Archive for March 21st, 2012
Sheila was suffering from exhaustion. She was overworked at home and at her job. She knew that she was taking too much upon herself, but she could not help it. She had always been this way, super-responsible and unable to trust others – feeling compelled to do it all herself.
She had finally reached her limits; and could not push herself anymore. She knew that going away for a rest would not solve anything. She would only start the whole thing over again when she got back. She came for counseling to find out how she got this way, and to relieve her anger at the world for doing this to her.
Therapist: “What is one of your earliest memories?”
Sheila: “I was the director of the class play. The day before we were supposed to perform in front of the Drama Club, three people called me with excuses for not showing up. I was so frustrated that I threw myself on my bed and cried. My mother heard me crying and came in. She leaned over me and said, ‘If that damn club is going to make you cry like that, I forbid you to go again.’ She stomped out. I was amazed. I remember asking myself, ‘How was that supposed to help?’ I knew that I could never go to her with my problems. Her overreaction was worse than the problem! Then I had two problems! If my own mother won’t help me, who will?”
Her anger at this betrayal of her expectations never went away. It was down there waiting to erupt on the next occasion. She learned that on a deeper level, she was angry at herself for trusting her overwhelmed, inadequate parent in the first place! This anger didn’t make sense to her. This is where we point out that anger doesn’t have to make sense. It arises out of the attitudes that are formed on these memorable occasions such as, “I must have been stupid to expect my own mother to help me. I’m angry at me for asking her to help me in the first place. I am angry at myself for trusting her. I’ll never make that mistake again.” Once these submerged attitudes are brought into conscious awareness, her adult intelligence can work to put it in a realistic, manageable perspective. “I wasn’t stupid. I was just a little kid. It was sad for me and sad for my mother, but I can choose to let go of my anger now that I know what I’m letting go of.”
Sheila learned very early in life that the people who are supposed to love you and support you in your crises only make things worse. She felt all alone with her distress, she had no one to turn to. She was all she had. She began a lifetime of super self-reliance, super-independence and super-responsibility. Her conviction that “helpers do not help” painted her into a corner. Her attitude precluded securing cooperation because she knew in advance that people would let her down.
Paradoxically, Sheila found herself asking people for a ride to church and being told that she uses people and has no consideration for the feelings of others. She could not understand why she bothered to ask for help “knowing” as she does that she could not get it.
The solution is that there is no paradox. Sheila has a way of choosing just the wrong person to ask for help. When her request blows up in her face, it “confirms” her reactions about helpers in general, about herself as totally alone, and about life. “Life treated me this way as a child; it is still treating me the same rotten way.” Her attitudes preclude securing cooperation; they do not preclude asking for it.
Another apparent paradox is the fact that Sheila receives plenty of help in the real world. She has a special needs child and she has relied on the expertise of specialists and therapists for three years, as well as upon her husband and her friends. The paradox is that she is precluded from recognizing and appreciating their helpfulness on her behalf. To do so would be inconsistent with the lessons she learned very early in her life.
Sheila’s Homework was to let go of some of her self-assigned responsibilities in the first place, to recognize the contributions of others in the second place, and to thank them for it in the third place.
Shortly thereafter, her husband was filling baby bottles for their son. He was putting in five ounces of milk into the bottle instead of the prescribed three ounces. He thought it was a good idea, not realizing that Sheila did not want to fill Jeffrey up with milk. She wanted him to start eating solid food. She shrieked at her well-intentioned husband who turned and threw the milk down the sink. He was probably feeling that his “goodness” was unappreciated and that he was “good for nothing.” Under these circumstances, he can become discouraged and resolve never to help her again. Her prophesy that “helpers do not help” will be fulfilled once again.
What could have been a war, ended very quickly when she caught herself acting out of her conviction that her helper was not helping. Instead of seeing her husband as an Unhelpful Helper, she chose to see him as an imperfect human being in his own right. One of his imperfections was his “good intentions.” He “meant well,” but he had to be informed of her preferences regarding milk bottles. He was not a mind reader. She apologized to him for overreacting. She secured his cooperation as an equal member of the human race, they made up a new batch of formula. Her life went on from there.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )