Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Changing

July 2, 2008

 

 

 

I have just finished reading a book titled “The Art of  Changing” by Susan Peabody.   What prompted me to choose this book was an affirmation I noted when I flipped through the pages.  You know how sometimes you can be a spiritual magnet when some things, people or occasions that appear in your life at the right time when you are working on some issues, seeking for understanding and resolution at different stages in your life.  Interestingly, this is an affirmation in relation to

 

“When people are unavailable.”

 

Here is how it goes,

 

          No one is purposely trying to abandon or reject me, and I can choose to remember this.

 

          I don’t need to be a hostage taker.  I can honour somebody’s saying, “I am not available.”

 

          How other people spend their time is none of my business, and I will not judge their choices.

 

          “No” is a complete sentence.  I do not have to change people’s mind.

 

          I have enough people in my life that even if someone isn’t available to me I ‘m ok.  I have God, other people and meetings.

 

          My serenity is not dependent on any one person’s availability.  I can be serene even if no one is there to help me.

 

Some of us will find this affirmation beneficial with some personal adaptation.

 

Susan’s honest sharing is touching.  Susan shares the methods in changing but at the same time she shares her experience in her trials and tribulation and mostly being realistic in her guidance.  Some of the writings in this book is worth taking note and can be deep or thought provoking, for ponder or just simply, simply logical and/or sensible.  The following are some of them which impressed me in different ways and I am sure some of us would be able to relate to part of it or heard of it before.  They are in a bits and pieces.  Read the book for a wholesome understanding.

 

          Our lives don’t get better when we read a book or go to a class; our lives get better when we put forth a change.

 

          When my therapist asked what was holding me back from getting better, I said, “I am afraid to get well.  Mental health is unfamiliar. It’s a mystery that lies beyond a closed door, and I have no peephole.  That mystery feels like a beast ready to devour me if I open the door.  What if getting better is worst than being sick?  It can happen.  Besides, I think I have bonded to my vision of myself as a victim.  I prefer self-pity to self-esteem.”  – (So true, we can sometimes becomes a creature of habit, know where to get our fixes whenever we are in need and get ourselves to a comfort level but never go pass beyond to reach one that is “fixes free” until we reach a crisis or hit bottom.)

 

           Stay focused on your self – It is very tempting when trying to change your life to focus on changing others.  “If only my husband would change, “A wife thinks to herself, I will be happy.  Unfortunately changing other people is impossible. We only have the power to change ourselves.  Even if we could change others, it would only take time and (energy) away from the work we have to do to change ourselves.

 

          Denial is usually a defense mechanism.  A defense mechanism is anything we think, say, or do to manage the feelings we want to avoid.  Sometimes even our feelings are defense mechanisms against other feelings.  For instance, I get angry to avoid fear and blame others for my problems to keep the fear at bay.

 

          Whether perfectionism is good or bad, it can be a stumbling block to change if we can’t move forward because we are afraid of making mistakes.

 

          Toxic guilt – Children with undeveloped egos see themselves as the center of the universe and see themselves responsible for everything.  They think, “If the mother is angry, then it is my fault.  I am a bad person.”  This leads to the feelings of shame and toxic guilt.  This phase of childhood development has a lasting impact on our adult lives.  The feelings of guilt in our unconscious mind and float to the surface now and then when we least expect them.  This gets in the way of change because it weighs us down.  It saps our energy and keeps us in survival mode. We have to spend all of our time fighting off the feelings of shame and guilt, and as a result there is no time or desire to change.  To counteract this type of guilt, we must use positive reinforcement.  We must counter the free-floating feelings of guilt with an awareness of truth and with constant self-talk until the guilt recedes.  Most of all, we must not act on this toxic guilt.  For instance, codependents live lives of quiet desperation trying to get rid of toxic guilt by taking care of people in unhealthy ways.  They must stop doing this and ease the toxic guilt to the best of their ability.

 

          The pleasure compulsion is seductive, and it may be linked to the desire for control.  There is no trial or error necessary when doing something for the second or third time.  Whatever worked before is guarantee to work again – or so we think.  Food lovers get overweight, gamblers loose their paycheck, etc.

 

          Making changes step by step – Pinpoint what has to be changed – Making personal inventory of shortcomings – be thorough and honest as possible – consider exploring the relationship between your bad habits and wounds of your childhood – taking action is the key to change – I discovered a lot of myself by doing this task.  I found out that at one time or another I was capable of being selfish, angry, dishonest, gluttonous, afraid, resentful, envious, vengeful, intolerant, codependent, mean, lazy, impatient, controlling, demanding, judgmental, blaming and quick to attack people who disagreed with me.  When the truth was out, I immediately got depressed.  But I did not give up and eventually some mysterious force from deep within pushed up my consciousness and provided me with the willingness to at least dream about overcoming these problems.  As Jim Manley puts in his hymn “Spirit,” from the bondage of sorrow, the captives dreams dream.”  When I was ready to change the first action I took was to select one single thing from the list of things that I want to change about myself.  Then I made a commitment to overcome this problem.  What I choose to change was to overcome my bad temper.  I began breaking down this huge problem into manageable pieces.  I chose one manifestation of my temper and decided to work on that first.  What I chose was my habit of yelling at my son, I chose this because  at a therapy session with my son, the therapist said to him, “If you could change one thing about your mother, what would it be?”  My son replied, “I’d like her to stop yelling at me when she gets upset.”  To begin trying to change this bad habit, I spent the next few weeks thinking a lot about yelling.  I asked myself why I yelled.  The answer was that I was frustrated when my son didn’t do what I asked him to do, and this was the only way I could get his attention.  Then I asked myself what other choices I had.  I came up with a plan that I called “calm persistence.”  The day after committing to this plan, I screamed at my son.  Afterward, I was overwhelmed with a sense of how easy it was to do something that I had told myself I wouldn’t do.  However I didn’t give up.  I keep trying, and after each failure I spent some time thinking about how the incident had gotten started and how it had escalated.  A few weeks of great adventure of trying to change, I asked my son to do the dishes when he came home from school.  I got home from work expecting a clean kitchen. When I saw the dirty dishes piled up everywhere, I turned red with anger.  I was ready to pounce on my son.  Fortunately he wasn’t home so I had some time to think about the commitment I had made to calm persistence.  When my son came home, I began talking to him calmly. When he started getting defensive, and making excuses.  I suddenly found myself yelling at him again.  However, this time, instead of feeling as if I was in some kind of trance with no control over the situation, I found myself observing myself as I was yelling.  I also felt, for the first time, that I had a choice.  I knew I could stop if I wanted to.  I used this new sense control to change my behaviour, I stopped yelling at my son in midscream and walked out of the room.  Later, despite my small victory, I still felt as if I had failed to reach my goal and I started crying about it. The sobs continued for a while and afterward I felt as if a big weight has been lifted of my shoulders.  Then I recognized that at least I was thinking about yelling at my son and during the act – not just afterward.  I was making progress.  The next time my son forgot to do the dishes, I talked calmly to him about it and insisted he do them before going out on turning on the television.  He resisted and I persisted – but I did not yell.  Afterward, I felt so good about myself for not yelling.  This victory lifted my self-esteem and later become a motivation to continue fighting my urge to yell.  From this point on, despite periodic relapses, I continued to have a sense of choice about my yelling rather than feeling powerless about it.  After a year passed, the urge to yell at my son disappeared, and it seemed normal to handle things without loosing control.  I still got angry, but I had gotten control over my behaviour and I felt better about myself.  Most of all, in changing my behaviour I had improved my relationship with my son.  We were close and he respected me more.  Because he respected me more, he was more cooperative.  Over the years, I have continued to change many things about myself – from hurtful behaviours to small vices.  I give myself all the time I need to change, and I never give up.  I do something even if it’s just thinking about the problem and keeping the goal of change firmly entrenched in my mind.

 

          The power of group – Honesty is very fragile.  It begins to fall apart in isolation.  To guard against the withering away the progress you’ve made, it’s important to find a community of other people who are also working to change.  Many wonderful things happen in such a place. – You’ll tell your story out loud and find out, to your amazement, that you are not the only one with this problem and that you are not banished from the group. – You find love and support from others who really understand from what you are going through. – You’ll find strength you didn’t know you had and the hope you thought you had lost. – You’ll find more wisdom how to change than you know what to do with. – You find the place where you can be honest and share secrets.  This will help dissipate your toxic shame.  You’ll learn a lot about your problems and what you can do about them.  The people you meet will share their insights and recommend books and resources.  This will facilitate the change you want to make. – You will be reminded to guard against procrastination and denial, because showing up is a constant reminder you need to change. – Calling people in your support group will help you avoid the dysfunctional behaviour you want to change.  You can call someone before acting out in some irrational way. – Support group makes you accountable to the group.  You’ll find yourself doing for them what you can’t do for yourself.  (As you develop your own inner strength, accountability to the group will be less important.)

 

          The power of therapy – “Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness; the emotional discovery of the truth about the unique history of our childhood…..In order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth, a truth that may cause pain before giving us a new sphere of freedom.  The damage dome to us during our childhood cannot be undone, since we cannot change ourselves….We become free by transforming ourselves from unaware victims of the past into responsible individuals in the present, who are aware of the past and thus able to live with it. – Alice Miller, The drama of the gifted child. – One day I told my therapist that I was unhappy with the progress that we were making.  “What do you mean we?,” he said.  “Well” I mumbled, “isn’t this a team effort?”  “No” he said, “you are the one who has to do the work.  I hold the flashlight and you chopped the wood.”  I was shocked by this statement, but it was the beginning of the change in my attitude about therapy.  I realized my therapist wasn’t going to fix me.  I had to start doing things differently if I want to change. –  As long as I could remember,  I had been angry with my mother – both as a child and as an adult.  When I shared some episodes with my therapist, he said something interesting.  He shrugged his shoulder and said sympathetically, “Oh, she couldn’t do it.”  I stopped dead in my tracks when I realized that he didn’t say “she wouldn’t do it”.  He said, “she couldn’t do it.”  What a difference a letter can make.  I suddenly began looking my mother in a brand new light.  – This is how therapy is supposed to work.  You uncover things.  You process your feelings.  Your feelings change.  You treat people differently.  You change. Your relationship changes.  Then you repeat the process all over again.

  

          Healing the wounds of the past begins with changing how we look at it. – Identify the things that happened to you – Talk about them – Write about them – Feel your feelings fully – no matter what the are and how they are or how afraid of them you are – Accept what has happened to you – Accept what you did in reaction to what happened to you. – Forgive those who hurt you – Forgive yourself if you passed your anger on to others – Try to find something good that came out of the chaos – Move on. Live in the moment. – Once I broke through my denial and identified what had happened to me and what I had done to myself and others, I began talking about it.  At some point, I also began writing about what had happened. However, I was still unable to feel very much at this point, so my writing was very analytical.   This was my way of recognizing my pain but not feeling it.  After some time, the dam burst and all my painful feelings would come and go, but every time I discovered something new, or I realized how much I have been wounded in the past.  I faced my feelings and had a good cry.  I cried a lot.  Eventually, I moved on from my feelings and addressed the issue of acceptance.  Acceptance was very important part of the healing process for me.  It doesn’t change the basic situation, but it ends our struggles against things that can’t be changed, leaving more energy to focus on the things that can be.  Acceptance amounts to surrendering your pain so that you can move on.  You just give it to God or some benevolent force in the universe and in return you get the serenity you need to heal your wounds.

 

          Parenting yourself – When I was growing up I was very headstrong.  It was difficult for my parents to discipline me, so they gave up trying.  Interestingly enough, this lack of discipline made me feel unloved.  I remember wishing I had some of the restrictions my friends moaned and groaned about.  Because no one restrained me, I didn’t know how to restrain myself, and my lack of discipline eroded my self-esteem.  I always felt out of control and ashamed of myself.  I used to beg my mother to give me the structure I needed.  She would shrug her shoulders and say, “I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to.”  Further more, both my parents were clinically depressed and addicted to mood-altering substances.  As a result, they didn’t have the emotional energy to give me the love and nurturing I needed.  Like most children, when I couldn’t get what I need from my parents, I looked for it elsewhere.  This began a life long pattern of looking for love outside myself.  – Self parenting is a therapeutic approach to healing the wounds of our childhood.  It is an attempt to give ourselves now what we did not get as children.  This relationship for me is threefold:  I love and comfort my inner child, my little girl (Susie); I set limits with her and we play together.  As a result, she has for the most part, stopped acting out, and her pain no longer permeates my life.  She is content and no longer needs mood-altering experiences to anesthetize her pain.  Most of all, my self-parenting has helped me grow up, and this maturation has paved the way for other changes.

 

          Building self-esteem – The teacher said that high self-esteem was linked to altruism.  She said people feel good about themselves when they generous and charitable.  I questioned the teacer after class, because all the nice things I had done for people over the years hadn’t help my self esteem.  The teacher didn’t have an answer for me, but after I thought about it, I came to realize that altruism has to be balanced with self-care.  It also has to be freely given.  All the giving I had done over the years has been motivated  by an attempt to buy love.  Therefore, to a certain extent, my generosity has been contaminated by my own needed and the less-than-pure motivations.  As a result, helping others didn’t build up lasting self-esteem, it was just a quick fix.  After I realised this, I decided that I would give to others when I could do so with a free heart – with no strings attached.  You might say, I decided to love my neighbour as I love myself – no more, no less. – I believe strongly that creative people have high self-esteem.  I know that when I started writing and sharing my work with others, I really feel good about myself.

 

          Forgiving others – In his book, Alcoholic Anonymous, author Bill Wilson, discusses forgiveness, and say it’s not done to please others, but in the interest of self. – In Toxic Parents, Susan Forward says this, “You may be asking yourself, “ Isn’t the first step to forgive my parent?” My answer is no…It is not necessary to forgive your parents in order to feel better about yourself and to change your life…Why in the world should you  “Pardon” a father who terrorized and battered you, who made your childhood a living hell?   Early in my professional career I too believed to forgive people who had injured you, especially your parents, was an important part of the healing process….The more I thought about it, I realize this absolution was another form of denial….One of the most dangerous thing about forgiveness is that it undercuts your ability to let go of your pent-up emotions.  How can you acknowledge your anger against a a parent whom you’ve already forgiven? – The question is this : Is it possible that both Bill Wilson and Susan Forward are both right?  Yes, Susan Forward is correct when she says we must own our anger.  Anger is honest.  Anger in the right setting is therapeutic.  Anger can lead to justice.  Anger can free us from tyranny.  And by coming out against forgiveness, Forward allows us to take our time without shame.  Bill Wilson in my opinion is also right.  If we stop resenting people, we feel better about ourselves and others.  This changes us and our lives.  This is why I believe forgiveness is the ultimate goal no matter how long it takes. – If you decide that forgiveness if for you, it might be helpful to realize that letting go off anger does not mean that you have to like the person or continue to let that person to persecute you.  Actually, you don’t even have to be around the person who hurt you if you don’t want to. – “You know, God asks us to love our neighbours and our enemies alike, but some people you just have to love at a distance.” – Forgiveness is not a constant state.  It ebbs and flows like the tide.  Sometimes you feel good about those who hurt you and other times you feel the anger all over again.  But this doesn’t mean, you haven’t progressed.  I’ve found that, as long as I ask God for the strength to release my anger, or announce it in my support group that I am going to “turn it over” or tell my therapist I am really tired of these resentments and want them to go away, the anger comes less and less often.  People should not be told to forgive when they are not ready.  They shouldn’t be shamed by others, and they should not shame themselves.  They should push themselves gently in the right direction.

 

          Forgiving yourself – To begin forgiving yourself, it’s important to accept the fact that you’re not perfect.  Embrace your humanity and the fact that you make mistakes.  The resulting humility is necessary fro change.

 

          Helping others – Helping others is a good way to help ourselves change. – “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

 

          Progress – not perfection – Changing is a slow process.  You have to learn the art of accepting failure while still pushing forward to the next milestone.  Accepting failure is easy if you are humble.  Humble people understand that they are not perfect and that failure is part of who they are.  They also reframe failure and see it as a legitimate part of the learning curve.

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Parenting teenagers.

January 10, 2008

I am a student of life.  I always seek understanding in what I am experiencing.  The sources are mainly from books, self-reflections, observation, media, conversations with the experienced ones and those who are in the same boat as I am.  Having a daughter, parenting would be almost like a life long study.  My daughter will be fourteen soon, and therefore teenagers will be my subject of study for a while.

According to Julian Sleigh, an author of the book “Thirteen to nineteen”, adolescent is a dramatic time for any young person.  He suggested that one way for us parents to try to understand the upheaval of the teenage period is to look at what happened to us when we were teenagers.  The changes which take place affects them so much that their whole being is being challenged, sometime to the very core. He said that we as parents are better able to cope with the challenges, if we become aware of our own attitudes and observe our reactions.  For example, we tend to worry when the teenager scene approaches; we know our child will be exposed to many dangers.  Every step of life has its dangers; why the particular worries around this one.

Julian said that there are obvious worries but the more subtle reasons for being insecure had to do with our own peace mind.  He said that the teenagers are our mirrors in relations to us as parents looking back into our own lives as teenagers; “Have I fully come to terms with the issues that have stirred in me then?”  Were there areas of fear and guilt which I suppressed, either because I felt I should or because others made me to do so?”, “And now that I am facing my adolescent stage of my child, is it these unresolved emotions that are rising up in me?” Overreacting is a pointer to unresolved conflicts in oneself.  The threat that the adolescent poses becomes less if the parent acknowledges his or her own locked up stresses and strive to resolve them.  The peace that will eventually result from this will be thanks to the fact that there is a teenager in the family!

Then there can be the fear of losing control over the child.  It is so important to address this fear if it lurks in one soul, and be very honest about it.  The parent has been sovereign over the child but he simply cannot rule the adolescent.  All parents go through the agonizing process of realizing that they no longer have full control.  If the sovereignty is changed into supportive guidance, a new relationship comes about. Here, Julian gave a very good metaphor of the king and the shepherd in relation to the mode of parenting a teenager.

The qualities of the king have to do with authority and the power to assert that authority whenever necessary.  To gain and maintain this authority the king has to have knowledge and wisdom and also, strong self-discipline.  He is looked upon as an example.  He has to be wise enough to listen to his inner guidance as well as information and opinions, and be able to make decisions uninfluenced by the desire for power and personal gain.  A king has to be a philosopher and a warrior, a judge and a counselor, a ruler and a servant bearing the destiny of his people.  He alao has to be enlightened enough to welcome the growing to maturity of his crown prince and others of his progeny, consciously preparing them for the task that they will carry on in the future.  The kingly qualities engender order and freedom at the same time.  His head is crowned to indicate the nobility and wealth of his thinking power.  He wears rich garments and live in a palace.

The shepherd knows his terrain and his sheep: for both, he has the right interest and feels the right love.  He is peaceful in himself and peacefulness comes about around him: this help his sheep to thrive.  He keeps an eye on the weather and know how to work with the changing seasons of the year: he also guards the sheep against the wolf that lurks unseen.  He cares and feels and so engages the quality of his heart in what he does for the sheep.  His garments are homespun, hardy and meant for being out in the open; and his dwelling will be a cottage near the pastures.

So as parents, can we identify our role as either the king or the shepherd?  Ideally, we should have both in the right mix, “kingly shepherds”.  The growing person seeks for sovereignty, self control and self knowledge in those who are to be his examples.  He does not want to feel ruled; he looks for person who by being sovereign over themselves, are able to give him the protection that he needs without depriving him of his freedom.  The young child needs to be commanded; he gains security from the authority of his parents.  The adolescent should rather be commended; he thrives on the guidance and praise that his parents give him.  This is the meaning of “supportive guidance”.

Here, Julian, in his book, gave a good description of the “push and pull in the tug of war” experiences of a teenager.  Adolescent is a time of expansion and of contraction, of new strength but also of timidity.  There is a stirring of a love for beauty and a fascination with ugliness, a search for values and a drastic discarding of what exists in the established order.  There is a dramatic expansion of intelligence, but it is in danger of being stultified by drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.  Ideals are born within the person, but also cynicism.  He has the longing to become a true person but cannot yet, trust his own worth.  The adolescent seeks for independence but knows that he needs support.  He rejects his parents’ authority and yet seeks approval.  His accustomed order and rhythm succumbs to chaos and untidiness. Feeling the spiritual stirring in him, the teenager looks for purity in relationship and yet he begins to experiment with sex.  He wants to put the world right, but often tends rather to destroy all that exists.  He wants to be one with the adults around him but knows that he is not yet mature.  He seeks for a faith but rejects religion.  He can be hurtful in his criticism of others, and yet is devastated when approval is withheld from him.  He is continually challenging to his parents to leave him free, but would be lost without their support.  He longs to assert himself but feels small in a world that has suddenly become big around him.  He adopts a separate culture, often alien to his parents, but wants to be understood.

Although I am at the first few chapters of Julian’s book, I just cannot wait to share his writing which I find insightful.  As a mother, I can say I am always trying my best and still learning and always have the best intention.  I may have experiences being a child and adolescent and I can share that in some way with my daughter but as a mother I am always a first timer parent of each day of my child’s growing phase.  Many a times even with all the best intention, resources, skill and knowledge, I have still to walk back a few steps to redirect my nurturing path.  The most important thing is to keep working on parenting myself for peace of mind and faith in order to be the best as I can be for my daughter.  To all parents, I am sure you will agree with me that the joy of having a child is a blessing.   There will be more sharing to come.  Enjoy!