Freaked Out By “Shoulds” – A client’s letter to her mother

I realize that I was always trying to be who you wanted me to be …

This letter was written by a client as a ‘therapy’ homework assignment and I thought it was incredibly powerful. She gave me permission to reproduce it as long as I waited at least a year and omitted her name. I have done both. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen through the years that could have written the same letter addressed to either a mother or father.  Read through and see my thoughts at the end…

Dear Mama,

I’ve been asked to write a letter to you that expresses my feelings about growing up as your daughter. I’ve thought long and hard about what I want to say to you because I don’t want to hurt your feelings. In fact, I’ve always wanted to just love you. I’ve wanted you to love me and I think you did. In your own way. I have had a hard time understanding that you love me because I don’t believe that you ever accepted me. There were so. many. shoulds. I can’t get rid of them.

I know, you say that you do accept me except that you kept telling me all the things I “should” do. You told me I ‘should’ go to church, that I ‘should’ date Kevin, that I ‘should study harder, and that I ‘should’ go back to school. I tried to tell you that those things didn’t matter to me but you didn’t listen. You told me I ‘should watch what I eat” that I ‘should’ wear my hair short, and that I ‘shouldn’t’ wear short shorts. If I had done those things, I would have been a mini version of YOU – not me. Those things weren’t ‘me’. More than that, you told me I ‘should’ have kids before I got much older and when I did you went so far as to tell us how we ‘should’ parent them. Jesus mom… why ‘should’ I??

Today, I am freaked out by all the ‘shoulds’ that I’ve never achieved. I feel like a failure. I didn’t do what you thought I ‘should’ and somehow I decided that since I wasn’t doing those things that you wouldn’t (couldn’t?) love me. I am not all the things I ‘should’ be mama and I know you are disappointed. Here’s the thing I am confused about.

Why couldn’t you just love ME. The person I am. Why do I have to be like you in order to be considered good or OK? Why do I have to like what you like? Why can’t you just be OK with the person that I am? I’m not a crack addict or a mass murderer. I’m a pretty good person but I feel like it will never be ‘good enough’.

Frankly mama, I didn’t ask to be here. You did that. And because you chose to bring me into this world, I would assume that you might just be happy with who I am but that’s not what I thought for most of the time that I was growing up.

Yes, you came to my basketball games. Yes, you bought me a prom dress. Yes, you sent me to college. I probably didn’t appreciate any of those things at the time as much as I could have. However, I never felt like I could really talk to you. I was always waiting for the next criticism to come. “Don’t eat that”, “you need to lose five pounds”, “Don’t drink, or have sex, or curse”, “go to class”, “clean your car”, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I’m in therapy now mama and I am trying to discover who I am. I realize that I was always trying to be who you wanted me to be and I never figured out what felt right to me. I am almost forty and I am just now doing that. I am not blaming you per se as the therapist tells me you probably did the best you knew how to do. I hope to accept that someday.

In the meantime, I want you to know that I am throwing all those shoulds out the window and I am asking you right here, right now to ACCEPT ME AS I AM. I think that is your role as my mother. Just love me and all the things that might be different from you. We don’t have to agree, we just need to respect that we are two different people and accept those discrepancies, not judge them.

I want you in my life IF you are willing to just take me as I am. I, in turn, will take you as you are. No blame. Just compassion and acceptance. That’s it.

As children, we make the general assumption that our parents love us – or at least we have the unconscious and simply human expectation that they do/will. We tend to develop an understanding of love’s expression via the environment, television, social cues, etc… if a father beats his child stating it is ‘because’ he loves him/her – the child develops an understanding that physical abuse is a form of ‘love’ until he/she is taught otherwise.

If a parent is ‘absent’ – for whatever reason – there is generally an assumption on the child’s part that love is also absent. Children have difficulty sometimes separating ‘fact’ from ‘perception’ – actually even adults are challenged with that from time to time and yet we may expect that our children ‘know better’ (well, of course I love you).

Parents can listen more and preach less.

Parents can accept more and judge less.

Parents can teach more and dominate less.

Parents can trust more and fix less.

Parents can guide more and dictate less.

Most parents do the best they can – based on what they know – in that moment. We really can’t expect much more than that but… when we learn more we need to make it a point to do better instead of assuming that it’s too late or that we are too old to make big changes.

The mother of the client who wrote this letter eventually came to a few sessions with my client where they discussed this letter and learned to accept and honor one another’s differences. Today, the client and the mother have a loving relationship based on compassion, tolerance, and clear expectations. It is working.

Too bad it took almost 40 years.

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The Value of Introspection

When we look for answers, we have to look in the right place and we have to be honest.

“Very early, I knew that the only object in life was to grow.”  — Margaret Fuller

Yesterday, I finished the story of my life – the memoir I wrote by posting a segment every day for 90 days. I truly didn’t start out to write the entire story all at once. I created this blog with the intent of daring to share how I became me… perhaps it was naïve to think that I could do that without telling the whole story but it just didn’t occur to me that in the course of doing this that I would end up with a book. Yup… if I delete the superfluous stuff that isn’t really a part of my personal story – there are just over 80,000 words that I can convert into a book.

Life is too funny really. This time last year my brother and his family were visiting for the holiday’s and I was just chatting with my sister-in-law. We were gabbing about goals for the upcoming year and I had a book on my mind. It definitely wasn’t THIS one… I have another idea for a motivational book but I never started it although I am inspired now! So… I didn’t do that book but I did write. To be honest, I’m pretty proud of myself for sticking with it long enough to get it written but it’s not over. Even though there are a number of people who read every day – getting a book into print is a whole other story. I’m going to set it up to publish electronically first and prepare a manuscript. I’ll need some copy editors (hint, hint – hit me up if you are interested in doing that for me). And then – the Universe has to help. I can see it – I imagine it in my hand and if I am truly honest… I can imagine myself sitting at a book signing.

So there is a true conflict in my mind between being humble and modest about this accomplishment and being bold and inspired enough to imagine it being BIG…  Since I am such a big believer in the Law of Attraction – I am led to imagine it – to talk about it as if it is already so… to be so sure that it is – has already – become everything it can be. I am encouraged by my friends and family … the ones who read daily and compliment me. This week, someone said, “I didn’t know you could write.”

Well, me either. I knew I wanted to. I developed a strong skill while in grad school but those were academic papers. One of my professors was kind and when we eventually met – he told me how much he had wanted to meet the woman behind my papers. I thought he was just being nice. And then I started receiving compliments from people who love me. Thanks, guys. I love the way you motivate me. What I really need is someone from the publishing industry who thinks the way you all do. I am going to imagine that too. : )

 

So… I am going to keep writing – I love doing it and I’ve found that it is a wonderful way for me to relax at the end of each day. My thoughts when I first started were to focus on growth – on the way that we move through the world and why. I teach people to be introspective and I believe that everything is easier when we can understand. I believe I demonstrated that a lot in my story so here – I will continue to do it. I will use experiences from my life and from others to demonstrate how introspection leads to growth. I hope to have more ‘discussions’ in the comment section; if you can relate or if you have a question – let me know!

 

One of the things that I wanted to make sure and talk about was the final result of all the ‘health’ problems I had while still married to ex-Hubby. If you read my story, you might remember that I had Labyrinthitis and then went to the emergency room a couple of times with bizarre symptoms that included a distinct feeling that I was going to die. I wore a heart monitor and had a series of tests that produced nothing.

During grad school as I was learning about stress disorders, I was rather dumbfounded to realize that those incidents were panic attacks. I had never suffered from anxiety so I didn’t have a clue and not one of those doctors had asked me what was happening in my life. I think that if they had, they may have diagnosed anxiety; but then again I would have had to come clean about everything that was happening.  It didn’t occur to me to tell them – I had no idea it was related. The piece that makes it obvious is that after I made a decision to get a divorce – all of the symptoms DISAPPEARED. Nothing. I realized all of this in retrospect but its importance was tremendous.

That anxiety was my body sending me messages. I was spending far too much time trying to be the person that Hubby wanted me to be instead of who I really am. I was being inauthentic – disingenuous. I didn’t understand how trying to please him was moving in such juxtaposition to my spirit. Certainly, I was not aware of this discrepancy. My body knew, though.

When people with anxiety are sitting in my office, one of the first things I do is attempt to identify the life situations that might not be in accord with the clients’ heart. It’s rarely obvious and takes a willingness to investigate things that may not be acceptable in your mind. If they were, we wouldn’t be anxious about it!

Anxiety is a fear related reaction. It is born of dread, worry, and threat. We have to figure out the primal fear. I was afraid that if I wasn’t ‘who’ Hubby wanted me to be then he would cheat on me or leave me. Rational thought was overridden by the fear. The fear itself wasn’t what created the anxiety, though – it was the way that I coped with the fear. I engaged in behavior that ‘he’ wanted… I did what made ‘him’ happy – not what made me comfortable or felt right to me. The fact that I was coping with fear in a way inconsistent with my spirit is what activated the anxiety.

When we look for answers, we have to look in the right place and we have to be honest. Sometimes, I think that is the hardest part. Occasionally, if we are honest it is like opening Pandora’s box. This honesty means this… leads to that… which is impossible. Clients sometimes tell me that if they were to do what they wanted then they wouldn’t be in their marriage – or family – or job and leaving would be disastrous. Hmmm. Maybe they are doing what they want then… sometimes we only get to choose between two lessor items.

I know a lot of people who live by ‘should’s’ in their life – people who suffer from anxiety. Many of them are expectations that are not genuine to personal spirit – personal desire. Where do they come from? If they are not YOUR should’s… why do you attempt to fulfill them? It’s not an easy question to answer but it’s definitely worth asking and identifying.

I baked Christmas cookies today, not because I ‘should’ – not because it is part of the traditional expectation of people who have their shit together – not because anyone will be waiting for them -but because I ‘could’. I did it because everything else is ready and I wanted the house to smell good and I hadn’t done it in years really. No expectations… just a desire to do something that fit well into my life – and it was good.