My Shameful Parenting Story….

For anyone who wants to know what shame-based parenting looks like, this picture from my old journal would do splendidly.  In this “I’m Fucked up & I’m Fucking up My Kids” journal entry, I review experiences with the mother of my son’s best friend from kindergarten through sixth grade.  Over the course of time, as our boys grew close, we developed a friendship as well. However, our sons’ friendship took a slow turn in another direction around fourth grade.  Her son was a very sensitive, sweet and creative child. My son had a rebellious streak, and liked “marching to the beat of his own drum”.  Early experiences as a critically sick child, had left a lasting impact on his trajectory of physical and emotional development (more on this later).   As cliques developed and rules of acceptable “in-group / out-group” behavior solidified, our boys stood out terribly. It was at this point that the bullying began.  Rather than banning together, the relationship between our son’s became strained as they responded in highly divergent ways.  At the core of their responses was a desire to understand the negative message they received from peers.   My son’s rebellious streak and emotional immaturity caused him to react to this bullying by making behavioral statements that communicated to others: “I don’t care what you think”.  In contrast, my son’s best friend was much like me.  He was hurt terribly by the bullying, blamed my son the fact that they didn’t fit in and wanted nothing more than to be popular.  As I reflect on it now, when digging deep beneath these divergent responses,  you have kids who were both hurting.  They just responded in equally maladaptive ways.  My son managed to ostracize himself from others, while her son followed a trajectory similar to mine at that age.

The Turning Point…

imageIn retrospect, things changed so gradually for our boys socially that I can’t point out a turning point.  Prior to the bullying and ostracism, all classmates played together, and nobody was really excluded.  Gradually, fewer and fewer neighborhood friends came over.  By the time my son hit fifth grade, he only had his oldest best friend to play with.  The comments became very vicious as one bully would throw homophobic insults their way.  The bus rides home then became stages of physical torment.  My son would come home crying saying somebody hit him or was calling him names.  I found these experiences triggery in a way that words can’t describe.  As a bullied child, I couldn’t help but wonder if “it was my fault”.  Was I failing as a parent, due to my own ineptness at knowing how to make friends?  After all, I was that girl with cooties, and nobody would play with me either. Was this a genetic predisposition for dorkiness, or had I taught it to him?  Fortunately, I had a therapist to help me work through all this.

“I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend Anymore…”

By the time they were in sixth grade, the relationship between my son and his best friend was quite strained and tumultuous. Due to divergent coping methods they really rubbed each other the wrong way.  One critical incident still sticks in my mind, as evidence their friendship was near its end.  I feared for my son who described his worry about losing the only friend he had left.  He relayed stories to me after school about how his friend would say “I don’t want to be your friend anymore”.  He complained his best friend was more concerned about popularity.  I contemplated moving him to another school, and had entered him in counseling at this time, to determine our best course of action. On one day, as I was picking up him up from school, I learned about an altercation in school between them.  I asked them what happened, and my son refused to say anything, putting forth his best “tough guy” front.  His friend said he wasn’t wanting to be Josiah’s friend anymore because he wanted to be popular. This triggery statement reminded me of a time long ago, and in many respects I was looking at a younger version of my own self.   Wanting desperately to be accepted and belong, I simply wanted others to like me and make friends.  I tried my best to understand what that involved and couldn’t see beyond it.  The end goal became more empowering than considerations of how to meet it.  Underlying this steely focus was a wealth of insecurity, and unresolved pain.

And Here Comes The “Shameful Parent”…

714883I struggled after this encounter.  More than ever, I felt it was essential that we begin discussing our son’s crumbling friendship.  Hoping to salvage his last childhood friendship, I saw a situation in which two kids who were struggling with similar issues, but responding to them differently.  However, I was very perplexed around this time, by a series of mixed messages and passive-aggressive actions from his mother.  I sat down with my therapist and asked her what she thought about the situation. I even attempted to outline an appropriate plan of action, in which I could begin discussing key issues (See pics).

imageAs you might guess, things didn’t go exactly as I had hoped.  I had been troubled by our own crumbling friendship for some time.  As a bullied child, my last good friend was in sixth grade.  Throughout the remainder of my childhood I was very lonely.  Today, these early experiences have left me a missing piece in the puzzle of childhood development.  I never learned how to make friends.  From this mindset, I found my own perspective reflecting her son’s, I desperately sought acceptance.  I wanted someone to be my friend.

Instead, our discussion revealed something else.  Her own skewed perception of matters revealed an incomplete understanding, that left out critical components of the puzzle.  Not fully understanding the depth of my son’s ostracism or pain, she insisted he had plenty of friends to play with and was dismissive of my concerns.   Failing to understand the nature of the close relationship with my son and his unique needs  (due to early shared traumas), she felt I allowed him to walk over me.  She picked apart specific aspects of my parenting, no home cooked meals, stay up to late, too many electronics in the house.  All things that can bring about that endless cycle of shame.  Her burgeoning anger, seemed to underlie a desire that I change in the ways she felt was needed to fix the situation as she understood it.  The nail on the head moment, came in dramatic scene, in which she only acknowledged my son’s problems, but failed to address her own son’s issues.  My son was deserving what was happening, I am overreacting & I was to blame.   The mother in me felt a well of anger building.  A pang of old hurt soon followed, as I recall being a child much like her son.  I had issues, I needed someone there, but somehow nobody was “willing” to see this.

The Dramatic Scene…

My memory of this incident is a blur, but was nonetheless quite traumatic for me in ways I can’t describe.  Mind you, I’m a bullied child, raising a bullied child.  This was a shame-inducing minefield, in which I blamed myself.  No parent wants their children to suffer the worst of their own childhood experiences.   As I attempted to discuss my concerns (as I delineated in a journal with my own therapist), her own emotions escalated.  At some point, hoping to put an end to the conversation, she sat up suddenly from her chair and pointed at me as I was getting ready to leave:

“You’re Fucked Up and You’re Fucking Up Your Kids!!!”

imageMy head grew hot, my hands were shaking as the full onslaught of her words hit me like knives.  I walked up to her, threw pop in her face, and stormed out the door.  As I drove away, she sent me this sickening message: “I’m sorry, I should have given a hug instead”.  I drove directly to our school district’s administrative office, and requested an immediate transfer.  I shuddered at the possibility of my son having to experience what it is like to have nobody to play with.

One good thing about leaving an “unhealthy” relationship is you know how to effectively cut out the baggage of your life.  Whenever I find somebody who crosses a line like this, I cut off all contact immediately. I shared these experiences with my husband during his lunch hour, and my decision on the matter of our son.  I hoped he could see beyond my emotions, to understand the gravity of his situation. As a bullied child with no friends, much of his self-esteem lie in a delicate balance.  My husband was supportive of this plan, and our son moved to a new school..  Neither one of us has spoken to this family again.

Click Here To Read “PART TWO” – Good Enough Parenting”

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Defining Goals for This Blog

I initially decided to start this blog after cleaning out our hallway closet.  At the bottom in the back corner were old letters, journals and piles of notebooks.  The letters presented a series of exchanges with family members and unresolved issues.  The journals provided a snippet of me at that a point in time.   The notebooks, were my well-laid plane for a blog I hoped to launch.  As a therapy student, my curiosity was piqued, so I spent that morning reading through them.

One troubling pattern in all these materials, is a consistent tendency to develop well-laid plans, only to fail in consistent follow-through.  Life got in the way, my kids were young, I was busy, there wasn’t enough time.  These are my “excuses”.   Therefore, I decided, at that moment to make myself a priority, and enact slow and steady action towards my goals.  I was already working on completing a masters degree, working full time, and raising a family.  However, I felt slow and steady progress is better than standstill.  If I just took consistent action, at least there would be progress…

I am now working on losing weight and sustaining an average weekly loss is around 2 pounds.  I’ve also worked on this blog.   The progress was quite slow at first, since I didn’t know much initially about the technological aspects of blogging.  However, I’m glad I took time to set things up as I like.  The visual aesthetic is just as I like it.   I have created several substantial blog posts.   As I review my progress thus far, I note my early posts have been just random brain dumps, of what is going on at that moment.  However, I have to admit, while this brain dumping can be “cathartic”, that doesn’t mean it is always the best choice, (at least from the standpoint of personal growth).

My long-term goal is  improvement of my overall well-being, and expansion of an adult ego state, as described in this video: (Theramin Trees, 2010).  Since this similar to Marsha Linehan’s concept of wise-mindedness, I feel it might help to review both of these concepts below:

Wise-Mindedness – A Guiding Principle

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In a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Skills Group, mindfulness is taught to clients so they can learn tools to improve their ability to regulate emotions (McKay, et al, 2010).  It can also help us to make sound judgments and decisions (McKay, et al, 2010).  Deeply held valuees are just as important life as the pragmatics of daily life and utilization of basic logic.  In order to provide clarity to the notion of mindfulness, three concepts are introduced: reasonable mind, emotional mind, wise mind (McKay, et al, 2010).  The emotional mind, is best thought of as a state in which you think with your feelings and not through them.  A skewed reality overwhelms us based on our unique experiences, (McKay, et al, 2010).  In contrast, the reasonable mind, is ruled by intellect, the principles of logic, and empirical facts (McKay, et al, 2010). While, a comprehensive and logical analysis of facts has occurred the monkey wrench in life which is overlooked are others feelings.  You see, acknowledging others emotions means you understand comprehensively the nature of life experiences as reflective of ones perceptions and values.  Failing to understand this, means you enforce upon others a pragmatic solution that fails to consider what’s important to them.  Finally, the wise-mind sits at the intersection between facts and feelings.  “Wise mind is a decision-making process that balances the reasoning of your thoughts with the needs of your emotions….” (McKay, et al, 2010, p75).

In his video, Theramin Trees, (2010) provides another slant on this notion of wise-mindedness.  From this theoretical vantagepoint, ego-states can be thought of perceptual mindsets based on early childhood memories, resulting in protypical patterns of behavior.  My own favorites appear to be the hurt child & critical parent.  The critical parent provides structure and control in an uncertain role, while the hurt child is a perpetual victim.  Merging these two, can allow me to function more effectively, in the present.  Letting go of past baggage is needed to deal with things in the present in a balanced and holistic manner.

A Goal – Pulling My Head Out…

The problem with old traumas, is when they are triggered, the emotional onslaught can be tough to endure.  It happens rarely nowadays, (and usually with family).  I work through the emotions and process them in a healthy manner, then re-acclimate my “higher cognitive functioning” to daily life.  In the aftermath, I end up frustrated with myself.  How is it mountains become molehills, and stuff I’m so “over” are still “not over”??!!  In moving forward, I will make use of this blog as a place to vent and purge.  However, I feel it is important in a manner that allows a processing of emotions that heightens my well-being.  If it strengthens my hurt child and inner critic, I will need to let it go.

With all this in mind, if I bring up a triggery or painful experience, I will make a point of reading it later in “the cold light of day”.  My prediction is, when reviewing these old posts , I will discover my reactions don’t match the situation which triggered it.  Or sometimes I might just be acting on a misunderstanding and creating problems where they didn’t exist before.  In either case, I intend – from here on out – to take time and make use of these blogged experiences by learning from them. What follows is an example of how I will structure this processing.   In this example, I will utilize an email my sister sent me after notifying me she had breast cancer.  In this email she provides a link to a to an article on how to provide support to those with cancer.  I discuss my reactions to this email in the post titled “…and cancer trumps PTSD”  

First The Context….

For my own purposes, the first step in processing “triggery” events, will be to acknowledge and describe my my emotions.  After finding out my sister has cancer, she updates me in a quick email about the surgeries and treatments in her future.  At the bottom of this email was a link to an article titled “How Not To Say The Wrong Thing” by Susan Silk, breast cancer survivor and psychologist.  She describes an “Comfort IN and Dump OUT”  (Silk & Goldman, 2013) rule for those in the midst of crisis in the following quote:

“Draw a circle. This is the center ring.  In it put the name of the person at the center of the trauma…Now draw a larger circle around the first one.  In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma…when you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours…the goal is to help…but if you open your mouth ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort.  If it isn’t don’t say it.” (Silk & Goldman, 2013).  

This quote essentially stresses the importance of providing comfort to those going through a crisis, but avoid dumping your upon them anything you’re dealing with since this only adds more stress in their lives.

Next The Processing….

Describe The Bodily Emotions…

My mind is on fire, and my body tingles with quickly burgeoning panic. This unexpected trigger, reminds me of a time, when I needed my family to be there and they didn’t.    Old memories of aloneness, desperation, and hurt enter my mind.  Anger sets in, as I remember being blamed, having to apologize and provide comfort, at a time when I needed them.  I hug my husband and he holds me as the tears pour out uncontrollably for about thirty minutes.  I go to the gym to work out and let go of the pent up energy which drives me crazy.

 Identify Your Thought Processes…

The next step in my processing will involve identifying the thought processes that occurred at this time.  When overcome with old memories, it is hard to see beyond them.  My thought processes are like a snowball that rolls down the hill and gets bigger on its way down.  While I’m grateful for my ability to maintain some “metacognitive awareness”, I still struggle.   Part of me knows these emotions are related to old memories and not current events.  However, despite my best efforts my mind repeatedly floats back to unresolved issues with family and I began to ruminate.  The viscious rumination cycle starts when memories intrude my mind.  It then causes old feelings of anger and hurt to pop up.  I ask why they couldn’t be there? Why can’t they acknowledge they weren’t there?  And the cycle continues as memories pop up again.

Examining The Evidence “For and Against”

So what is the evidence?  On the one hand, my family wasn’t there.  They weren’t there then.  Yes, in fact if I were to look at evidence of what happened, this truth can’t be ignored.  If my own “hurt child” wishes to hear this, there you go.  However, in order to move forward into the adult state, I need to let go of the past.  From this perspective it is clear these emotions are byproducts of a “trauma fog” that hits occassionally with family.  In thus respect, my perceptions aren’t reflective of what is happening now.  Instead, they are responses to a trigger.  When I look at what my sister said in her email, this is a clip of her intentions at the time she sent it to me.

I wanted to include a link to an article that I wish I had read a long time ago in ministering to friends/family who are in the midst of a trial. It talks about having circles or rings around the person in the center of the trial and to be mindful of how we speak to those affected by the trial. Very insightful.

It is worth noting, that I respond to this email by putting my foot in my mouth and dumping upon my sister and sharing about how this email is triggery, but thank her for the email.  She acknowledges how I feel, but simply “I hope you can get the help that you need.”   My mother, chimes in regarding this misunderstanding and makes the following statement:

 “I agree. I do not fully understand the pain that you suffered as a child. I also was not there to hold your hand. I am sorry………Mom”

Cognitive Restructuring

The final step in this process involves identifying and disputing irrational thoughts.  What are my irrational thoughts & how do I need to pull my head out?  Here is the list:

  1. I AM PLAYING VICTIM Click this link for 14 signs that indicate you’re playing victim…
  2. I AM REACTING TO PAST EVENTS – What happened was a reaction to a trigger of an old painful memory that set off a chain of events inside me that took a while to resolve themselves.
  3. COGNTIVE DISTORTIONS the two cognitive distortions standing out to me in this specific instance include overgeneralization and magnification.
  4. HURT CHILD EGO STATE – Eric Brene describes this ego state as an experiential perspective based on unresolved issues from our childhood.  Memories of old wounds as a vulnerable child take over and you can’t think beyond them.  

Boy, do I need to pull my head out or what?!?!

References

Ingram, B.L. (2012). Clinical Case Formulations: Matching the Integrative Treatment Plan to the client. (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN: 978-1-118-03822-2
Mckay, M., Wood, J., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation & distress tolerance. New Harbinger: Oakland, CA.
Silk, S. & Goldman, B (2013, April, 7). How not to say the wrong thing. Retrieved from: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407
Theramin trees [screen name] (2010, June, 10) Transactional Analysis 1: ego states & basic transactions Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKNyFSLJy6o

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“It was the most miserable day of my life…”

I have to say, before I get to my husband’s story – he is the most wonderful and loving man I have ever met.  In these days since my sister had been released from the hospital – my mind has been a jumble of mixed emotions.  I love my sister and wish for her to get well.  I want more than anything to be there.  However, these pangs of sadness overwhelm me.  Wishing I had received support she is getting from my parents, brings tears to my eyes.  In fact, as I type this with tears in my eyes,  I get the most awesome hug from my amazing “partner-in-crime”.  I know immediately: “I’m not alone, he’s in this with me and it will be okay.”  Like me, he has had to struggle with similar emotions that come from an unfulfilled childhood wishes.  When you grieve this sort of loss, the pain is difficult to put words to for those who don’t understand.  Let me just say the loss is very real and vivid. It leaves a hole behind which is “unfillable”…

What follows is an excerpt from my old journals.  It is a son’s regrets about a father who was never there…

“My husband stood in the kitchen watching our two young sons snuggling on the sofa in the living room.  They were watching their favorite cartoon before bedtime. My husband’s eyes welled up with tears as he whispered quietly: “look at them, so happy, contented, safe and secure.”  Knowing of my husband’s own painful childhood, I couldn’t help but get caught up in his love and gratitude for what we’ve created together. At moments like this, I like to try and see through his eyes. The beautiful perspective I get is always that of someone with a wealth of life lessons well-earned. I have nothing but respect and gratitude for his strength of perseverance. My husband is the youngest of four children. His mother was married and divorced a total of eight times in her life – twice to his dad. As the youngest of her four kids, he was the product of his parent’s second marriage together. The majority of his childhood memories are pretty cloudy. As the youngest child, he was shuffled around quite a bit in a pass-the-buck fashion. He says he doesn’t have any real memory of his mom though and spent the least amount of time with her. He never really had the opportunity to know who she was outside her addictions. As a drug addict and alcoholic, she was fairly incoherent and unstable by the time he came around. His memories of his father on the other hand are painfully vivid. He was a tyrannical and abusive, alcoholic. When it became apparent that his parents were incapable of providing a stable home life, his grandparents decided to step in and raise him. Between the ages of 9 and 14 he lived with them. They were quite old at that time, but did their best to keep up. He describes them as loving and kind people.

At the age of 14, my husband reached what was to become the end of his childhood. His grandfather suffered a stroke and died shortly thereafter. His grandmother overwhelmed with grief stopped taking care of herself and ended ip in a nursing home. My husband was the forced to live with his father.  He was the only one willing to take him in. As you might guess, this turn of events was very painful time for my husband. He was grieving the loss of his grandfather, (the closest thing he ever had to a real dad). He was worried about his grandmother who he now rarely had the opportunity to visit. To top things off he had to continually endure the pins-and- needles environment in his father’s home. As a rebellious and independent teenager, who had grown a foot in the last year, my husband wasn’t destined to last very long in his father’s home.

One night after coming home late, as he opened the door, my husband was met with his father’s fist. While my husband has spared me all the exact details of that event, he chose on that day to defend himself. His father’s reaction was to throw him out of the house.

I don’t exactly know how, but to make a long story short, my husband managed to survive on his own from that point forward. By the time I had met him at 34, he had already been on his own for about 20 years. He is pretty proud of the fact that in all that time he managed to remain self-sufficient and gainfully employed – with the exception of 3 months in the early 80’s.

When I asked my husband if he had ever seen his father since that day, he relayed to me one the more painful memories of his life. It was on his 25th birthday. He had moved back to his home town after several years of living and traveling throughout the United States. As it so happened, it was his 25th birthday on that otherwise ordinary day. He stopped at a gas station just down the street from where he lived to get some gas. As he stood there, he noticed a familiar car drive up right next to him. As he looked up to see who stepped out, his face turned pale and his heart skipped a couple beats. Lo and behold, it was his father! The last person he wouldíve expected or had been prepared to see on that day. As is typical of his father, my husband received not so much as a hint of recognition from him. Instead his father simply set about filling the car with gas and acted as if there was nothing to say about the fact that they hadn’t so much as laid eyes on each other over the last 11 years. A well of pain and anger start to build in my husband. After an eternity of deadening silence, he eventually piped up and said: “Hi dad! Aren’t you going to wish me happy birthday? I turn 25 today.”  After a minute or so, his father screwed on the gas-cap and walked inside to pay. As he passed by my husband, he said rather nonchalantly: “Yeah, how could I forget, it was the most miserable day of my life.

My husband quietly went into his car and drove back home. He says if nothing else, he knew the hope he held onto for something different, was a useless burden.  Still, the pain of his father’s rejection had stayed with him. While it is not as sharp or biting, this memory still sticks.”

Today, I reap great rewards in the aftermath of these painful experiences.  Through each other we established the sort of loving home – we thought was impossible at one point.  It’s an indescribable experience finding out that “impossible” is not “impossible”.

With time even the most unbearable of wounds heal…..

Traumatic experiences do transform and set off an opportunity for growth…

With growth, comes the development of new psychological tools that leave you with a feeling of resiliency…

By choosing to endure and not be defined by these experiences, we have discovered a hidden gem on the other side…

What we have now, exists as a byproduct of experiences like this one…

…We take little for granted as a result – and life couldn’t be sweeter…

It does get better…

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“Getting Unstuck” & Why I Started This Blog…

20160214_111134000_iOSThe purpose of this blog, is to address directly a strange and inexplicable “stuckness” that has plagued much of my life.   In fact, when I originally sought out counseling just over five years ago, my primary complaint was that I “felt stuck”.  A review of my journals from this time are filled with complaints of Hamster-Wheel experiences and unresolved hopes for my future. Vivid descriptions can be found throughout these journals of what I wish I wasn’t and who I’m not right now but want to become.  The familiar variety of this complaints included most often are: (1)  a desire to lose weight without the follow through to back it up, (2) a desire to start a blog, but an explicable fear of failure, (3) a desire to make friends and overcome my isolative tendencies, (4) a frustration with my job as a source of ongoing stress in which I leave feeling depleted shell of my old self at the end of along day.   Underlying these frustrations and desires was a narrative perspective that had skewed my perception of life events.  Unbeknownst to me, this problematic narrative was what caused my “stuckness”.   As I have stated repeatedly:

“the problem had nothing to do with what I was looking at, but I how chose to look at it.”

Defining “Stuckness”

In a research article I read recently titled “Stuck in a Moment”, I uncovered an intriguing perspective on the nature of “stuckness”:

“Transactional analysis often regards the experience of ‘ feeling stuck’ as the manifestation of an impasse or an intrapsychic conflict or interpersonal roadblock…my own aim here is to broaden the theory of impasses, exploring whether and how ‘stuckness’ may constitute a developmental opportunity” (Petriglieri, 2007, p185).

When I read this quote, I decided it was worth “blogging about” .  The idea that stuckness isn’t a roadblock but instead developmental opportunity is not only inspiring, it reflects my own experience.  As someone who has progressed from stuckness into gradual forward motion, I see my own stuckness as a reflective byproduct of unresolved traumas, missing pieces, and a shame-based identity.  These personal “monkey wrenches” existed as self-fulfilling prophecies until I was willing to face them head on.  In retrospect, I see oppositional mindsets fighting for “control”.   On the one hand, an “inner critic” fills my mind with  shame-based messages of what “good enough” means.  The effective solution according to this inner critic is to work at “being good enough”.  This may have meant weight loss or getting a new job.  In response to this mindset, I believe there was a “hurt child” who held an unacknowledged wisdom all her own by reflecting the emotive consequences of this thinking.  After all, how is it that “good enough” means something that I am not now based on messages from others growing up?

An overview of Transactional Analysis….

matryoshka-970943_1920Before I begin discussing how I “got unstuck”, I’d like to provide an overview of transactional analysis.  Utilizing insights from this theory, my therapist keeps nesting dolls on the coffee table in her office.  Utilizing them in conversations from time to time, they have been productive tools for reflecting on the opposing ego states underlying my stuckness.  it seems my own “inner critic” and “hurt child” are fighting for “control” and as a result I’m getting nowhere.  Now that I’m a student, and reading Eric Brene’s works, it may be useful to quickly review some essential concepts.

According to Eric Berne, “The human brain acts in many ways like a camcorder, vividly recording events.” (ericbrene.com, n.d.).  While not necessarily remaining available for conscious retrieval, the emotive consequences of these events and our experiences of them remain.  It is only when interactions and events, trigger these memories that the effects of these events arise.  This cognitive process is much more complex in an individual with PTSD as you might imagine.  In an effort to provide convenient constructs to discuss the transactional process between these ego states, Eric Brene created several key concepts in this theory.  For example, structural analysis involves an examination of the various mental states I described earlier (“inner critic” vs. “hurt child”).  In contrast, transactional analysis examines the dynamics of social interaction and how these elements of our psyche play their role.  The nesting dolls in my therapy sessions provide a convenient method of illustrating Eric Brene’s concepts of ego states.  Rather than conceiving of these ego states as Freudian structures in the brain, Berne states they are “phenomenological realities” (ericbrene.com, n.d.), that represent consistent patterns of reacting to life events.   For example, my own “hurt child”, reflects Eric Brene’s child ego state in which past experiences are experienced from the standpoint of their emotive impact.  In my specific instance, this is where most of my unresolved traumas exist.  In contrast, the Parent ego state, represents my own “critical parent”.  The critical parent’s camcorder provides an overview of early life experiences and the implicit messages they contained.  Finally, as I understand it, Berne’s adult ego state, reflects closely Marsha Linehan’s wise-mind concept.

Getting Unstuck – First Steps…

In retrospect, two key sources are most effective in describing how I became unstuck: (1) Rising Strong, by Brene Brown, (2) and Petriglieri’s article on the stuckness as a developmental opportunity. Combining insight from these readings with my own journal, what follows is a description of how “getting unstuck” happened for me.

Radial Acceptance…

In his article, Petriglieri, (2007) states the following as an underlying cause of stuckness:  “…we feel unstuck instead of accepting & allowing ourselves to feel that we are not, at the present moment able or willing to change” (p. 187).  Early on in my therapy, I was encouraged to participate in a DBT Skills Group.  Throughout my participation in this group, I kept a journal, and recorded my progress….

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As I noted in my journal, like the concept of forgiveness, accepting something doesn’t mean you’re saying its okay that painful things have happened to you.  For that matter, it also does not mean that you’re “giving up” or “giving in”.  Finally, it also important to note that refusing to accept something doesn’t effectively change things.  Instead things remain the same and a painful experience morphs into unbearable suffering.  As I have learned personally, letting go of my need to “fight reality” means I’m turning an unbearable trauma into something I can at least cope with.  Admittedly, this is easier said than done.   After all, coming to terms with a truth that appears unbearable at first, is often like a grieving process.  The loss, while not readily visible, creates a before/after experiences: events have profoundly affected you, and you will never be the same.

Today, I find myself viewing this old journal entry with two mental states.  An adult-oriented wise-minded self, acknowledges the hurt that acceptance requires us to face yet is able to provide the coping tools necessary to move forward and face truth.   In time, this choice to “turn my mind” toward acceptance, has been truly transformative.  Today, I’m grateful for everything that brought me to where I am today.  Honestly, as crazy as it sounds, if granted an opportunity to change anything from my past – I wouldn’t change anything.

“Bob, like almost all the other POW’s we got to interview and got to know very well, said in response to the following question: ‘if you could have eliminated the POW experience from your life would you do so?’…and Bob like many of the others said ‘No’ because I learned things about myself during that experience, and I learned tools – psychological tools, tools in which to handle my life, that I probably could have never learned any other way…”

Owning My Story…

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For a course I’m taking on career counseling, I have to complete a paper on a self-help book.  Naturally, as a “Brene Brown Fan”, I picked her latest book, Rising Strong.  In it are insights on the process of getting unstuck and what is required to “make things happen.”    Utilizing insights from Narrative Therapy, Brene Brown (2015)  describes “The Rumble” (p77) as an essential turning point in “getting unstuck” that requires us to examine the perceptions and meaning systems weaved throughout our lives.  Developing a sense of clarity about our personal history is critical if we are to understand what got us where we are today.  As the saying goes, you cannot change what you’ve refused to acknowledge.

Facing Unresolved Trauma…

“…Impasses occur each time we encounter a situation in which our current adaptations cannot make sense of or handle meaningfully….our cognitive framework, emotional capacity, and behavioral repertoire, do not allow us to make sense of…and deal with our present reality” (Petriglieri, 2007, p187).

Petriglieri’s (2007), view on “Stuckness” as a byproduct of trauma, hits home for me, since I lived for much of my life with symptoms of PTSD while undiagnosed.  Its surprising how much these unresolved issues have managed to pollute all areas in my life. Fortunately, I’ve always had an intuitive wisdom to move in the direction of continued growth.  As I reflect on my life’s course, any forward progress, has occurred, only after I came to terms with how these unresolved traumas have affected an area of my life.  For example, I couldn’t be in a happy marriage today, if it weren’t my efforts to overcome the aftereffects of an “unhealthy” relationship in college.  For that matter, if I hadn’t resolved unresolved issues within my family of origin, I wouldn’t be the mother I am to my kids.  Finally, resolving underlying motives has been important in my ongoing efforts to lose weight and switch careers.  While these issues may seem disconnected, the underlying common cause of “stuckness” is unresolved trauma, that kept me where I didn’t wish to remain:

“Hurt doesn’t go away simply because we don’t want to acknowledge it  In fact left unchecked, it festers, grows and leads to behaviors that are completely out of line with whom we want to be.” (Brene Brown, 2015, p59).

Concluding Remarks…

Having discussed my own experiences of “stuckness”, I’d like to revisit the subject of why I’ve decided to start this blog.  As I mentioned earlier a series of a troubling hamster-like replay of failures originally brought me into counseling.   These failures began as I found myself finishing a degree in a field I had little interest in, due to a controlling and dysfunctional relationship. These “missteps” continued when a rental business I worked hard to build, resulted in a series of foreclosures and bankruptcy.  In between these stumbles my career history was peppered with a series of “dead-end” jobs.  My academic efforts didn’t fair much better after college, as I found myself attempting to enter field after field, only to quit in frustration.  The final stuckness experienced occurred just prior to therapy and revolved around a desire to start a blogging.  I had worked hard to prepare, read lots of books and even outlined many ideas that have filled several file cabinets.  However, a fear of failure held me back just prior to any efforts to begin taking action and establish an online presence.   This blog, represents a big step for me – a journey towards “unstuckness”.

What did I not get through this history of  “missteps?”

Underlying my stuckness history are misconceptions of what success and failure are and the pathway leading in either direction.  At the time I entered therapy, I would have described success as a preconceived idea of shame-based messages gathered throughout my life.  In this respect, success became a preconceived cure to heal past unresolved hurts.  Success became a desire to avoid what I was, and become what I defined as “good enough”.  In other words, a pervasive resistance and unwillingness to accept what I was, motivated all efforts to create success.  In this respect, failure was defined as what I was currently.   The path to success meant, running away from my story, myself and what hurt to much to face.

What do I now understand about getting unstuck?

Today, I understand success is a byproduct of my own desire to live an authentic and whole-hearted life.  In this respect, I realize taking ownership of my story is critical in order to move forward. Creating forward motion happens only when I follow the insights of the serenity prayer: changing what I can and accepting what I can’t.  Last but not least, healing old traumas was a final critical piece in my own journey toward “unstuckness” and slow progressive forward motion.

As a result of this view of success, I’m now prepared with a clear perspective on the journey required to work towards my goals. Having examined carefully the underlying motives of my life goals, I now realize that the “reckoning, and rumble” Brene (2015) speaks of are part of this process. I am no longer engaging life with an unresolved desire to cure to trauma, pain, insecurity, and avoid shame.  Instead good enough happens now in which I’m at peace with the journey it took to get to “here”.

References…

Berne, E. (1961). Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: A systematic individual and social psychiatry.
Brown, B. (2015). Rising strong.  Random House:  New York.
ericberne.com (n.d.) A description of transactional analysis.  Retrieved from:  http://www.ericberne.com/transactional-analysis/
Petriglieri, G. (2007). Stuck in a moment: A developmental perspective on impasses. Transactional Analysis Journal,  37 (3), 185-194.

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Transactional Analysis…(A Move Beyond Misunderstanding)

This Monday after surviving another work weekend I came home to find myself alone with two elderly cats. Evidence of my husband’s morning remained throughout the house. The boys had shed their clothes on the floor and half eaten cereal was left on the counter. After a quick shower, I threw my scrubs into the laundry and fired up Netflix. While lounging on the sofa I grabbed my iPad to quickly check my email. Scrolling through this week’s reading assignment for school, I find it ironic that it pertained to transactional analysis. Having just written a post which touched briefly on this subject I was delighted to have an opportunity to learn more about it. As an approach to therapy, this theory always reminds me of those nesting dolls on my therapists coffee table… Later that evening after dinner with the family, I settled down to read that week’s assignment. The following is a quote from my textbook:

“Resistance is often explained as a battle between inner parts: one part wants to change, while the other does not…” (Ingram, 2013, p 234).

This quote hit me as I read it like a bucket of cold water. Contemplating insights in my latest posts, I couldn’t help but note I had just made this conclusion regarding my own stuckness history. In fact, the above video succinctly summarizes my latest lightbulb moment:

70239“…it’s not other person’s behavior but our own state of mind…” (Theramin Trees, 2010)

It is this statement from the video that requires a close consideration. After all, we all have those issues that we try to get unstuck from, only to be frustrated with the same old repeating patterns. Reading through my post on “Anatomy of a Misunderstanding” I can see the very ego states battling it out within me.  To add to matters my hurt child has managed to maintain a consistent dynamic with my sister’s critical parent.  Samples of these separate egoic selves can be found everywhere in my old journals.  Before attempting to apply transactional analysis to this situation, I’d like to first examine these ego states.

T.A. Ego States…

529807In transactional analysis, ego states refer to experiential realities that also represent a consistent pattern of relating with the world around us (Ingram, 2012). Three primary ego states exist in transactional analysis: parent, adult and child. The parent ego state is a representation of the way parents and other authority figures conduct themselves. The parental ego influences us by echoing the learned rules and morals communicated to us from authority figures throughout our life. Two main forms of parental ego states include the nurturing and critical parent. The child ego state, in contrast, is archaic and emotionally 490629driven. Comprised of our own first-hand early childhood experiences, it reacts impulsively with others on the basis of these deep emotional memories. Two versions of the childlike ego state exist: the rebel and hurt child.  Finally, The adult ego state is much like the wise-minded DBT perspective. In this respect, it is fully present in the moment and is capable of making realistic appraisals based on all perspectives, including thoughts and emotions. As somebody who is trying to lose weight, a funny description of each state is provided in my textbook:

“[rebellious child] I’m going to eat what I want and you can’t stop me…[hurt child] I know I am bad; what’s wrong with me. I’m trying, but just can’t…[nurturing parent]…don’t worry, I know you’re stressed. Go ahead and have some ice cream…[critical parent] you should take those pounds of. What’s wrong with you?! You’re an indulgent loser…[Adult] Lets come up with a plan where I can maintain a steady weight loss of one pound a week yet still eat foods I enjoy and have certain meals where I can disregard the rules.” (Ingram, 2013, p 295)

Recurrent Patterns

So what does this quick and dirty overview of ego states have to do with my sister and I?  As I continue with this week’s readings yet another quote jumps out at me: “Many problems in adulthood can be understood as efforts to resolve conflicts and satisfy unmet needs.” (Ingram, 2012, p301).  This quote confirms my suspicion that we inadvertently “trigger” each other quite often.  Preferring the ego state of a critical parent, this adaptive perspective has provided my sister with the structure she needed growing up.   Her conversational statements reflect a need for clarity and structure.  Made in an assertive and pragmatic manner, she states her opinion, directly and unapologetically.  I end up hurt by her and somehow made to feel I’ve overreacted.  Since her comments bring up old issues, I react by sharing my these feelings to her comments.  She states I overreacted.  Here are some examples:

Scenario one:

During a visit with my sister, I was discussing how difficult it was to for me since dad was more “hands off” and focused on his work while our mother acted as disciplinarian.  As the oldest child, I feel the cultural gap between my mother and I was a big problem for me socially.  My sister still doesn’t realize this since my mother changed her parenting to adapt to American culture, after learning a few lessons the “hard way with me”.   At any rate, our mother held me to many standards consistent with her upbringing and cultural values.  I did not date, I did not wear makeup, and only wore very conservative clothing (by the time my sister was in high school, my mom relaxed these rules).  As a result of these rules, I was not allow me to wear regular underwear.  My mother instead bought me the “granny panties” and would also forbid me from shaving my legs.  I went to school hairy most of the time, unless I was able to smuggle a razor  from somebody.  I will spare you the story of how much teasing I receive as a result of all this.  my sister’s reaction was: “Wow, there’s no way I would have ever allowed that to happen.  I would have found a way to go to school properly groomed!”  Mind you this was several years ago and the bullying of my childhood was fresh.  The “critical parent” in my sister, made it clear that what I did was stupid.  While not stated verbally, her comment implied the statement: “What the hell is wrong with you?!?!?

Scenario Two:

Around the time my sister started dating her husband she converted from Catholicism to Evangelical Christianity, (I am agnostic).  As a result of new spiritual beliefs, her thoughts about a woman’s role in society changed to reflect this fact.   As a result, her views are a stark contrast to my mother, who is an M.D. and was raised in a very matriarchial society.  In her family education is instilled as a priority, and all the women in her family have advanced degrees.  I have to say, I respect my sister for following her beliefs and doing what felt right in her heart.  At the same time, I respect my mother for her accomplishments and feel its best to simply “do what works”.  In the early years, my son was very ill, I had to stay home.  As he grew older, our financial situation changed and I worked full time.  Consequently, my husband and I examined where we were, and where we wanted to go, then drew a straight line between points.

One day while visiting with my sister I shared my frustrations of balancing home, work (and now school).  At one point she mentioned that part of her reason for staying home was wanting to develop a close attachment for her kids.  She then states at one point: “There are only 24 hours in a day.  Any parent who works should understand this leaves less time for their kids.  My family comes first.”  This again triggered me emotionally.  We ended up getting into the same stupid argument where I have to repeat what she says and I get a response: “I didn’t mean it that way”

transactional deconstruction

64794In the second of his videos (theramin trees, 2010), delves into how our own ego states interact with significant others.  Throughout our day, experiences, thoughts, memories, often cause us to float from one state to another.  In the case of my sister and I, we’re engaged in a fairly “complimentary transaction” (theramin trees, 2010).  In fact our entire dynamic is complmentary and very much in sync.  I play role of “hurt child”, and she is the “critical parent”. Her “critical parent” consists of messages she receives on how to “do the right thing”.    This has served to provide a sense of structure, clarity and meaning in her life while she “raised herself”.  I play role of the bullied child (see pick to the left).

“Many children grow up with deep feelings of shame – that they are defective and inadequate to the core and, if others find out that secret, they will be rejected, humiliated, and abandoned.  The childhood solutions keep painful emotions out of awareness.  For that reason they are resistant to change…” (Ingram, 2012, p 302)

The solution???

150339Why is it this endless cycle occurs?  In answer to this question, (theramin trees, 2010), mentions the concept of “life positions”.  In transactional analysis, this concept refers to a consistent belief about ourselves in relation to others.  As a broad stance we take in relation to others, it might convenient to think of “life positions” as self-imposed roles.  We distort our realties through these life positions, and utilize patterns of interaction with others as preferred coping tools.   Naturally, the benefit of a “life position” is its pay-off.  While I can’t speak for my sister, my own “life position” allows me to play victim.  The needs that are fulfilled as a victim, are that people acknowledge my hurt so I can receive compassion and feel better (things I didn’t get as a child).  Theramin trees (2010), suggests to viewers, that in addition to desconstructing transactions to gain clarity, we should let go of the payoff that allows these cycles to continue.  Without the payoff (i.e. need fulfillment) the “life position” is no longer a logical choice. For me, letting go of the victim role, means not expecting that others can or will ever understand or acknowledge all the painful experiences of my childhood, including family.  The radical acceptance and forgiveness I’ve worked on to get to this place has taken time and continues still.   As I have expanded my “adult ego state”, my relationship with my sister has improved substantially.  In fact, if we can both learn to develop greater tolerance for negative emotions the old baggage can’t replay itself continually.  Once this happens, we can begin to learn valuable lessons from one another.

addendum…(one week later)

I’m here trying to sort out my family relationships and my role in them.  What follows is an email snippet with my mother.  At the time it was sent I was trying to process some traumas regarding early childhood bullying.  It is an email from my mom, after I told her I wanted to speak with my old counselor in high school.

“Kathleen, in this venture you have to be ready to hear things you may not want to hear.  I told Barb to give her impressions as she remembers them.  If all you want from her is a statement that others were bad and were really after you, then you are only looking for vindication of the righteousness of the stance.  If you are willing to accept that you may have had a hand in creating an atmosphere of aloofness around yourself, a cocoon of leave me alone I hate you all; then you are more likely to come to acceptance and resolution.”

This perception of events blames me for what happened.  What she still doesn’t realize is how suicidally depressed I was then.  I remained strong and didn’t do anything stupid.  I needed comfort and I got criticism.  Once I developed the courage to tell her this in a conversation, she reflected on it a bit gave me a hug and sent me the following email after arriving home:

 “I agree. I do not fully understand the pain that you suffered as a child. I also was not there to hold your hand. I am sorry………Mom”

My heart melted when I read this and the hurt disappeared.  With my “hurt child” satisifed, the adult ego state has taken over.  I immediately felt bad for having to bring up this old shit.  As a mother, with the shoe on “the other foot”, I now realize how difficulty parenting is.   You have no guidebook since there is not “Right Answer”, everybody has an opinion, and “making mistakes” is scary – (especially if our kids pay the price”).  I share my own shame-laden parenting story here and commentary on the concept of “Good Enough Parenting” .

References

Ingram, B.L. (2012). Clinical Case Formulations: Matching the Integrative Treatment Plan to the client. (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN: 978-1-118-03822-2
Theramin trees [screen name] (2010, June, 10) Transactional Analysis 1: ego states & basic transactions  Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKNyFSLJy6o
theramin trees [screen name] (2010, June, 17) Transactional analysis 2: games. Retrieved from:  http://youtu.be/YOqJ4sc9TAc

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