Thursday, April 14, 2011

Co-Counseling Principles Can Help Repair Strained Relationships

by Susan S.

One technique of co-counseling is to let people know what you like about them or why you appreciate them. I can't ever remember hearing a therapist tell me that I was caring or generous, but at the Level One Training, I heard these phrases again and again from other attendees.

I wondered if this technique would be able to ease the hurt between my mother and me. She and I aren't close; we haven't been close in more than 15 years. And over the years, each additional hurt has added to the divide between us. Then my father's sudden death forced us to face each other. There was tension in every interaction, and each of us took away new hurts where none was intended. Before I left for the training, I told her, "Mom, you think I hate you, and I think you hate me, and I don't know where we go from here."

Now I am back, trying to fix more than a decade of problems with a 10-minute conversation. The self-doubt begins to creep in as I think about what I want to say.

I wait until we are alone. "Mom, I have some good things to tell you that might make you cry. Can you sit on the couch?" I pull up a chair.

"I'm getting nervous," she says. "What can be good that would make me cry?"

I sit across from her. I take her right hand in mine and place my other hand on top. Her small hand feels fragile.

"Mom," I say, "one of the things that is very difficult for me about Dad's death is that I never got a chance to tell him how much I appreciated him for what he did in my life. I don't want to miss that opportunity with you, and I want you to know how much what you did for me when I was a kid meant to me."

I look in her familiar brown eyes and share my list. She begins to cry, and squeezes my hands tight. I continue telling her my favorite childhood memories, the times I always cherished but never spoke of.

When I finish, she says, "I'm so glad you told me that. I never knew you felt that way. I always thought that I embarrassed you."

"You never embarrassed me, Mom. When you're a kid, you have to act cool with your friends, but I always thought you were an amazing mother."

I go on to tell her how real her hurt is for the loss of my father, and that it isn't fair that he's dead. She begins sobbing, but forces herself to stop like we've all been conditioned to do. "I'm sorry I'm crying," she says. "It's just ... "

"Mom, I really feel like crying, too. Crying actually is a really good way to heal. Would it be OK if we cried together?"

She nods, and I curl up on the couch next to her. She holds me, and we cry.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Why Is It So Hard To Cry?

by Susan S.

The memory still brings chills to my spine: A frazzled parent at the mall with a crying toddler yells at the child, "If you don't stop crying, I'm going to give you something to cry about!" But of course that only makes the crying louder and more desperate.

When did we as a society decide we need to live like Spock from "Star Trek?" Stoic, show no emotions. Paint a fake smile on your face no matter what's inside. If you feel, bury it with anti-depressants, alcohol, drugs, food, shopping ... anything to prevent you from discomfort.

Even our language conveys our opposition to crying. Children throw "tantrums" and have "crying fits." We tell boys to be "macho," to "be men," and might even falsely call them gay if they cry. Girls are told to "grow up," and women who show emotion are labeled as "hysterical" and "mentally ill."

Although I am quick to show tears, I find it difficult to allow myself to truly cry. When I cried as a child, my mother mocked me. "Oh, boo hoo hoo," she'd say sarcastically. "Boo hoo."

Mental health professionals didn't do much better. As a teenager, I shared something very painful with a psychiatrist, and I began crying. He stood up. "I can't talk to you if you're going to carry on like that," and he abruptly left the room. The session was over.

And these experiences don't even come close to what awaits victims of abuse and domestic violence for crying or showing emotion.

So it is a difficult process to learn emotions are not only allowed, but also are completely valid and deserve to be heard. We have a right to cry and find a safe space to do so. We have a right to grieve. We have a right to be angry. We have a right to feel and a right to heal. Let's reclaim it.