Dear Therapist: Stuck in a Role

Happy woman cooking dinner

Dear Therapist,

I am married and living a traditional married life in many ways. Although I work outside the home, I also do most of the cooking and cleaning. My Mom did the same and it never looked that hard for her when I was a kid. Now, in the role, not only is it hard, I am not that interested. I am stuck in the role of “wife” and don’t know how to break out? Help!

Sincerely, Sick and Tired of Cooking & Cleaning

How easy it is to not only pick up on roles that society expects of us when we take on the role of wife, but also act on them without any thought whether or not you want the role. If you saw your Mother play this role in your family, it may be even more difficult to break out of something that just doesn’t suit you.

However, you are looking to break out and so you are recognizing that there is a choice other than being stuck in a prescribed role. There are two parts to making the change.

First, getting honest with yourself. What do you want your role of wife to look like in your marriage? Are there any chores you don’t mind doing? Or circumstances under which you don’t mind doing them? What are the things you absolutely never want to touch again? Becoming honest with what you do and do not want to take on as far as these responsibilities is the important first step.

Second step is to have a heart-to-heart with your partner. Perhaps he is just assuming that you don’t mind. Perhaps he saw his own Mother take care of all of this like you and thinks that’s the way it is supposed to be. Perhaps he has space to participate alongside you? This may not be the easiest conversation, but it may be one that leads you to a new role in your marriage.

Things won’t change overnight. You may give up the dishes to him and he may get it done in two days not in the next two hours. As your roles shift, stress points will arise. Being able to keep a sense of humor as well as a commitment to the new way of being and doing within your marriage are the keys to making change.

By all means, break out! We are told in a million ways each day from the start of life what we are expected to do, be, have in our relationships. Unwinding those ideas and finding the way forward that works for you is the key.

Dear Therapist: Why are People Still Hanging Out Together?

People Hanging Out Together

Dear Therapist:

I have heard all of the news reports and I am frustrated to see people are still out and about hanging out together even as we are told to keep social distance from one another. I feel like saying something to these people, but I also wonder if it is any of my business? What do I do? Nothing or something?

Sincerely, Wanting Everyone to Keep Distance

Ah! These are interesting times indeed. How can this even be a conundrum in our modern times? And, yet it is. We have been told to keep social distance from one another. Even if we are not at risk ourselves, we know we are all inter-connected and we may be putting others at risk when we do not follow the guidelines. It can also prolong the crisis we are in. We know our elderly population is at risk, but many others are as well who have underlying medical conditions that we are unaware of are also at risk. Each time we gather together in close proximity with others – even 3-4 people – we are putting society at risk.

This is huge. Many people get this as we can see from empty streets, businesses, planes, etc., but there are still many who do not think it applies to them. So, you may be out for a walk and see people gathered together. What to do? It is awkward as these people are strangers. I can see your reticence to now want to say anything. Also, this may bring you into close contact with strangers that is not comfortable for you.

I noticed that a friend of mine went out to a natural wonder in the local area and noticed the crowds and the many people standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Instead of calling it out to the crowd, he took to social media and spoke out about this gathering he saw. He brought the reminder message to his community and called out these gatherings that need to be avoided.

However, what if your friends are getting together and giving you a hard time for taking distance. Here is an opportunity to state your feelings and feel a bit more safe with reminding your community where you stand on this and the importance of maintaining distance. We all have to help one another as being apart in our homes is difficult.

Technology, social media, and phones allow us to stand up for what we believe. We cannot always call strangers out as we see them gather, but we can use technology to speak up and out. You never know. Someone in your community may read your post and change their actions as a result.

Dear Therapist: Dealing with Disappointment

Couple opens package and is disappointed

Dear Therapist:

I had so many good plans coming up this month and now they have all been cancelled. Like, I don’t want to get anyone sick or anything, but I’m pretty bummed. First off, there is nothing else on to go out and do. Second, I have no idea if this stuff will get rescheduled or not. Dang! How do I deal with my disappointment?

Signed, I know I’m not the only one, but Corona Disappointed

Ah! So many good concerts, sports, and events on this time of year. And it’s not like we are in the midst of a winter storm which is causing the disruption, it’s a virus. Something we cannot touch or see or feel — at least not until we get it. When things are getting cancelled for snow, it opens up a whole world of winter wonderland fun.

Not the case with this one, and I think that is part of the reason this is bringing you so much disappointment. It feels out of control and unknown. Let’s face it, we aren’t waiting for the snow to melt to get back to normal. We are waiting for a global pandemic to recede and hoping to not get sick during the outbreak. This is entirely different and most of us have never lived through such a disruption.

I think focusing on your disappointment is one way to try to feel some sense of control in an otherwise out-of-control time. We know disapppointment, we can put our energy there and feel certain about how bad it feels to not get to go to the big match or that ballet performance or that concert. What we don’t know is will this make a difference? Will this be over soon? Will my actions to avoid people and public spaces make a difference?

Disappointment we can know, uncertainty is harder to manage these days. So, let yourself feel that feeling of being disappointed. Hopefully, some of these things will be rescheduled. If not, then feel it, complain about it, and embody the disappointment so you can stay tuned in to your feelings.

However, do not despair. Most likely, this virus will recede and we will be left to pick up the pieces and begin anew with new things to do and to see. That day is coming. For now, welcome in your feelings.

The Therapeutic Alliance

The therapeutic alliance is a key component to good therapy.
Therapy Offers a Chance for an Alliance!

When I was in graduate school, we were often taught about the “therapeutic alliance.” That feeling the therapist extends to a client to let them know we are aligned with them and their needs, desires, hopes, fears, and anything else he is bringing into the therapy room. I am struck by how clinician-focused this term is when therapists-in-training are taught about it in school.

Yes, the therapist must align and become an ally to one who is seeking therapy, but even more important is for the client to feel an alliance with his therapist. I believe school teaches practitioners that this will happen naturally for the client if we align ourselves with them and, yet, I feel that a client must gauge for themselves if someone if therapeutically attuning to him.

How can you even know if a therapist is forming an alliance with you? And what if the therapist is doing all the right things, but it just doesn’t feel right to you?

Aha! Those are the important questions to keep in mind when creating a new relationship with a therapist. We have been taught how to form an alliance with you, but I don’t think there is much thought given to educating the public who seek therapy regarding whether someone is a good fit or not for you.

My number one suggestion to you is to gain an intuitive sense about what you are looking for in a clinician. Do you want someone direct or perhaps indirect? Do you want someone to stay silent or do you really need to have the person responding to you throughout the session? Are you interested in learning new coping skills or are you there to take a deep dive into old patterns? Depending on your answers to these types of questions, you can observe if the therapist sitting in front of you is going to form an alliance that is supportive of you and your unique self.

There is no one therapist who can meet everyone’s needs and desires. That is not even the point. As much as you the client are unique, so too are the therapists. We have been taught a particular set of skills to align with you, but it is general and not specific to any one person. The magic is when you find a therapist who does align with what you need and who you are that can make the work be wholly attuned to you.

And what if we are doing everything that seems like we are a good match and alliance for you, but you are still not feeling it? It’s completely OK to be honest about it not being the right match for you. We are always trying our best to match and align with you, and we also know it doesn’t always happen. Find your voice and say as much.

The therapeutic alliance is a must and is a golden space when we align from both sides — the Clinician and Client sides.

Dear Therapist: Political Exhaustion

Political Exhaustion

Dear Therapist:

I am exhausted! After years of political turmoil in this country, I can’t stand it any longer. I feel anxious, concerned, and worried. Further, I am tired of arguing with my neighbors. It used to be we could all get along, but those days seem long past. How do I handle what seems to be a never-ending world of political strife and turmoil that overwhelms me on a daily basis. Help!

Wow! Your question hits home I am sure for many people. No matter which side of the aisle you are on, the discourse of what is happening along with the events unfolding each day across a wide range of global concerns is enough to want to simply close your door, pull the covers over your head, and check out!

If you are feeling this way you are dealing with political exhaustion.

Of course, this is understandable:

  • You read the paper and find yourself bombarded with news headlines that are troubling
  • There is the realization that you are only one person and the question comes to mind, “what can one person do about any of it anyway?’
  • You are on social media and there are requests for your money and time to support causes and show up to one more rally
  • You listen to the news and the political talk heads speak your language and incites more concern and worry
  • You bring up a topic or contribute to a conversation with your neighbor and all of a sudden you find yourself in a hot argument because the other is never going to see the world as you do – not interested
  • You try to refresh yourself in nature and your mind is plagued wondering if the animals and trees and fresh air will be around for your kids and grandkids

How can one continue to stay engaged without drowning in exhaustion? After all, you are only one person.

I think it is important to be honest with yourself and be true to yourself. If you are feeling exhausted, disinterested, lethargic toward all of these cares, then it is time to change up one’s routine and ways of interacting with our current political construct.

Mainly this involves holding boundaries around where you will and will not put your time and energy into and prioritizing putting time into yourself and your care. There is no fight without the people and so taking care of one’s self is one of the most critical ways to keep up the fight.

There is no shame in taking a break and refueling yourself. Here are some helpful tips to treat your political exhaustion:

  • Go on a news diet and limit how much you read and watch in a day
  • Say no to events for awhile and, when you feel ready, be discerning about what you choose to say yes to
  • Sleep
  • Self Care — whatever you do to care for yourself, do more
  • Let go of the guilt of stepping back – the struggle will still be there with you either exhausted or refreshed
  • Choose to spend time “doing good” – most likely the flow of doing something good for yourself, another, your community, your neighborhood, your friends and family will recharge you in a way that is not depleting, but fulfilling

It is inevitable to become politically exhausted. This is not a short, quick battle, but a long grind that all of us must contend with each day. We are running a marathon not a sprint. Take care of you and let go of the rest while you need and want to.

Dear Therapist: Gift Disappointment

Dear Therapist:

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but this time of year stresses me out in a way that may sound selfish. To be perfectly honest, I give good gifts to my family and friends. What I mean is the gifts are perfect for the person because I have heard them when they get excited about some item or another. The holidays are a time for me to surprise them with the thing they have told me they love. Not the case for me. I get a bunch of stuff that could be for the mailmxn quite frankly. I am always disappointed, but I never tell the person but rather hide it. I find myself taking a big bag of stuff to Value Village every year. How can I avoid feeling this disapppointment for yet another year?

Gifts – pretty as they are packaged – may sometimes disappoint!

Talk about a taboo topic! So glad you wrote in and brought some breath to what I believe many people feel in their hearts this time of year when they are opening their gifts from friends and family. Instead of genuine surprise and joy, most people have to put on their best role to pretend that this is the best present ever. How uncomfortable and tiring.

And, yet, as you point out, to show anything less than gratitude would mean you are selfish and ungrateful. Neither of these look good on anyone this time of year so we smile, act out our appreciation, secretly feel hurt and disappointment, throw it into the bin, and take it to the charity come January. We simply chalk up our disappointment as par for the season.

Ugh! To think this is what millions of people do each and every year. I can see why you want to avoid this uncomfortable rut.

Your question further delves into being someone who takes time to think about someone and then thoughtfully purchases something for the person to delight her. When this type of thought is not reciprocated it is doubly hurtful as you can easily begin to question if the friend or family member even knows you.

Well, what to do?

We cannot control anyone else but ourselves. It sounds important that the people whom you buy gifts for have something special from you. Feel good about this just for the way that you honor your loved ones.

Regarding the presents you receive, you could try moving into your truth by speaking it in a kind way. Letting the other know how much you appreciate that she thought about you and that this doesn’t feel like you for x, y, z reason. Even as I type these words, I feel how this sentiment can be taken as selfish,. Yet, being honest in a world where people smear over hard feelings to make the other feel OK, is actually a gift one can give another person.

First, that person is going to notice that you noticed what she gave to you. It’s not just one other thing you have now, but something that either suits you or does not. This leads that person to knowing two important things about you: one. you care about what she gave to you and two, she now knows what you do and do not like. It could be the person was just regifting something she didn’t want and didn’t know you cared so much. Either way, your truth will offer emotional vitality behind the gift received and given.

If you are truly sick of the cycle, but can never imagine bringing your truth to the table for whatever reason, you could also create a boundary and simply not exchange any longer. Perhaps these gifts are from long ago friends who really are out of touch with who you are now, but keep up the annual gift exchange without thinking. It’s OK to call it a day and say no to the entire exchange. This may also bring relief from your disappointment.

The holidays always offer some awkward moments, particularly around gift giving. Owning your feelings and bringing them forth in your truth is one way to set yourself free from this cycle of disappointment.