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We are playing with building blocks, my four-year-old daughter, two-year-old son, and I. The atmosphere is calm and purposeful. We are each building our own little structures. My son suddenly picks up his creation. My daughter and I both glance at him quizzically as he attempts to balance it on his head, as if to wear it like a hat. He watches us with a smile as it falls off. My daughter laughs delightfully, in turn causing my son to giggle. I pick up my blocks and attempt to put them on my head. As they come cascading down, we are all laughing now. I subtly sense that I am no longer trapped in an isolated self—that all of us are floating together in an in-between space that has been opened up spontaneously. We are connecting with each other by virtue of surrendering to a process greater than ourselves.
Moments like this are indicative of genuine bonding. I would argue that the more we connect with our kids on this level, the more we ensure their future emotional stability. It might be that simple.
And it might be more complex. Many parents will attest that these moments are elusive and difficult to attain. Speaking from experience you would think that, since I am a therapist and get paid to connect with people in a deep and meaningful way on an hourly basis, that I would be exquisitely attuned to making these moments a priority with my own children. Yet I must confess that there have been entire weeks when I became so preoccupied with my own world that, not only was I not having these kinds of connections with my kids, I forgot to be concerned about having them in the first place. Many times what jolted me back to prioritizing these moments of connection was listening to my patients’ vivid stories of how wounded they were by their parents’ narcissism. What about all the other parents who aren’t faced with such stark reminders?
For the problem does lie in our narcissism. It’s an illusion to suppose we can ever outgrow our first and fondest delusion that the world revolves around us. So when the external world, following its own inscrutable circuit, doesn’t orbit within our wishes, our cherished routines get disrupted. Since on this level of our emotional functioning other human beings (read: kids) get included in the “external world” bucket, I can think of no other task that challenges this delusion in such a visceral manner as parenting does.
One of the dangers we risk as parents is responding to this challenge with rigidity instead of release. We can overcompensate by trying to control the external world even more, hoping this extra effort really will finally keep us in the center and the world at bay. Thus we are less able to have moments when we truly let go of ourselves. At best this effort at control results in us being emotionally absent from our children for a time. At worst, for a person whose sense of self is shaky or unstable (i.e. a person who experienced too many external-world-intrusions in early life), this results in outright abuse.
Ironically the only cure for our narcissism is… to focus more on ourselves! What I mean is: to practice being emotionally attuned with ourselves such that we know when we must take the time to replenish our capacity for giving. Again, it’s really that simple. Just go to the gym, engage in your favorite hobby, meditate, read a good book while sipping on a cappuccino, etc.
Right? We parents smile at the naiveté of such advice. Time is our most precious commodity. If we are lucky enough to be able to pay for the childcare while we engage in such indulgences, not to mention having the energy to be so self-motivated, these things of course would help. But what about financially strapped parents without a lot of family support, or single parents? Or parents who are divorcing? Or what if we engage in these activities but they don’t help much?
The most powerful way I know of to practice emotional attunement to ourselves is to be in psychotherapy. In therapy we are allowed space to express ourselves openly, without judgment. It’s an incredible relief just to speak what is on our minds and be heard by another caring adult. Even more powerful, we can learn about the deeper sources of our worries and the patterns that keep us stuck. Or (apropos to the topic of this blog post) we can understand how our parents’ care-giving subtly influences our own ability to parent.
Luckily for parents, with the advent of telehealth and Breakthrough.com, getting to a quality psychotherapist is as easy as walking in to the spare bedroom with your laptop and closing the door. Having gotten the external world to bed first, of course. Indulging ourselves so that we may forget ourselves: our kids notice the difference and are ready to jump with us into the space beyond.
Matthew Morrissey is a licensed psychotherapist in the state of California. He holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from The California Institute of Integral Studies.
By Marion Barnett, MA MFT
Imagine you are feeling overwhelmed, you’ve been unable to sleep and you have been tossing and turning almost every night. As you lay in bed you can’t turn off your thoughts. You finally get to sleep, but when you wake your heart is beating quickly for no reason and you are feeling a bit scared about all of this. You may feel sad and a bit hopeless about how you are feeling.
You are frustrated that you can’t feel better. You want to take care of this yourself, but at some point you realize you can’t.
When we are depressed and/or anxious our brains are simply not working optimally. The shifting of the vital neurotransmitters in our brains, in addition to hormonal dysfunction can really throw us off center and can cause a steady stream of negative and painful thoughts. This is part of the human condition and can happen to anyone. There are thousands of very high functioning people who are suddenly faced with a crisis or set of losses or disappointments that cause the brain to shift out of sync. In fact, according to USA Today article from 2/7/2013, up to 39% of young adults reported increased stress and many had been subsequently diagnosed with either depression or anxiety (the top stressors reported were money, work and relationships).
When you realize you need to find a therapist, it can be feel like a daunting task- to find a person who you can feel comfortable with and who will actually help you. Maybe you saw a therapist in the past and she/he did not help you, maybe they helped a little but you were disappointed, maybe they were nice but did not give you the feedback you hoped for.
Finding a mental health professional you really connect with is hard enough; most of us end up looking for one when we are at our most vulnerable. Add to that the scheduling, finding a babysitter and commuting to their office, and the process can seem daunting. Telehealth is most useful in those times when, for so many reasons, we cannot get to a therapist’s office or there is no good therapist around who has the hours we need.
When I meet with someone online through the confidential website Breakthrough.com, I am with you 100%, helping you to clarify what is going on in your life that is causing you distress. My goal is to foster an honest collaborative conversation in a trusting and safe environment.
If you have experienced stress, sadness, depression or anxiety and have some of above symptoms remember you are experiencing the human condition! It happens to most of us in our lives- times we are feeling so overwhelmed that we can’t think straight. We can feel angry, sad, frustrated, hopeless, and anxious and we think we can’t be helped. But this is not true
Our brains are marvelous things! We create ideas, beliefs, meaning of everything we do and see in our brain. Our brains are always trying to make sense of the world around us. Most times our brains function wonderfully, but sometimes it goes “off track” and get into a “negative groove” whereby everything we think is negative. But we can change the way we think about things absolutely. As we reframe how we see things, we can come to understand we have the POWER to look at our concerns in ways that are useful rather than destructive.
I help each client week by week understand themselves and reframe their circumstances so they can see what I already know – They are resilient, courageous and stronger than they think they are. It is a glorious journey to find your authentic self.
After working in the private sector for several years, Barnett received a Masters Degree in Integral Counseling Psychology at the Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. She has been successfully working with individuals, families and couples for 14 years.