Tag Archives: mental health

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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Shared Tears Heal

               One day, Heather’s parents discovered a suicide note          among her things.

Terrified and stunned, they sought help. It wasn’t long before their teenage daughter was admitted to a hospital. Looking back on that day, Heather recalls how hard she fought and argued with her parents when they said they were taking her to the hospital. “I soooo didn’t want to go!” she told me emphatically.

But Heather’s resistance didn’t carry any weight. Taking her by the hand, her dad promptly ushered her to the car, and off they went. The journey to the hospital seemed like an eternity for her. Far from being a casual trip, she was plagued with intense emotions, including raw fear. For the most part, the memory of that car ride is a blur. However, she clearly recalls tears streaming down her dad’s face throughout the ride. More than once, he told her, “I hate doing this, sweetie, but I have to.” His anguish was as great as hers.

Interestingly, she felt comforted by his emotions, interpreting them as caring.

Both parents visited Heather every day in the hospital, but the parent who had the greatest impact was her dad. On each visit, both parents told her how important she was to them. But words alone would not have made much of a dent for this girl who was at such a low point. Her dad cried with her on several occasions. That was the magic.

Emotions are the invisible medium by which we feel oh-so-connected with another human being. For those in pain, this simple remedy—connecting at the heart level—vitally assists the healing process.

Unwittingly, Heather’s father rescued his daughter from feeling isolated—from being all alone in her pain. Who among us would not feel cherished in the presence of such heart power?

What Heather received from her dad, she also desperately craved from her mother, Kate. But according to Heather, “My mother is usually matter-of-fact when it comes to my pain and troubles.”

Far from being cold-hearted, Kate has abundant love for all her children, and like most parents, when they hurt, she hurts. It’s just that she has trouble showing it. During the crisis, her own pain was immense, but she kept it all inside. Kate actually believed she was doing the right thing for her daughter. “I really felt that Heather needed for me to be strong . . . not to fall apart and be weak,” she recalled.

But her daughter didn’t need that. 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.”

Heather continued by tearfully expressing years of sorrow over her mother being emotionally detached, including this most recent example.

Kate suddenly burst into tears. It pained her that her daughter felt that way. “Heather, I felt I was going to lose you. I was terrified!” she said between sobs.

A wave of relief passed over Heather’s face. It was clear she felt consoled.

I said to Heather: “Your mom’s crying. Do you see her as weak right now?” Looking tenderly at her mom, she said,

“No, I see her as strong! Only strong people allow themselves to feel pain.”

I so savor the fresh and clearly spoken wisdom of young people. I had no more questions. Stepping back, I let mother and daughter embrace uninterrupted for as long as they needed.

There is a clear distinction between crying with our children and leaning on them for emotional support. The latter is just too heavy for them to bear. Feeling responsible for a parent’s well-being is an enormous burden for their young hearts.

But crying with our children doesn’t rock their foundation. In fact, children learn an invaluable lesson when we model the strength of facing and moving through the depths of our emotional pain. Instead of being overwhelmed by the strong current of their own emotions, they feel powerful and capable of dealing with them head-on.

While in the hospital, Heather was diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressants. Today, she’s happily married with two children of her own.

Helping in that recovery, I’m sure, were two parents—not just one—who knew how to cry with her.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

© Salee Reese 2019

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Silence Your Inner Bully

Negative self-talk arises from a ruthless internal bully.

“Everything I touch fails. I suck at everything!”

Those words were uttered by 35-year-old Brady who can’t seem to shake a pattern of failed jobs and relationships.

Is it a matter of bad luck? Definitely not. It has to do with how he was programmed.

“In my father’s eyes, I was a loser . . . couldn’t do anything right,” Brady said. He recalls his one goal in life as a boy: “To make my dad proud of me . . . to hear him praise me for a job well done—just once!” But that never happened. “Instead, he kept reminding me of how worthless I was.”

Brady’s no longer a child living at home, but he’s taking over where his father left off. The only difference is that his attacker now hangs out in his head. Call it his inner bully.

Inner bullies don’t just spring out of nowhere. They’re the byproduct of daily exposure to a demeaning or verbally abusive parent.

“Are you really the way your father sees you?” I asked. “Does he really know you?” Brady lowered his head. “I—I couldn’t say that he does.”

I smiled. “Then quit living as if it were true . . . as though he’s right,” I said.  “You’re the authority on you, he’s not.”

I offered the same advice to Ellie, another client raised by a toxic parent—her mother.

Among other things, Ellie wants to start her own business, but she’s paralyzed by a constant barrage of self-belittling thoughts.

I remember her asking: “What’s wrong with me? Why is my mother so nasty to me?” I answered her with a question of my own. “What’s wrong with your mother? Why can’t she see your value?” Ellie couldn’t answer that. She just did a lot of crying instead.

Brady and Ellie can’t control how their parents view them, but they can control what they accept as fact and what they tell themselves.

Unfortunately, that can’t happen with a simple snap of the finger. It requires learning a new habit. The old automatic thinking has to go. I recommended the book You are Not Your Brain by Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. and Rebecca Gladding, M.D.  The book shows readers how to rewire their brain and it offers steps for ending deceptive brain messages.

Inner bullies are fairly common. Why? Because there’s no such thing as a perfect parent or a perfect childhood. Like sponges, we absorb any negativity our parents and others dish out. We also absorb the positive, but it takes an abundance of feeling cared for, cherished and valued to override the not-so-good stuff.

We’re not at the mercy of our programming. As children we couldn’t avoid being programmed, but as adults we have the advantage of wisdom. We can out-think our inner bully.

That’s how we silence it. 🙂

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

 

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Make Your Soul Happy

“Depression is a distant early warning system that something in you is being pressed down, beat on, kept in prison, dishonored.”   ~Sam Keen

Sandra is depressed and it’s because she’s been dishonoring herself for a long time.

Although she despises her job, she forces herself to tolerate it. Not only is it unrewarding, the pressure and the demands are unrelenting. What’s more, she yearns to move back to Maine where she had a fulfilling job and a close and supportive circle of friends. She also had the ocean. It was within walking distance, and brought her unparalleled serenity.

“My soul was happy there,” she said while fighting back tears. “I’m grieving over the life I feel I’ve lost.”

Sandra doesn’t question her decision to uproot from Maine. Her aging parents needed her, and she was their sole source of care. “I couldn’t betray them,” she said. “I told myself it would only be for a few years.”

They’ve since passed on . . . several years ago, in fact. So why hasn’t she returned to Maine?

Blame it on the lure of security and the paralysis of fear.

Though she hates her job, it provides a steady income, insurance, and growing retirement benefits. She tells herself it wouldn’t be practical to venture off to a place she hasn’t called home for 15 years. Too risky. But that form of reasoning doesn’t pacify her soul’s yearnings. Why? Because souls don’t and can’t live in that “ought-to” world.

Although Sandra couldn’t bear the thought of betraying her parents, she’s been betraying herself for years. She’s guilty of surrendering to a settled-in existence.

Our comfort zones don’t cultivate happiness. If anything, they can be a recipe for depression. Our soul is constantly letting us know when something doesn’t feel right. Will we listen to that voice or the voice of fear, familiarity and the dozen “ought-to” messages that hound us every day? That’s the challenge.

In our session, I asked Sandra to close her eyes and imagine her sadness as a separate entity sitting across from her.

“What is sadness saying to you?” I asked.

Her face grew solemn. After a long pause her sadness–emanating from the core of her being–told her this:

 “I feel sad because you gave up on me. You knew what I needed and you gave up. You didn’t take the energy to do what you needed to do. You retreated and you keep retreating more and more.”

Impressive. Sandra’s soul is summoning her to leave the tomb of settledness and head in the direction of her passion.

Giving her sadness a voice allowed Sandra to finally recognize the true cost of playing it safe. She’s learning that her depression won’t magically disappear, nor should it. It’s sending her a very important message. The only thing that will work is taking control of her life–managing it from a space of courage and love for herself instead of fear.

“We’d all like a guarantee before making a decision or taking a risk, but the irony is that taking the risk is what opens us to our fate.”   ~Mark Nepo

 

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

 

 

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Moving Through Grief

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(c) Salee Reese 2018

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The Seduction of Security

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That bold step automatically eradicated colorlessness from her life.

I’m happy for Angie. 🙂

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2018

 

 

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Not Guilty!

 

Kara would like to skip getting together with her family over the holidays. But guilt stands in her way.

“I hate to say it but I’d be a whole lot happier spending time with Marc’s family,” she said. Marc is Kara’s husband. “They’re just more pleasant to be around.”

In contrast, Kara’s family gatherings are unbearably stressful. Wounding, in fact. They seem to find it entertaining to make fun of each other, team up, and exchange sarcastic digs.

“And if things get heated up because someone takes offense,” she said, “tempers fly! Why would I want to be around all that?  I always feel judged and anxious . . . mentally beat up!”

So why does she feel so torn?

Kara gave a heavy sigh. “Guilt,” she said. “It’s my mother. She’ll take it as a personal assault if I don’t want to go.” Kara went on to explain that her mom will act hurt while saying something to the effect: “Oh. I see . . . you’d rather be with Marc’s family than with us.”

I understand why Kara feels judged around her family. It happens.

I asked Kara, “Will guilt win or will your preference win?”

She lowered her eyes.

“Hey” I said, “if  you must feel guilty, you might as well feel guilty for doing what you want. Right?” 

She laughed. We both did.

I’m reminded of something my husband, Don, once said.

“One thing is certain, if you fall under the control of guilt, you will end up unhappy.”

Guilt shouldn’t dictate our decisions—reason should. And so should something else . . . our well-being.

Which choice is best for Kara’s overall well-being? The answer is obvious.

Kara made it clear she likes her family. She just doesn’t like it when they’re all congregated under the same roof.

We did some brainstorming and came up with a win-win solution. She will get with each family member on an individual basis. This can happen anytime—around holidays or on any date throughout the year.

Minus the family dynamics, it will be a lot more pleasant.

Kara’s mother and other guilt-manipulators could benefit from thinking about Wayne Dyer’s definition of love:

Love is “the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves, without any insistence that they satisfy you.”

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2017

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