jerod!”

Kay’s logic told her that moving on was equivalent to letting go—severing a connection with Jerod. And for that reason, she had chosen to remain stationary in an attempt to freeze time.

To offer some degree of peace, I drew upon Kay’s own belief system. I asked her if she believed Jerod was more than his body, or whether he ceased to exist when his body perished. She was adamant that his spirit lives on.

If that’s the case, I explained, Jerod wouldn’t be shackled to the past. Under such circumstances, we’re forced to ask ourselves: Is reality a stagnant pond or a flowing river? Staying stuck in one spot—holding on to the past—isn’t an answer. It can’t provide relief. “That’s because Jerod is no longer in the past,” I said. The past is gone; the present moment is all there is.

“In your view, Kay,” I asked, “what is the meaning of life?”

“God gave us unique gifts and a purpose,” she responded. “We’re here to use those gifts and to fulfill our purpose. We are to touch people’s lives. Jerod touched people’s lives.”

Kay proceeded to describe Jerod as a kind-hearted person who radiated a warm glow wherever he went.

“Okay,” I asked, “how can Jerod continue to touch people’s lives through you? And how has Jerod’s touch—his coming into your life—fertilized your being and purpose? How can he enrich it yet?”

And in so many words, I added this:

Suppose death doesn’t mark an ending but the beginning of a whole new phase with souls—invisibly linked—engaged in some common purpose? Is it possible that the grandeur of your bond with Jerod has morphed into new and heightened meaning?

Tears slowly trickled down Kay’s face. The tears were different this time.

Healing won’t be an easy path for her. The death of a child is considered to be the greatest loss a person can endure. One client with a similar loss put it this way: “Sometimes the pain is so deep and so dark, you’re just drowning in it.”

I know that to be the case personally. I witnessed such pain in my parents when my older sister, Susan, suddenly died at the age of twenty-one.

Profound loss results in profound grief. The pain may never completely go away, but in time its sharp edge tends to dissipate, along with the accompanying shock and paralysis.

The people who recover their inner radiance are those who carry the confidence that love survives death. Although they can no longer see or touch their loved ones, they maintain a heart connection, not letting death be a barrier to their bond.

As for Kay, she’s finding relief through the growing realization that moving on is the act of letting someone in instead of letting someone go.

Names are changed to honor confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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Architects of our Destiny

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Typically, when it comes to New Year’s resolutions we think along the lines of changing our physical appearance by going on a diet or getting involved in an exercise program. We may focus on breaking a bad habit or resolve to accomplish a project we’ve been putting off. The commitment to make any of these changes is commendable, but there’s something else to consider in terms of change. William James, a philosopher and pioneer in psychology, wrote:

“Man alone is the architect of his destiny. The greatest revolution in our generation is that human beings by changing the inner attitude of their mind can change outer aspects of their lives.”

Unfortunately, the endless array of problems parading through our lives can leave us feeling jerked around by life itself. Here’s the problem with that attitude, though: if we see ourselves as mere victims of life’s circumstances, we sentence ourselves to an unhappy and powerless existence. Change is impossible under such conditions because our will is disabled. Maria, 48, was one such person. Her husband of 27 years left her for another woman. She didn’t see it coming, and to say she was shaken is putting it mildly. In our counseling session she expressed her despair. “It’s been a year since he left me,” she said, “and I’m still not over it.”

Regrettably, a full year of marinating in negativity had taken a toll—Maria had grown bitter. Over the months, she had retreated into a shell of distrust and resentment.  “I was doing everything right,” she said, “and look what happened to me.”

William James would say that Maria’s inner attitude was her new enemy . . . responsible for fashioning the outer aspects of her life. No question, her all-engulfing sense of betrayal—by her husband and by life itself—paralyzed her from moving on and blocked her from being open to change and receptive to new love. In fact, her attitude was discouraging it.

Maria and I spent the next few sessions exploring the ways she was sabotaging change and how she could turn that around.

By the time she had finished her therapy, she had renewed hope and confidence about her ability to shape a new life for herself.

Yep, we truly are the architects of our destiny.

 

How have you been successful at changing your life by changing your attitude? I’d like to know. 🙂

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2015 Salee Reese

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Meet Your True Self

bird reflection

 

 

When you’re harassed by guilt and self-judgment, you’re vacating your true self . . . and you’re vacating truth. Period.

In my last post, Escape your Jungle, I defined the true self and how it can easily become overshadowed by a bogus self-concept—based on erroneous beliefs about ourselves.

Donna was my example. Her negative conclusions about herself created a strangling thicket which played a significant role in her depression and life dissatisfaction.  Her pathway back to her true self entailed disbelieving those conclusions.

Like Donna, Brad needed to get reacquainted with his true self and identify the lies about himself that he was hanging on to.  I’ve mentioned him before on this blog.

Long ago, when Brad was a child, an inner critic started to sprout. It criticized and shamed him the way his father would. And it picked on him exactly the way his siblings did. In time, Brad grew up and left home but his inner critic went with him. That’s too bad. It meant he would continue to experience internal assaults and guilt on a constant basis.

Another term for “inner critic” is “inner roommate.” I happened upon that term while reading Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. Learn more about the inner roommate here.

This nasty brute hangs out in our head, taunting, judging, scolding, bossing, and finding fault with everything we wear, think, eat and do. (And the list doesn’t end there.) 😉

Those internalized messages obscure our true self. I remember Brad once telling me, “My true self is foreign to me, so I don’t feel it’s attainable.” Like so many of us, he had fallen into the habit of giving his inner roommate more reality than his true self.

“How do I figure out what my true self is?” he asked.

“We don’t figure out who we are,” I said, “we experience it.”

I had Brad close his eyes and imagine a time when he felt free from guilt. With barely a moment’s hesitation, he said: “Being out in nature.” His voice cracked with emotion as he talked about finding refuge in a woods near his house. He played near a creek, climbed on logs and built a few forts over time. Nothing disturbed his peace. His siblings weren’t there to pick on him and his father wasn’t there to shame or judge him. He felt peaceful and self-confident. He didn’t need his father’s acceptance out there—he was experiencing self-acceptance.

I urged Brad to tuck that memory away and pull it out whenever he feels a guilt-attack coming on. It’ll key him into the truth about himself.

Another client recounts similar feelings while playing a piano . . . when she gets to a space where the music is “effortlessly flowing through my fingers, and the whole world shrinks to nothing—there is only that moment.”

As for me, my earliest true-self memory goes back to the age of five. It was one of those sunny, deep-blue-sky days, and I was outside on my bicycle. Not a soul was in sight . . . just me, the birds and the serene day.

The inner roommate is relentless and doesn’t go away without an entire arsenal being deployed against it. The inner roommate doesn’t use logic. It can’t use logic, but we can and must. We shouldn’t blindly buy into what our inner roommate says about us. How did it get a monopoly on truth anyway? Questioning the validity of the roommate’s accusations involves logic.

In our sessions, whenever Brad said something negative about himself, I questioned it. I demanded evidence to support the allegations. I got ruthless at times! 🙂 Finally, after enough exposure to this, he began questioning his negative self-talk on his own. That was the idea.

I get excited—call it a eureka moment—whenever clients see their inner roommate for what it is and cease to pay homage to it. Such a moment presented itself not long ago when Brad leaned forward in his chair and uttered these words:

“You know what? My roommate’s a liar!”

We high-fived that one! That moment of clarity, by the way, came straight from his true self.

What are some of your true-self experiences? I’d love to hear them!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2014 Salee Reese

 

 

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