One of my most recent challenging life transitions has been having kids. So far, hands down, this is the most difficult life transition I have handled yet. Last week I had blogged about life transitions being so difficult because of the flip flopping between the past and the future and I think this is no exception. I struggled with the idea of having a little one dependent on me and losing a good majority of my personal freedom (future thinking). I kept thinking about people I had known as parents and some of the issues they talked about were not having any "me" time (past thinking). "Say goodbye to your personal life" is what I heard most often. How discouraging. I was determined that I would still have a personal life and I would find a way to balance it all! (cough... control freak perfectionist anyone?!)
I don't know about everyone else, but avoiding things or pretending they don't exist does NOT work. I really struggled in the beginning of my first six months of being a new mom. No one really clued me in to the amount of time committed to your newborn baby; especially if you are a breastfeeding momma. My mind was completely preoccupied with the baby. What time did she eat? Is she eating enough? When did she last have a diaper change? Is she sleeping enough? How can I help her sleep more? Is it okay to hold her through out the day or should I lay her down more? What's the scoop on co-sleeping? Schedule or no schedule? How are these present situations going to affect her in the future?
No longer were my thoughts me-focused. How should I wear my hair today? Does this outfit look okay? What am I going to eat today? I had somehow convinced myself that I was losing me and all I was now was my daughter's mom. I quickly started thinking about how I was going to manage doing anything else in my life beyond being a mother (future thinking). How am I possibly going to figure out how to still be a wife, counselor, business woman, friend, and daughter? After six months of trying to split myself into parts, I realized that I hadn't been voicing any of my frustrations, anxieties, short comings, or even achievements with anyone because none of my friends had kids so I didn't think they'd understand (Past issue with friends still haunting my present relationships). How often do we not express what we're feeling because we assume others won't understand?
Thankfully I work with some pretty great counselors. I expressed what was going on to one of my coworkers and realized that what I was telling myself wasn't true. I had some idea of how I needed to be and it wasn't working out that way. After realizing I needed to share the load of my emotions and thoughts with my friends and family, I realized I needed to stop splitting myself into parts and realize that I am just one Rachael... with many different roles. I just needed to remember my values, realign my priorities, and everything would balance out. By flip flopping between past and future I was preventing myself from growing into a better version of myself because of the shoulds and fears that were preventing me from moving forward and adjusting to my "new" life. Who needs to think about themselves much anyways? I'm much happier NOT having my thoughts so "me-focused" and being able to embrace the present more fully. It's amazing how much more of life you pick up on when you embrace the "now."
"When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which NEVER HAPPENED." - Winston Churchill
Have you ever had your worries take away from experiences you have had?
"If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present."
I read this quote a few weeks ago and have been really soaking it up lately. Its been helping me refocus to the present. When I'm feeling blue, I think about what's going on and it usually IS something from the past. I regret something I did or didn't do. I wish I would have done something different. I think about how I could have said something differently in order to get a different outcome. But what CAN I do about it? Is it wrong to think about our past? I think it depends how you do it. If you look to your past in order to learn from mistakes and make yourself into a better person, then by all means, keep considering the past. But when you LIVE in the past, continually problem solving something you can't do anything about, and you don't allow yourself to accept it, that's when it becomes a problem and depression sneaks up on you.
On the other hand, when I recognize I'm feeling tense, frustrated, and flustered, I find I am worrying about something that hasn't even happened yet, how it's going to turn out, and how I'm going to be able to handle it. Anxiety isn't a bad thing. It prepares us for things and helps us be proactive about situations we will face. (read more here)
Battling my inner control freak comes with a lot of mind wars.
"Why would I delegate tasks when I can do it just how I want it done?!"
"I'm afraid others won't do it correctly and it will reflect badly on me."
"If I just do it, I know it will be perfect."
I know it sounds quite controlling, but it also sounds like fear to me. Christopher Knippers, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Pacific Coast Recovery in Laguna Beach, California stated control freaks "live with fear and insecurity and an illusion that they can have control over other people or that they can attain perfectionism, but it’s really not possible.” Being a control freak isn't always a bad thing. It drives someone to excel, be performance driven, and succeed. Unfortunately, it also can lead to self-inflicting pressure and an inability to relax because of a striving for something unattainable. We all like feeling in control because of the sense of power that comes with it. Who would want to give that up?
Thankfully giving up control does NOT have to mean giving up the power. Power can also come with an ability to delegate tasks well and learning to be more empathetic to those around you so they feel appreciated and perform better. When one doesn't delegate, they get over worked, stressed, and resentful towards others around them. This can really cause issues with ones personal and professional life.
I usually always focus on the process of things because that tends to be where it matters, but with a control freak, sometimes the focus needs to be on the outcome instead. If others use a different way of doing things but the outcome is the same, then that's all that matters. Working on empowering those around you and letting go of control is hard. Forbes Magazine (2010) states the transition "will be like nails on a chalkboard, but the payoff is less stress, increased confidence, and best of all, improved relationships in all areas of your life." Sounds pretty good to me. What do you think?
I love hosting parties. I love people filling up my large front room, the delicious smell of food floating through my entire house, and how clean the house gets. Deciding what will be eaten, when it will start and end, and who’s invited is all in my control. There doesn’t seem to be any problem with this right? Well, I wish I could tell you that I didn’t stress out planning the party, preparing for the party, and managing everything during the party, but I do. This is where my control freak goes bonkers. I’m OVER controlling. I want the kitchen spotless, so “don’t eat anything family”. I want the family room toy free, so “don’t play with any toys for a day my almost two year old child”. Seems a little unrealistic to me.
I have learned that expectations play a lot into my frustration of feeling lack of control. When I’m planning a party, I start envisioning what that party is going to be like and how everyone is going to be while they are at my house. So I start to work, forming what I believe I need to do in order to make those expectations become a reality. This leads to overwhelming myself with what I believe I need to do in order to have a successful party; a perfect party.
Cue anxiety. (read more here)
Hi, my name is Rachael and I am a control freak. ("Hi Rachael")
I really think there should be a support group for people like me - control freaks. Some days I feel like I am waging an inner battle. Fighting between wanting to control everything and everyone around me or controlling myself and how I respond to everything or everyone around me. I'll tell you, the first is usually my go-to. I have found this to be quite normal. When I look back on my week, my good days are dependent on whether things went my way or not. If the kids were well behaved, my husband did everything I wanted him to do without asking, my coworkers understood me and valued my opinion, and my clients value my reflection and easily change and find comfort in it. Sounds easy enough right? On the other hand is the bad day. Someone finished the coffee, someone cut me off on the way to work, my coworkers disagreed with everything, my clients were resistant, and my husband and kids were not on the same page with me whatsoever. Sound familiar? It definitely seems that I allow my days and how I feel up to everything around me... doesn't seem very "controlling" to me.
I have been starting to realize that when I feel that I am in more control, I have more confidence in myself. When I feel out of control and overwhelmed, I am lacking in confidence and often get frustrated. Thankfully there is a way to be a control freak without doing it to others. Control yourself by paying more attention to your emotions, thoughts, and actions. Research on locus of control indicates that people with an internal locus of control are psychologically healthier and more successful than people with an external locus of control. Wikipedia states that people who have more of an internal locus of control believe that outcomes of their actions are results of their own abilities, their hard work would lead them to obtain positive outcomes, and every action has its consequence, which makes them accept the fact that things happen and it depends on them if they want to have control over it or not. People with an external locus of control believe that many things that happen in their lives are out of their control, their own actions are a result of external factors that are beyond their control, and they tend to blame others for the outcomes rather than themselves.
I think I will start my journey of becoming a BETTER control freak by asking myself when frustrated in a situation if I'm trying to control others or if I'm trying to control myself. My guess is I'll have to shift my focus and start paying better attention to how I can respond to a situation in order to feel more in control.
Some of my worst days tend to center around feeling frustrated. The more I think about that frustration, the more I realize it typically has to do with disappointment; whether its disappointment in myself, someone else, or something. I think I get disappointed a lot and maybe it's because my expectations are too high... for myself and others. I had to look up a definition. Dictionary.com states disappointment is " depressed or discouraged by the failure of one's hopes or expectations." Well, at least I articulated that correctly. Now, the hard part of figuring out how to deal with it. I think it's hard to vent disappointments with yourself, and especially with others! But what is so hard about it?
Communication. Why does everything always have to go back to how we communicate? You'd think centering life around getting good at one thing like communicating would be easy... but no. Communicating to work through something like disappointment entails processing with someone else through an issue and diffusing the hurt. This does not sound easy. I know I stray from doing it because I don't want to lose control, I don't want to hurt the other person, I don't want to get hurt myself, I don't want the other person to take me the wrong way and get mad, and maybe I don't feel safe enough emotionally to confront the person. Sadly, this creates barriers in the communication. We find ourselves not communicating about a lot more things than just the situation that disappointed us in the first place. Lysa TerKeurst, my now good friend (in purely "I love reading her books and she speaks to me through them and that's why she's my friend" kind of way) in Unglued stated,
"Barriers shut down communication. When you determine people aren't safe, you label them with words such as demanding, irresponsible, volitile, selfish, and defensive. No matter what they do or don't do, this barrier label is the filter through which you process EVERYTHING about them... the other person is unaware so everything confuses them" (italics mine, 84).
I have learned that facing the conflict is the only way to go. Bust down the barriers with your friends and family and start working on building an open and honest relationship that fosters feeling emotionally safe to share with one another. I've learned the best way to do this is by doing a little preperation, not just winging a conversation. Let me offer a few suggestions.
1. Begin by thinking about what your expectations are. What are your expectations of the other person? What are your expectations of yourself in the relationship? What are your expectations of what the relationship should look like and how your roles are determined? Sometimes thinking about what you want out of the relationship or situation helps to bring expectations to light.
2. Are your expectations realistic or unrealistic? If you are anything like me, you might be really good at convincing yourself they are all realistic, so it might not be a bad idea to bounce them off of someone you trust to get their opinion.
3. Identify how you are feeling. This is going to help you express yourself better if you figure this out before you have the conversation. Your feelings are real, but they might not be valid. Feelings are NOT facts so allow the other person to have a say in what they MEANT to make you feel like, but you may have interpreted incorrectly.
4. Identify what you want. Hopefully, this is the part where solutions come into play. Maybe expressing expectations to the other person is what needs to be done or just expressing how something they did made you feel. Try to be open to them about what you want and be open to their suggestions as well.
5. Take into consideration that it might not work out. Some people we just weren't meant to have deeper relationships with even though we keep beating our heads against a wall to make it happen. Give yourself a break. Sometimes relationships just need a break too. (Now, if its a committed relationship, this is when backup needs to be called in. I'm definitely an advocate for marriage so don't take this the wrong way. I'm more meaning friendships and not commited, licensed signed type relationships)
Break down the barriers, and start creating healthy boundaries instead. Boundaries equal honest transperency while barriers equal walls built without honesty and are rather created because of fear and lack of hard work... oh Lysa T. how your words resound with me.
"You don't understand what I'm saying!!" "You never get it..." "I understand, but you still don't see what I'm saying."
How often do you find yourself using any of these statements? I used to use them ALL. THE. TIME. My husband and I have been married for almost 7 years now, known each other for 10, and we used to have pretty ridiculous arguments that included these and other statements. A college friend of mine used to ask me if I could ever see myself dating him and I would always respond with "No, because we just fight all the time!" (Clearly, that wasn't true because we're married, ha). We were stuck in a classic, "see what I'm saying, then I'll try and understand what you're saying" cycle. I was always trying to PROVE my view of how what I was saying or doing as okay, versus trying to IMPROVE the relationship and seeing his perspective.
One afternoon, I finally realized it was time to change. We were hanging out in my apartment and decided to start having a discussion... sadly I don't even remember what it was about (but that's how that usually goes, right?) but I do remember it escalated quickly. I had to leave the room due to getting so frustrated because I didn't feel like he was really listening to me. I was a classic, storm out and shut down kind of arguer with him. This is definitely where my unglued moment of being a stuffer, collecting rocks for later use, came into play. It didn't take long for that "rock" to fly. He came out after me and made some comment that made me so mad, I chucked the TV remote at him. Thankfully, he ducked, but that remote hit the wall and shattered into itty bitty pieces. We both stopped, shocked at how it crumbled to pieces, and kind of chuckled at how badly we had let a dumb conversation get out of control.
I learned in grad school that time outs are not a bad thing. I always tried to keep talking the problem out in a way of, "lock yourself in a room and don't come out till it's solved" kind of way. This was not effective for me or our relationship. I stopped thinking straight once I escalated and got frustrated. Taking a time out helped slow my emotions down and clear my head. When you continue a discussion at this escalated state, things will take a turn for the worse. You will say things you don't mean and will probably regret later. The focus at this point will be on PROVING yourself, not IMPOVING the relationship. We should always be striving to impove our relationships because we get more satisfaction out of them that way and both parties walk away from the discussion satisfied because they feel valued, heard, and safe to share how they really feel the next time a discussion is had. My husband and I began implementing time-outs. I am happy to say that we don't need to use time outs much anymore because we got into the habit of striving to see the other persons point of view when having a discussion and are quick to realize our talks are getting out of control when we aren't feeling heard or valued.
Here is the key to effective time-outs:
1. Decide on a time-out length with your significant other (when you are NOT arguing) - anywhere from 5 - 30 minutes.
2. Someone call the time out during the argument.
3. Whoever called the time out, set the timer for the discussed length of time.
4. Come back together to continue the discussion after the time has expired.
5. If you escalate and are going nowhere again, take another time out.
6. Continue repeating these steps until the discussion has reached a conclusion.
Give it a whirl and let me know how it works out for you!
If it hasn't become apparent enough... I need to cleanse myself of some toxic thought patterns that I carry around. For example, it seems that whenever my child decides to be on a different schedule than every other day, I automatically admit failure to myself because I'm not going to be able to accomplish anything I planned that day. Sad thing is, this is so not true. If I were more flexible and didn't get fixated on my runaway feelings I would totally accomplish my day, maybe even in a better order. Not only would I be happier through-out the day, but my daughter probably would be too. I have learned through the past week that to me, failure = insecurity. Of course, Lysa TerKeurst got to me with her book, Unglued, when she stated,
"Realities based on runaway feelings rather than truth always lead to one thing - insecurities... Toxic thoughts are so dangerous because they leave no room for truth to flourish. And lies are what reign in the absence of truth" (141).
I hate feeling insecure. Who doesn't?! It makes me doubt myself and my abilities. Even thought I know this isn't true, the more I think it, the harder it is to stop and believe otherwise. Thoughts are like snowballs. Once you get on a roll of negative thoughts, they tend to build on each other in a progressively bad way, eventually making a very ugly snowman. At least we have the hope that the same works for positive thoughts too. The more we try to slow down and work through the reality and truthfullness of our thoughts, the less toxic they will become and our feelings won't start running away with us either! Wrong thoughts create the wrong perception which create a FALSE reality. My thoughts are leading me astray, making me think that I know what's going on because I'm basing my thoughts on my feelings. I have the ability to be flexible. I have the ability to go with the flow and get stuff done. If I don't get everything done, that does NOT mean that I am a failure. No need to feel insecure, pretty much every mom or adult goes through this. Allowing our brains to see things in the wrong way makes us believe that things that are NOT true, are! I'm not a failure. I know this. Believing in a false reality is what happens when we base our thoughts on our feelings! This is NOT a good way to go through life because thoughts are WAY easier to control than feelings; however, feelings are a great indicator to start paying attention to your thoughts before your feelings get to a point where you can't reign them in. Now to find a GREAT way to catch myself in the makings of my feelings that typically runaway like crazy so I can stop the thoughts from infecting my entire being - and my entire day.
Learning to not become "unglued" is quite a journey. I really thought I was starting to have it all figured out, and then I continued reading. Apparently comparing oneself to others is a huge thing that leads to becoming unglued. Not that I didn't see it but I think I have FINALLY admitted to the weight that it has in my emotional mess that I become sometimes. I just have to quote Lysa TerKeurst from Unglued because I couldn't put it into better words.
"The more I compare, the emptier I become. And empty women, oh how we come unglued. Especially when empty settles in the part of our souls where unmet desires restlessly wait. And in that dark corner, desparation churns for what could be but isn't, and what we want but still don't have." (132)
I am not only a counselor through and through, but a student. I love learning. So I was pretty geeked when Lysa even brought in a study that Yale University did on social-comparison. The study found that jealousy occurs when the following three conditions are present:
1. a person receives negative feedback
2. in a domain of life that is important to them and
3. they believe another person is performing successfully in that same domain.
Oh so true. Sad thing is, I've realized that opportunities for comparison never end. In every situation you encounter, you can compare... body size, finances, things, opportunities, feelings, etc. Problem with comparing ourselves to others is that we stop seeing the good things we have and only focus on the good things others have. When we don't see our own good, we eventually start sucking the life out of ourselves and get consumed with negativity. Our brain starts getting used to the negativity and begins to think it over and over and over. Think of it as a dirt road turning into a four lane highway. Once that four lane highway gets established its pretty hard to avoid it because of how "easy" it becomes to travel down. Now I need to start figuring out what situations always detour ME onto a four lane highway and start the hard part of deconstructing it. Demolition can be fun right?
I realized yesteray I must be a counselor through and through. I say this because not only do I love my job, but I am addicted to reading books that make me look at myself introspectively and evaluate how I handle myself so I can not only encourage my clients to make change but I can realize how difficult the change is myself. I love it. Maybe that's weird... is that weird? Weird that I love evaluating myself and seeing what's wrong with me? Maybe I do it myself because I can take the criticism from myself better than from someone else? Have you ever asked someone close to you, "If you could change one thing about me, what would it be? What could I do better in our friendship?" I have. Ha. I was really looking for some honest feedback. Sometimes I think I'm doing really well with things but I want to make sure it's true and not me just living in la-la land. Sadly, I get the same look, every time. The look says to me, "Are you seriously asking me this? I don't know how to respond to this?!" Maybe she doesn't feel safe to share because I KNOW I don't have it all together. Is that true my friend? :)
I know dealing with my emotions is something I have always struggled with. I'm currently in the process of evaluating how I handle my emotions now and how I can handle them better. I'm reading the book, Unglued, by Lysa TerKeurst. She states people tend to explode their emotions or stuff them. I think those are some pretty general categories that I'd have to agree with. She gets a little more specific by breaking these two types into four ways of handling yourself. The four ways are exploders who shame themselves, exploders who blame others, stuffers who build barriers, and stuffers who collect retaliation rocks.
Sadly, I will admit I do all four. Different people, different situations... but all four... I do. This was a little tough to swallow at first, but definitely faded away to realizing that I'm all over the place and should probably get that in check. It was more reassuring when Lysa states that feelings are INDICATORS not DICTATORS! Even though I tell my clients this all the time, it was different when I read the words myself and soaked them in. It's true. I tell my clients, feelings are NOT facts! How you are evaluating the situation is making you feel the way you do. If you step back and figure out why you are labeling a situation a certain way, you will be able to change how you feel about that specific situation. How empowering is that?! I will definitely start my emotional journey by using my feelings as indicators of situations I need to take a step back from and try to recognize why I'm reacting in one of the four ways and not keeping myself more "glued" together. You know the greatest place to escape to and have your "step back" moments of clarity? The bathroom. No one will bother you in there! Just try it sometime in an emotionally intense situation and let me know! Stay tuned for more of my "keeping my emotions in check" journey. I'd love to hear feedback on how you handle your emotions!
Rachael Kool, professional counselor and normal, everyday adult screw up