Have you ever had a software program tell you something’s wrong with your written text and it won’t let you proceed until you correct it? My office system does this all the time. It’s a finicky pain, exacting in its specific design and requirements. Too often no matter how much I look or how long I try I just can’t see the error! But ask a co-worker or friend and they point it out immediately.
A perfect analogy to life.
Too close and we miss subtle cues.
Too far and we miss even the obvious ones.
Ask an unbiased bystander and they expose them all.
It requires a balanced viewpoint.
That’s what counseling offers. Someone who doesn’t have a stake in the outcome, using their trained expertise and guidance to widen our perspective. It’s not meant to “fix” us or give us answers someone else thinks will work. Instead it allow us to see options we’d normally never see.
When I was getting a divorce, looking to raise a three year old daughter on my own and turning a joint practice with my ex husband into a solo practice, I knew I needed help. A friend recommended several people. One had a partner who specialized in children therapy as well. It was a match made in heaven.
It may sound strange, thinking a three year old needs counseling but at that age they don’t understand how to express their anger and fears without kicking, hitting, screaming, or throwing a tantrum, none of which are conducive to moving forward and dealing with the problems. And I had no idea how to see it from a three year old’s framework. How to put into words what she was going through and help her learn to express herself more appropriately. Especially when I was feeling the exact same turmoil.
The sudden changes in our lives were overwhelming, I couldn’t image what they must have been like for a child with no control or say in the outcome. The world as she knew it was over. I was told her biggest concern was that one parent was gone, even if it was one she rarely interacted with, what stopped the other from disappearing too? I had no idea this, along with the belief she was the cause, was a common response for her age group. Understanding this horrible misconception allowed me to repeatedly correct her viewpoint. But reassurances only went so far, although the daily mantra,
“Mommy leaves for work in the morning but always comes home at night” helped.
She needed proof.
Trust isn’t established overnight. As with any relationship it takes constant follow through, love and consistency. It’s the same whether you’re three or fifty, talking about a marriage, employee, boss, parent, child, sibling, friend… trust takes time to establish. And half the battle is just showing up each day.
Counseling helps us to take all those overwhelming emotions- anger, fear, disappointment, worry, anxiety – and find a way to deal with them without imploding or taking them out on others.
Helping my child find that path was imperative. But along the way I realized it helped me too. She couldn’t verbalize what she was feeling. Too young to truly understand the “why”, she just knew everything around her was different. If she couldn’t find the words to speak her fears she’d show me in other ways. A normal human response. All those embattled emotions eventually spew out somewhere. In a three year old’s case it’s physical, in adults it’s not only physical but often felt internally too with pain, insomnia, and other symptoms. Or far and wide by friends, family, co-workers.
When I helped her put words to her feelings instead of acting out, I helped myself as well, calming and soothing us both. No more bandages were needed to cover up the wound, the healing had begun. It forced me to express what we were both feeling in ways even a three year old could understand And the more I taught her, the more she taught me.
Most of us are told to ignore or bury our feelings. We all know how successful that is. Learning to acknowledge them, define them, own them, allows us to decide how they’ll be expressed and released. We take back the control they’ve exerted our entire lives. Counseling helped me to do that-match words to emotions so I could then accept them, deal with them and finally move on. Then and only then could I teach my child the same ability.
My mother once told me I turned my daughter into the actress she would become someday by saying, “You look sad, or happy or angry…” She’d roll my words around inside her head and then declare if I was correct. . .or not. But she wasn’t the only one learning and figuring out the proper word for the proper moment. I was too. Most of us are taught to hide our feelings lest others use them against us, “act” as though everything is ok or shove them deep inside and ignore them. In some situations like work, that makes sense. But in a relationship, where honoring each other’s needs effects it’s future, it can have devastating consequences.
Being able to share our inner most feelings first requires us to be able to express what they are.
No one can read our minds.
No one should be expected to.
The idea that someone “should have known” what we were feeling is ridiculous.
Saying three little words,
“I need help.”
Can be life changing.