My sisters and I saw a therapist recently to work out some communication issues and man oh man did I love it! Strange for me to say as I'm not particularly fond of therapy.
Very soon after our mom died in December, my younger sister V set up a group therapy appointment so the three of us could build a better relationship. Our mom did not foster healthy relationships with us, or allow us to develop healthy relationships between each other. Instead she did what she could to separate us, create suspicion amongst ourselves and learn to distrust each others words and motives. This recent therapist called that 'trauma' and she was probably right.
The first therapist we saw over eight visits and while I gained something from each session I didn't find it helpful overall. We are three very strong women and we know each other's buttons and how hard to press them. The therapist seemed a bit afraid to deal with some of the hugely negative undercurrents in our relationship. My sisters may have different opinions on that therapist, but I seem to recall each of us feeling some dissatisfaction with the sessions. So instead of digging to find the issues plaguing us, the therapist gave us tips on how to be aware of our grief, express ourselves with scrapbooks (not the right word, but I can't think of the right one at the moment), be quiet around each other and whatnot. I walked away from the sessions feeling like there was more to do in order to build stronger relationships but I had no idea what that could possibly be.
The three of us agreed to continue therapy after our eight sessions were up but not with that therapist. V was able to find someone else that she respected and was willing to take us on, so to speak. We have only had the one session as our older sister C doesn't live in our province and was here just for a short visit. V was correct in saying this therapist could see right through you and call you on your crap. She pointed out to me that I don't seem to realize that I have an impact on other people and that startled me a bit. I always think I have a negative impact on others or need to be invisible. This concept strongly influences the way I interact with people. Like I want to agree with just about anything to keep the peace or not make enemies. I think my opinions are not valid unless they are shared with others. If I do something new I want to do it alone first so people won't be afflicted by my uselessness if I don't learn the task well or quickly. Things like that.
We were each asked what we hoped to get from the session so I said better communication. V had suggested that as the topic when we agreed to continue therapy and I hadn't even considered any other options. It seemed like a good idea and I know I could use some work on my communication skills. C wanted to clear the air a bit over a disagreement she and I had and that seemed to be the bulk of the session. I felt a bit bad that V wasn't more involved and that I monopolized the time, at the same time C and I did work things out which is always good.
I did learn a few things and am really looking forward to more sessions with this therapist. Some things I learned were:
- Mirroring the other person. Ok, I'd learned this on Oprah years ago and even practiced it on people I knew around my son's school and my ex. Funny thing was that I was able to mirror what they said easily...and people did not do it back to me. I started getting all kinds of compliments on being a good listener (well, not from my ex, but he's an ass). Conversations became all about the other person and his/her feelings but never got around to talking about me and my feelings. Even as I was mirroring C I was thinking "So? Now I understand how she feels better than I did a moment ago, but what about me?". I felt very selfish and frustrated. Then the therapist said it was my turn to respond. OMG. Really? I get a turn? Seriously? And the person has to sit and listen to me? And mirror me? I felt worthy and heard.
- I need to not be a cork in the ocean. The therapist said if you don't speak or know your own truth then you are like a cork in the ocean - you will be pulled and pushed according to the waves. Your truth anchors you and doesn't allow you to be manipulated by other people as much. This was enormously enlightening for me and it is exactly how I feel most of the time. I feel I must go along with whatever opinion or belief someone else has in order to get along with people - especially my sisters. And when I would take a stand I would do so much too roughly and be far too rigid and unbending. Instead it is better to know my own truth and not be swayed by others as much. In addition, when I disagree with someone to do so gently and remember that I have no control over how the other person reacts to me. I don't need to make people like me, and I don't need to falsify myself in order to control people's attitudes about me. It's ok to disagree and if the other person has a problem with that it's not my problem.
- "That's not good enough!" is a phrase I use to measure myself. During our mirroring exercise I said something like "the world is not fair or equal, if you don't like that then too bad". Not the best communication style, I know. C reacted with something like "that's not good enough! I hate it when people say 'just deal with it!'" I was thunderstruck. My entire life has been about me being 'enough' to everybody else except myself. I need to be someone else's idea of a 'good enough' parent and beat myself up tremendously when I do something wrong or my boys aren't perfect. I do my best to be a 'good enough' girlfriend/wife that I compromise what I believe to keep the peace in the house, and reprimand myself harshly when I cause any tension. I feel I need to be a 'good enough' employee so I aim for excellence to such a degree that I freak out and panic if I make even the tiniest mistake. I mean, how can I be so stupid as to have put the ingredient in the wrong place so she had to look for it? Or scaled flour instead of sugar? Or adjusted the temperature on the oven thinking it was empty when it wasn't. I burned 128 cakes because I was preoccupied with wondering how to get the cocoa and flour dust off the lids of scaled product for the cook as she felt it was too dirty and my fault.
Holy crow that last one is huge to me! My mom had the same effect on me, I was never pretty enough, smart enough, shaped the right way for clothes (not thin enough, too much of a potbelly), clean enough, interesting enough, nice enough, cruel enough, motivated enough, fearless enough, didn't change clothing styles often enough or with trends, not flat chested enough (men only will look at your blond hair and big boobs, is what she said)....arg! I could go on for days! No wonder I eat my feelings...I'm never full enough!
Anyway, I don't know if communication will be the next topic at the next session or if we'll explore something new. Either way, I'm looking forward to it. C mentioned coming up in the summer so hopefully we'll be able to book another session for when she's here. By then maybe I'll have digested most of what I learned about me from this last session :)