I’m sad. I wasn’t this morning. I won’t be soon enough. I’m sad right now.
I can’t tell you how much being able to recognize that and acknowledge it has changed my life.
When I was younger I would process a change of mood perhaps as often as once a day. Back then I might not even notice the presence of my feelings for a few hours after waking. That was true whether happy or sad or angry or whatever. I say whatever because I’m sure there are more than 3 moods. In general though it was one of these. For a long time there were just two since ‘sad’ would morph immediately into angry. I don’t know why. I guess it had something to do with a limited emotional palate and an abundance of youthful testosterone.
I once heard a person who had been abused talk about their decision to forgive the abuser that took so much from them. Initially I didn’t understand how they could ever truly forgive them. I thought perhaps they were still reeling from the abuse and reacting out of fear. But in their explanation I learned about what they were really doing when they chose to forgive. How it was actually an act of self preservation.
‘Forgiving my abuser was very hard. I didn’t do it for a long time. Instead I held on to that anger and felt like it was my armor. I somehow thought that carrying and caring for my anger, keeping it alive, was what kept me safe. But it didn’t. He didn’t abuse me again. He didn’t have to. Carrying around that much anger and bile did all the damage he couldn’t do. In time I had to forgive him to let go. Think of it like this, anger is a poison pill. For me, holding on to my anger was like swallowing poison in hopes that it would make someone else die. But of course it doesn’t work that way. The poison was in me. It was killing me.’
The second I heard that my whole perspective shifted.
I have not had to confront abuse, thankfully, but I could see myself holding on to anger. Compiling resentments and scorn and holding them close in order to keep them fed. In the years I’ve spent thinking about this piece of wisdom I’ve come to relish the opportunities I have to recognize and identify my feelings. My anger was my poison pill. Still is.
It may sound silly, but to me feelings were an outside force somehow. That was how I perceived them and I’d guess I’m not the only man who has felt this way. My feelings felt like a threat to my stability, best denied or ignored. At least the negative ones. But that’s not how it works. I can’t deny my feelings away and the more I may try to do so the more I am at their service, providing them only enough oxygen to live but never enough to recover and heal. In that kind of cycle joy feels more like a liability and I treated it that way.
So today for some reason I started to feel sad. I recognized it, I acknowledged it, I’m feeling it and soon I’ll be moving on.
Sometimes emotional maturity is as simple as that. As simple as recognizing that which is evident and allowing space and time to do their work so I am not controlled by that which I struggle against and try to wrestle into submission.
Instead I just say I am sad today and I am thankful that I recognized it. Being sad now does not mean I’ll be sad tomorrow and it doesn’t mean I won’t be. It just means I’m sad. It’s a feeling and feelings change. Sometimes I’ll discover there was a reason I felt that way and other times I’ll discover there was no reason other than being human.
Everyone of us wants to set our children up for success. Cruelly, there’s literally no chance of us not messing up our kids at least a little. In fact, without messing them up a little we won’t give them what they properly need to successfully launch from the comfort of our respective bosoms. So I propose some simple steps a parent can take to assure that your child has the right level and style of dysfunction to be a compelling listen for even the most disinterested therapist.
The feeling of satisfaction you receive from making your therapist giggle or smirk or simply stay awake for the entirety of countless 45 minute sets of your best material is indescribable. I have never been cheered by throngs of devoted fans living just to be in my presence, but I have to imagine it feels exactly the same as getting a guffaw from your therapist. I owe it to my kids to provide them with enough hangups and dysfunctions to experience this tremendous feeling of accomplishment.
By my reckoning there are an infinite number of ways even good parents, even the best parents, can go about messing
with up their kids without truly impinging upon their chances for success. Let’s start from the start.
- Hold On Desperately – How else will they know you love them without the smothering attention of desperate people unwilling to let go of anything? Example: Force feed pacifiers for months after they naturally want to let them go. Pro Tip: Sneak it in while they sleep. They’ll appreciate it comes from a place of love. By starting early you won’t have to change directions later when they want to start dating or drinking coffee. It’s a precedent setter.
- Potty Train When You KNOW They’re Ready – Like, 4 or 5 years old. Sure. It’ll be a pain, but just think of the material they’ll be able to give that shrink when they have actual memories of lying in the back seat on warm summer days having their diaper changed. I should note, we have not employed this method. Don’t ask me how I know about this.
- Stare At Your Phone While They Yell – We live in magical times. This strategy is one our parents couldn’t employ without the help of company or a truly, grippingly inappropriate program on the television. I do this one on a daily basis. And I don’t ignore them forever, I just let the volume rise until I have to shout at them that I hear them, despite the obvious fact that I’ve been ignoring the escalating screams to read Facebook updates for as much as 3 minutes. It’s this kind of unfair overreaction that will garner them the empathy of their future therapist. This empathy is the foundational building block of transference, which is the real goal of every therapeutic relationship, right?
- Throw Out Every 10th Art Project – This one’s pretty obvious. Let’s face it, they’re not all keepers. This will be hard to do the first time around but will become remarkably easy. You don’t even have to draw attention to it. Your casual dismissal will be even more effective in making them crave your approval in a way that you can never fully satisfy. That’s a job for future shrink. Be on the lookout for pattern recognition. Switch up the interval of your dismissal when you change your clocks.
- Express Unconditional Love at Unexpected Times – At the threshold of every life transition (Graduation from Kindergarten, First Grade, Second Grade… Etc. through college) remind them that its okay to fail. That they can choose to stay right where they are, not evolve or challenge themselves and you’ll love them just the same. This is just the kind of confusing response to success that will both reinforce that they are loved and that their are no expectations on them, running counter to every message you and anyone else ever sends!
These are little things you can do to ensure that your child has the ability to keep their therapist not just awake, but filled with validating, life affirming mirth as the transference they build together eventually fills the wholes that are left in everyone whose made the treacherous journey from child to adult.
They’ll thank you for it in the end!
I had just layered my bandages over the perceived cuts. Once it bled through instead of changing the thing I’d just add another bandage. And another and another and another. Until I had so effectively hidden from what I feared, what was me, for so long that I needed to find that out first before I could understand what I wanted in the world.
I was in therapy for many years. I went initially at the behest of a friend. On the advice of the Chief of Mental Health at the organization I worked at I found a good one. She was in the room and a great guide on the path I took to being ready to take on life as an adult. She helped me find peace. Maybe not peace exactly, but enough peace of mind to be able to get to where I needed to go. Then, she fell asleep on me in session. After the third time I saw her drift off, I knew it was time to move on.
Its a tale I have told before and I repeat it with some regularity and giddy delight. It’s the perfect story to trigger sympathy. Perhaps that’s what I’m seeking when I tell it. Its also completely unfair to Heather was a very good therapist who perhaps had too many starches for lunch on occasion or took an inconveniently timed allergy pill or perhaps honestly fell asleep due to how boringly monotonous my issues had become. Who’s to say. Whats definitely true was that without her guidance and commitment to me and my well being I would likely still be unable to connect with someone so much that we could navigate the challenges of marriage and parenthood and with much difficulty and many setbacks arrive on the other side transformed individually and together.
Had I not gone to Heather I would not have been able to say the things I needed to say to my mother. It was a call that caught her off guard and taught me that my mother is the most supportive and intuitively gracious person I’ve ever known. This is not a momma’s boy statement either. I’d say the vast majority of people that have known her would tell you the same. And her generosity, both of spirit and of her more finite resources are her defining attribute. In the end the complaints I had were of an adolescent nature, and seeing as I was well into my 30’s I should add patience and commitment to her loved ones as defining attributes as well.
Prior to that conversation I had been on Match.com for at least a year. Could’ve been as much as two. It’s a challenge to remember exactly because prior to that call with my mom, where I told her of the things she’d said that had hurt, and said some undoubtedly hurtful things myself I wasn’t really looking to connect. I was more whittling away at who I was beneath all the layers of defenses I’d put on myself. Prior to having an honest discussion about what I thought was wrong with me with my mom I had just layered my bandages over the perceived cuts. Once it bled through instead of changing the thing I’d just add another bandage. And another and another and another. Until I had so effectively hidden from what I feared, what was me, for so long that I needed to find that out first before I could understand what I wanted in the world.
It turned out that during the dozens of first and maybe a few second dates I had over my time intentionally looking for someone else to share a life with, what I was really doing was getting comfortable being myself. What i discovered under all the wrapping was that my wounds were never as deep as I’d thought. That I was not only comfortable in my skin, but I was even capable of being quite fond of who I was. I discovered that what I was looking for did not yet reside in someone else. It couldn’t yet. I had to find it first on my own.
So for the many of you that have shown empathy for me and my sleeping therapist, rest assured that the very act, while unprofessional, did not mean that she was not helpful. She was. Very. And without the times I spent in that place, learning to officiate the constant sparring between my head and my heart, I would never have arrived here. In this place where the act of being myself is becoming less and less discipline and more and more a delight.