If it were this easy, we’d all be a bunch of deliriously happy laughing hyenas.
It is simple, but it’s not easy...and often requires focusing on, and doing and saying things that feel completely counterintuitive.
And all the research on change and well-being says you’re likely not going to berate or toxic-positivity your way into feeling better. At least not in a sustainable kind of way.
The amount of BS, not research-based mental wellness advice I see on social media is horrifying.
💫 If it’s “SHOULDING” it’s toxic.
💫 If it calls unconditionally loving yourself BS, it’s flagrantly going against an overwhelming amount of research on well-being, motivation, change, and even leadership.
💫 If it insinuates there’s something wrong with you or you shouldn’t be feeling the way you’re feeling it’s SHAME inducing, and don’t even get me started on all of the icky things shame’s associated with (depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders...to name a few)
What I’m trying to say is, I hope you censor what’s going into your brain and eyeballs. You’ll likely know if it’s for you AND worthy of you giving it validity if it
1️⃣ FEELS GOOD TO HEAR!,
2️⃣ Simultaneously feels good and uncomfortable 💡 like, “oh, damn. I do that 😬”, or
3️⃣ IS SOMETHING YOU WOULD SAY TO A 4-YEAR OLD that’s feeling the way you’re feeling (“Happiness is a choice!” See how that doesn’t hold up here???)
If it doesn’t fit into these categories, it might be adding to the pile of ammunition your self-critic has been amassing for years. Lovingly put him/her in timeout.
Thanksgiving used to be a terrible day for me. As a kid, we lived STATES away from any extended family so we mostly spent it alone.
That looked like me and my parents' dysfunctional and tension-filled, snipping, snapping, grumbling, not-talking marriage for the day and NO FRIENDS 😩.
Days I couldn't play with friends made my heart sink; they were dreadful in a way that's hard to explain.
Most days, I was knocking on doors at 10am and I would run our 100-house neighborhood until the street lights came on...at which point I would run home, report location, and ask for more outside time. Let the Ghost 👻 in the Graveyard begin.
In many ways, my neighborhood friends were my siblings; they were my family.
There were years when not having enough *plans*, being sick (anything that meant I couldn't leave the house), and Holidays would trigger a deep sense of dread and unworthiness in me that my husband had no idea how to deal with...or even where it came from.
I'm not sure when I realized I'm not alone anymore, but it's been more recent than one would logically think.
And on this Thanksgiving with *no plans* and just my immediate family, I'm realizing how not-dreadful I feel and how grateful I am for these 5 (Cowboy included). I don't just love them, I really really like them.
My family being my friends might be the thing I'm most grateful for this year 🦃❤️️
dress from @renttherunway
P.S. - Feeling less like friends and more like enemies? Check out myFree Training for Busy Couples at www.mikaross.com/training
She didn’t think they would make it. She confessed in our individual session she was ready to be done. They had been icy and barely speaking for months.
Not being sure in your relationship is an energy drain and impacts every other part of your life. It can be an expensive problem to have.
After meeting with them a few times I suggested an online program (the Conflict Sucks Course) I have that costs less than the first session with me.
So often what people perceive as *compatibility issues* or *there’s something wrong with him* issues my brain X-rays and can clearly see the communication issues underneath.
Self-worth issues that could be cleared up by assuming less and checking things out more, family of origin issues and patterns people are unconsciously dragging around like 500 lb weights that could be unraveled with some awareness and talking about that lens you’re seeing things through (or being seen through), feelings of not mattering or not being a priority that could vanish by making yourself one and clearly stating needs and wants with boundaries <— all communication.
So...years ago, after many live workshops and 1000s of counseling sessions I took the things that I tend to say on repeat and put them into an online course for the masses that this couple participated in. It might save you from hours of extensive therapy (like it may have these people), it might be a really great place to start before you head to therapy, and it will definitely have you thinking about conflict and communication differently even if you’re in a not-so-bad place.
This is available to EVERYBODY: not just my clients. Link in bio @mikaross or online at www.mikaross.com/conflict-online
PS - Try my FREE Training for Busy Couples first :) www.mikaross.com/training
You’ve heard insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, but it’s actually how quickly they let you leave the hospital with a newborn when you have your first child.
“You mean I don’t need a parental license? No certification? I don’t have to pass any tests??? I just get to take this MOST IMPORTANT THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO ME home and wing it?”
No book can prepare us for this, although I did read them all.
48 hours after 36 hours of labor and…
the hospital provided us with a cart to haul all our loot and belongings to the car.
I sat in the hospital bed nursing like a pro thanks to the 352 page book, Breastfeeding Made Simple (not a joke), and our daughter’s totally genetic love for groceries. I was so in love and in awe. Despite the lack of sleep, rough delivery, and family tension I told my husband that I felt like I had postpartum euphoria. If one could embody the heart-eyes emoji, I’m pretty sure I was nailing it.
My husband was loading the hospital cart when my Mom walked in. She’d arrived from the East Coast the day I delivered and months prior we’d planned that she’d stay for a week or so to help.
As she entered the hospital room her hands were one inside the other - not a full wringing of the hands...just the fingers of one hand inside the grip of the other right at her chest accompanied with a slightly pained look on her face. It’s what she does when she has something to say, but doesn’t want to say it...or knows full well what she’s about to say is a word grenade, but can’t help but pull the pin.
She stood to the right of my bed and told me that she’d changed her flight and would be leaving later that day instead of a week from now like we had planned.
My head fell like a 400-pound weight supported by an al dente noodle. Although this wasn’t the first time I was disappointed by my mother’s behavior or decisions, I realized in this moment I had been carrying around the hope that she could be a different kind of Grandmother. I also realized we had no other plans for support in place; all the other out-of-towners that were possibilities for support had left town and the thought of reaching out and explaining where my mom had gone carried with it a level of complexity and vulnerability I didn’t have the energy for.
Warm tears, from the deepest place that tears can come, pooled in the corners of my eyes and splattered against my baby girl’s skin.
My mom began rattling off, what sounded to me like, ridiculous reasons for why she wasn’t staying a full week..
Head-scratching excuses like these were familiar to me. I’d heard them when she couldn’t come visit me in college (an hour away from where she lived), when she surprised me with the news that she’d be moving to the east coast for a man (when I was 21 and support-system-less about to graduate college with plans to move back in with her), and when she told me, just a few months prior, she wasn’t going to be able to make it to my baby shower.
I did not hear these flat excuses, however, when it came to making it to any of her out-of-state high school class reunions to relive her glory days.
You might be thinking, “Huh, Mika, should have seen this one coming. Sounds like insanity,” but my mom is a wild dichotomy. For example, when I was younger she would ask me repeatedly and excitedly, like no less than 75 times, “Honey, when you have kids, will you let me babysit them?!!” and then would squeal in excitement at the thought of watching her own grandchildren. She would talk about the things she would do with them, how close she would have to live to them, how often she would see them, and joke about how she might just have to live in my basement. There’s this almost manic-ness, in her mind, about how she could be relationally, but none of it is reality. When I was a kid I didn’t understand that these grand illusions weren’t going to happen, because I had no idea she wasn’t capable of this kind of intimacy.
Fast-forward to when I was pregnant with her first grandchild I, her only child, asked her if she thought that having a grandchild would make her want to move back to where we were. She said very matter-of-factly, “No, I don’t think so. I like the weather here.”
While the shreds of hope I had remaining for her ability to be a nurturing and present Grandma were streaming out of my eyeballs in that hospital bed, she said, “What’s the matter, honey?” I had no words. I just looked up at her through my tear-filled eyes.
She gently sat down on my bed and grabbed my leg. With what felt like all the drama of a soap opera star, the sleaziness of a car salesman, and the breathiness of Judy Garland, she said, “If you want me to stay, just say it and I’ll stay,” while looking longingly into my eyes.
Waiting, again, for ME to fill HER up.
“Just say it, and I’ll stay.”
“Look at ME. Beg ME. Need ME. MAKE THIS ABOUT ME,” was all that I could hear.
Me. Me. Me.
And in that moment, a switch inside me flipped. Despite the years of hurt, disappointment, unresolvable issues, emotional and physical abuse, and tolerating atrocious offenses I had kept that switch unflipped. Don’t get me wrong, we’d had our battles, but until now they all had ended with me sweeping my own wants and needs under the rug and going back to acting like nothing was wrong in order to survive. With my 2-day-old diapered baby in my arms; her new furry skin touching mine, I did something for her that I hadn’t yet been able to do fully for my almost 27-year-old self.
The air wheezed on the way into my flared nostrils and with all the nonverbal accoutrement of a possessed person in a horror movie I growled,
“Fuck. You.” I had NEVER said these words to anyone before.
She kept talking. The head-scratching, self-focused, empathy-lacking explanations were mounting.
She didn’t stop. She put on her confused, sad puppy-dog face and her mouth kept moving.
At the top of my lungs in the brand new, small, and quiet maternity ward (like EVERYONE heard. every.one.), “GEEET OUUUUUTTTT!!!!! GET OUUUUUUTT!!!!!!!! FUCK YOUU!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Over and over.
Historically, my husband would be the first of us to lose it or set a firm and uncomfortable boundary with my mother, but on this day he was the calm one. I blame, and am grateful for, the increased amount of oxytocin bathing my brain and igniting my momma-bear response for my daughter and myself that day.
He just kept saying forcefully on repeat, “Jan, I think you need to leave.”
I had held out hope for years that the mom I was attached to could be my mom, and that hope broke on this day. I continued screaming - ugly-cry, howler-monkey, throat-injurious screaming - as she looked at me, somehow self-pitifully, while being escorted out of the room.
My husband remembers returning later to find our favorite nurse at the foot of my bed. “She was so nice that day,” he says.
I’m pretty sure she was mostly just assessing me for postpartum psychosis and making sure I wasn’t going to kill myself or the baby after discharge.
I haven’t thought about this day in a long time and I worry, now that I’ve put it down on paper, you’ll wonder, “Soooo, is this “relationship expert” saying I should just tell the people in my life to go F themselves?” Nope, nope, nope, that’s definitely not what I’m saying. AND I don’t know that I would do or could have done it any differently this day.
This reaction took 26.8 years to erupt. 26.8 years of walking on eggshells, people-pleasing, avoiding, backing down, and wondering if there was something deeply wrong with me. Years of whiffed chances, years of therapy, and years of graduate school had finally convinced me that I had developed a ridiculous and self-harming ability to tolerate an inordinate amount of crap from people because it’s what I had to do in my childhood to belong.
Boundaries come in all shapes and sizes (here come my yard/lawn boundary analogies 🤦🏼♀️). A simple lovely row of flowers works for some people, but there are those who will trample the flowers, kick over the white picket fence, and excavate the 8ft wooden fence you’ve installed in an attempt to clearly communicate this is what’s mine, and this is what’s yours (or this is what’s ok, and this is what’s not ok - like...it’s not okay for your dog to poop over here). You might have to learn to build a ridiculously tall barbed wire fence with a lockable door. The door will allow you to let the people who are able to be kind and respectful in, and the barbed wire will protect your squishy and vulnerable heart. Both are necessary if you don’t want to run the risk for your heart hardening for the world…. and for yourself.
To put it shortly, I have learned that a row of vincas doesn’t work with my mother.
My reaction was not perfect. I am not perfect. I know, that’s super rare for *experts* to admit. Let’s be clear about this before you read any further: my background isn’t perfect, my family of origin isn’t perfect, my current family isn’t perfect, and my college days were definitely not perfect.
If you want your life inspiration to come from someone who didn’t have a shitty beginning (not the shittiest) and a really messy middle I would recommend not reading any further.
I’m writing this for those of us who were dealt imperfect cards, yet who still have at least the teensiest glimmer of belief in the possibility that this could get better. For those of you who want to believe it’s more about how we play the cards, that we can create a different kind of family and life than the awful or ho-hum one we grew up with, that we can choose to deal different cards to our own kids, and that we can break decades-long family patterns in imperfectly-perfect ways.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it and tell you it’s not hard, but I hope the stories to come help convince you that it’s all SO worth it.
While this all seems like an objectively terrible way to start my motherhood journey I think of this day and feel pretty darned powerful about it. At 2 days old my daughter taught me something I hadn’t been able to really hear from anyone else: your worth and value isn’t dependent on someone else’s behavior. My mom’s inability to be the kind of grandma my daughter needed her to be had nothing to do with my daughter’s worth and value. Zero. Zilch. Nada. THIS. WAS. CLEAR.
I’d read it in books, I’d heard it from therapists, experts, 78-page-long CV-touting professors, and spiritual leaders. I AGREED with it in theory (cognitively)….but nothing had deeply untangled my heart from the belief that my worth was dependent on my mom’s ability to nurture me, and a whole slew of other things outside of myself, in the way that the love I had for my 2-day-old daughter did.
I could see her worth and value more clearly than I could see my own. This, in and of itself, helped me see my own more clearly.
My daughter has been one of my greatest teachers.
In the chapters to come I hope to share how my heart was slowly, but surely, untangled and how years of self-doubt, self-hate, depression and anxiety were unraveled. I'm not just going to tell you the theories behind having happy and healthy relationships; I'm going to bring them down to Earth with real life stories.
I'm going to throw myself under the bus in cringe-worthy ways. I'm going to write chapters that my husband won't want me to share. I'm going to piss some people off with my perspective. And I'm going to break down really big ideas into actionable and practical strategies so that you know WHAT IT LOOKS like, WHAT IT SOUNDS like, and WHAT IT FEELS like to navigate relationships with the people you love the most in a way that simultaneously honors YOU and THEM.
And I'm doing all of this for those of you who've wondered if it might be impossible for you to have happy relationships or to love yourself fully.
I have been there.
YOU deserve happy relationships,
P.S. - You're wanting to be a different kind of mom than the one you had too? A great place to start might be my wellMAMA Virtual Workshop + Community. Check it out :)
It's a MOMference and a night out. It's inspiring, ah-ha moment-inducing, and silly. You might shed a tear and you'll definitely laugh. Moms, I want you to leave this event feeling lighter and more empowered: with a clearer understanding of yourself, what you need, and next best steps (if you want them). I want you to feel more WELL.
I sort of see Moms like an endangered species (not, like, in danger of becoming extinct, but...); we're 2x as likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety than our male counterparts, report lower rates of relationship satisfaction than our husbands, are drowning in to-dos, and feel like we're failing everywhere.
And our husband wears 1 baby in a wrap to the grocery store to pick up 5 things and is praised by 7 strangers in amazement.
Also, he wants sex...now. "How about now?"...."Now??" despite the relationship lacking in emotional intimacy and you feeling like you're drowning in to-do ocean while he's up on the boat chillaxin - blissfully unaware of the mile-long invisible list (the dog needs to be groomed, the kids are past due for their well visits, need to research when the baby can eat solids, gotta decipher this email from the reading specialist, plan a 4-year-old birthday party, etc.) that needs to be complete by noon.
So many of us have the same complaints - feelings of overwhelm, not feeling like a priority, feeling like we're not enough, wondering if we're selfish...
You're asking me questions like, "Is there something wrong with me?", "How can I get him to SEE the dishes?" and "How can I get what I need without yelling about it?"
You feel alone, disconnected, and like it's hard to remember who you used to be...but you're pretty sure you used to laugh more.
You say things like, "Why do I have to tell you what to do, WHY CAN'T YOU JUST KNOW?!"
I've been there. I've crawled out of that. I've helped thousands of others do the same.
The path to not recognizing yourself one day is a slippery and insidious slope. Whether you're already there, or wonder if you might be on your way...well, Mama, we have hand-crafted this event just for you. And the support and connection won't end when the event is over...
The best thing you can do for your kids is be well.
See you soon, XOXO
P.S. We are 2/3 full! Only 55 tickets remain. CLICK HERE to learn more :)
Earlier this year I told my good friend I had this strange desire to see a therapist. Me (the therapist) seeing a therapist isn’t the strange part. Despite what you may think, psychotherapists seeking therapy is really common. And trust me, you want the therapist who has worked through her shi….own stuff with a professional, not the one who hasn’t.
The strange part was that I didn’t feel like I had things to work through or change (which… in and of itself, feels like a strange and new place for me to be), but I couldn’t shake the desire to go through the hard work of finding a good therapist.
She was like, “You should do it....if that’s what you feel like you need.”
But I didn’t really feel like I needed just one therapist or even on-going therapy. Here comes the strange part...I told her, “I’m just craving that first session...where I get to spill it all. It’s like I want 7 first sessions.”
She said, “Huh. That’s weird. It sounds like you might just want to tell your story.”
I said, “Yeah, maybe.”
“Maybe it’s time to write your book?!”
Whoa. I hadn’t really considered that this was what this feeling could be: the desire to share my story, in full - not just in not-regular, somewhat-vague blog posts or short stories with clients and friends, or repeating myself to the few people in my life who do know the full story. I think my husband is done hearing about all this stuff out-loud, and I don’t blame him.
The thought of sharing it all in a cohesive, here’s-how-all-the-pieces-fit-together, way sounds simultaneously overwhelming and cathartic; self-indulgent and important. I wonder so much what it would feel like to write that last chapter, to have the ability to figuratively and literally close the door of that back cover to those parts of my life. Would it feel like completion and closure?
Over the years of writing on the internet (albeit inconsistently), I’ve gotten more comfortable with the thought of writing a book like, “Yeah, I could do that...”, although I still feel like a jerk admitting it outloud - like I’m that douche-canoe who believes I’m THE MOST INTERESTING PERSON IN THE WORLD!
I am definitely not terribly interesting.
I am, however, a person with invisible scars. Scars that were once gaping wounds of anxiety, crippling worry, depression, wildly (and insidiously) dysfunctional relationships, dismal self-esteem, and overwhelming loneliness.
There were decades of wondering if there was something wrong with me, if I was worth deep and meaningful connections, if anyone wanted to have them with me, and countless moments of leaping...good grief, so much leaping, hoping the fucking net everyone talks about would appear.
And let’s not forget the years of trudging through what it looks like and sounds like to value myself in relationship with others. This included the almost unbearable work of untangling myself from people who were committed to not seeing me clearly....even when the alternative was feeling like I was floating, untethered, away from everything I’d ever known to feel comfortable and safe (not healthy or wonderful, but safe) and into some red hot, chest-aching loneliness.
I don’t think people talk about invisible scars enough.
The moral of my story will be: It’s worth it. The hard work you resist doing to create the life you really want; it’s worth it. The hard conversations you avoid having; they’re worth it. The boundaries you don’t want to have, the loneliness you don’t want to feel, the grief you’re trying to escape, the connections you can’t want to make, the leaps you’re terrified to take...YOU are worth it.
You deserve healthy relationships. And if I can do it, I’m fairly certain anyone can.
So, why am I telling you all of this? Because I don’t think that I can do this alone. I’m not the person who can do big things without big accountability. Like, I couldn't run a marathon without a serial killer trailing close behind. I know this about myself.
So, why not bring you all along on the journey for some accountability? Wait, I think I just compared you to a serial killer. Hmmm. Honestly, I’m not even sure THIS (sharing with a few thousand people) will be enough accountability to stick with this project (you’re not very scary), but it’s the best idea I’ve got.
So, here were are... in this awkward moment… giving it a shot. I’ve heard great books start in the middle. Crappy rough-draft of the messy middle coming next...or at least paragraph one of the messy middle. Or this post could mysteriously disappear in the near future. Stay tuned. I guess we’ll find out together.
You're not good at *reading* people. (What does this have to do with this photo?….read til the end)
“THAT IS what you were saying."
I often hear some form of this when couples are revisiting a conflict they couldn't get through in the past week.
"That's NOT what I was saying!"
"Oh, YES it was. I'm good at reading people."
Nope. No you're not. Of course, I don't say this in the moment, I show them instead by dragging them through effective verbal communication about nonverbal communication.
WHY is communicating about nonverbal communication so important? First, some examples.
What if you’re at lunch with your friend talking about a particularly hard scenario you’re trying to navigate and you say, “Oh, gosh, this is a long story. Are you sure you have time?” And your friend says, “YES, OF COURSE!!!” but then proceeds to look at her watch every minute or so.
Which are you going to believe, her verbals or her nonverbals?
You come home to your partner slamming kitchen cabinets, and you ask, “Is everything ok?” And he/she responds, “FINE!”
You will, most likely, not believe the words.
We give more weight to nonverbal communication than we do to verbal communication, but there’s SO MUCH MORE ROOM to miscommunicate about nonverbal communication. Yet most of us don’t have the skills to check out our perception in the moment with a big question mark at the end and we fill in the blanks, assuming meaning, instead of getting clarity from the person expressing themselves.
“I’m interpreting the silence as judgment. Is that what it means?”
“I hear you say you’re fine, but it doesn’t seem like you’re fine.”
“Did that sigh mean you’re irritated with ME?”
I am constantly listening for how communication could be heard another way, checking out my perception of the communication (because I know the same sentence said in different ways can mean SEVERAL different things), and waiting until I get the all clear to respond in the form of AGREEMENT from the person I’m communicating with on what’s being said before I respond.
I NO LONGER assume I understand another person’s intent without checking It out. I’m highly trained in communication, have several letters after my name, and I will tell you I’m right about 50% of the time when I check out my understanding of what the other person is saying.
This will be even less if the rose-colored glasses you used to have for your partner have been replaced with poop-colored lenses after years of miscommunication….making miscommunicating even easier. Ugh.
This pic? Looks like we’re having a great time, right? Lots of fun? Maybe playing a game? Maybe just participating in some Mom-of-the-year type of behavior?
Nah. My new 12-year-old social media manager took my phone, told me to put my little one on my back and laugh. I thought, “This is ridiculous,” but did it anyway. And then she took THIS picture. Super AMAZING....and super fake.
Nonverbals are hard to read, should have known.
You deserve happy relationships,
PSSSTT - It’s SO EASY to miscommunicate and to slide down the slippery slope into a roommatey relationship. Check out my super relatable FREE Training for Busy Couples for lots more super do-able ways to get your relationship back on track.
Sometimes I say smart things. AND, I have LIVED on either side of this.
I intimately understand what it’s like to slowly untangle layers of unhealthy beliefs about relationships.
You lose people. People WILL go away. Those people who benefitted from you having a lack of boundaries and standards will think there’s something wrong with you.
“What is your problem?”
They’ll talk about you behind your back. They’ll confront you to your face. THIS is not a sign that you should turn around, THIS is a sign you’re on the right track.
You’ll feel lonely, it’ll feel ALL WRONG. Uncomfortable isn’t a big enough word.
But you’ll emerge on the other side with a superpower. Your sensitivity will no longer drain you. You’ll be a fierce protector of your energy. You’ll be “picky” about how people treat you, and you’ll find your tribe of weirdos...they’re waiting for you.
And you’ll get to show other people that this is a climbable mountain. That there’s peace, and belonging, and people who are excited for you when things go well on the other side.
Click here for a YouTube video series on BOUNDARIES...that might be a great place to start.
You deserve happy relationships,
The FREE Training for Busy Couples is available now. Click below to pick your class time.
Conflict gets a bad rap, but when done really well it's actually highly positively correlated with relational satisfaction and ratings of emotional AND physical intimacy.
"WHAT?! That thing that I'm not supposed to do in front of the kids is actually GOOD for my relationship?"
Well, not exactly.
When conflict is done really well it doesn't include acting out on other people in anger: yelling, name calling, passive aggression, threats, blame, criticism, or becoming otherwise emotionally abrasive. SO, I tell people - if you're moving through conflict in a way that you can't do in front of the kids, it's probably not something you want to be doing in your relationship. Period.
This does not, IN NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM, mean I recommend you start sweeping your wants and needs under the rug in an effort to avoid the uncomfortable interaction. In my family of origin we either screamed and yelled about it or swept our wants and needs under the rug - neither of which I want to model for my kids. I understand intimately how sweeping wants and needs under the rug can slowly and sneakily poison relationships from the inside out like a slow-growing cancer.
There is another way.
Get stuck in conflict? Leave the interaction feeling worse not better? Arguing about the same thing over and over again? Feel like emotional and physical intimacy are declining over time? It's so easy to get here.
CONFLICT SUCKS. Keep scrolling for lots of helpful resources, including more information on a layered, sequential, research-based mini-course I've developed to help you sail through conflict with ease. I've been using it in my practice with couples for over 6 years with much success. It even includes a literal map to help you get through conflict (not kidding). Check it out at www.mikaross.com/conflict-online
Relatables: Episode 39
A few weeks ago I was asked this GREAT question by a client: How do we move forward in a conflict if we can't agree on the facts?? We've all been stuck here before...it looks something like:
Yes, you did.
NO, I didn't.
YES, you did.
NO I DIDN'T!
YES YOU DID!!!!
Please, for the love, watch the video. You deserve happy relationships,
Want more? Check out the FREE Training for Busy Couples and for more specific info on how to not get stuck in conflict check out the Conflict Sucks Online Course.
...and other confusing things that come with titles people don't earn
Years ago I had a client whose Dad wasn’t very involved. He lived states away, he had a new wife and new, much younger, kiddos, had never been to any extracurricular activity of hers in any way shape or form, couldn’t tell you which school she went to, didn’t make an effort to know about her social life, and rarely foot the bill for anything of hers even though he was “rolling in the dough”….the list goes on.
In painting a picture of their relationship for me she was sure to tell me about a time he forgot to pick her up from the airport. Like, just totally whiffed on which day she was coming in town.
She was angry. She was disgusted. But all of that she tried to hide under the surface of an I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-him attitude.
I didn’t buy it.
I asked what she thought it meant about her that he forgot to pick her up from the airport.
She said, “It means he’s an asshole.”
Maybe not the most inaccurate statement, but not the answer to my question. My question was asking for self-reflection and vulnerability, not blame and criticism.
It was visibly hard for her to get there. She struggled to put down her protective I-don’t-give-a-fuck wall enough to say that it probably meant she wasn’t important to him, that she felt like an afterthought a lot of the time, and that she wasn’t worth her Dad’s time.
What was extra heart-stabbing was that it seemed to her he was a different kind of dad with his much younger kiddos. Before they had come along she’d explained away his inability to be the kind of Dad she needed to herself by believing he just wasn’t cut out to be a dad. With the half-siblings in the picture it was now extra hard not to take this personally.
Even though she “didn’t give a fuck” about him, he seemed to be the topic of our conversations quite a bit. I could feel that she gave him power over how she felt about herself - she was engaging in self-destructive behaviors that didn’t align with a person who loves and values herself.
My brain was trying to figure out how to effectively untangle her perspective of her enoughness from him. I knew that just saying, “You know this doesn’t mean anything about you, right?” wasn’t going to be enough...she was already saying things like that to herself with a side dish of anger and resentment that made it clear she didn’t fully believe any of it.
TANGENT WARNING! - THIS IS WHY AFFIRMATIONS DON’T WORK. If you hate yourself and then you commit to telling yourself you love yourself in the mirror 10 times a day you’ll most likely end up feeling worse. Affirmations work when they get you from thought A to thought B, but fail miserably when you try to push yourself from thought A to thought Z.
If the affirmation is too big of a leap and doesn’t truly massage your beliefs to the next better-feeling place, you’ll tell yourself you love yourself, your heart will sink, you’ll think, “Ew, no I don’t. I suck,” and then add to the *I suck* supportive evidence stack Exhibit T-24: you can’t even do affirmations right. And then you’ll look in the mirror and say, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Yikes. Sometimes our inner selves can be real jerks.
I sat back in my chair one day, after listening to story after story of how her Dad had whiffed in the parenting department, and said, “You know, he sounds more like a crazy, scatter-brained, distant Uncle than he does a DAD.”
She laughed. I said, “No, seriously. What if we took the title of Dad away from him? What if we called him what he is based on how he behaves - something like….Crazy Uncle Joe?” She was laughing hard now... I think questioning my sanity a wee bit.
“Ok, ok….let’s say you have a crazy, distant, scatterbrained Uncle and he whiffs on picking you up from the airport. Does that feel different than if your DAD forgets to pick you up from the airport??”
“YES. SOOOO different.”
I said, “When it’s your Dad, it’s so EASY to take it personally, to make it mean something about you that YOUR DAD would forget you. It’s easy to feel big anger because you feel deep hurt. If it’s crazy Uncle Joe how is that response different?”
She laughed, “Jesus H. Christ, Uncle Joe - get your shit together.”
YESSS!!!! We were both laughing now.
More accurately labeling this person’s title based on his behavior over time, not the moment his sperm landed in the right place at the right time, took his power away and gave it back to her.
We spent the rest of our time together that day bringing up real-life *Dad* examples, and trying on how it felt to replace “Dad” with “Crazy Uncle Joe”.
It was like the difference between trying on clothes that are 2 sizes too small for you that someone has maliciously labeled with your size just to mess with you, and trying on clothes that actually fit….and you feel damn good in.
It’s easy to give people power over how you feel based on their title, or position, or age, or status. We attach a lot of meaning to all of those things.
But so often parents aren’t our parents, your sister can’t be your sister, or your husband isn’t really your husband. And maybe sometimes your neighbor is your unconditionally loving and always-there-for-you sister, and maybe your Mom is your Mom and Dad, and your cousin is more like your brother...and maybe your friends are your family and your family is a group of middle schoolers who talk about you behind your back and are incapable of being excited for you when things go well.
I recommend getting really clear on who’s what and assigning validity accordingly.
Your happiness is your job. When you find a way to let them off the hook for how you feel, you can meet them where they are (even from a safe distance) and love them all anyway....and maybe look yourself in the mirror one day and see awesomeness.
PS - Have a relationship that's feeling off-track? Feeling misperceived or misunderstood often? Like you used to see the best in each other, but now can't joke the way you used to without someone flying off the handle? No worries, friend. Miscommunication is SO EASY, but it's a slippery slope you don't have to stay on. Check out the CONFLICT Sucks Online Course and start working today to get your best friend back.