Sheila was suffering from exhaustion. She was overworked at home and at her job. She knew that she was taking too much upon herself, but she could not help it. She had always been this way, super-responsible and unable to trust others – feeling compelled to do it all herself.
She had finally reached her limits; and could not push herself anymore. She knew that going away for a rest would not solve anything. She would only start the whole thing over again when she got back. She came for counseling to find out how she got this way, and to relieve her anger at the world for doing this to her.
Therapist: “When else have you felt this way?”
Sheila: “When I was in high school, I was the director of the class play. The day before we were supposed to perform in front of the Drama Club, three people called me with excuses for not showing up. I was so frustrated that I threw myself on my bed and cried. My mother heard me crying and came in. She leaned over me and said, ‘If that damn club is going to make you cry like that, I forbid you to go again.’ She stomped out. I was amazed. I remember asking myself, ‘How was that supposed to help?’ I knew that I could never go to her with my problems. Her overreaction was worse than the problem! Then I had two problems! If my own mother won’t help me, who will?”
Her anger at this betrayal never went away. It was down there waiting to erupt on the next occasion. She learned that on a deeper level, she was angry at herself for trusting her overwhelmed, inadequate parent in the first place! This anger didn’t make sense to her. This is where we point out that anger doesn’t have to make sense.
It arises out of the emotional memories that are formed from vivid events. Anger such as, “I must have been stupid to expect my own mother to help me. I’m angry at myself for asking her to help me in the first place. I am angry at myself for trusting her. I’ll never make that mistake again.” Once these submerged attitudes are brought into conscious awareness, her adult judgment can put them in a realistic, manageable perspective. “I wasn’t stupid. I was just a little kid. It was an inconvenience, a disappointment for me and sad for my mother, but I can choose to let go of my anger now that I know what I’m letting go of.”
Shelia learned to trust her own judgment by doing what reality requires and trusting her judgment as good enough to take life as it comes. She was able to:
– Catch herself trying to please others. (She doesn’t know how they want to be pleased)
– Catch herself trying not to displease. (She can focus on what pleases herself)
– Catch herself protecting others from consequences (They did not ask for her help)
– Catch herself trying to prevent disaster. (She can live in the present, she can’t predict the future)
– Catch herself having high standards for self/others. (She doesn’t know what’s best)
– Catch herself trying to prove her worth to others. (Self worth comes from within)
Tired woman image available from Shutterstock.