Day 23

Final thoughts on disappointment

 

I’ve observed amongst people in recovery how little time they have to focus on the way other people are disappointing because self-evaluation is extremely time consuming.  Self-evaluation is NOT the same thing as self-focus.  My friend was self-focused for years without much self-awareness.

 

Self-evaluation is a spiritual discipline born out of a spirit of humility (not humiliation) and hope (belief in the possibility of renewal and restoration).  No one filled with shame can bear but so much effective self-evaluation because they are looking through a lens of self-hatred and shame.

 

When we move past this shame place to one of self-acceptance, the work of self-evaluation is not only safer, it is downright interesting.  After I received the email from my dad, I was fortunate enough to have several avenues to explore myself and my response to the email.  Of course, I also indulged in much needless rumination and recrimination of self and others as well.  But without the work of recovery I could have been stuck in an endless loop of these self-defeating patterns of blaming and shaming.  Trust me, I could show you that email and win your heart to my side of things.  But what is the value in that?  Isn’t that just more scapegoating?  Isn’t that buying into the dysfunctional family system model where there has to be rigid roles and large amounts of blame, shame, recrimination and scapegoating?  The answer here is – yes.

 

In addition, it plays into the thriving of the family system – which you will recall is the whole purpose of the system to begin with.  The system itself fights to stay alive.  Not the individual family members, most of whom don’t know that they are in a system much less how it has wounded them and others.  It’s like a sci-fi movie, really, with the monster picking off unsuspecting family members one at a time while the tribe stays in denial.  “We’re just a normal, run-of-the-mill family – everyone has these feuds and fights in a family, don’t they?  We’re just passionate people!”

 

The answer to that is NO.  Healthy families do not gain energy from fighting and feuding.  They draw their strength from love.  What energizes your family?  Is it favoritism and fighting?  Feuds and picking sides?  Or is it love?  It’s ok if we don’t know the difference – how can we be expected to if we grew up identifying love with constant upheaval and a resistance to outside voices?

Day 22

More amends

 

At about the 18 month mark, shifting really started to pick up.  Not long after our 5 mile walk filled with confession and clarifying, our group of friends had a birthday celebration.  Inevitably, one in the party made some crack about the children and their disappointing ways.  I froze.  Yikes, I thought.  How is she going to handle this?

 

She drew in a deep cleansing breath and said something along these lines, “You know, I appreciate your concern but I feel like I need to tell you all something.  I’ve been in therapy for over a year and have made some painful and amazing discoveries – one of which is the unfair and damaging ways I’ve treated my children.  I want to apologize to each of you for all the years when you have had to listen to me speak about my children in such a shaming and disrespectful manner.  I’ve given you many wrong impressions, perhaps the greatest falsehood of all is the way I have hidden from you the truth about myself.  I am not who I have pretended to be all these years – and I’m wondering if in the future I can start getting more honest about myself.”

 

You could have heard a pin drop.  This is a fairly recent occurrence so I have no clue where the relationships are headed from this point forward.  I imagine some dynamics will change.  I wonder if we won’t all end up with increased willingness to share our own sufferings because frankly, it was hard to be honest about our own lives around such a perfect person.

 

Here’s what is so neat about one person getting the help they need to deal with their toxic shame: it creates a possibility for others to learn and grow too.  I am looking forward to hanging out with this friend more in the future.  She has a lot to teach me.

Day 21

Once my girlfriend was given a renewed way of seeing she wasted no time in jumping on the change train.  She threw her heart and soul into doing the arduous work of recovery.  She continued with her therapy and added in an educational support group.  She followed suggestions from her sponsor – including cutting her hours at work, taking up a hobby, and practicing the fine art of owning her own stuff without projecting or dumping on others. After 18 months of therapy and with a bunch of coaching, she felt prepared to make amends to her children, her greatest sources of regret. To set up each meeting, she sent the following note:

 

“I don’t know if you are aware, but I have been in therapy for the last eighteen months.”

 

[Sidenote:  They had NOT been aware because she had been advised to not rush the process of telling them that she was getting help in case they might construe that as some form of manipulation.  However, both had noticed changes and wondered between themselves what was up “with crazy mom.”  Please notice how when we shame, it tends to get tossed backed at us.  We encourage and teach others how to shame us!]

 

“During that time, I have realized how my own issues and choices have deeply affected all my relationships, especially my relationship with you.  Telling you I am sorry feels like too little too late. I know I am asking a lot, but I was wondering if you would consider meeting me at a time and place of your choosing because I would like to make amends.  To me, an amends means the following:  I want to tell you the specific ways I wronged you, ask for feedback if you would like to give it about ways I have wronged you that I was unaware of and ask your forgiveness as well as see what I can do to make restitution.  Someday I would hope we could have a healthier, restored relationship BUT I know that this is totally up to you and is not the point of this meeting.”  [Sidenote:  She is giving each child their own personal one-on-one invitation, setting very clear boundaries and expectations for the meeting, and promising to not hold it against them if they choose to not accept this invitation.  This is a great start, but the proof will be in how she handles their response and any future meeting.]  One child chose to accept her invite, the other did not.  Both children are perfectly within their rights and within their personal responsibility to make the choice that seems best for themselves.  This is an extremely important point.  Moving forward, mom must resist the urge to either praise one or blame the other – depending on how the meeting turns out.

 

Three final observations:  notice how long it took for her to get to the point where she was equipped to deal with these relationships, how many behavioral adjustments she needed to make, and the extent of self-awareness required to apply what she has been taught.  This requires a tribe of support for one woman to make such a radical turnaround.  In your own relationship breakdowns – are you willing to invest the time, energy, and humility to work on your issues (even if you think you have none)?

Day 20

Disappointment with self

 

In many ways, the disappointments we experience through our own hand may turn out to be the easiest to tackle so let’s start there!  Remember my friend who was always so freaked out every time one of her kids failed to behave in a manner she considered appropriate?  Her demands for their perfection as evaluated through her reality has caused them to suffer and her to lose out on the close relationship she always wanted but may, or may not, ever experience.

 

We went for a long walk after she had been in counseling for awhile and my friend was wishing for a magic wand.  The shame she had been off-loading onto her children’s shoulders was coming back to haunt her.  It turns out that her therapist was able to gently guide her self-examination process and she was discovering her own shame load.  Here are a few factors she uncovered:

 

  • Her untreated learning disability left this bright woman feeling stupid and terribly afraid that she would pass this disability on to her own children.
  • Her own lack of formal education was shameful to her and she never quite accepted her own professional success.  She hid her shame from self and others by being super tough on her own employees and family.  Her meteoric rise in her own field hid her shame in plain sight so that no one suspected that wounding was her issue, they just thought she was a B*****.
  • Her own family of origin was filled with family secrets and shaming skeletons.  Her vow to rise above was apparent in her own gorgeous home and impeccable taste.  No one knew how hard it was for her to pull all this off.  Her own self-doubt made making decisions about everything from whether or not to expand her business internationally to the paint color of her dining room endlessly nerve-wracking.
  • Success is hard work and it cost her the opportunity for intimacy in her own marriage.  Although this pair looked like the “perfect” couple – two hard charging professionals always making the next big deal, it left little room for connecting.  Loneliness in the marriage seemed rather cliche but had two ubiquitous outcomes:  he cheated on her and she looked for her relationship with her kids to fulfill her need for connection.  It would sound like a cheesy lifetime movie but it was her reality.

 

Does it make sense that failure to acknowledge her own doubts and personal disappointments left her unaware of how she was projecting these sorrows onto her own children?  Is it possible that you are doing the same in one form or fashion?

Day 19

Disappointment

 

But disappointment is real!  What are we supposed to do with those emotions?  Hardly a week goes by without someone expressing their heartfelt and definitely NOT narcissistic disappointment in a fractured relationship, a destroyed dream, a seemingly hopeless situation.  Here are a few examples that are filled with disappointment and heartache and I dare any of us to try to live with these realities without feeling disappointment:

 

  • Parents watch as their drug addicted child is given a year in prison for a crime committed related to their Substance Use Disorder.
  • A wife comes home from work to find her spouse sitting at the kitchen table in despair; a positive drug screen has cost him his job – again.
  • Conservative religious folks who desperately love their child deal with his upcoming marriage to his partner, a male.
  • Faithful, loving couple of the same sex cope with the rejection they experience from their faith community, family and friends when they announce their engagement.
  • A divorce becomes the final consequence for a couple who love each other but are torn apart by a Substance Use Disorder.
  • Bankruptcy, public shaming and an arrest for embezzlement tears a family and community apart as a result of one person’s compulsion to spend at the expense of others.

 

These are huge disappointments.  It is honest, even essential that those involved acknowledge this.  But post acknowledgement, I think there are some ways to process and move forward that are perhaps more healing than other options.

 

For today, maybe consider making a list of your disappointments.  Notice and highlight the disappointments that have come your way as a result of other folks.  Pay particular attention when it involves someone you love.

Day 18

Disappointment continued….

 

I have a friend who has a history of expressing disappointment in her children.  Unfortunately, her friends constantly agree with the assessment.  When we go out to lunch or attend the same social event, inevitably there will come a moment when she talks about the latest disappointment she has experienced in her children and her friends nod in agreement. (Her version of the relationship makes this a reasonable response.)  I can’t agree because I know her kids.  Both are pretty great humans.  They work hard, give generously, by all accounts are committed to their spouses and children.  They either say nothing or speak appreciatively and respectfully of their parental units. Up until recently, they figured their mother’s disapproval was their fault.  Both struggle emotionally and have sought counseling to proactively deal with what they have come to understand as their unrelenting issues with “shame.”

 

What’s wrong with this picture?

 

Since both these children were very young they received the message that their mom’s happiness depended on them.  Extra curricular activities were mom-driven and no personal preference was considered.  A slip in grades (both were excellent students) would result in mom crying for days on end.  If they failed to call multiple times a day then they would receive long emails informing them that yes, their poor neglected mother was still alive but just barely.

 

Shame is an inevitable by-product when one is parented by a narcissist.  In a recent message Scott delivered at NSC he reported that children of narcissists grow up filled with shame because from an early age they receive confusing and conflicting messages about reality.  There is the reality of the narcissist and then there is the conflicting reality espoused by the narcissistic parent.  Does the other parental unit intervene and contradict the narcissist’s reality in an attempt to restore balance and respect the experience of the rest of the family?  What do you think?  Would that be safe?  No.  Do kids have the wherewithal to doubt the parent and trust themselves?  That’s unrealistic.  These young adults are learning how to detach from other people’s opinions of them.  It is very difficult and arduous work.  They have had to limit contact with their mom – which, as you can imagine, fuels the fire of her rage and disappointment.  But this is necessary for them to stay reasonably healthy and present for their own children.  Constantly expressing or implying disappointment in others is like the constant drip drip drip of waterboarding.  The only thing it pretty much guarantees is the erosion of the relationship. My friend asked me for feedback about the growing distance between she and her kids and I suggested she go get counseling.  She immediately called and made an appointment – isn’t that great?  As I suspected, her own family had heaped tons of shame messages on her; she was parenting the only way she knew.  There is still distance, trust and a variety of other issues.  But there is also this:  an entire family seeking to stand up and speak out against legacy and for love.

Day 17

Disappointment

 

Just because someone is disappointed in us does not mean that we are necessarily a disappointment. In fact, I am coming to believe that it is contrary to healthy recovery to “be disappointed” in another person.  Here that again:  I am working off a theory at this point in my life that I have no RIGHT nor RESPONSIBILITY to EVER express disappointment in another person.  This is the gift that suffering has dropped on my doorstep.

 

I might be wrong, but here’s what I’m thinking.

 

I have, as Mary Oliver says, “one wild and precious life” – but only one.  It’s mine.  Yours is yours.  My children’s is theirs.  My husband’s is his.  My friends are theirs.  Who am I to be disappointed in anyone else’s life?  It is undisciplined, unboundaried, indicates expectations of others that are inappropriate and other non-recovery yukkies.

 

Do I feel disappointment?  Oh absolutely!  I can feel disappointment in myself (although only in small doses because after all, humans are frail and shame wants us to live in a state of perpetual personal disatisfation – no more will I do THAT).  I can feel disappointed ABOUT events, circumstances, choices, and more.  And sometimes I might FEEL DISAPPOINTED IN ANOTHER PERSON.  But hit the pause button here.

 

That is not because the person is inherently disappointing!  When I feel that feeling of disappointment it says much more about me than them.  It is a window into my thought life, my expectations of others, my fuzzy boundaries perhaps.  It may reflect my enmeshment in a relationship.  Or it may reveal my willingness to shame another.  Disappointment in others is an indicator that I might need to check in with my therapist or get into a good support group that helps me process my codependency issues.  Maybe I need some education about boundaries. Maybe I need a lot of coaching about the nature of humanity and its inevitable limitations.  Maybe I need some work around my lack of empathy or unreasonable expectations.

 

Bottom line:  When I feel disappointment in another person (which I have and still do at times), the work is interior.  It is not permission to demand that the person change so that I will feel better.

 

Think about the folks that disappoint you.  Where can you go to get support to work through what’s going on with you in that relationship?