When You Can’t Fix Your Family

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Sometimes the people in our life who should love us the most and treat us with the most care, actually treat us with the most indifference. Or worse… inflict the most harm on us. It’s awful and it’s not fair, because we don’t get to pick our family. The good news is that as we get older, we get to decide how close we will be, emotionally and physically, to those family members. (See my previous post about How You Can (Finally!) Disengage from a Toxic Parent.)

A lady I used to do therapy with has a very dysfunctional family she struggled to detach from, even though their toxic behavior and comments provoked disabling anxiety for her, as well as profound feelings of shame and isolation. At 61-years-old, this woman was still trying to earn their approval and acceptance, and blaming herself for their maltreatment, thinking on a subconscious level that if she could just do things ‘right’, they’d finally love her.

Once, she described a vivid dream that she had when she was just four years old: “I was on a battlefield in the middle of a war and there was shooting and bombs were going off. I was lost and terrified at all the chaos and violence, when my parents and brothers and sisters drove up in a Jeep. I thought I was being rescued, but they looked at me, and then just drove off, leaving me there. I remember I woke up bawling, I was so scared and hurt that they left me.”

I asked if her if that little four-year-old girl deserved to be rescued, if she deserved more love and protection from her family than she got—not just in the dream but in real life.

“Yes!” my client almost shouted, angry tears welling up in her eyes as she grieved for that little girl.

“You are that little girl still. You’re just older. But there wasn’t a point, a specific age, when you stopped deserving those things.”

Friends, it’s so tempting for us, especially when we’re children trying to make sense of a confusing world, to believe that our family’s chaos or the abuse or neglect we suffer at their hands is our fault. Because if it’s our fault, then we can fix it, right? If it’s not our fault, and it is actually theirs… well, then that means we have no control over their behavior and that is scary—again, especially when we’re vulnerable children dependent on those very people.

Now you are grown up. And you still can’t fix them. And you can’t change them by ‘fixing’ yourself. But you can put in boundaries to minimize the degree to which they continue to rob you of joy, peace, and self-esteem. You get to decide now what you will and will not accept. And I hope you’ll stop accepting anything that is wounding your heart and soul. Believe it yet or not, you do deserve better.

Much love,
Cherie Signature

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

9 Questions to See if Your Perfectionism is Hurting You

Dare 2 Hope - Perfectionism

For most of us who have it, perfectionism is probably both a blessing and a curse. The obvious upside is that perfectionism is associated with exceptional performance and achievement. Perfectionists tend to be driven to do whatever it takes to meet the high standards they set. But there are drawbacks to perfectionism too. In a recent article, psychologist David Burns says we are especially given to troubled relationships and mood disorders. It can also be detrimental to our physical health. Consider these ways it may be taking a toll on your life and well-being.

#1. You’re stressed out. A lot.
We perfectionists are usually black-and-white thinkers, placing situations at the extreme end of the continuum. Anything less than an A+ is equivalent to an F. Overcooking the chicken ruins the whole dinner. This all-or-nothing mentality produces intense pressure and anxiety to perform flawlessly at everything all the time. Of course, that is unattainable and we will make mistakes at times. But whereas this knowledge leads to self-compassion in others, it acts like a ticking tomb bomb for us…we’re just waiting for that inevitable (and in our minds, horrible) moment we finally fall short.

#2. Things are personal.
Perfectionists don’t separate themselves from things they do, so we view those things as a reflection of who we are. Take the above scenarios. Anything less than an A+ is the same as an F…and that means I’m stupid and I’ll never get a good job. Dry chicken ruins dinner…and that means I’m a terrible cook and mother because I can’t properly feed my family.

#3. You avoid challenges.
Because perfectionists usually have a fear of failure, we often procrastinate on things we don’t feel confident we’ll succeed at…if we even try them at all. This certainly means missed opportunities of all kinds—even valuable opportunities to learn and grow from failure (did just thinking about that make you break a tiny sweat like it did me?). Or maybe we avoid challenges because we’re afraid we will succeed…and then we’ll have to keep it up, and that can feel like too much pressure.

“Perfection is an illusion and those who chase it will find themselves unfulfilled their whole lives.”

#4. You’re emotionally fragile.
Whether it’s a getting second place or missing a typo in the office memo, every mistake is such a catastrophic event that we can obsess over it for days. Because perfectionists blow minor things into ginormous proportions, we don’t have the same level of resiliency that others have. If we’re honest, we’d probably have to admit that even small setbacks can produce emotional meltdowns, existential crises, and even temper tantrums.

#5. You have a hard time taking criticism.
No one likes to hear about their mistakes or flaws, but constructive criticism is essential for personal growth and healthy relationships. How can a marriage (or any relationship for that matter) be the best it can be if one or both people won’t hear anything from the other about a needed change? Winston Churchill said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” We don’t want to look at the “unhealthiness” within us, but just like a disease, it’s there whether we acknowledge it or not.

#6. You’re a people-pleaser.
We find people not liking or approving of us borderline unbearable, so we have trouble setting appropriate boundaries. We end up saying yes to requests and accepting treatment that we secretly resent. We might make decisions based on what others think instead of being true to ourselves.

#7. You avoid opening up to people.
Being vulnerable means being okay with others seeing your messiness. If we equate having flaws with being unlovable, we will always be in hiding. The problem is that no matter how much we put our flawless front, people will see through the cracks at times. Our lack of authenticity just ends up getting added the shortcomings list. These kinds of walls lead to isolation and loneliness, which is a steep price to pay for a strategy that doesn’t even work.

#8. You’re always struggling to feel good enough.
Perfectionists have a long list of ways we don’t measure up to what we “should” be and all the ways we want to be better. Growth is not a bad thing, but constant, self-defeating striving driven by shame robs us of so much joy. Controlled by perfectionism, we never feel at peace being who we are right where we’re at. It’s like running on a treadmill and seeing that for every mile run, another one is added to the odometer. Talk about exhausting!

#9. You’re highly critical of others.
Yes, we perfectionists are certainly hard on ourselves. But it’s important to realize that we’re probably hard on others too, and that can deeply hurt people we love and our relationships with them. Are you hard to please? Overly demanding? Do you expect flawlessness from people all the time and react negatively when they fall short? We might be intentionally inflicting stress and feelings of inadequacy on our family, friends, and colleagues. If you’re not sure whether you are…ask them. If they seem hesitant to tell you, you should probably assume the answer is yes.

#10. ________
You tell me…What are some other costs of perfectionism you’ve experienced? How do you take advantage of the positive while minimizing the negative aspects of being a perfectionist?

Be well,

Cherie_signature

 

 

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

Letting Go Is So Cliché

Dare 2 Hope - Letting Go

We’ve all heard the phrase “let it go’ so often, it’s easy to gloss over. I almost yawned typing it.

And yet, living it out is so much more than a feel-good catchphrase. It’s profound and painful… and utterly life-changing.

There are two parts to this Letting Go Lesson, and today I’ll focus on the first. It’s about how so much of our unhappiness is because we are entirely mixed up about what we can and can’t control. We are desperate to control things (and people) that we can’t, and often don’t want to take control of what we should.

I want to control everything. Everything. From the other drivers on the road, to how fast the line at Walmart moves, to how my husband behaves. Does that sound familiar to anyone else? I cling to the idea that all these things and people should be a certain way. And perhaps sometimes I’m right. I mean, yeah, I think we can all agree that many people should be more considerate.

Reality check: They aren’t.

I always kept coming back to the fact that I don’t want to accept reality because it should be different, and it feels like accepting = okaying it. It doesn’t. It means that I finally realize keeping a death grip on my shoulds comes at a cost. Wanting to control things we can’t will inevitably lead to feeling angry, depressed, indignant, impatient, helpless.

Being mad doesn’t actually change any of the things we’re mad about, it just spoils our happy.

This pattern is not just pointless, it’s harmful. An old saying compares holding onto anger like holding a hot coal and expecting the other person to get burned. Can you see that whether our anger at that person (or situation) is justified is irrelevant? Because everything will go on as normal while you stand there getting burned. Now, I’m not advocating against anger in general, because sometimes, that’s an appropriate response, such as when our boundaries are crossed. What I am saying is that when anger takes up too much space in our hearts, it will inevitably crowd out the happiness.

While we can’t control everything and everyone else, we can control ourselves. It’s just that’s the very thing we often don’t want to control. We’d rather say we’re the victim of crappy events and can’t help being unhappy about it. But even when we have no say in someone else’s behavior or how something turns out, we do have a say in a how we react.  We can choose to be perpetually angry or we can choose to let go and respond in a way that adds to our wellbeing.  We can decide to drop the coal…not because we’re necessarily wrong in thinking that things should be a certain way, but simply because we don’t want any more third-degree burns. In the psychology profession, we call this practice Radical Acceptance (a term from dialectical behavior therapy [DBT]).

So let’s learn to let go. I know, easier said than done, right? Stay tuned…next post I’ll talk about how we can do actually do it.

Be well,

Cherie_signature

 

DPP_0015bCherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

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How You Can (Finally!) Disengage from a Toxic Parent

Dare 2 Hope - Relationship Levels

Many people know all to well what it’s like to grow up under a toxic parent (or parents). Whether it’s a mom or dad who’s narcissistic, alcoholic, neglectful, abusive, or has any number of other issues that render them incapable of providing the love and support every child deserves, children in these families struggle to make sense of it all as they get older… and to heal wounds that can be hard to even put words to. Sometimes, that parent continues to be a negative force even after growing up and leaving home. Does this sound familiar to you? If so, keep reading because this can make huge difference in your life.

One of the biggest challenges I see in my work as a therapist and life coach is the ability to disengage from a toxic parent. There is much that could be written on the topic, and I certainly can’t cover it all in one blog post, but I will talk about what I think is the first step: realistically assessing the relationship and assigning it an appropriate level. Here’s what I mean by that… All of the various relationships in our lives exist and operate at different levels. As illustrated in the picture above, think of them as circles.

  • The innermost circle includes your most intimate relationships. This probably includes your significant other if you have one, and perhaps a best friend. These people know the good, bad, and ugly about you. You could call them at 2am if you needed something. Their opinions about you and your life matter deeply and therefore, they have significant ability to influence you.
  • The next level is our more casual friends. This group knows us fairly well and we see them regularly, but they aren’t necessarily involved in all the nitty-gritty of our lives. Maybe this includes select people from work or church, or another mom on the soccer team. These people’s opinions of you matter, but not to the extent of your inner circle.
  • The next level includes acquaintances. These are people you say hi to and talk about the weather with. They include the remaining people at work, church, or other groups you’re in. You make friendly conversation but do not open up much about anything meaningful. You probably want these people to think well of you, but you’re not going to be controlled by their opinions. And since they have a limited view into your life, there is less opportunity for them to speak into it anyway.
  • The final, outermost level is made up of strangers. These are people you encounter out and about, but you don’t know them at all. Examples are customer service employees and other people standing in the post office line.

Now, all of that probably makes sense. But which level is your toxic parent on? As children, our parents are almost always in the inner circle. It happens by default because when we’re young, our family is our little nucleus, so to speak. The problem is that as we get older and have the ability to decide who goes in which circle, we oftentimes put or leave people in that inner circle who have no business being there, and that is especially true when it comes to parents. But as adults, that inner level is a position that should be earned because our vulnerability and access to our lives is a privilege, not a right, for other people. This includes family, even if they want to be in the inner level and believe they deserve to be.

“But as adults, that inner level is a position that should be earned because our vulnerability and access to our lives is a privilege, not a right, for other people.”

Do you need to start moving your parent into the second or third level circle (or in the most extreme cases, the last level)? That can be really hard, because most of us wish our parents could be in that inner circle. But if they shouldn’t be there and we don’t accept and adjust to that truth, we will continually feel hurt, angry, disappointed, or controlled by them. If you can move them to the appropriate level, you’re freer to enjoy what is possible in the relationship, even if it’s not as deep or supportive as you—or they—would like.

If you want to know more about this subject, I recommend Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend and Toxic Parents by Forward and Buck. Or you can contact me about virtual life coaching!

Be well,
Cherie_signature