As a therapist, I’ve had to work to pay attention to my own reactions during session. To be aware of them and to check in with them to be sure that I’m not putting my own stuff onto the client. So when I feel the urge to cry during session, I need to ask myself whether I’m crying because of something I’m feeling for my client or if I’m feeling the urge because of something in my own history or relationships.
If it’s my own relationships, then I have to stop and put it aside, promising myself that I can come back to it later. That it won’t go away, it will still be there to take out and examine when I’m no longer on the clock for someone else.
Then I have to remind myself of that when the thoughts about my own stuff drift past during session.
It’s hard work and sometimes I’m exhausted after session because all I want to do is take out the thing that I’ve realized from my own life and pick it apart. I’m scared that this insight will somehow disappear – as if I’ll forget this thing that I’ve realized.
Maybe it’s more that I’ll chicken out from pulling it back out because it’s a scary thing or an uncomfortable thing that I’ve realized.
I had one of those moments today. I realized that I’ve parented in a way that isn’t good. I’ve been the parent I swore I would never be. I’ve been my mother (who is a whole other can of worms, suffice it to say that she had some quirks as a mother that I didn’t want to duplicate and, for the most part, I’ve managed not to – but she was anxious and I am anxious and I don’t want to respond to my anxiety the way that she responded to hers).
I’m anxious. I tend to overreact when I feel overwhelmed. I feel helpless and scared and I go to my angry and irritable place to feel a little less powerless. When I’m scared, I’m not so nice. I know this about myself and I try not to be that person, but it’s hard because I have anxiety. I will always have anxiety. So I will always have to make the conscious choice not to react the way my body and mind urge me to react. They urge me to make it someone else’s problem. That anger is motivating. That someone is doing something that makes me anxious on purpose.
So what does this have to do with parenting? Sometimes, as a parent, I get mad. I get mad when my kids don’t work hard enough or succeed at something I know they can do because it makes me anxious. It makes me feel worried about what the consequences of not succeeding at this thing will be in their lives and I want to keep them safe from those (imagined) consequences. I’m scared because I love my kids and want them to have every opportunity. Something about parenting today feels like walking a tightrope. It feels like any wrong step will send us plummeting off that wire. Slip up even a little bit and say goodbye to Harvard. Post the wrong picture and say goodbye to friendships. Everything feels so heightened and like the smallest mistake can come back at any time.
SO these little things feel huge and because they feel huge my anxiety makes my reaction huge. Which doesn’t help to make my kids feel empowered or able to deal with these small problems or mistakes. It makes them see them as huge. Hello Anxiety, welcome to the next generation.
The other thing the overwhelming reaction does, and this is what I realized today, is make my kids feel like they ARE bad. I’m so careful to always say that they did something bad, rather than that they are bad because I don’t want them to internalize that message. But sometimes just the yelling is enough because they want to believe that I’m good. Kids want to believe that their parents are perfect and they don’t really know yet that we’re not (BOY am I not). So they think if I’m reacting badly and angry that it MUST be because they’re bad. Not because I’m anxious and reacting wrong. They won’t put that together until they’re in their own therapy sessions as adults.
I realized, during session, that I wanted to cry because I was feeling hopeless. All that effort and I STILL f’ed it up.
SO I redirected back to the clients and gently turned my spotlight back on them over and over again until this feeling and worry receded. But now, after everyone’s gone. I can come back to it and, in doing so, I had another realization. I can do things differently than my mom might have done. They’re not grown yet. I can still do it better. I can apologize and explain that it was about me and my faults and not theirs.
Boy is that uncomfortable to admit to my kid. Because the truth is, I want them to see me as perfect and as good and as flawless. That feels great and wonderful and powerful.
But I want them to see themselves that way more.