Category Archives: Parenting

Husband and Doormat

I-am-not-a-doormat - touched up

The problem with walking on eggshells is that it imprisons you, and nothing gets better.

That was my response to Naomi in our counseling session. She habitually succumbs to her hot-tempered husband.

“I’m careful about everything I say because, well, he gets ugly if I tell him what he doesn’t want to hear,” she said.

He routinely undermines her self-worth with hurtful, sarcastic remarks. But instead of objecting, Naomi immediately self-censors how she feels.

There’s a price to muzzling ourselves: a restricted voice—unspoken words held captive in the throat—is a form of confinement. If we can’t talk freely, we aren’t free.

Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist, would agree. In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, he equates freedom with the ability to articulate grievances. Our founding fathers understood that basic truth when they wrote the constitution.

“When did you become a slave to his moods?” I asked. “And why is degrading treatment okay with you?”

Naomi lowered her head …. and after some tears and lots of sighs, she opened up about the many years of putting up with his abusiveness.

A pattern, though, took root way before Naomi met her husband—when she was a small child. Her one sibling—a sister—kept the household in constant turmoil with her explosive outbursts. Naomi was frequently the target of her sister’s rage and hostility.

“My parents catered to my sister in order to keep things peaceful,” she said.

And they coached Naomi to do the same. When her sister was offensive toward Naomi, instead of being supportive by prompting her to stand up for herself, they hushed her.

“They would tell me to not make waves,” she said.

In fact, Naomi was reprimanded if she fought back or defended herself. Anger wasn’t allowed, even when it was unquestionably justified.

“I was supposed to be understanding,” she said.

Clearly, Naomi and her sister weren’t held to the same standards of conduct and selflessness.

This sent a distinct message to Naomi: the difficult people—those hard to live with—are to be excused.

In this seedbed of her early formation, Naomi naturally concluded that her feelings should always take a back seat, and that she’s expected to quietly endure harsh treatment.

This early programming set the stage for the dynamics in her current relationship. In effect, Naomi married her sister. And now her parents reside inside her head, instructing her to “not make waves” and to tolerate her raging and demeaning husband while ignoring her emotional wounds. A clear-eyed, critical stance toward her husband’s behavior leaves Naomi feeling guilty, causing her to second-guess whether her feelings and observations are accurate, acceptable or even normal. My work with Naomi has included helping her question her programming instead of herself.

“What did your parents need to do differently?” I asked.

“I should have been allowed to assert myself with my sister,” she responded. “They should have let me fight her, stand my ground and say how angry she made me feel. Instead, everything was suppressed. I was never able to speak up to verbal abuse.”

Since her feelings weren’t validated as a child, Naomi has to learn how to do that for herself as an adult. Trusting her emotions is an important hurdle. She is learning just how important it is to be able to honestly assess how others treat her, and how to do it without feeling guilty. Sometimes, subjecting another person to critical analysis is absolutely called for—and necessary for both parties.

I asked her, “Now, what does your husband need from you?”

She seemed surprised by the question. “He needs . . . he really needs me to be myself. He needs me to be honest with him, or he’ll treat me like this until the end of time and we’ll have no chance of really being together. We’ll be ‘husband and doormat’ until we’re old and gray . . . .”

A few sessions later, Naomi told me how she had successfully stood up to her husband after he made a rude comment. She told him she didn’t deserve being talked to that way. And as one could easily predict, he flared up. She, on the other hand, felt bad about upsetting him.

In so many words I said this to Naomi:

He’s upset because you’ve given up your doormat status. Remember, he married a doormat. He didn’t opt for a partner who stood up for herself. So understandably, he’s not in a jubilant mood upon running headlong into your integrity. He’s going to fight back at first, hoping to return things to how they were. Consider his fury a clear sign that you’re evolving.

She smiled, and I could see the relief on her face. Clearly, a new day is coming for Naomi! 🙂

Hopefully, Naomi’s husband follows suit and does some evolving himself. If not, she probably won’t stick around. That’s because once we perceive things through clear eyes, and once we become our own advocate, it’s impossible to go back to tolerating the status quo.

Something to keep in mind:

Don’t automatically assume when someone’s angry at you that you’ve done something wrong. Maybe, just maybe, you did something right.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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Filed under Couples, General Interest, Get Free, Parenting, Random Acts of Courage

Real Strength

Rudeness - edited

I like what Sydney Harris, the late American journalist, had to say:

“People who are proud of being brutally frank rarely admit they are more gratified by the brutality than by the frankness.”

Personally, I don’t think there’s anything admirable about stomping on someone’s dignity. It’s easy to be offensive and degrading. It’s much more difficult to get a point across while remaining tactful . . . even kind.

Straightforwardness occupies two categories: assertiveness and aggressiveness. One is respectful while the other is anything but. Check out this website for more on the difference between the two.

Aggressive communicators aim to dominate and control. Their body language and words convey—loud and clear—“I expect to get my way,” and “I’m always right.”

Tom’s boss is a perfect example. According to Tom, he’s  abrasive and undermining.

“No one wants to speak up at meetings,” Tom said. “It’s the fear of being humiliated. Just last week, I was ridiculed for a less-than-stellar sales report.”

Tom refers to the company’s teamwork philosophy as a “joke. Nothing original is discussed in our meetings,” he said. “Brainstorming may be on the agenda, but our ideas and opinions are instantly argued down. Brainstorming is just another word for us nodding while he postures and spouts out his ideas.”

Not surprisingly, such an atmosphere stifles enthusiasm and commitment. So bosses like Tom’s might as well kiss productivity, creativity and innovation goodbye while they watch dedicated employees like Tom walk out the door.  “I can’t continue to be subjected to this kind of treatment,” Tom said. “When you have to literally drag yourself to work every morning—not because of the job—but because of a person at that job, then it’s time for a change.”

No question, we admire people who speak truthfully and boldly—who tell it like it is. Such people are cut out to be leaders, whether we’re talking about leadership in the office, on the football field, in the classroom or in the home.

I frequently hear parents complain about their child’s lack of respect. Respect is a noble quality, but it’s supposed to run both ways. It’s ludicrous for parents or anyone in a leadership role to expect to receive what he or she is unwilling to give.

successful leadersStudies show that the most successful leaders are those who empower rather than overpower, who inspire cooperation rather than foster alienation, who invite input and negotiation rather than dictate orders.

Here’s what one client had to say about her experience with both types: “I felt like I was working for my former boss, who acted like a dictator, but I feel like I’m working with my current boss.”

Let’s face it, force and disrespect may engender obedience and fear, but they don’t engender loyalty, trust and a desire to cooperate.

According the Wayne Dyer, leaders worthy of our admiration share a common principle: “How do we help influence those around us in ways that are going to make them better, us better, the world a greater place?”

Call it strength.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) 2015 Salee Reese

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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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I Want a Silverback Father!

Silverback

I’m certain we could learn a lot from silverback gorillas. Not about grooming habits, but about the way they care for their young.

The movie Instinct stars Anthony Hopkins as an anthropologist who lives among a community of gorillas for two years. He starts out as a detached observer, but it isn’t long before they win over his heart. He admires and adores these powerful yet gentle creatures and is especially touched by their undying devotion to their young.

Gradually, he is accepted as one of them.

One day, sitting among the gorillas as they groom themselves and nibble away at leaves, he becomes aware of a constant, attentive gaze that embraces them all. The gaze was coming from the “silverback,” the name given to the chief male—the elder or overseer—of the gorilla clan. His job is to protect and maintain order.

“It’s an amazing experience—the feeling of being watched over,” the anthropologist observed.

The gravity of that simple statement struck me. I wonder . . .  do our children feel “watched over” by their fathers . . . and in this manner?

I think a lot of kids feel “watched,” but not “watched over.” To me there’s a huge difference. To be “watched” implies a suspicious, critical eye. “Watching over” combines guidance with compassion.

Sam Keen, author of Fire in the Belly, has this to say:

In the quiet hours of the night when I add up the accomplishments of my life, those things that rank first, in terms of true success, have to do with my children. To the degree I have loved, nurtured, and enjoyed them, I honor myself. To the degree I have injured them by my obsessive preoccupations with myself, with my profession, I have failed as a father and a man. The health, vitality, and happiness of the family is the yardstick by which a man, a woman, a society should measure success.

To the dismay of many men and their children, that lesson is typically learned in hindsight. One such father put it this way: “Men fall into the trap of believing what their family needs most is a secure financial foundation. This isn’t so. The foundation comes from the heart, not the wallet.”

Turning again to Keen: “We learn to trust in a world that contains evil when we come crying with a skinned knee and are held, hurting, in arms; and the voice that is forever assuring us, ‘Everything is going to be all right.’”

Boys learn how to use their masculinity—in both positive and negative ways—by watching their fathers. Keen says, “A boy naturally learns how to be a man by observing how his father treats women, how he deals with illness, failure, and success, whether he shares in the household chores, whether he cuddles and plays.”

Keen mentions how his priorities as a father have gradually changed. “First time round as a father I had truckloads of rules, oughts, ideals, and explanations—all of which kept me at arm’s length from my children . . . . Lately I have come to believe that the best thing I can give my children is an honest account of what I feel, think, and experience, to invite them into my inner world.

We frequently hear the term “the absent father.” This doesn’t necessarily refer to the actual physical absence of a father. It can also refer to emotional absence. Children need to feel that there’s a special place in their dad’s heart reserved just for them. They need to see a certain delight in his eyes when they talk to him about their day or when they share their dreams and achievements with him. They hunger for his full attention—chunks of time in which he’s not distracted by schedules or electronic devices.

They need to see their father as powerful, but not “powerful” as in domination or through tough displays of fierceness or force. A father of young children once told me that good fathers are good leaders and that being a good leader requires a delicate balancing act. He said, “I must maintain an air of authority, but I have to be the right type of authority. I’m learning that the best leaders lead without squashing the spirit.

So, good fathering is about a warm and receptive heart. It’s about being involved and interested. It’s attentive to needs and distresses. It nourishes self-worth. It protects, guides and maintains order. It’s about cherishing and listening. It models strength, self-restraint and kindness. It comforts when there are tears. It accepts when there are mistakes and failures.

Being watched over is an amazing experience! The world needs more “silverback” fathers, wouldn’t you say?

© 2015 Salee Reese

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Fishing with My Little Brother

 

fishing

Everyone knows dads come in all shapes and sizes . . . but they also come in assorted forms. Lots of children are fortunate enough to have a man—who isn’t their biological father—step into that role. They may either supplement what Dad is doing or, perhaps, fill in the gap where Dad is literally missing. That man might be an uncle, brother or grandfather, or he might be completely unrelated to the child.

I know such a man. Don is a Big Brother to Logan. His father is completely absent from Logan’s life, so Don—along with other key male figures—has the opportunity to significantly leave an impact.

Recently, Don told me about an outing he had with Logan. The two of them headed for a pond with their fishing poles. When they got there, Don prepped Logan by saying: “Today, you’re going to become a fisherman.” Pointing to the bait, he said: “Which one do you think would work best?” Logan chose. Then with some basic instruction, Don coached him on how to bait the hook.

Don explained to me that it wasn’t their first time fishing together, “but it was fishing at a whole new level. I let him fish. I gave up control. My former pattern would have been, ‘No, do it this way.’ That avenue would only rattle Logan’s confidence and reinforce any fear of failure he might have. So I got out of the way and let him have his own experience.”

Logan’s attempts were clumsy at first. “But that didn’t matter,” Don said. “We grownups need to remember the first time we baited a hook . . . it just wasn’t very pretty.”

Within two minutes, Logan caught a fish. The first words out of his mouth were, “I feel really good about myself!”

“I felt happiness for Logan,” Don said, beaming. “I’m positive the reason he felt good about himself was because he mastered something on his own.”

What made that afternoon so special was the fact that Logan challenged himself to try something new. And Don facilitated it by being patient and by having faith in Logan.

 “I’m learning that there’s a difference between doing something with someone and doing something for them,” Don said.

“That’s how confidence is built.”

So true. After catching the fish, Logan asked: “Can I take the fish off the hook?” Ahhh, confidence in action.

“Logan’s success brought joy to both of us as well as a sense of connection and achievement,” Don said. “You know . . . I feel really good about myself, too.”

Hmmm. Looks like making a significant impact runs both ways.

For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters, see http://www.bbbs.org/

 

 

 

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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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You’re Bigger Than You Think

African-Elephant-on-the-Road-537x357

 

There’s a psychological term I want to introduce you to. You may already know it; the word is “schema” and it means a deeply ingrained belief or impression about ourselves and the world around us.

Schemas take root at an early age as a result of what we experience in life. Certain key people are also tremendously influential in the formation of schemas. By what they say and do, we form conclusions which have lasting effects on our behavior, our pattern of thinking, our choices and our self-concept. In essence, schemas color how we view reality and how we respond to most situations.

Automatic assumptions spring from schemas. Let’s face it, they show up in every argument!

Some schemas are positive, some are not-so-positive. Lorena recently shared a story illustrating a not-so-positive schema. (I wrote about her in an earlier post: “Perfection is Highly Overrated!” Click here to read it.)

Not long ago, her dad pointed to a photograph of her on the refrigerator. “Do you remember that?” he asked. The photograph showed a 4-year-old Lorena dressed in a cute dancing outfit.

She remembered the photo and she also remembered the thought that ran through her mind when she saw it shortly after it was taken. “I was thinking that my thighs were too big!” she said while shaking her head in disbelief.  “I just cannot imagine that someone that young could even entertain such a thought! It’s just so outlandishly sad!”

By the age of four, Lorena had been thoroughly programmed to scrutinize her physical appearance. Yes, that is “outlandishly sad.” Her schema goes something like this: “My acceptance is based on how I look,” and “There is something fundamentally wrong with me.”

“As far back as I can remember,” she said, “I compared myself to other girls.”

Lorena was curious about the origins of her shaping. “Who’s opinion did I buy into?” she wondered. After mulling it over she came up with this: “I’m pretty sure it was my grandmother’s. As long as I can remember, she was constantly making derogatory remarks about how other people looked.”

The remedy for bothersome schemas? A heavy dose of clear minded self-appraisal.

We get free by questioning our conditioned assumptions about ourselves.

Lorena’s on a journey to do just that. She’s busy revamping her schema by disbelieving it. And in the process, she’s realizing she’s a whole lot bigger than some old schema hanging out in her brain.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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My Journey as Mom

polarbear

The other day I realized something: When my two sons were young, I thought everything they did was cute. Well . . . almost everything. Now they think everything I do is cute. How do I know that? Because they let me know. Without warning, one of them will say, “Oh, mom, that’s so cute.” I’m not sure how to take it. I’m stumped.

I realized something else, too. The only difference between then and now is I took pictures of them being cute. They don’t take pictures of me being “cute.” What’s up with that?

Hmmm . . . parenthood. Gotta love it.  Click here to read about another one of my ah-ha moments on that crazy ride called motherhood.

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The Latest Wow: Where Life is

man sunset silhouette

 

Not long ago, Todd, a client, wowed me with this:

“I want to be the type of person who loves others above myself. I know that’s where life is.”

Todd lives in a self-contained sphere that doesn’t include other people. He’s not a hermit—living an isolated existence. Far from it. He’s a husband, father, and successful businessman. No, Todd’s out there mingling—being part of things. Or so it seems.

Deep down he lives alone in himself. Secluded and cut off.  In his words: “I don’t form attachments well.”

His family keeps him reminded of that fact because they tug on him to be more involved . . . more connected. Their pain is something I hear about from his 20-year-old daughter, Jodi. Not long ago, after one of our sessions, she went home and expressed her distress to him—tears and all. He listened. She listened.

Soon after, Todd contacted me to set up an appointment. In essence, he wanted to learn more about himself—why he keeps people at arm’s length, and how he can change that. His long talk with Jodi—her words along with her emotional truth—opened his mind and his heart. That raw conversation had a powerful, “possibly life-transforming impact,” he said.

In our session, I learned that Todd’s detachment is the byproduct of early childhood abandonment. He never met his father and there was virtually no attachment to his mother. He described her as “self-centered” as he recounted incidents of reaching out for her nurturing and understanding. Such attempts yielded empty results. So understandably at some point, he decided to stop needing people.

Isolation and indifference became his friends and his comfort zone. And his job became the arena for proving his worth to himself.

Some people consider him a workaholic. But such a label isn’t fair because it misses the driving need underneath. Todd yearns to feel valued and he obtains that by over-achieving.

If I don’t feel valued for being me, I’ll seek value by what I do—by what I accomplish. 

Self-contained people have trouble giving and receiving love, and that’s a very lonely place. So, despite the comfort-zone experience of being disconnected from the world of other people, the yearning and need for love and connection never really go away. They only get covered up.

For Todd to change, he has to dismantle his ancient programming and replace it with the truth about himself. He is love-worthy. And he’s capable of giving and receiving it. He’s already demonstrated that by hearing Jodi and allowing her to impact him.

I go back to his words: “I want to be the type of person who loves others above myself. I know that’s where life is.”

There’s a heart in there . . . and Todd’s going to be sharing it lots more.

 

Names have been changed to honor confidentiality

 

 

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Life’s Hidden Agenda

zen proverb cropped

The soul wants growth and that doesn’t translate into a smooth ride.

I think life is akin to climbing into a canoe and paddling down a stream that’s rife with challenges and uncertainties. Yes, it’s risky and stress-provoking—to say the least. But if we hang in there, we get really good at navigating obstacles. Call it “personal evolution.”

Frederick Douglass, the slave who became a highly admired writer, said: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

One of the first obstacles we encounter in life entails our physical body—it’s limitations. As babies, we stretch to reach a brightly colored toy but our body won’t budge. We haven’t mastered crawling yet.  And when we do, we move on to tackle walking.

But what if someone rescued us from that particular struggle and just carried us everywhere? Would that person be doing us a favor? Not at all. Our muscles would remain soft and our potentials would come to an abrupt halt. Not only that, life would become rather beige.

It’s unlikely that someone would actually rescue us in such an extreme way, but rescuing in the form of overindulgence happens everyday. Click here to read a column I wrote on the subject and how it impacts us no matter what age we are.

Here’s an excerpt:

Overindulgence stifles personal courage. Consequently, adults who were overindulged as children tend to avoid taking personal risks. Even if their current life circumstances are miserable, they’re too mortified and paralyzed by fearfulness, and they feel too incapable of trying out different possibilities or options.

So despite our irritations with life’s bothersome problems, they benefit us. I like comparing it to garbage and manure. Both are nasty but they do fertilize our gardens and make things grow.

We need to be asking ourselves: Who are the people who possess wisdom, courage, stamina, flexibility and an understanding heart? We all know the answer. It’s those who have encountered and tackled countless obstacles. They’ve suffered losses and disappointments, endured mistreatment, experienced frustration, abandonment and betrayal.

Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth, expressed it well: “The challenges of our life situations draw out that which is deeper in us.”

So let’s grab our paddles and go out a bit deeper, shall we? 🙂

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