Tag Archives: relationships

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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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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The Love in Goodbyes

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call it a higher form of love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soul bonds never die—they undergo a metamorphosis.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the loving way to say goodbye.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

 

 

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Unexpected Gift

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) Salee Reese 2018

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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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Thank You, Daddy

daddy-kiss

Whether you’re a grown-up or a young child, your father probably occupies a special place in your heart. 

Over the years, my clients have shared many thoughts about their fathers with me. One client made me smile with this one: “I remember Sunday mornings listening to records and Dad dancing the polka in stocking feet on the linoleum floor in the family room!”

Can’t you just picture that?

Annette recalls: “I treasure the simple memory of Dad tucking us in bed each night and kissing us goodnight. And he was the one to get us up in the mornings and make us breakfast.” He cooked the evening meal, as well. She was especially touched by how he went out of his way to make their favorite meals.

Chad told me of his father’s endless patience: “Whether Dad was showing me how to throw a ball, helping me with my homework, or teaching me how to drive, he was always patient.  And when I got in trouble, or failed at something, Dad wasn’t the type to blow up. I can still hear him say: ‘Well son, what did you learn?’”

Claire loves that she can go to her dad for reliable advice: “What stands out about my father is how well he listens. I can talk to him about anything and I know I’ll get his undivided attention. I remember one time when I had been offered a new job and was debating whether to keep my present job—which I really liked—or take the new one. So when I shared my dilemma with my dad, he asked me questions about both jobs—what I liked about my present job and how different the new job would be. In essence he was causing me to weigh the pros and cons of each. He didn’t actually tell me what to do, but prodded me to examine all aspects so I could figure it out for myself. It fills me with a sense of security to know I can always turn to my dad and he’ll listen to every word.”

My own father never had much to say, yet somehow his love for his three girls infused the air with an ever-present soft glow. When he did share his thoughts, I could tell he was in the habit of doing some deep thinking when off by himself.

Dad was the playful one. I have precious memories of him playing hide-and-seek with us. He taught us how to swim, how to fish, how to plant a garden, how to dance and how to go after what we yearned to achieve. Like Annette’s father, he did the cooking.  When we came downstairs in the morning, a smiling dad and a breakfast of poached eggs awaited us. There were no exceptions. Even on Christmas morning, Dad made it mandatory that we eat breakfast before all else. Our presents would just have to wait. Seemed like hours! 🙂

Jan, another client, was moved to write about her late father.

“As I sit here anticipating my first Father’s Day without my dad, I wonder: Does everyone who has lost their father feel the same emotions I’m feeling?

“Before he passed on, Father’s Day meant worrying about purchasing the right gift and hoping it was something Dad would enjoy. It was trying to get everyone together and accommodating schedules. With five other siblings, this wasn’t always an easy task.

“My father was a man of few words. He had minimal education and worked construction his whole life. He worked many hours to provide for a family of eight. There weren’t many heart-to heart talks with my dad or one-on-one moments. Sometimes—I’m embarrassed to admit—I even wondered if my dad really loved me.

“But as I sit and ponder, I realize it wasn’t really about the gift I had to buy or the time it took from my busy schedule. Father’s Day represented the man in my life who was always there. He wasn’t going to divorce me or leave me. He was there for every holiday, every marriage, every divorce. Basically, Dad was there for every event.

“Although we didn’t spend a lot of time together and never talked about the latest topics, he was present and always watching over all of his children. More and more I realize there’s something comforting and important about the feeling of being watched over.

“Recently we buried my father, and as all six siblings stood watching over him in his final days, I realized there was no animosity between us. We were in total agreement in his last hours about how we would make him as comfortable as possible.

“It was the night my dad passed away that I finally realized what he’d taught me. He taught me how to love.

“And as I watched my five siblings gather around his bed that final night, I also realized they were given the exact same gift.

“Most importantly, I realized that with my brothers and sister in my life, my dad would always be there. I can now see him in each and every one of us.

“So here’s to you, Dad: You might not have taught me to put a napkin on my lap or how to write a letter, or to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ but what you did teach me was so much more valuable. Thank you for the gift of love. It outweighs everything else.

“Happy Father’s Day, Dad.”

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) 2018 Salee Reese

 

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