How Old is This Feeling?
“I don’t know why my son isn’t sleeping”, she says to me at the start of our session. “I’m exhausted. He lies right on top of me at night and if I move his leg off me he puts it right back on.”
“Is he asleep when he does that?”
“Actually I think he is sleeping – although not very well. It’s me who’s not sleeping at all. He probably needs contact with me at night because of all the changes and moving around we’ve done in the last few weeks.”
“Oh so you do know why he is behaving like he is.”
“Yes I guess I do. That’s probably why. But I’m not getting enough sleep.”
“What is it doing to you?”
“It makes me so frustrated. It’s not full-blown anger but it’s heading for it. And I feel trapped lying there. I can’t get up and distract myself with something else, anything else, like I do in the daytime when these feelings come up. Then I just lie there and think ‘Why can’t I get this right? I need to know what to do but I don’t know how to change the situation. What am I supposed to do to make it better, to get it right? Someone else would know. Other people know how to be with their children. I wish someone could do this for me because I’m not getting it right.”
“So you are telling me that when your son keeps you awake and you are lying there at night you feel anxious that you need to get something right but don’t know how to, that others seem to know what to do but you don’t, frustration, anger and helplessness, feeling trapped in this experience and not being able to change it. Is that right?
“Yes that’s just how it feels. It’s horrible”
“Well on the one hand I think how you feel is totally normal. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t feel trapped, frustrated and borderline angry while being repeatedly woken up every night by a little guy thrashing around, rolling on you and kicking you. I mean any prisoner or lawyer would agree that’s a form of torture. So reeeeally normal to feel that way. On the other hand though, it’s also raising other things that are specifically yours. Tell me something, is this experience of feeling this particular cocktail of feelings new for you or have you felt it before in your life?”
(I know her history, I suspect I know what’s she’s going to say)
“Oh I’ve felt this many, many times! It’s definitely an old feeling”
(She knows how I work, she knows where this is going)
“Do you ever remember not feeling this way?”
Thinks a while
“So are you saying this is a feeling you always have but you normally avoid it in the daytime by distracting yourself with something, anything, but at night your son is doing something that is keeping you right in the feeling?”
“All of those times your family moved around when you were small and you had to fit into new schools, figure out what everyone wanted from you, felt judged and watched both at home and at school… does this remind you of any of that?”
“It’s exactly the same”
Isn’t it just amazing how children are somehow catalysts that raise for us the feelings we would most like to avoid? Other things do it for us too, for example starting this blog has actually made me feel very much like a new-born mother again – but our children are true masters at making us re-enact emotional situations from our past that we haven’t gotten over.
In my case with this blog for instance, I’ve never put myself out there in this way before. Believe it or not I’m rather a guarded and private person. Now I’m telling all and sundry things about me, my life, my thoughts and opinions. Helluva scary for me and totally out of my comfort zone. It makes me anxious and panicky at times – ok to be honest much of the time. Why? It’s just like when my first child was born – however prepared you think you are, when it happens you aren’t prepared. I was totally lost. Terrified to get it wrong. Other people all seemed to be doing it and know what they’re doing. Suddenly I also had to do it and I didn’t know what I was doing and what’s more is that I had to do it in the public domain. I mean don’t try to tell me that people don’t watch each other’s parenting and think judgmental thoughts – both good and bad judgments on how they’re doing. Oh I really struggled those early days.
The second time it wasn’t difficult like that. I knew what was expected, I had practiced, I felt more confident in myself, more able to present well to the outside world – see how important I seem to think that is? I’m working on it. But the first time, whew! So the second time goes better and I think I’m over it, I’ve mastered it. Then along comes something new again and I don’t know what I’m doing again, learning on the go, in the public domain, feeling exposed, everyone can see my trials and errors, it impacts on others in some way… Yes I’m talking about my blog! Can you believe it? Something inane and inanimate. Sigh. So much for mastery. So anything can trigger our old stuff – although like I said, children win the championships by far on this one.
So what do we do with all this? Why do I think it’s for our best good? Well with this blog and all my anxieties and insecurities that are coming up for me because of it, I know they come from my childhood. It might seem to me that the feelings are because of the blog – or being a new mother – but they are actually old feelings that need to be cleared out. Now I’m working with them one by one. Learning to breathe in the face of not getting it right, not being perfect – and others seeing that! As someone said to me the other day, perfect is just an opinion anyway. Each time I panic about feeling exposed, being judged I stop and ask myself, “Who am I? Why am I doing this? Do other people’s opinions of me and what I’m doing get to rule my life? What is my highest truth?” – well I do it when I remember to, I’m getting quicker to do it now, I don’t wait out the full Oh-Woe-Is-Me attack anymore before finding my balance again.
It’s helping me learn to be me. Unashamedly, speaking out, full of original life ME. That’s the learning I was being presented with as a new mom. I did some of it back then. Now I’m getting a second round. Part 2. My client is getting her learning from being kept in the emotions she normally avoids – so that she can let go of that old belief that she needs outside approval to survive. Hmmm… that sounds familiar…
What is your child pushing you into facing about yourself at the moment?