Tag Archives: emotional

healthy relationships after chaos

Having healthy relationships after growing up in chaos

When you are a child raised in an emotionally chaotic environment you learn how to survive in that situation. I am talking about children who are raised in untrustworthy situations where they have become accustomed to the fact that even when things don’t feel right nothing they say or do is going to make things better. 

In many cases, these children have learned that expressing discourse of any kind is a bad thing. They learn to shut their feelings down and ignore the bad they might be feeling inside. This is because as children we know that we need our parents or other caregivers to survive. They give us what we need, so we have to keep things as livable as possible. 

Stuck in Old Patterns

Now, this sort of behavior might work for a child but as an adult keeping your feelings buried and not listening to them, leaves us stuck. As an adult you can’t keep silent, it doesn’t allow us to grow or develop any real intimacy with others. It also doesn’t keep us safe as it did as children. 

By not acting on our own self-protective instincts we end up in harm’s way, consumed by fear, obsessively thinking about what we dislike about our world, and carrying overwhelming feelings of resentment. We become mad at ourselves for not being able to change our situation. 

Rediscover Healthy Relationships

When you have spent your whole life ignoring your nervous system, how do you then recover and allow yourself to develop healthy relationships? 

The first step to any change is to recognize what is happening inside of you. How are you feeling when? What causes you to react in a certain way? Then confront those feelings. Instead of pushing them down, react. Stand up for yourself. Speak your thoughts. Remind yourself that this behavior no longer takes care of you, and allow yourself compassion and gratitude for the fact that you once did exactly what you needed to survive. 

Let Go of Toxic People

Then, ask yourself what you need to know and hear from others in your life. If those people can’t provide what you need, then understand it is ok to let them go. You don’t need to hold on to another out of fear. Find the courage inside of you to speak your truth and to acknowledge what you need. You may not have gotten what you needed as a child, but you don’t have to live like that anymore. The time is NOW to take care of you. 

You can make changes for the better. The power is within you. Seeking help from a licensed professional can help you to identify these feelings within and confront them head-on. A mental health professional can guide you and help to give you the tools to make positive changes. 

Ask Mabel: I am torn between an important work training and a request from my child, what do I do?

Dear Mabel, 

I am having a mom/work dilemma and I am so very torn. Tomorrow is my daughter’s last day of kindergarten. We recently moved out of the area to a new school district, but we were able to allow my daughter to finish the year at her old school. She is struggling because tomorrow will be her last day at her current school and she will have to say goodbye to all her friends. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem for me to be there with her for this, but tomorrow I am signed up for a special training. This free training workshop is something I have waited for years to take, it is usually very expensive. 

My daughter is normally a very happy, easy-going kid, but tonight she was a wreck. She was so emotional about her last day tomorrow. I told her that her grandparents will be picking her up from school and taking her out for a celebratory lunch and that I will be home as soon as I can. She just cried and cried and asked if there was some way I could be with her. She is so sad.

I am so torn! If it were anything else, I would move mountains to be there for her. But, this opportunity is truly rare, one I have inquired and waited for years. I am so sad about the timing of everything. What should I do? How do I handle this? 

Sincerely, Jenny from Alabama

Mabel: Thank you for reaching out. I am sorry that you feel torn between your daughter needing you and participating in training you’ve waited years for due to cost. I have a few questions:  1) What’s the most difficult thing about this?   2) Is this training offered every year or regularly?  3) Assuming it is offered every year or regularly, would you be able to put some money away each month to save for it? How much will you need to save per month?  4) Is the answer to question three do-able? 5) If it is not do-able within a year, can you spread it out? How long will you need to save monthly to attend the training? 

I am asking these questions about the training and money because training workshops and money are objects. They don’t have feelings. They don’t care if we move them around or tend to them later. I don’t know your daughter, so I don’t want to assume or say that she will be ok without you being there. But, I am 100% sure that training and money are ok with whatever you decide. 

I hold no judgment over your decision. This is my personal opinion. If I may, I would advocate for your daughter because she asked you to be there. I know her grandparents will be there to give her lots of love but she wants you. This is not her asking for a toy where you are saying “no.” This is her asking for emotional comfort during a very difficult time (in her six-year-old mind). She is young, so her mood may also change when tomorrow rolls around. I would say play it by ear and listen to your gut. 

What do you do if your child walks in on you?

Yup, I am going there. I am talking about sex. If you are a parent chances are you have, at least, had some close calls when it comes to your children getting too much of a personal view. So what do you do if your child walks in on you having intercourse? 

It can be an embarrassing and terrifying experience for both involved. It is a touchy subject that can evoke a range of emotions. But, it is healthy. So before you even begin to have the conversation cut yourself some slack. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed with guilt or embarrassment and instead consider buying a lock for your bedroom door, take a breath, and clear the air with your child. 

As it goes with many highly emotional situations, your first instinct might not be the best so before you address the situation make sure to take a couple of minutes to gather yourself. Don’t assume your child saw everything. In many cases, the child likely didn’t see too much but probably still has some questions. Avoid going into too many of the juicy details and talk calmly to your child. Ask he/she/they if they have any questions about what they saw? Explain that you were having special time with your spouse—something that you do when you are an adult and in love. 

Young children likely don’t know what they saw, which makes it easier on the parents. If your child is out of preschool, however, they are smarter than you might realize. In that case, don’t gloss over the details. Be honest. It is better to address the situation head-on than to beat around the bush. 

Think about your child. Put yourself in their shoes. What do you think they are feeling? Confused? Embarrassed? Scared? Nervous? Draw on what your child already knows. If you have talked about this stuff before, start the conversation with “remember when we talked about..” 

Lastly make sure that you have the conversation in private, away from anyone that might make things more uncomfortable. Reassure your child that everything is ok, these behaviors are healthy and normal when done in a responsible way with someone you care deeply about, apologize to your child so that he/she/they knows they did nothing wrong. And, don’t wait for your child to come to you. They probably feel pretty shaken about the whole thing. Go to them and be open. 

It might feel like you have permanently scared your child but I assure you that is not the case. Be open and honest with them and things will blow over with ease. You will recover. 

What do you do when someone pushes their emotional labor onto you?

I once met someone from a business meeting. We made an appointment to talk and then he asked me if I could remind him the day before the phone meeting, so he wouldn’t forget. The feminist part of me started fuming. He had just treated me like his secretary. 

This is called emotional labor. He didn’t want to stress over remembering our meeting so he was asking me to. That’s not fair. That is implying that my time is less valuable than his. You have every right to feel offended when someone pushes their emotional labor onto you. He could easily have set a reminder in his phone, added it to his calendar. He didn’t need me to add another thing to my to-do list. What do you do when someone treats you this way?

What do you do?

Ignoring the request seems like the easiest way to take on this tough situation. You, obviously, want to keep a professional relationship but that doesn’t mean you have to take this shit. If they care enough they will make the meeting. If they don’t make it then its their fault, not yours. And, frankly at that point it is not worth your time. If they don’t have the capacity to remember the meeting on their own then it didn’t matter as much as it should have. 

A nice response would be to say: “Funny, I was about to ask you the same. I suppose we will just have to remind ourselves then.” It is you standing up for yourself, setting boundaries, and showing this person that your time is just as valuable as theirs. You don’t have to be forced into taking on other peoples emotional labor just because you are afraid of offending. You have the right to take care of you. 

Teaching our kids healthy compassion

The other day I came across a blog post on the popular parenting website Scary Mommy. The post titled “Why I no longer tell my child to be inclusive and kind” is written by a mom who taught her child to always be inclusive especially to the child that was disruptive, had problems at home and was the child no one else wanted to include. The mother instructed the child to be “compassionate” because you don’t know what other people might be going through. In the end, the mother got a call from the school counselor who informed her that same child that her daughter was trying to have compassion for was now stalking her. The mother, as any mother would be, was upset by this news and decided to no longer tell her child to be all-inclusive. 

As a counselor, this post stopped me in my tracks. It raised some good questions and presented a topic I feel needs to be discussed. Rather than instructing our children to stay away or avoid compassion and empathy for others because of fear that the person might be a danger, or might not be a good person to associate with, we need to practice healthy compassion. 

Healthy Compassion

There is a difference between practicing discernment and boundaries with compassion. Being kind and having compassion for another does not mean letting that person do whatever they want. It does not mean condoning the bad or uncomfortable behavior. There is what we call blind compassion, which establishes no boundaries, and healthy compassion with boundaries. It is important that we teach our children to have an open mind about others and practice compassion because as the mom wrote: “we don’t know what other people are going through.” However, we need to make sure our children learn how to establish healthy boundaries with others. 

Being kind to others does not give them a free pass to walk all over us, or to treat us in ways that make us feel wrong or bad in some way. We can be kind but also let that person know that they can’t treat us that way. Teach your children it is ok to say “no,” and walk away or to tell an adult if an uncomfortable situation is present. Teach your children rules go both ways, it is not ok for them to hit or push or for them to be hit or pushed. These are important life lessons for all.