Thanksgiving Guilt

Last year at this time I addressed boundaries and how to use them effectively to have a good holiday season.

After giving a presentation to my community about boundaries and family of choice I heard a resounding theme.

Guilt.

It seemed the crowd had a great grasp on the concept of boundaries including how to use them and how to make them effective. The questions came as we shifted the focus to family of choice.

Family of choice refers to those who find the holidays are best spent with the family members they have chosen. Some times these are blood relatives, some times they are friends collected along the way.  These are the people who make up the inner circle of your world. They are the people you trust fully and are there for you through thick and thin.

Two reminders:

  1. Guilt is a feeling associated with doing something wrong. Usually intentionally wrong. Or how dictionary.com puts it “the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability:He admitted his guilt.

  2. When one gets married and especially when they have children, this is your family. Parents, siblings, and other relationships take a back seat to your marriage and children.

I suggest another word for the feeling associated with recognizing that a family of choice doesn’t include a parent(s) or sibling(s).

Sad.

It sucks. No one in the world likes recognizing that a family member or someone they were raised by or raised with has a negative impact on them and their partner or children. And often those who need to build a family of choice the most have given way too much time, thought, consideration, and has given too many second chances.

Let go. Grieve. And give yourself permission to spend your holidays with people who make you feel loved, connected, and cared about.

 

 

Showing up for life 

The theme of my week has been the importance of showing up. In a world where with the click of a mouse and/or the swipe of a debit card we can send condolences, comfort, and pseudo connection I’ve been struck by the power of showing up. No one can read your mind and often our intentions are assumed by others. By showing up we communicate our thoughts and intent clearly. 

Here are some ideas of how to show up in your life for those most important to you:

Take flowers to someone

Say thank you in person

Look people in the eye

Compliment what you admire

Shake someone’s hand

If you love them, say it! Again and again.

When you feel the urge to say just about anything to make someone feel better; hug them instead.

Hold your loved ones hand

Be patient with emotion. Feelings come and go but some linger… that’s ok.

Human interaction truly matters. Don’t let the digital world fool you into thinking otherwise.

The Resistance

Over the summer I have been pursuing all sorts of creative endeavors. Painting, music, videography, anything and everything that piques my interest. To me having a creative outlet is a key ingredient to self-care. And as a therapist, I am always seeking to add to my self-care repertoire.

These creative endeavors lead me to the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  I have not been able to put this book down! The concept is that art is a part of our souls and often a higher calling but it is commonly met with different forms of resistance. From alcohol to love to procrastination, Pressfield describes in detail the many faces of resistance.

In reading these descriptions of resistance, I couldn’t help but think of therapy. Therapy is often an artistic endeavor where my professional expertise meets the wide variety of human experience and together we create a new paradigm for the future. When I reflect on it that way, I can’t help but ponder how the resistance may show up for my clients.

  • Dreading sessions perhaps?
  • Too afraid to pick up the phone to even schedule a session?
  • Perhaps beating yourself up for even feeling as though you need a therapist?
  • Ignoring the issue hoping it magically disappears?
  • Trying once again to solve it all yourself?
  • Too stuck to even find a therapist?

Resistance is a powerful force that often prevents us from moving forward. But as Pressfield articulates, “the greater the resistance, the more important the work.”

3 Reasons Life Feels Unsatisfying

While this may not be an exhaustive list, here are a few reasons to explore and get you started:

  1. Something NEEDS to change or be addressed: If there is one thing I have learned from years of working with people it is that human beings are extremely resilient. The body, mind, and spirit can endure and cope with large amounts of stress. Whether it is the physical stress of not addressing a medical need or the emotional stress of staying with a harmful relationship. People are able to cope themselves into corners and dark places. Taking time to reflect on life and truly look at how long a relationship, job, or physical condition has been going on can provide clarity into what truly needs to change. It never ceases to surprise me how many years people will endure things (especially jobs and relationships) that are literally destroying other areas of their life.
  2. Change Requires New Narratives: It doesn’t matter how far someone moves or how great the new job or relationship is, the old story will still replay from time to time. Be prepared to remind your wandering thoughts that life is changing and to give it time before feelings of satisfaction or peace come with that change. Keep track of successes and milestones that mark your way to the life you do want. Proactively choose the narrative or story that you replay in your mind. I ran into this problem when I went from a grueling internship to private practice. I had days I would catch myself dreading going to work or feeling anxious about my practice. I finally realized, I was addicted to that way of thinking because I had endured and coped with a harsh environment for so long. It may sound silly but I had to literally remind myself that I was not doing that kind of work any more. I had to create a new story to tell myself about my career. I would reflect on how lucky I am to spend my time helping people and if there is something I can change it.
  3. Gratitude is a practice first and a feeling second: A practice of gratitude is truly life changing. When clients discover the ability to be grateful for the change that is occurring in their lives or focus on the parts of life that are going well feelings of happiness and satisfaction abound. The ability to not let work stress or one relationship bleed into other areas of life is important. Just because there is a couple difficult people at work doesn’t mean a person has to hate the whole job. Practicing gratitude helps keep life in focus and can offer clarity about what needs to change. I see this commonly with the most intimate and important relationships in client’s lives. When there is marriage or family stress, it appears to affect all areas of life. Staying grateful for what is going well in life keeps people focused and offers an honest reflection of your present context or environment.

4 Ways to Change (right now!)

There is a tendency in our culture to think that change, like love, is just something that happens. However, there are steps or access points to engage in change. Use a combination of these access points and watch the results pile up. I will list these from easiest to more difficult.

  1. Physical State: One way to encourage yourself to think differently or make different decisions is to get in a good work out. If you are using a workout for this specific purpose, schedule it as early in the day as possible. Think about how you feel post workout: strong, empowered, ready to take on anything, and a bit proud of yourself. These feelings are great places to start making new decisions or renewed commitment to the decisions you are trying to make. If this is hard for you to imagine, think about the decisions you tend to make when you are feeling sad or stressed out or after binge watching Grey’s Anatomy all afternoon. Try tracking this for a week…. I am not supposed to guarantee anything as a therapist… but I can guarantee this strategy! You don’t need me to make this change!
  2. Behavior: Make a commitment to changing a behavior like drinking more water, writing more, picking up a new hobby, or joining a club/community. I find it is easier for most people to add a new behavior or learn something new rather than making the focus quitting something. For instance it is hard to keep repeating to yourself “watch less tv” because you are reminding yourself of TV every time. Try repeating “write more” it will guide your thoughts in a new direction.
  3. Food: Let’s face it, nutrition is not a rocket science these days. It is common knowledge that less food from a package and more fresh fruits and vegetables is a healthy way to go. Don’t discount the power of food on your mood and perception of your context. Eating fresh foods that you know are good for you can dramatically change the way you think and interact. Try drinking less caffeine … I know, that one is hard for a lot of people but caffeine is a stimulant and all stimulants no matter their legal status increase anxiety, jitteriness, irritability, and can prevent you from getting a good nights sleep.
  4. Insight: We all have those moments when we “know” something but still choose to act the same way. It is hard to generate new insight inside the mind that got you to where you are now. New insight can be generated however through a coach, a class, or a therapist. These are contexts in which you can share where you get stuck and a new person with a different experience of you and your context can generate new ways of thinking about it.

I encourage my clients to make an attempt at all four. If a client is making change in a couple of these areas, therapy becomes exponential accelerating change and helping it stick. Michael Long, the other therapist here at Cascadia Family Therapy, calls therapy “New Year Resolution super glue.” Adding that fourth component to your commitment to work out more or eat healthier adds momentum.

Give it a try and let me know what you find in the comments below!

Humanity

I recently listened to an episode of This American Life in which they were exploring the old adage, “you will understand when you are older.” In the final act, they are talking to a man in the early stages of dementia. He describes what it is like to go to his doctor and be asked questions like “Who is the president?” and “What day is it?” and worst of all, they ask him to draw a analog clock depicting a particular time.

The man, a former engineer professor, is bothered that he struggles so much with this task. His life before was centered around numbers. He sits down one day and deconstructs the issue. He figures out and later articulates to his wife, the difficulty is that they are three layers. The hours, 1-12 (even though there are 24 hours in a day), the minutes (which correlate with the numbers 1-12 but represent 5’s) and on top of that, the larger hand tells the minutes while the smaller hand tells the hour. No wonder I am 30 and still have trouble reading an analog clock!

Anyway, this was an amazing story but that was not what fascinated me the most. What caught my attention was that his wife of decades kept feeding him words and prodding him along. It reminded me of many therapy sessions with parents and children. This constant need for your loved one to achieve in a way that society can recognize. It broke my heart. Here are people, young or old, trying to find their way in their own words, as fragile and disjointed as it may be, and we as a society have lost our ability to simply wait.

The evidence of this impatience and obsession with boiling every part of a human into a number is all around us. The survey of your doctor, what stories post in your Facebook feed, or what makes me most sad, the number of smiley or sad faces an elementary child comes home from school with.

I wish I could remember who said this, but I heard someone say that the true tragedy of our society isn’t what law has been or will be passed or the absolute joke of candidates in this presidential election, but instead the loss of humanity. The loss and oversimplification of the infinitely complex experience of being a human being. Our children are not numbers and our loved ones are not defined by the words they struggle to find. And each one of us deserves patience and quiet loving support to find who we are today even if it appears to be drastically different from yesterday.

So next time you feel like filling in a word or take a test score to mean something about you or a loved one’s intelligence, ask yourself, “does this really mean something or do I just feel a general pressure from society?” Or if you are really up for a challenge, “what is it about this score, lack of ability, or mistake that makes me feel uncomfortable enough to correct this person?”