Emotions Below The Surface
Sometimes we have stress in one area of our life but the stress remains hidden from our conscious awareness. We may be aware of the tension in our body or the bad habits that crop up when we are stressed out (such as biting our fingernails, smoking, or eating unhealthy), but the source of the distress remains unknown and unnamed...Then if happens. Something trips the switch. All the stress from this unnamed, unknown source suddenly get funneled into what just happened to appear. It isn't really the cause because the stress was present before the incident. The question is how to get to the true source of the stress rather following a red herring. Lisa's daughter was getting married. It was her only child. Lisa and her daughter had the final meeting with the wedding planner and they both seemed to feel good that every detail was being handled. Lisa did feel good that it was all being handled... Later that evening Lisa noticed she was feeling a little sad. It was something she barely noticed and quickly dismissed. Everything was fine. Everything seemed fine... It was an innocuous comment made by her husband that triggered her underlying, unconscious emotion. Lisa was really upset and let her husband have it. Her husband was confused. Then he was defensive. The argument continued even though the comment wasn't really the issue. Both struggled to make sense of the conversation. They were arguing with each other but there was no understanding between them and somehow did not seem to be having the same conversation. At some point Lisa burst into tears. In that moment of authentic emotion, the underlying issue became clear. Her daughter was getting married. Lisa's grief was profound. She realized that her parenting had come to an end. In that moment, Lisa could only see her mistakes. She saw how her failure to express herself had been passed on to her daughter. She saw how the issues in her marriage could end up being the same issues her daughter would struggle with. She saw how her excess weight and stress eating had begun to manifest in her daughter. In that moment, she felt the full weight of her failure. She could not see her success, only her failure. The realization was devastating. This was a very surprising realization. Lisa had always had a good relationship with her daughter. Her daughter was a very responsible, mature and kind person. She had chosen to marry a man that adored her. He was a good man with a nice family. It seemed strange that Lisa would be so emotional. She wasn't really the emotional type. On a day to day basis, nothing was really changing. After all, her daughter had moved away years go and lived in another city. Her daughter had been living with her fiancé and they were doing fine. She knew they would continue to be okay and yet the tears continued... The challenge for Lisa was to allow herself to experience her emotions instead to trying to suppress them. It is often the case that our emotions don't seem to make sense or seem appropriate. It is tempting to try to stop ourselves from experiencing our emotions. And even if we can stay in our emotions, it is discouraged by well meaning others. Haven't we all tried to cheer some one up who seemed down? But why stick with the emotion? What is the point of being sad? When it comes to our emotions, suppressing them does not end them. When we suppress our emotions, they can lead to other problems like stress eating, shopping, or getting upset about about an unrelated issue. Lisa's husband was very supportive. When he understood her real struggle, he just let go of the argument. He did what every good husband would do which was to reassure her. She had been a good mother and their daughter was proof of it. Lisa could see both sides, that she was a good mother and yet she wasn't perfect. She had made mistakes like every parent does. Even with this realization, her sadness was present. It's not that she was drowning in her sadness, it just wasn't over. Lisa had to trust her feelings. She didn't understand why she was upset but she had to acknowledge that what she was feeling was important and somehow needed. It was a bumpy road. For weeks she felt the underlying sadness and was prone to tears at inconvenient times. Sometimes she made it a point to allow herself the space to be alone so she could cry. Even after the wedding was over, the underlying sadness was still present. She didn't want to talk about it because it just didn't seem appropriate to express her sadness in the context of her daughter's marriage. Finally, she went back to her therapist for a few sessions to see if she could gain some insight or relief. Her therapist was able to be there for her and her feelings. Lisa realized that her relationship with her daughter had changed. She was an adult and would need to do what was best for her and her husband rather than just what was best for herself. As a mother, Lisa was very committed to seeing her daughter do her best and live up to her potential. Now she had a new partner and Lisa would play a secondary role. It was a loss. It was an ending. But with every loss is a new beginning. Only Lisa had no idea what to begin. As the loss was named and the grief was experienced, so was the anticipation of a beginning. Rather than search for what was next, her therapist just encouraged her to stay open and see what showed up in the next 30 days. Her mood began to change. It didn't happen all at once but she was starting to laugh again and she seemed to be laughing more joyfully than ever. She even recalls moments of euphoria for no reason at all. She saw a flyer on a bulletin board at a coffee shop and out of the blue decided to take a painting class. To her surprise, it was deeply satisfying. She wasn't sure where this was taking her but decided to do the next right thing in front of her. As time went on, Lisa realized she was now following her own dreams, many of which laid dormant for years. She became more comfortable and expressive with her emotions. Yes, Mom was crying again but Mom was also quick to laugh and her wit became sharper. She was no longer parenting but she was being a role model for her daughter in a different way. She wasn't helping her daughter realize her dreams, she was showing her how.