Tag Archives: pain

Courage to Feel Deeply

 

In some households, tears are taboo.

Jill is one of six children. An adult now, she recalls her father being a harsh disciplinarian “who frequently beat us.” When the beatings produced wails and tears, he shamed and belittled them, demanding that they stop. Having to endure horrid, abusive treatment was bad enough, but then they were forbidden and chastised for expressing the very pain his abusive hand produced.

Sadly, Jill and her siblings were shamed for something that is as natural as breathing—shedding tears. Emotional repression—being restricted from crying—isn’t all that unusual. Children are frequently told things like: “Stop being a baby,” “Get over it,” “Tough it out.”

The effects of having our emotions hushed are far-reaching. For example, when parents disapprove of their children’s tears or sad feelings, it’s easy for the children to assume that their emotions are wrong. Even worse, children can form a negative opinion about themselves. They can begin to believe that something is bad or unacceptable about them at their very core. Why is that? Because our emotions are part of who we are. We quite naturally conclude:

“If my emotions aren’t acceptable, then neither am I.”

This early programming has a way of clinging to us into our adult years. And so today, Jill has difficulty shedding tears. The shaming and belittling continues, but now it takes place in her own head.

Jill is not alone. When Ken was a child and cried, his mother would say, “You’re just feeling sorry for yourself!” Instead of receiving comfort, he was criticized.

Neither Jill nor Ken were consoled for the emotional pain they suffered. As children, it wasn’t okay to talk about their pain. In fact, it wasn’t okay to have pain. The irony is that we feel emotion of some kind every second of every day.

Children who conclude that their feelings are not acceptable grow up to be adults who are unfamiliar with their own emotions, and therefore ill-equipped to handle them or the emotions of others.

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, says people who weren’t raised to know, appreciate, and acknowledge their own emotions have a hard time reading and accepting emotions in others. Consequently, he points out, they lack the ability to respond with foresight and sensitivity. This deficiency frequently results in bungled relationships, whether in the home, the workplace, or among various social acquaintances.

Buried or unexpressed pain doesn’t go anywhere. It just sits there and festers, producing a silent poison that attacks our joy and well-being. Many symptoms of stifled emotions include depression, sleeping difficulties, a constant knot in the stomach, or sudden angry outbursts.

Crying is nature’s technique for nurturing internal wounds and disappointments, both past and present.

Tears aid in the healing process, allowing us to move on. And far from indicating weakness, tears are a sign of maturity and strength. Think about it:

It takes toughness and courage to feel deeply, to hurt deeply, to grieve deeply. Only the courageous among us dare to do that. Tears are for the very gutsy, not the fainthearted.

So I asked Ken, “Is feeling sorry for yourself really all that bad? Who started that nasty rumor anyway?”

Sometimes compassion is forthcoming only from ourselves. And who’s better suited for the job? Who’s more understanding of our distresses? I would much rather see tears than self-belittling and unforgiveness toward oneself.

Here’s the advice I gave Jill:  “Overcome the mark your dad left on your spirit by treating yourself better than he treated you. Cry as often as possible. It’s the loving thing to do for yourself!”

Good advice for all of us. 🙂

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality..

(c) Salee Reese 2018

 

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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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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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July 4th for Your Spirit

freedom

“The deeper human nature needs to breathe the

precious air of liberty.”  

—Dalai Lama

We’re hard-wired to seek freedom, according to Muriel James. In her book, Perspectives in Transactional Analysis, she writes:

The urge to be free is closely related to the urge to live.  Freedom is the first struggle for life. It starts in the process of birth and the gasping for breath and continues to death . . . . Because of this basic urge, people sense a welling up of desire to break out of confining situations—clothes that are too tight, playpens that are too small, jobs and schools and jails and cultures and personal relationships that are overly restrictive. ‘I want my freedom’ is a personal, individual desire and a universal shout.

My client, Joe, was feeling the pains of this bondage:

Far from being free, Joe lives in the prison called “settling for.” Consequently, he lives a boring, soul-deadening existence. Long ago he deserted himself when he aborted his desires and dreams. Now Joe isn’t where he wants to be, doing what he wants to do. Not surprisingly, in the process of sacrificing his will, Joe lost any zest for life. Today, he’s hollow inside, a mere shell. He’s resigned to living a life that in no way resembles his true self.

Click here to continue reading . . . .

 

“When we attend to the soul’s need, we experience freedom.”  

—Jean Shinoda Bolen

fireworks

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

 

 

 

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Love is the Force

dad and daughter

“I want her to know she can come to me.”

Ben was referring to his twelve-year-old daughter, Madison. He sought my advice because 1) he’s concerned about her grades and 2) he realizes his approach is alienating her.

When Ben talks to Madison about her grades, he doesn’t talk. He yells and puts her down.

“Suppose your boss wanted you to do better at something, ” I asked, “would he get very far by getting upset and criticizing you?”

Ben sighed and said: “I get what you’re saying. I think I take after my dad. He was never physically abusive but he would be up my a** with his tone.”

A closed heart . . . an angry, critical approach only creates resistance and defensiveness.

What’s more, it creates separation and bad feelings—our relationships suffer.

I suggested he try approaching his daughter differently: “I’m noticing that your grades are slipping. What’s going on, hon? How can I help?'” The attitude of kindness that accompanies those words will give Ben his best shot at making something positive happen.

An open heart spawns trust and a close bond. Parent and child become partners instead of adversaries. It says: “Hey, I like you, and we’re together in this.”

Another client, Kim, was equally frustrated with her teenage daughter, Nicole’s, tepid response to a family outing. Kim was pushing, and Nicole was tuning her out. To break this deadlock, each would need to go beneath the surface and see the other’s true feelings—the pain. Such is the pathway to compassion—the only avenue for resolving differences. Interestingly, Kim’s true feelings centered around grief. Click here to read about our session.

By far, the single most important task of any parent is to build a strong bond with their child. Without that foundation, parents are handicapped in their ability to guide and discipline effectively. They may get obedience—which is usually no more than a mere superficial display—but they won’t get the respect and cooperation necessary for influencing a child’s life for the better.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

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Latest Wow: Face the Truth About Yourself

silhouette woman tree

“The bad thing about not liking myself is not being able to get away from myself. I can’t just go into the next room.”

Anna was being her usual witty self when she made that comment in my office but, sadly, she meant it. Also sad is the fact that a multitude of people feel the exact same way. How can that be? How does that happen?

It’s acquired. Self-loathing isn’t part of the package when we’re born. We don’t come out of the womb disliking ourselves.  We learn it—the result of how we were treated as children. I wrote about this in a column a few years back titled The Bent Twig. The column begins with a painful incident I witnessed between a mother and her little girl in a department store. It still haunts me. You can read it here.

As for Anna, her mother was a mother biologically, solely. Maternal she wasn’t. That is, she was minimally nurturing and minimally involved with her daughter. Understandably, Anna, saw herself as an inconvenience and therefore unworthy of being liked. To some extent, she carries that conclusion around yet today. She’s making progress, though, in turning it around completely.

This is what happens: we form an opinion about ourselves as a result of early life experiences—a self-image—that really isn’t accurate. So what we end up despising is who we think we are, not our innermost reality.  In short, our true self gets buried beneath layers of lies we have bought into about ourselves.

How to change this? A quote immediately comes to mind—a Wow!—by Brad, another client. Like Anna, he’s familiar with self-loathing—he’s been there. Here’s what he said:

“The brain is a fertile chunk of ground so anything we plant up there is going to grow.”

Brad’s statement suggests that we can take charge of our thoughts—the seeds that perpetuate a negative or positive self-image.

It’s good to know that the false notions we learned about ourselves can be unlearned. I say we start by disbelieving the debris of lies we’ve taken ownership of.

Names have been changed to honor client confidentiality

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