"It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us." - Nelson Mandela
It is more challenging than ever to live a balanced life within the framework of a sane daily routine. Most recently, over the past 35 years, financial realities are in large part responsible for this, for three main reasons.
Firstly, while the hours spent at work have steadily increased, wages have remained stagnant. I am a therapist, not an economist, but it has become clear that creating a middle class life requires putting in many more hours on the job than ever before, and often staying in jobs that demand that, because job security is far less common that in the past. I regularly see the effects of this on families. Stress is high, feeling incompetent is common, and every family member's time is stretched to the max.
Secondly, our consumer culture is in high gear all year round, not just at Holiday time. Expectations about what constitutes "enough" seem to be constantly changing, the bar being set higher and higher. People can't keep up.
Thirdly, for those folks with children, thinking about the long road to launching independent young adults often includes helping them to finance College. While this seems insurmountable, a four year degree seems more necessary than ever before. Many employers say it is the equivalent of a what a High School diploma was less than 50 years ago. Often saddled with huge debt upon graduation, many adult children continue to live with their parents upon graduation. While some parents welcome this set up and may even encourage it, for most it is a mixed bag because they want their children to be fully independent adults as soon as possible. Further, the married couple, who looked forward to making each other a priority once again, may feel resentment that their children are back home. The single parent may have been looking forward to more privacy.
How can therapy help?
In therapy you will be guided to look deeply at your most cherished values and make decisions about your life in accordance with them. Are you living within your means? If you are in partnership, are you both in agreement about what financial changes are possible? Is there any way family members can all pitch in more equitably? Are you expecting enough from your young adult children? Have you built community around you for emotional support, or for childcare assistance? Individual, Couples, and/or Family Therapy with me is all geared finding resolution in some way.
When the rat race comes to a screeching halt at days' end, we often find it difficult to unwind from the onslaught of information and expectations we have encountered throughout the day. As a therapist I always ask about the quality and duration of your sleep because it is an important marker for determining overall emotional and physical health. Our body has the built in ability to regulate itself even under stressful conditions, but when the stress is chronic our natural rhythms are affected. An occasional sleepless night or a change in sleep patterns due to aging or menopause for women, is perfectly normal. Chronic sleep issues are not. People are increasingly using external sleep aids to shut down at night. Pharmaceuticals, alcohol, and pot are all examples. While these may work in the short run, the risk of dependence is always present, and some of these aids leave folks with a groggy feeling upon waking. Most everyone that consults me about this, wishes they could experience adequate, peaceful sleep, naturally.
How can therapy help?
By closely examining the racing mind, we can absolutely develop strategies for calming the mind, without the use of external aids. Just as importantly, therapy will help you to develop a clearer perspective on the pressures in your life that are keeping you awake. Then we can realistically assess what is in your control to shift and what is not. People are often surprised at how much control they actually do have, once they allow themselves to brainstorm with me in a safe emotional environment.
You may have grown up around relational chaos and consider constant drama to be normal. It isn't. If a relationship is not a positive support in your life and you feel stuck with it, you will surely experience symptoms of anxiety/depression, or both. The most challenging relationships are often those with our immediate family members, including our family of origin, our spouses/partners, and our children.
How can therapy help?
Tragic circumstances can occur in any family and all families face challenges that are simply part of living life as a human being. This is not what I am talking about. Here I am referring to chronic drama, caused by people who have never learned the basic skills needed to be in relationships in a mostly peaceful and enjoyable way. Gaining a basic understanding of your own unique attachment style and of those you are closest to, is enlightening. Therapy will reveal lifelong relational patterns and assist you in developing a consciousness around the part you play in perpetuating the dysfunction, which is causing you suffering. You will also learn how best to handle the most difficult people in your life without having to cut them off completely, which is often not possible or desirable anyway.
There can be many reasons that you are feeling the need to hide feelings of emotional or even physical distress from your loved ones. It is likely that you either want to protect your family members by not troubling them with your pain, you do not feel it is safe to share because your privacy may be compromised, or you learned somewhere along the line, to suck it all up without complaint. Depending on your gender, societal norms also play a role in this. For men, it is still considered to be unmanly if you are unable to easily and flawlessly handle pain of any kind. Sharing such vulnerability remains stigmatizing for men. Sometimes female partners have a role in this thinking, by giving a double message to the men in their lives. "I need you to feel more deeply so that you can empathize with me, but please keep your own struggles to yourself, because hearing about them freaks me out. I need you to be a man and just deal."
Women, and I notice especially women with a role as mother, have their own unique pressures. If they are on double duty, working inside and outside the family home, they are expected to handle it all and not break a sweat. If they are stay at home moms they often feel like they are not contributing enough to their family or that they are not good enough role models for their children. They may not be encouraged to share their struggles either.
How can therapy help?
We all have internal models for how things should work, taken from our original caretakers. Now we are raising our own families and therapy encourages a sharp consciousness about taking what worked in our original family system and deliberately rejecting what did not work. Every family system has spoken and unspoken rules. Therapy is very good at naming and exposing these rules and allowing for productive exploration of their utility. Some are simply habits that have outlived their usefulless. It is a powerful feeling to have some control over the negative experiences in our past, and to know we have the agency to make valued choices about how we want our current family to operate.
No matter how much we trust our partners and our friends, if we have shame about something we did or about something that was done to us, we often decide to keep it secret. This can happen in cases of sexual abuse, criminal behavior, addictions, marital infidelity, or a host of other circumstances. In the sad case of hiding ones sexual orientation, continued societal stigma contributes to personal shame. The negative effects of secret keeping include anxiety and depression, and research even ties health problems to withholding information from people close to us. Children and adolescents often "act out" in an unconscious attempt to force out a family secret. If the secret instigates ongoing behaviors that are harming you or others it is likely a secret that should be told. Most people believe that what they have kept secret is unforgivable, but this may be so only to them. They may find it hardest to forgive themselves.
On the other hand, when revealing something that has been truly settled within you, both emotionally and behaviorally, after much honest discernment, it may do more harm than good to reveal the secret. Secret keeping is fraught with complexities.
How can therapy help?
Secret keeping is always accompanied by fear. What if someone learns about the secret? What is my motivation for revealing the secret? Is it better for my own conscience to unload the secret even if it hurts someone else? Can I ever be forgiven? All of these fears are natural, though some of the intensity may be fueled by your mind, especially if you are holding a long term secret. There is productive and unproductive guilt and therapy can help to tease out the nuances of your feelings of remorse. We do tend to be hardest on ourselves, unless we are narcissists or sociopaths. Most importantly, a necessary grief process may need to occur if forgiveness of self or another is needed at a deeper level. A goal of therapy in this case is to free you to move on with your life in a spirit of integrity.
You may find yourself spending time, money, energy, or other resources on habits which have become compulsive, meaning you want to limit or even stop them, but you can't. If this is the case, you are definitely suffering to some degree. Some people in this situation can simply gain control over the troubling behavior by willing themselves to back away from the harmful habit. Many people cannot. Whether or not something is called an addiction is of less concern to me than how your quality of life and the quality of life of those around you is negatively influenced by your behaviors. When we are able to be honest with ourselves, we know whether or not we may need help in making necessary behavioral changes.
How can therapy help?
I am trained to understand the emotional and physical triggers of compulsive behaviors. In therapy we uncover in detail, what gets you hooked, what keeps you hooked. Compulsive behaviors are a cover for depression and/or anxiety. They serve to distract from uncomfortable underlying feelings. You will benefit greatly from having a clear bead on your unique personality vulnerabilities and triggers. If physical dependence is evidenced, you will be guided toward the proper treatment options.