Note to Self: Write MORE that’s Real in 2018

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More of Everything in 2018

I need to write, but haven’t in a while.

I got a little bogged down trying to create neat, unoffensive packages of psychotherapy. I sort of lost myself, and writing became a chore.

But I’m writing my way back home, thanks to a little rest and time with writerly friends. Now, my true self wants to say something . . .

  • more interesting,
  • more hilarious,
  • more gut-wrenching,
  • more real . . .

The stuff I’d want to read, that enlivens me and pushes me toward the edges of my comfort and into a new way to think.

Stuff that makes me want to get up early and write it.

Idea Garden II, Deborah Cox, Flowers Reborn

For years, I’ve flirted with more candid writing, but reined it in, choosing a safer, more clinical voice. In the therapist’s chair, I listen to your stories, all the while knowing we’re alike in ways that blow my mind. Almost nothing truly separates us.

More Honesty = Less Separation Between Us

. . . and less separation sounds great to me.

My last post, about dealing with a narcissistic mother, brought me closer to what’s real. It felt risky and imperative at the same time. Some of you said, “Oh my God, that’s me too.” We both struggle with how to handle people we love who bring us down. There it is. Just like you, I need help with my boundaries and I need to know that I’m not a bad person for protecting myself.

There’s a censor in my head who says, “Shut up and act like a proper psychologist.” But another voice says, “Trust yourself. Write what you know. Share what’s real for you. Trust the universe. Allow yourself to be known.”

Even though I sit in the therapist’s chair, I’m a work in progress. And although our sessions are about you, sometimes I need to write about me. That feels more balanced, more genuine, more honest . . .

 . . . and scary as hell.

(which is probably a sign I need to do it).

More Spiritual Growth

A few years ago, I wrote a novel about growing up and escaping fundamentalism. It’s fiction – but it hews closely to my emotional truth. Now, more than ever, I think you need to read my story. It’s part of your story too . . . Though you may not realize it yet.

We are spiritual beings who change constantly. We’re all moving toward more mindful spirituality, higher levels of consciousness, less restricted thinking, more love, more connection . . . whether we realize it or not.

I plan to share Wife Material in my 2018 blog, starting with this little scene of the 22-year-old bride, Elizabeth, straight from her Church of Christ wedding reception (Think receiving line, sherbet punch, mixed nuts, and pastel-colored mints.) Elizabeth is me. She’s the reason I’m for you getting free.

As always, I love hearing from you.

 

1988, from Wife Material: A Novel of Misbehavior and Freedom

The wedding night. My new husband looked like a mound of biscuit dough. He had a surprising lack of body hair and a pale form that slumped when standing or sitting. He had his mother’s hips. Unless you actually saw his private parts, you might not realize he was, in fact, a man. He waited for me under the hotel blanket as I tiptoed out of the small Vanderbilt bathroom in my white chenille robe, reluctantly exposing my skin to conditioned air as I slipped it off.

He smiled like a dimpled three-year-old about to eat pudding. The lights were out except for the fluorescent shafts that wound around the partially open bathroom door. I thanked God for darkness as I hurried into the stiff, clean sheets with him, a bit of moonlight misting in through a crack in the heavy sixth-floor drapes. The clock on the polished nightstand said 1:15 a.m. I missed my mother.

An hour ago, somebody else’s wedding party reveled in the lobby as we arrived at the hotel. The other bride still wore her finery, her updo falling in a sexy droop, and her friends laughed and glistened with perspiration in their cocktail dresses, like they’d been dancing for hours. They looked breezy and comedic, in the way of Eddie Bauer models. A hunky groom stood by her, joking with tuxedoed friends. Her gaiety gagged me—I had no idea why. At this moment in the sheets with Ted, I thought of that bride downstairs. She was happier than me.

Contact Deborah

Help for Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Protect Your Daughter-Self

Narcissistic mothering is not a happy subject. But sometimes we need to call it out, label it, protect our daughter-selves from narcissistic influence, so we can let it go and move forward into the beauty that lies ahead.

When your mother thinks you’re her . . .

When your mother sees you as all the negative parts of herself, you get criticized for things that, (a) are not under your direct control, (b) are inherently normal, or (c) are completely fabricated and have nothing to do with who you really are. A narcissistic mother wounds you by refusing to see you. So you grow up thinking you’re either really bad – or invisible – or both, an ugly double-bind that paralyzes your creativity and passion.

I’m immoral and wrong . . . so I better be careful not to reveal this awful person inside (who my friends like).

I’m selfish and ungrateful because I don’t visit or call enough . . . so I better see/call her and allow her to criticize me (even though I’d rather have a hot stick in the eye).

I’m arrogant because I want good things . . . so I should tamp down my desires (while we’re at it, I should join a convent).

I’m lazy because I don’t do what she does . . . so I should try to be more like her (even though I have no desire to be like her).

I’m not the daughter she wanted . . . so why does she want me around (oh yeah, to criticize)?

On the other hand, a narcissistic mother sometimes tells you you’re the most talented or beautiful thing in the world, which is triply confusing because you know, reasonably, that can’t be true . . . especially if you’re invisible and awful. She delivers these confusing messages because to her, you’re a mere extension of herself. She cannot see you as a separate and unique person with fascinating abilities and vulnerabilities. So you’re left not really getting good feedback about who you are in this world. If you grow up with this lack of appropriate mirroring, you may either work excessively to prove your existence and worth – or resign yourself to invisibility in one or more areas. I’m a disappointment . . . I can’t be what she wants . . . I’m a failure.

When your mother thinks you’re a slut . . .

If you feel kind of sleazy or ashamed when you’re around your mother, she may have criticized your sexuality. Let’s say she spied on you with your high school boyfriend and then shamed you for that passionate kiss. You may try to hide your true self from her view and play a very straight-laced role in her presence. (This is a role I have played around my mother for decades.) You feel her being too interested in your private life and you know it’s emotionally treacherous to allow her access to any part of this. You feel her judging you from a morality standpoint. You know she doesn’t respect your judgment, no matter your integrity. You’ll never be quite clean or proper in her eyes.

How to Heal from Narcissistic Mothering

Here’s a bit of their advice, for any of you who, like me, have grown up or even lived half your life feeling like a whore, a failure, or an arrogant bitch.

  1. Surround yourself with those who know you and love you. Avoid contact with those who induce a feeling of guilt or shame or anxiety – the sense you should work harder to prove yourself.
  2. Do lots of self-care to offset the criticism.
  3. Have a witness when you need to open emails or listen to voicemail messages from your mother.
  4. Read about how other people have learned to cope.
  5. Cultivate a spiritual practice, like meditation. This will let you get in touch with your deeply wise inner being.
  6. Call or text someone who sees you as good whenever you start to hear your mother’s words running through your mind. Share those words and get the reaction of a trusted friend.
  7. Find a mentor – particularly someone about the same age as your mother. Let her nurture you. Learn what you really needed as a developing child and give thanks for the opportunity to find it now.
  8. Meditate on what your life would be like if you had a mother who could really see you for who you are. Let that image become vivid and detailed. Enjoy the feeling of it.

Sometimes harsh religion amplifies the narcissism in our families and delivers us mothers who erode our natural self-love. My novel, Wife Material, is about this very process in a fundamentalist family. A narcissistic mother suffered the disruption of her own early mother-child attachment. Know that this is NOT your fault . . . or even hers.

Contact Deborah

 

Joy Lessons from my 5-year-old Niece

Lessons from Linde

I recently took a road trip with my sister and her kids. While we drove and swam and hiked and visited, I got a good dose of anti-depressant wisdom from my five-year-old niece. Linde inspires me because she is full of joy and incredibly herself: no apologies, no pretense, no matter what’s in the evening news. (People in EMDR therapy spontaneously connect with more playfulness and joy, what five-year-olds have in abundance.) Here’s what I learned.

  1. If you’re mad at someone, make up a silly name for them and use it as much as possible. You polka-dotted poom poom! You noosey nooner! It disarms people in a way that also makes them want to laugh.
  2. Every day, present someone your arm or your neck and ask them to tickle you lightly with their fingertips.
  3. Revel in your own skin. Luxuriate in the feeling of your body as it touches fabric or fur or water. Enjoy the feeling of your hair grazing your shoulders. Take every opportunity to run or bounce or wiggle, especially with a glow stick or while wearing a bee costume.
  4. Keep dancing till everyone else drops. Be the first on the dance floor and the last to leave, whether you have a partner or not. Stopping to go to the bathroom is over-rated.
  5. When someone aims a camera at you, assume you’re beautiful and work it.
  6. Make up stories and recruit your friends to play characters. Give them costumes. Dance around them and sprinkle fairy dust.
  7. If you don’t have an answer to a question, just meow.
  8. Don’t give up on people. If you’ve been turned down for an arm tickle, go back in fifteen minutes and try again. Assume they want to snuggle, but carry a stuffed fox or turtle around just in case your important people are busy.
  9. If you don’t like what’s on the radio, sing your own song. It helps if you close your eyes and pretend you’re the only one there.
  10. And finally, when you’re really angry or scared or disappointed, have a good cry or maybe scream. Let it all out, as loudly as possible. Then take a nap and wake up ready to jump on the bed.

 

Contact Deborah

Relax and be an Imperfect Parent

 

Imperfect Parenting

We’re imperfect parents, but we so want to get it right.  Am I providing enough security? Am I being consistent? Will he absorb my disappointment in myself? Will he absorb my anxiety? Am I telling her enough of what she needs to hear? Will she be self-conscious like me?

We try to be conscious parents. We want to do it better than our parents did . . . because we know more than they did and our little ones deserve the benefit of all that knowledge.

But this unrelenting conscious attention to our parenting can block our awareness to the beauty right here. It robs us of the gentle moment where we could share a laugh or notice the uniqueness of our child. Constant anxiety about our parenting also prevents us developing ourselves as autonomous adults, something our kids need us to do . . . so they can be free to do the same.

What I want to offer today is what I am literally learning, right now. Self Care is our most powerful parenting tool, and yet it’s the thing that seems most irrelevant. You want me to sit in the hot tub while my daughter fails chemistry?  Yes. I want you to relax. Do whatever you need to do to slow down thought and be in touch with your body – for 15-20 minutes. Here are some thoughts to help you embrace your imperfect parent self.

Relax and . . .

  1. Know you’re a good-enough parent.
  2. Know you’ve got a good-enough kid.
  3. Take good care of yourself. Your kid needs you to be healthy and happy.
  4. Do what brings you joy. This will show your kid how to do the same.
  5. Let your child push against you. It’s his job to resist, disagree with you, think you’re full of crap. Breathe and let it go.
  6. Let your child hear you laugh, a lot. Let them see you cry. Allow them to see your humanness.
  7. Find good attributes in your spouse or co-parent. Your kid needs to know the positive you see (or saw) there.
  8. Let your kid fail, screw up, and experience disappointment. It’s painful but essential to her sense of self.
  9. Know your child has his own path and own inner compass. You have no ultimate control . . . nor should you. If you try to exert false control of their personality and choices, you can really make a mess of things and restrict growth in both of you.
  10. Trust that your kid loves you. They have to love you. They will always love you, even if they don’t like you.

We Are Enough.

Contact Deborah

“I’m unattractive & I Don’t Deserve Love”: Change Negative Beliefs with EMDR

By Scot Campbell from Charlotte, NC, USA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I have a few Negative Beliefs . . .

I did some dumb things in my teens. I backed the family car out of the driveway, into our neighbor’s car (which had exited his driveway a second ahead of mine). I waited tables at a church banquet and spilled iced tea down the back of a well-dressed Sunday school teacher. I sat at the piano in complete paralysis, unable to remember an entire section of my Chopin Polonaise as the audience waited . . .

When I think of this chain of horrors, I want to hide and disintegrate into the soil, never to be seen again. I feel like . . . I’m a failure; I’m a disappointment.

Those two beliefs, until pretty recently, dominated my life. I never fully relaxed for fear I might bomb another important event, thus reinforcing my status as a disappointer.

Negative Beliefs sound like . . .

I’m not (good) enough.

I’m unworthy.

It’s my fault.

I’m a bad person.

I’m unsafe.

I can’t trust.

I’m insignificant.

These beliefs come from adverse experiences, especially repeated ones that happened when we were very young. The traumatized brain grabs these explanations – unless someone helps us understand and talk about what happened. So maybe your logical, adult self knows that these are false . . . but the emotional or child part of you FEELS they are true anyway.

Maybe you have old Negative Beliefs that could be interfering with your life now.

So, when you think of your worst problem  . . . the thing that causes you the most grief and heartache and anxiety:

  1. What does it look like?
  2. How does it feel when you think of it?
  3. Where do you notice that emotion in your body?
  4. What does it mean about you? . . .

There it is.

EMDR targets those old ways of viewing and experiencing our selves. It causes us to reprocess, or metabolize, old information that once got stuck in traumatic form in our bodies and it lets new information replace it.

I do the best I can.

I did the best I could.

I’m okay now.

I’m good enough.

I’m enough as I am.

I’m a good person.

I’m beautiful and I deserve love.

 

Contact Deborah

 

Denial, repression, and how to keep from losing your mind

I’ve always had a fear of dementia. It started on a visit to my great grandfather in the nursing home and I heard him mistake his daughter (my grandmother) for someone named Betty.  Fifteen years later, the same thing started happening to my grandmother and I watched her un-become herself over a period of six or seven years. Forgetting to turn off the stove led to forgetting to go to the bathroom and then forgetting the face of her daughter.

Horrified, I wondered why my relatives “lost their minds.”  Was I destined to do the same?

Now, I have a theory.

Denial

Fast-forward to 2017, sometimes I deny what I’m seeing and feeling. I hear you doing it too.

I could be reading too much into this.

It’s probably just my imagination. I have a tendency to overreact.

He says _____, so I need to believe him.

We pretend things are fine when they’re not. Sometimes the truth of my own feelings frightens me more than the shared pretense that all is normal. I keep a straight face to avoid conflict. I may even hide exuberance.

But suppression is costly. Denying emotion compromises our cognitive ability. When we stifle our thoughts and feelings, our mental processes turn against us – like the auto-immune system in overdrive. Denied emotion distracts us and prevents clear observation. It gobbles up energy needed for mental and physical processing. More here on denied anger in particular.

If we make a lifelong habit of denying what we feel, we end up in old age staring at The Price is Right, locked in fragments of our past, unable to learn anything new. I can’t prove this, but a review of my deceased relatives (especially the Christian fundamentalist ones) shows a strong correlation.

If I want to stay as lucid as possible as I age, I’d better say stuff out loud, show it on my face, let the tears fall, admit I’m uncomfortable, walk away from stifling conversations. I better swing at a punching bag and yell obscenities. And I better sing and dance and flaunt my joy as well.

Contact me to learn how EMDR therapy promotes clearer thinking and access to our true emotion.

Contact Deborah

 

 

Transition and EMDR: No such thing as a wrong turn.

 

By Khunkay (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Spring brings rebirth and color and joy. It also brings pollen, tornadoes, and allergies. My life transitions like the seasons, and even though it scares the crap out of me, I know it’s a good thing.

Something gets stale, stuck, or sour and I know it’s time to think differently. I get an urge to do something – an urge I ignore at my own peril. If I ignore my urge, the message of my higher self, I tend to get sick or depressed. EMDR helps me clear the cognitive clutter and make a change.

Maybe I need to:

Cut my hair

Nurture a child (fur baby or human)

Say yes to a trip

Leave a job

Leave a relationship

Lose my religion

Seek the company of a certain friend

Start a new venture

Get rid of things I’m not using

Change my behavior in relation to someone

Change my behavior in relation to myself

Get into therapy

Complete something I’ve postponed

Abandon a task I thought was essential

Trade couches with someone

Grieve and let go of an old belief that blocks me from growing

There’s always a reason for the urge. It comes from a place I can trust.

Over the years, I’ve learned these transitions always pay off in joy and growth and prosperity, even when it feels like I’m being shoved through a revolving door and lose my shoe. In fact, even when others disapprove of my change, I grow and my life gets better. I have no regrets for any of the detours or U-turns or shocking, hair-spiking, neon-sign-wearing changes I’ve made. Through EMDR, I’ve learned to pay closer attention to how my higher self talks to me, how transition shows up, and how I can allow it.

There’s no mistake, only my path. I welcome the change.

Read Wife Material

Calm Receptive Mode: Get calm and find the good stuff inside you.

Idea Garden II, Deborah Cox, Flowers Reborn

Your higher self knows how to calm you.

We all want to find calm receptive mode. But not everybody wants to get a massage (although we should – there are people who can make us feel safer and less awkward). Some of us need action. We need to be out in a kayak or running a trail. Some of us meditate and we know it works. We may need some yoga or tai chi. Some of us tap. Or we turn on some Fauré and close our eyes. And I know at least a couple of people who get barefoot and put their feet in the grass and feel the earth beneath them and take big breaths of outside air.

Maybe you’ve tried to get away or go out in nature or just sit still and you got scared. I’ve been there. You started to feel lonely and edgy, even though you knew you needed solitude and quiet.

What am I doing, anyway? Shouldn’t I be doing laundry? I’m wasting time. I can’t do this. I’m full of crap.

So you gave up, started cleaning, turned on the TV . . .

But your higher self knows what YOU need in order to get into Calm Receptive Mode . . . and it may be different from what your spouse or best friend needs.

Calm Receptive Mode = calming our minds enough to know what’s inside us, struggling to get out.

. . . The good stuff we’re waiting for. The part of us plugged in to divine energy understands us completely and wants us to get access to this good stuff: our creativity, our ideas, our epiphanies about how to live more joyously.

Try this tapping exercise:

  1. Tap the sides of your knees, lightly, left-right-left-right, etc., on the spots that feel most sensitive.
  2. Repeat these phrases:

It’s okay for me to be calm.

My higher self knows what I need to quiet my mind.

There is good inside me.

  1. Take some deep breaths. Repeat as often as you can tolerate it.

. . . Let me know how it goes for you.

Contact Deborah

 

 

EMDR, Worry, & Letting Go

Holding On & Letting Go

You know, that feeling where you remind yourself to worry? Lately, I catch myself holding certain issues with a death grip; things I can’t control.

  • My loved-one’s health habits.
  • The world’s poverty and greed.
  • Our mass addictions to technology.
  • Someone else’s parenting failures.
  • My child’s future direction.

I catch myself thinking about these things and literally not breathing.

  • What people think when I don’t call them right back or answer texts on Saturday.

Yet, I realize that clutching worries as if they were mine to command only keeps me cramped. The death grip is a self-punishing illusion. I can only take care of me.

  • What really happens to all those used plastic Keurig cups?

EMDR, Bilateral Stimulation, and Letting Go

By Olivier2000 at French Wikipedia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

In the olden days, therapists had to convince you it would save your life to relax. Now, with EMDR, your own nervous system pushes through all the information standing between you and peace. You get there . . . sometimes with lightning speed.

Even so, between EMDR sessions, I need tools. My higher self knows it’s okay to let go, get calm, and expect good things. These steps make that happen.

  1. Take a few deep breaths. Read about why this helps.
  2. Notice the beginning signs that these issues are floating away: a feeling of warmth, a slowing of my heart-rate, a change in my breathing.
  3. Repeat the phrase, “All is in divine order,” or “Everything is already okay.” (That second one comes from a principal of a Dallas high school where I worked in the 90s . . . he said it every morning over the PA system, followed with one minute of Mozart as students settled into first period classes.)
  4. Give myself some bilateral stimulation: Tap the sides of my knees or head (at the temples), alternately, while saying something like this:

“Even though I’m worried my anxiety is rubbing off on my child, I know I’m still a good person and I know we can deal with it.”

“Even though I feel uptight when I notice racism being stirred in our country – I know it’s okay for me to relax. I know that love prevails.”

  1. Focus on something beautiful for 30 seconds while tapping.

Everything really is already okay.

Contact Deborah

 

Lessons in Relational Justice, II: Resistance = Love = Self-Respect = Vision

 resistance

Resistance is Being Fully Me Without Shame

Sitting in the parking lot at a local Christian college, I wait for my son to emerge from a music festival and I observe other people and their cars.

  • the young guy in his baseball cap, zooming behind me, not watching for children
  • the mom in the SUV who eyes me suspiciously from behind Kate Spade sunglasses
  • the guy with a confederate flag sticker on his truck, blocking me in place while he chats with someone through his driver’s side window, shrugging off relational civility with the endorsement of: (1) his friend who can see me, and (2) his president, (3) and maybe his parents too

My first impulse? Half-smile and act nonchalant. Behave as if I blend in with the culture around me and I notice nothing that makes me the least bit uncomfortable. I do these self-camouflaging behaviors when I feel fear and shame. (And I realize my feelings have something to do with my bias – but also something to do with real things happening in my world.)

I think they can sense my resistance under my clothes and skin. People tell me I do a bad job of hiding who I am or how I feel. I’m part of the resistance and have been for at least 50 years.

Resistance and Self-Respect

It goes back to when I was five or six and my father hit me. I resisted him. He still hurt me, but he never took away my spirit or my will to protect myself. I held onto those and looked him in the eye. Emotional resistance saved my life.

Because Resistance is a form of love, it requires me to look people in the eye and smile as someone who really sees them without apology or fear. I see you . . .

  • with all your fear and beauty
  • with all your numbness and potential
  • with all your vulnerability and humanness

Resistance says: I notice you with your bad behavior and I still care about you.

I tried to telegraph these messages to other children being abused in the grocery store. “Hold yourself apart. Remember who you are. Keep that resistant self in-tact even when you’re being hit or told you’re bad.”

The same holds true today. Because resistance is a kind of vision, I say to my friends, “Hold your democratic ideals – even if only in your thoughts . . . because thoughts are things. Hold your vision of the world as you’d love to see it: where everyone feels loved and safe; everyone has plenty; trees and animals thrive and our Mother Earth sings.”

See if you can hold this vision for 30 seconds.

Now, you’re part of the resistance too.

Read Wife Material