So many of us have internalized the idea that if we want something or if we need something it is, by definition, unnecessary. If we want it, it must be superfluous, right? Or maybe we are trying to win points (with who? our partner? our kids? the universe?) for denying ourselves so that we will be rewarded like some heroine in a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.
It’s this weird circular logic: I want it therefore I don’t deserve it. I need it, which means I should do without.
For women particularly there is such a strong message that we must be self-sacrificing. And for mothers, oh golly, it’s all about how much we give away without complaining.
This hit home for me when I was a kid and there was this Family Circus comic strip (I tried to find it to link to but I can’t find it). One of the big kids is holding an ice cream and standing by one of the younger kids. The youngest one is crying because his ice cream is upside down on the ground next to him. In the background the mom is standing with her ice cream. The big kid says to the little kid, “Don’t cry. Mommy will give you hers.”
I was probably eight or nine when I read this and I realized the joke was that the mom wanted her ice cream and the kids didn’t even realize it. And I was a kid and I didn’t realize it, which led to, “Hey, maybe my mom wants her ice cream cones!”
I see so many women and so many moms in my office who don’t know how to ask for what they want and need and they’re getting sadder and sadder or madder and madder and they don’t even know why. They don’t know that they’ve hit their limit in lost ice cream cones and sometimes that sad and mad is coming out sideways, making their relationships with loved ones harder. Or maybe it’s eating them up inside, making their relationships with themselves harder.
It’s easy to become passive-aggressive, communicating what we want by being angry at the people with the ice cream. Picture Thelma (the mom in Family Circus) handing her cone over and then as Jeffy settles in with it saying, “Isn’t that good? Yes, pralines and cream is my favorite. No, no, you enjoy it. It’s almost as satisfying watching you eat it and I’m sure we’ll go out for ice cream again eventually although this was mommy’s only afternoon off but really, no, I’m happy you have it.”
Would you want your loved ones to do without? Do you want your children to grow up and give everybody everything? Of course the answer is no, so why do we force ourselves into this self-sacrificing box?
It’s scary to ask for what you need because what if you don’t get it? What if your loved ones refuse to give it to you? Sometimes it feels easier to live in denial, to pretend we can do without. To pretend that the problem is not in the not-having but in the wanting.
We lie to ourselves, saying, “The issue is not that they won’t treat me with kindness; the issue is that kindness is something I need because I’m over-sensitive.”
Or, “The problem is not that the baby is getting up 67 times a night and no one will help me with the nighttime parenting, the problem is that I can’t seem to get used to functioning on 20 minutes of uninterrupted sleep.”
“It’s not you,” we say, “It’s me! I’m too needy! I’m overreacting! I am the problem, not this life full of denial and demands and way too little fun!”
Listen, you have got to take care of yourself for your sake and for the sake of your loved ones. They need our full, present, fulfilled selves more than they need our ice cream.
(By the way, the quote is from this video.)
I generally don’t think that your therapist’s personal experiences can tell you whether or not he or she will be a good therapist or the right therapist for you but there is one exception to this: I think every therapist ought to have had his or her own therapy. Not just to work through our stuff (‘cuz we all have stuff), but to intimately know the vulnerability of pouring your heart out to a stranger who is getting paid to listen to you.
Some of us decide to come see a counselor because we have thoughtfully considered our options with logic and care and we have decided that therapy makes the most sense. That’s some of us. But most of us come because we are desperate and we need things to change; most of us come because we’re in crisis. So we come, shaken and perhaps scared and perhaps defensive and we sit down in front of someone we have never met and who we might be afraid will judge us and find us wanting, and we try to open up.
And sometimes, when we are feeling very fragile we may start to cry and that may feel terrifying or humiliating. We might be afraid that our therapist is disgusted by our tears or is anxious for us to stop.
So I thought I would tell you what it’s like for a therapist (at least this therapist) when clients cry so then you will know. And you can ask your therapist what it’s like for her so you can know that, too.
I used to worry before I had clients that I would cry, too, because I usually cry when other people do but it turns out that the boundaries of our relationship protect me from this. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes get a lump in my throat or have to quickly blink back tears before I catch myself but when my clients are crying, I’m very aware that I can’t let myself have the luxury of falling in with them. I feel both expansive — like I’m making way so there is room for all of the tears — and small — because I’m humbled by their vulnerability. I know that a big part of my job is being strong enough to stay exactly where I am and to allow my client to have her whole entire feeling without needing to share it with me or protect me from it or even to protect the feeling from me.
- I do not judge her.
- I do not feel annoyed.
- I do not feel uncomfortable and wish she would stop.
- I do not think she looks ugly or silly or weak.
I do trust her and I trust that crying is what she needs right then. I am a great believer in the power of crying to make us feel better. (I listened to this song a lot as a child.)
The counseling office is sacred space and part of what makes it sacred is that it’s a safe place for shedding tears.
One of my very most favorite local organizations is POEM (Perinatal Outreach and Encouragement), an organization devoted to supporting women who are struggling with postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and/or recovering from a traumatic birth. POEM was founded and directed by three women who came out of their own PPD experiences committed to helping their fellow moms and has been in operation since 2005.
POEM’s annual fundraiser is a performance of Momologues, a play sharing women’s stories with motherhood. The year’s play is happening May 2nd at The Emerald Room, Makoy Center, 5462 Center St. Hilliard, OH 43026. You can get your tickets by clicking here. (I have clients until 9pm that night so I am very sad to be missing it. I hope your schedule allows you to catch the show!)
I interviewed Tonya Fulwider, the director of POEM, which is now under the umbrella of Mental Health America Franklin County, about the performance.
How did POEM get involved in showing the Momologues?
The short story is that in a brainstorming session, someone actually organically came up with the idea for a play/stand up/show/poetry slam entitled “MOMologues.” After Googling it, we discovered the production with that name, which had, only days before, begun talks with a production company to allow others to produce the show. We were among the first to produce a staged reading of the show outside of the original authors and cast in Boston. We’ve kept in touch with lead author and director, Lisa Rafferty, over the years.
We wanted to spread the word about the services that POEM provides, shed light on the issue of maternal mental health, educate on the realities of motherhood and celebrate mothers. The truth is, that while PPD and related illnesses are real and common, much of the work we do is addressing realistic expectations: it’s not all bliss; childbirth will likely not be a magical, bonding experience; being a mom is often hard, boring, frustrating – with moments of amazement, wonder, and the biggest love imaginable – but is mixed in with day to day stresses and regular life challenges. This led us to try to find a way to merge the two issues: maternal mental health promotion/awareness, and myth-busting about the realities of motherhood.
Am I right that this is the third year or has it been going on longer?
This is our 4th year. We showed first script in the series for the first two events in 2011 and 2012 (which covered pregnancy through about Kindergarten) and MOM2 (which included comedy from preschool through elementary) in 2013. We’ll perform the final script in the series this year, and have plans to produce a Columbus-area specific script in 2015 that will cover all stages of motherhood.
Who are the performers?
All cast members are moms of diverse experiences and backgrounds. Most are local theatre performers as well.
- Emcee Ann Fisher (WOSU 89.7FM)
- Casting by Amy Anderson
- Melissa Muguruza (also our director)
- AJ Casey
- LiLi Keon
- Tammy Muse
What will people see in The Final Push that may be different from the first two incarnations?
The Final Push is a staged reading that features much about the hijinks of kids in middle school, high school, and seeing them leave home – but references other maternal experiences as well. While each script focuses on a grouping of years, most moms will be able to relate to the stories, either as mothers or in their interactions with their own mother, partner/spouse and in other social situations. Each play in independent – you don’t need to have seen other years to enjoy any of the sequel productions.
We selected this script for this year to complete the series, as we intend to create our own original work for 2015, collecting stories from local moms of all ages and backgrounds. Everyone has a funny, moving, you’ll-never-believe-this story about motherhood and we want to bring moms together to feature these stories unique to our own community. Sharing our own authentic experiences is powerful, fun, uplifting, moving, and bonding. It’s much of what we do in our program, and it’s a perfect way to celebrate moms each May, the month we celebrate Mother’s Day.
Finally can you talk more about how this benefits POEM?
As mentioned, The MOMologues serves as a creative platform for talking about maternal mental health — something that isn’t talked about, really, all that much considering how many women and families (nearly 1 million in the US each year) deal with these devastating illnesses. Yet, it seeks to also go beyond the specific issue and program support to say: Let’s get together, moms. Literally, get together. Let’s support each other. Let’s laugh at ourselves, and certainly our kids. And, yes, it’s a fundraiser too 🙂 All of the proceeds from The MOMologues go directly to POEM program services: the outreach program, phone support line, information and referral services, support groups, Mentor program.
Now registering for Parenting for Attunement, a class that helps you become the parent that your child needs and that you are meant to be. Learn more by clicking here
I’ve been talking to some of the wonderful practitioners who serve women who have been through a traumatic birth and hearing lots of people talking about the possible need for a group to serve this specific population. I’ve also heard that there are some other therapists interested in creating that group but I haven’t heard much about where that’s going.
There are already two wonderful resources for women exploring specific challenges of birth experiences, POEM: Perinatal Outreach and Encouragement (for women who are struggling with postpartum depression) and ICAN (for women who have had a cesarean birth) and I think perhaps a traumatic birth might be redundant but I don’t know. I wanted to talk to people in the know and also find out more about the doctors, midwives and therapists who have expertise and a commitment to working with women who have a traumatic birth history. I have a small list of people whose contact information I can confidently share with my clients but I am always happy to add to that list. This includes other therapists because, as I’ve said, good therapy comes down to a good match between client and counselor. If I’m not the right person for a potential client, I want to help her find that right person.
To that end, I’ve set up a meeting and put it on Facebook. (It’s also on the Event Calendar.) On March 13th I’m hosting a casual networking meeting at the Old Worthington Library at 7:30pm. I’m encouraging those interested practitioners to bring their business cards/brochures so that we can all see what’s already out there and discuss what the needs might be (if there are needs not being met).
If you are someone who works with women and is interested in sharing information, learning about who’s out there doing the work or in giving feedback about the needs of this community, please come on by. You can RSVP on the Facebook page but it’s not necessary. If you have questions, please contact me.
Here are some things that caught my eye and that I shared on my Twitter or Google Plus or on my Building Family Counseling Facebook page this week: