The holidays are just around the bend and for many of us, that means: Family Time! Family time is great except that “family time” sometimes means “forced events with difficult people time.” Sometimes we just don’t get along with people, but other times we feel obligated to help family members (or friends) who just can’t seem to help themselves.
I’ll admit, it is so hard to “let go” when we see a loved one flailing. We want to help. Of course we do, I mean, to help means to care right? Yet.. you know that other people care but yet they don’t seem to feel the same pull to jump in that you feel. How is that other people who care are able to do so at a distance?
In my practice, I often help clients through the heart-wrenching task of differentiation. This is a fancy word that can be defined as a the delicate art of letting go while staying connected. It’s saying, “I am me, and you are you. I can only control myself, but I still care for you.” I would be remiss if I were to say that I haven’t had to grapple with this process in my own life. I can vouch that it is a difficult but rewarding journey. What initially feels like a separation from a loved one, evolves into a relationship that has more room for grace, love, and joy. When we are differentiated, we no longer waste the energy that we once spent on attempting to control another.
Differentiation is not a destination, it’s a journey. There are different levels to experience and often we achieve different levels with different people. For example: When we have loved ones who struggle with self-harming behaviors in our lives, it is more difficult to differentiate from them than from those who take better care of themselves. Although for some of us, when we have grown-up with a care-taking role in our families, it is hard to remain differentiated in most of our relationships.
When we aren’t differentiated, we may find ourselves:
“I’m afraid if I change, my family won’t grow with me.” – KG
Thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. Today I want to talk about something that came-up in a group that I am facilitating. The group was created to help women create self-loving habits around food and exercise. We’re about three weeks in and some are hitting road blocks.
One group member courageously shared that what holds her back is realizing that the changes she wants to make could leave her isolated from her family. It wasn’t long after that many others in the group resonated with her experience.
I’d like to speak to this dynamic that is so common in relationships. I call it, the, “Now I see Me” phenomenon. The truth of relationships is that they often reveal our inner lives, the good, the bad, and sometimes the very ugly. Friends, family, coworkers, partners, kids… ALL will bring-up unresolved issues within us. So when someone does something offensive and we find ourselves reacting in a way that is disproportionate to the ‘crime,’ we need to start digging deeper. We need to stop and intentionally search within ourselves for the cause of such a reaction.
“I know that what I was doing was the right thing for me but for some reason, it was like my wife couldn’t stand it.” – LD
Now that will take time, work, and possibly therapy for you to uncover what’s really going on. That’s hard enough as it is. But what do we do when we’re not the one having the disproportionate reaction? Let’s go back to the concept of, “Now I see Me.”
For the sake of clarity, we’ll discuss through the lens of an adult romantic relationship. When your partner is resentful of you for positive changes that you want to make in your life, there’s a good chance that it is due to fear.
Let’s say that you and your partner make a regular habit of drinking to the point of blacking-out every Friday night. It’s been fun sometimes, but horrible at other times. You’ve decided that the horrible times outweigh the good times. There’s something in you that has been whispering, “This is not healthy.” So, you tell your partner you’re not going to do that anymore.
Now your partner’s behavior has been challenged. What was once a joint activity, will now be a solo one. They start to question for a split second if what they are doing is wrong too… Oh shit, now I see ME. This is terrifying. You see, whether it’s drinking, or overeating or whatever, that behavior was serving a purpose. Most likely, the behavior was allowing you both to escape or hide from an emotion or truth that is uncomfortable. Most people aren’t aware of this but when their behavior is challenged, some very intense emotions rise-up. Fear is incredibly powerful.
“My boyfriend and I had huge issues when I started changing my eating and exercise habits. He said he was afraid I’d think I was too good for him.” – LM
“Now I see Me,” is saying now I see my brokenness. And now they could be terrified that you’re going to see it too. They may fear that you will come to a place where you think you’re better than them and leave. Remember how I just said that fear is incredibly powerful? Well, for humans, an intrinsically social species, fear of being alone is the probably among the worst and being LEFT leaves a particularly deep wound.
In my practice, have seen couples with this dynamic- when one is ready to explore and grow and the other is digging their heels in the ground. This is actually very normal. We’re talking about two separate individuals, each on their own life journey. To expect us to always be in the same place at the same time is unrealistic. However, it is not acceptable or healthy for one to demand that the other not grow. It also isn’t healthy for one to want to change but not to do so out of fear of the other’s reaction.
I am currently accepting new clients for a process group starting October 2017.
You may not be so sure about groups, I wasn’t either until I experienced one for myself. I was amazed at how quickly I resolved some issues I was working through, and it was really enjoyable too! Groups are an affordable, effective, and deeply healing form of therapy. The experience of connecting with others who have a shared experience is incredibly powerful and validating. Please contact me today if you are curious about whether a group may be right for you.
Women in Ministry Process Group: October 2017
This is a 6-week small process group meeting weekly at my home in Buda, to create a comfortable and more anonymous environment. The group will be a place to safely share your experience facing the unique challenges of being a woman in ministry. We will explore the dynamics of Church culture and how they may be impacting you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The process group will involve art therapy, group processing, and prayer. I would like to have 8 spots filled before October 1st. Please let me know if you have any questions: email@example.com or 512-620-1257.
Time: 12p-1p, Thursdays
Cost: $50 deposit/materials fee, $30 weekly.
Future Group- LGBTQ+ & Spirituality: Reconciling Two Worlds Within
Please contact me if you are interested in this group! firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-620-1257
I get more questions about child development than any other psychological phenomenon and I’m not surprised. When I became a mom I was floored by how much there is to know, how many “experts” can contradict each other, and how common sense seemed to have no place in many parenting situations. Shouldn’t there be some kind of owner’s manual that comes with your new kid? Maybe the reason why we don’t have one is because much of parenting is viewed subjectively. Meaning, we base what is right and what is wrong on our personal values (or our parents’ personal values… or our in-laws’ personal values… or the values of the well-meaning yet intrusive elderly man at the grocery store), not on hard based facts. This is why, in my opinion, things get way harder than they need to be. Basing parenting decisions on objective information such as brain development, would make everything a whole lot easier for everyone.
First, let’s start with what is normal behavior and what is not.
But before that, let’s get you in the right head space:
While even the word “normal” can be subjective, let’s not get too caught-up on it. Falling outside the normal range isn’t necessarily bad, it just means that there is important information to be taken into account. So shake-off any fears about what not being normal might mean. If your child does fall outside of the normal range, they need you to be ready to handle it and you definitely can. It’s ok to be scared at first, be honest about it, but don’t let yourself dwell. There are so many resources available and as long as you’re willing to ask for the help you may need, you’ll handle this like a champ.
Now, on to the red flags.
A Dramatic Change in Personality or Behavior
Was your child once shy and introspective and is now chatty and needing to be around others constantly? Or maybe they were quite friendly and now want to be by themselves the majority of the time. Do they suddenly display violent behaviors or explosive anger? Or maybe your once potty trained 5 or 6 year old is now bed wetting.
Any time we as therapists hear a report of a dramatic change in behavior (that can’t be accounted for by medication, illness, or life event), we assess for abuse. If you are concerned after reading this, please don’t hesitate to talk to your child and have them assessed by a mental health professional.
When a behavior change is probably due normal development:
Yesterday my four-year-old son came to me and said, “Mom, how else could you have said that to me?” Implying that I could have used a kinder tone. (I may have been a little bitchy about asking him to put away his fishing rod, again.)
He’s also been known to say things like, “Look in my eyes please” and “Mom, you’re not being very nice.” So weird, because I, of course, ALWAYS look him in the eye since ask him to look me in the eyes when I’m speaking to him. I’m also ALWAYS kind. ALWAYS.
So why don’t I flip the flip out on my smart-mouthing kid when he says these things? Because he’s being the exact kind of “smart” we want more than anything. The kind of smart that’s more likely to help him succeed in life than any other kind. I’m talking about emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence includes the ability to ask for your needs or desires to be met. Lack of emotional intelligence generates a life of frustrating relationships and perpetual loneliness. We expect others to read our minds and guess our needs. Newsflash: this is a recipe for disaster.
Sometimes my partner and I flat-out ask our kid how we can be better parents to him. And you know what? He has very simple, but very helpful answers. Yes, it hurts to hear sometimes. It requires some hard core humility and also grace for ourselves.
When he tells us how we can better, we accept his feedback the same way we want him to accept feedback. We thank him for his thoughts, we validate his feelings, we share that we would like to improve, and we don’t get defensive. We model that feedback is good. It’s not scary, it’s not so powerful that we can’t survive it. We want him to be able to handle criticism well so we have to do the same.
We also acknowledge that sometimes in our culture, we have a double-standard for our expectations of children’s behavior versus our expectations of adult behavior. For example, we may angrily scold our child for being unkind to their sibling every time they do it. But let’s be real, are you ALWAYS sweet and gentle when you speak to others? Do you ALWAYS say “please?” Be real.
We can’t expect our kids to be perfect all of the time. We’re not. So when we can admit our own imperfection, we can also help our child to see that we need grace sometimes too. Otherwise, we seem just a teensy bit (actually, VERY) hypocritical. It’s an impossible standard we hold over them. We inadvertently teach them that they must be the epitome of politeness in front of adults but as soon as they’re out of our sight, they can be unkind to their peers or those smaller than them.
So how do we help kids to handle feedback positively, speak their needs and not be jerks to other kids behind our backs?
We must model who we want our kids to be, ask them how we can do better, and when we fall short, we have to own it.
You got this,
PS Hey! Did you know that I’ll be practicing therapy again soon? Unless you’re my mom (Hi Mom!) you probably didn’t. Let’s get you in the know! Sign-up for my monthly newsletters over in the right hand column and then you’ll get great relationship tools like this one and you’ll also receive updates about my practice and other upcoming events. I also appreciate feedback (obv) and would love your requests for relationship tools. Send them to email@example.com. Thanks for reading!
I was unbuckling my kids from their car seats this morning at the “Y” and overheard a very loud Bluetooth conversation from the car next to me. An exasperated woman was talking to her (soon-to-be ex) husband about why things were “just not going to work out anymore” and how she had “tried and tried to tell (him) many times that (we)needed help.” Now, “it’s too late.” I couldn’t hear his words very clearly but I could sense a pleading and despair in his tone. The woman was most likely in her fifties. I wondered if she fit the common story of being a recent empty-nester now finding herself married to a stranger.
I then wondered about my own marriage and about my friends who are also in-the-trenches-with-littles parents. I wondered about the couples I knew who have kids who are about to launch into the adult world.
Then I wondered, “We are giving so much to our kids, but are we investing in our marriages?”
Are we remembering to prioritize each other and ourselves before it’s “too late?” Statistics don’t lie. Divorce is non-discriminatory. It doesn’t care if you’re religious, well-educated, stubborn, patient, beautiful, rich or pious. It can find any one of us. I hope that we all can take a sobering moment to be honest about the time and energy we’re investing in our marriages. I hope we can find creative solutions to make date nights happen. I hope that if we need help, we get it. My hope is that we never get to a point where our committed relationships feel hopeless.
If you’re feeling like your relationship could use a tune-up, consider seeking counseling. While therapy isn’t always cheap, it’s sure more affordable than divorce and your relationship is worth it. In the meantime, here are some books that may help you get back on track (I would also recommend these to newlyweds):
^This book offers a basic understanding of what works and what doesn’t work for couples from leading researcher Dr. John Gottman. Gottman’s research has led his team to predict the likelihood of divorce with astounding accuracy. This is a great place to start.
^My husband and I love the work of Dr. Sue Johnson which is also research-based. This book will take you deeper than Gottman’s work and will be a little more personalized.
^I’ll admit, I haven’t read this book in it’s entirety but it comes highly recommended from some of my marital therapist peers. I love how Hendrix helps us to see the (often untrue) assumptions that we make about our partners and ourselves.
^ In my opinion, this is the best Christian-based marriage book on the market today. It was just released in October of 2016. It is from the same author as the formerly mentioned “Hold Me Tight.”
“We dare not get rid of our pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. Most of religion gives answers too quickly, dismisses pain too easily, and seeks to be distracted—to maintain some ideal order. So we must resist the instant fix and acknowledge ourselves as beginners to be open to true transformation. In the great spiritual traditions, the wounds to our ego are our teachers to be welcomed. They should be paid attention to, not litigated or even perfectly resolved.” Richard Rohr
There is a reason why the holiday season can bring out the absolute worst in us. The financial stress of spending. The social stress of time negotiation. The emotional stress of facing old and perhaps never healed wounds.
It’s no surprise that January is a peak month for psychotherapists! All that the year has buried becomes unearthed by the friction of holiday chaos.
Here’s the good news: you don’t have to wait until January to get your feet on solid ground. You can make the choice right now to intentionally live out the remainder of December. Notice, I didn’t say you will get through December unscathed. Pain is an inevitable part of life. As the Richard Rohr quote states above, let’s take this opportunity to learn from the pain.
We don’t need to be afraid of the uncomfortable feelings that may surface this season. We need to face them head on if we are to ever make peace. Putting it another way, Brene Brown, author of Rising Strong and more, says that to speak our shame is to remove its power.
So this season, I encourage you to find the time for daily self check-ins. If you can, jot down what you notice in a journal or share it with a friend. Now may be a good time to choose a trusted partner whom you can call when you start to feel stressed, sad, disappointed, angry, overwhelmed, etc. Remember, the idea is to “speak” the feelings in some way, bring them into the light. The goal is not to erase them or fix anything. Your partner’s job is simply to listen and validate your feelings. Finding such a partner is not always an easy task but you can vow to be this for each other and your commitment to this process is invaluable.
If you would like, here are some prompts to help guide your self-discovery:
1) I’m feeling something unpleasant. (Take a deep breath) I accept that what I’m feeling is valid. This feeling could be called: (sad, lonely, discouraged, etc.)
2) Where do I feel this feeling in my body? (Tightness in my chest, knot in my stomach, etc.)
3) Do I want to call and share or journal about this experience?
I think you’ll be surprised at just how powerful those three steps can be! Also, make sure to listen to my podcast Mountains are for Moving this week to hear some beautiful ideas about how to have a slow and intentional holiday. This episode goes live on Thursday, December 8th, 2016.
Wishing you peace and love this holiday,
Here are some free downloadable images to use as wallpaper for your smart phone or desktop as a reminder to slow down and stay connected to yourself and others this holiday.
Once you download this image to your phone, you can adjust the photo to look like this:
Once adjusted for your screen, it should look like this:
Help spread the spirit of slowness and share with your friends!
Can you believe it? The holiday season is fast approaching (in case the retail stores haven’t pounded that into your head yet) and that means it’s that time of year for busy-ness. Unfortunately, many of us feel like there is just too much to do and too many to please. We feel like we can never satisfy all the demands upon us.
Well guess what? This year, things are going to be different for us.It will be different because we will intentionally choose what our priorities will be before the season pulls the rug out from under us. This year, we will stand on solid ground.
Let’s take this month to really hone-in on who “our people” are. I created a free printable that I hope will help us all to stay focused and centered on our most cherished ones. Sometimes, we get so caught-up in trying to please everyone that we disappoint those who matter to us the most. We know our immediate family will forgive us and still love us, they sort of have to, don’t they?? Sometimes we take advantage of the unconditional love so generously given. This isn’t how we really want to live though, is it?
In January, we will look back on this holiday season and we will be proud of the way that we prioritized and stayed grounded. Most importantly, we will feel more connected to those who we value the most.
Here’s the link to your FREE Printable! Fill in the shapes with the names of “Your People” and you are one giant step closer to a more fulfilling holiday season.
Mountains are for Moving is where we tell stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. As you can tell, we’re really excited about this and having lots of fun already! My cohost, Susan Ramirez, is hilarious and also the founder of Austin Angels- a nonprofit dedicated to changing the lives of foster kids. I can’t wait to share her story in our very first episode. Whether you’ve heard about this amazing nonprofit organization or not, you are going to LOVE our first podcast episode! Go to our website Mountains are for Moving to learn more and to subscribe! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram @MountainsAreForMoving .