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.

3 Reasons Couples Therapy is so Important

  1. Attachment turns us all into toddlers: The great John Bowlby pioneered research on attachment. He found that when people or animals are denied their primal need to be attached to their mother or father, they self destruct and go into a full on fit in protest. Sue Johnson later found in her research that humans are the same way with their husband/wife/partners. These relationships become just as imperative of a bond. People will self destruct and throw a full on tantrum to get their partners love. I see it all the time, the creative often ingenious scheming that individuals come up with to get their partners attention or love. People will cry, yell, give the silent treatment, or whatever it takes to try and reach their partner. To the other partner it may feel like an attack but it’s really a cry for help. Therapy can break this cycle and give couples the skills they need to talk about their needs and feelings in a new more productive way.
  2. Others are invested: I hear it often from clients, a friend or family member they want to talk to about their marriage wants them to stay together or get divorced. It happens. Close friends and family members can take sides or form their own option, leaving the person with the marriage problem feeling worse than before. Couples therapy is a neutral environment where both partners can speak freely about their relationship. In that environment couples can quickly start making necessary changes that produce results.
  3. Marriage struggles feel so isolating: Because of reason above, it can feel there is no one to talk to about your feelings or concerns. Your most valuable and intimate relationship is not something you want to just get opinions about, it is too important for that. It can feel so isolating when the person who knows you the best is the one person you feel you can’t talk to. Therapy creates a great space for feelings to be acknowledge without feeling threatened.

Pop Psychology

I saw this article titled, Why You Should Never Go Back To Someone Who’s Hurt You by Sophia Wu, from Huffington Post circulating through my Facebook feed. It’s a great example of a common pattern I see as a therapist. This describes what I would call, a pursue withdraw pattern. Both parties are participating in keeping this cycle going as the author points out. The pursuer so infatuated, continues to do so at all costs, and the other continues to withdraw at seemingly just the right moment. The result, sometimes for both parties, are feelings of depression, worthlessness, anxiety, and overall stress.

As a marriage and family therapist, I am most interested in the pattern and a little less interested in the symptoms. While some therapists may be quick to hone in on those difficult feelings of depression or anxiety and how to alleviate them, I see those symptoms as neon signs. They are pointing out to my client that he or she is stuck in a pattern that is not helpful or worse, harmful. Other important parts of themselves are being ignored in strong pursuit of this one person. LIfe is out of balance for this person and the effects are beginning to show.

What should the client do then? Well, I have seen some pretty extreme versions of this. I have seen whole marriages spent in this pattern. But it is never too late to try something different. Yes, it is that simple.

Patterns give therapists and clients many points to evaluate possibilities for change. Patterns can also offer a more playful way to look at these problems. For example, instead of deciding in this very moment whether a person should stay with the withdrawer or leave, what if they just decided not to answer the phone every time the person calls? How might that change the pattern? Or what if they began to fill their time with more people and activities that don’t magically disappear every time they need them?

Take an new art class, go out with some friends, do something to invest in oneself. All of these suggestions serve to change the pattern. They may not fix the pattern immediately, but they help to break up that obsessive focused feeling to do the same thing you have been doing. I firmly believe that though our minds may be inclined to get stuck in these patterns, our minds thrive on change and expanding our options. The small steps listed above could be enough for someone to gain back neglected relationships, self-respect, and give the courage needed to leave that relationship. I have also seen it go the other way, as the pursuer gains more self-respect and courage, the withdrawer feels attracted again. They feel the balance restored in the relationship.

When you tackle a pattern, you never know what can come of it. Sometimes it is far better than you ever imagined.