All posts by Thea Jolly

09Jan/16

How Could a Mother do That!?

The view from the doorway

The view from the doorway

 

I’m standing in the wooden doorway of my youngest son’s bedroom.  It’s a small bedroom – him being the third child – only just big enough to fit a smaller-than-standard high bunk bed and a thin, tall but still too small chest of drawers.  Piles of his stuff and toys sit on the homemade, wonky shelves underneath the bed –  I keep tidying them but I can never get rid of the sense that the room is in a perpetual state of unloved disarray.  It is one of the resentments that Zach has about being the youngest child. But that’s another story.

Today we are arguing about bedtime. Again.

He is standing halfway up his small ladder, his boyish face full of undisguised anger toward me.  In that moment the feeling is mutual. I have a battle going on in my head between two voices, two instincts, two different views of the world.  And I can feel my body too: tense, scared, pumping adrenalin, getting ready to fight.

I hate this place. I hate it with a passion, and with a fear that I cannot seem to get away from, get over or control.  I visit this place often in my parenting life and it is the root cause of all my feelings of shame and unworthiness.

This is because being in this emotional place scares me into not loving my child.

In this emotional place I choose to protect myself rather than my child. My love for him cannot speak in this space, it’s like I cut it off, just to save myself.   What makes me do that?  I’m a mother for goodness sake – aren’t we meant to protect our children to the death?

What makes me do that?    What am I so scared of?   These questions have been on my mind for a while now. For years and years, in various forms.  Through the ups and downs, and through depression.  Long enough for me to now be really curious about the answer rather than mulling over it as a way of beating myself up.  Long enough for me to have extended enough love and compassion to myself despite acting like this, despite feeling I don’t deserve it.  Long enough to begin to forgive myself for this treacherous, unmotherly vice.

So we fight.  But this time I notice what I’m thinking and feeling. I desperately want to get to the bottom of these questions, which means I have to be mindful. I have to notice.

Here’s what I notice: I hate feeling so out of control, because it makes me act in mean and horrible ways.  I’m also feeling ashamed because I can’t control an 8 year old, and that triggers the shame of being a failure and a bad mum. I’m ashamed that I react so emotionally to such a normal parenting problem. So I’m angry at myself, but I’m also angry with him because he is spoiling everything.   It’s all his fault because he doesn’t need to be this unreasonable, this mean, this angry – it’s entirely unnecessary.  Why can’t we all love each other and be nice to each other?   Then I notice that I’m wracking my brains trying to work out what to do (not easy when you are so emotionally triggered). And this not knowing what to do is the ‘caught in the headlights’ moment.  Do I fight or flee?  My brain senses that I probably don’t need to do either – being calm and kind would probably solve the situation best of all, but that is impossible given the adrenalin already pumping through my veins. It ain’t gonna happen – unless I walk away and calm down.  I think about this for a second, then my ego steps in and shouts in my ear:  But HOW DARE HE?  So I’m back in with my boxing gloves on.  How dare he ignore what I say, and speak to me like that? In my own house, when I sacrifice EVERYTHING for him! How bloody dare he!?

So all this is going on in my head as I stand in his doorway unable to love him like a mother.

I don’t remember what happened in this instance, and I hope that I walked away.  But I probably didn’t because is has ended very badly many times. I’ve screamed at him until my throat is hoarse.  Or in an ice cold rage I’ve stood holding his door shut while he’s been crying inside. I’ve even turned his light off and held the door while he is screaming in fright. My little baby, begging me not to be mean to him.  Why and how could a mother do that? Because she needs to protect herself. Now can you see why I hate being out of control?  It’s all about the emotions ‘making’ me do things I wouldn’t normally do. Being who I am not. Except I must be, because this is me acting like this.

So why and how can a mother act like that?  I’m only trying to protect myself, like an animal caught in the headlights. Believe me, I know how weak that sounds.  But here’s the worst thing. Here’s the completely fucked up thing that is going on.

I’m trying to protect myself because I’m scared.  But the very thing I’m scared of is the thing I do when I’m scared. So being scared makes what I’m scared of happen.

So my fear is really a fear of the fear.  Which makes the fear come true.  That’s so messed up.

How on earth have I got myself in this situation?  Another question for me to answer.

After mindfully noticing what was going on on the threshold of Zach’s room, I began contemplating why I was so scared in the first place.

Firstly I concluded that there must be some trauma from my childhood embedded in my psyche for me to be so scared of negative emotions. True my parents weren’t a whole lot emotional, but I can never remember being aware consciously that emotions were bad.  Maybe somewhere inside me I was damaged and I needed to find out exactly what had happened so that I could heal myself and move on with life without getting so triggered by my uncomfortable emotions.

Next I read a book by Miriam Greenspan called Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair, and I understood that these emotions come along because we are human, and not necessarily because anything specific happened when we were children. It might have done, actually the probabilities are high, but either way we’re going to feel fear, grief and despair in our lives whoever we are.  It’s actually the fear and attempted avoidance of the fear, grief and despair that makes things seem so much worse. She even argues that it’s only by accepting and working through fear, grief and despair that we can really experience and enjoy gratitude, faith and joy. Brene Brown also argues that we cannot selectively numb; when we numb pain we also numb joy.

Then I thought about how my ego might be involved with all of this? My ego: that protective, monkey-like, child-like, scared, cheeky and rightious, easily humiliated, legacy part of my evolved human brain.  How big a part was it playing in all this fear and fear of fear?  Well probably quite a lot, mainly because I’ve allowed it to.  I sometimes think my ego is really me, and it’s voice is really my voice. So I listen when it says ‘How dare he?‘ and I agree, ‘yes, how dare he!‘ and I let my emotions whip up again.  And I listen when it says ‘if you let him speak to you like that, you are the biggest failure as a parent that the world has ever known! Loser!‘  And I say, ‘yes, you’re right. We can’t let that happen.  Better make him know his place. Better make him sorry.’  (Note: this never works…it only makes children and adults want REVENGE.)   And I listen when it says, ‘if you walk away now, he’ll have won. And then you’ll never be able to control him because you are conditioning him to act like this. Ramp it up baby! Ramp it up!‘  And, sadly, we all know how that ends.

So I realised that this wasn’t me being an awful, terrible mother. This was me being human.  And probably (I dared to hypothesise) it was all actually pretty normal, and not particularly unique to me. Please let it be so.

Here’s my current theory about what’s going on.  Long ago I established some reliable coping mechanisms to deal with negative emotions.  I took on the role as peacemaker, an emotional-smoother-overer, trying to make sure everyone was OK. And I suppose it worked a lot of the time. I could create harmony out of impending chaos or collaboration out of potential arguments. It felt good, so I did it more.  However it doesn’t work all of the time – and nor should it – emotions are there for a reason.  So my increasing failure to keep or create harmony when bringing up my family meant that each time a potential emotional situation reared its ugly head my fear ratcheted up a bit more, because the stakes were raised. The threat was higher, because defeat was more probable. So then the fear went up some more and so on until I find myself screaming at my 8 year old  – my gorgeous sensitive loving 8 year old – for getting out of bed. All because my coping mechanisms from years ago don’t work any more and I’m getting carried away by fear induced hormones that trigger my inbuilt flight or fight mode.  All the while aided and abetted by a very loud and unchecked ego.

Mmmm. What now?

My challenge is to work with my fear.  My fear of my fear of being a horrible mother.

First step – more noticing what is going on when fear visits.

Second step – more saying no to my ego and the stories it tells me.

Third step – more walking away when I feel triggered by fear and/or my ego.

Forth step – I don’t know.  That’s another blog post I imagine!

Let’s see what happens.

Wish me luck!

 

 

Written:  At home, on the table in my bedroom overlooking the garden.

 

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11Dec/15

The Meaning of Life

existingwithmeaning

 

This last weekend was a hard one.  Or rather, I seemed to find it hard.

Things could be ticking along all fine and dandy one minute, then the next I would become emotionally overwhelmed or red-hot angry.  On Saturday night I got so angry with my husband, for being mildly irritated by something I said, that I could only speak monosyllabically to him for the rest of the evening – which is so unlike me. I usually react immediately and get over it quickly.

At one point on Sunday I was suddenly hit with a such deep and intensive despair that I had to take myself off to bed for over an hour. It was as if my body commanded me to, in order to survive. I lay in the same curled up position for the whole time, slowly allowing myself to recharge and regain my equilibrium, trying to have faith in the whole damn emotional process.

It was not a nice place to be. But I’m learning that it’s an OK place to be. It’s a necessary part of life and mindfully attending to these moments or episodes and accepting them is the only way to learn about and heal ourselves.  Emotions like anger and despair are useful because they are usually telling us something important.  They act as a wake up call for us to examine our lives and attend to what needs to be attended to.

In my case, my anger was telling me I was upset that I hadn’t seen my husband all week due to his work, and all day due to him taking our youngest son to a rugby match in London.  My (ego’s) anger was triggered by him being irritated with me when he should be happy to be spending time with me after so long (!). But the real reason behind it was that I didn’t like not seeing him all week – again! Fucking again! And then you can’t even discuss minor parenting decisions without getting irritated with me! ‘Fuck this shit!’ said my ego, egged on by the clarity of alcohol.

The despair on Sunday was linked to this: it was a sense of hopelessness that nothing will change, and that I didn’t think I could bare the burden of being the only parent to our children during the week any longer. I can do it – and I do it well – but not in the way I could if I had a partner around to support me, and not without the cost of wearing myself out constantly. And not without the cost of not being true to myself, even burying myself.  I recognised the despair as the regular call from my heart saying: ‘We are not meant to live like this” And my anger was saying “We are not meant to FUCKING live like this!”

It is all to do with creating meaning. Of being fulfilled – which comes from living with purpose and meaning.  If I had a reason to live like this it would be OK.  For both of us to work hard in our separate ways in order to achieve our family dream, business dream, or sense of personal fulfilment would be OK.  We might not choose it, but we might, if the costs and rewards weighed up.   But for me, there is no clear meaning to our crazy, separate, stressful life.  This was confirmed to me in bright lights when I read the following passage on Sunday evening.

 

Meaning-making is a defining charactoristic of what it is to be human. As we need food in order to survive and grow, so too we humans seem to need a sense of meaning in order to thrive and to avert despair.  According to the psychiatrist Victor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau, the search for meaning is the primary motivational force in human beings.  Existing without purpose or meaning, for humans, is like existing without air.  You can only go for so long before you choke. A life without meaning chokes the soul. Spiritual suffocation is the bedrock of the emotion we call despair – and a major reason for its pervasiveness in a spiritually and morally vacuous culture.

 

So it seems that I need to work on making my life more meaningful and fulfilling. I can do this with my husband and my children but I must also do it for myself. What is meaningful to me?  What will make me get up everyday and get to it with energy, enthusiasm, and excitement?  What ingredients does my life need to have in it daily, weekly, monthly, and in the future to make me feel fulfilled? What needs to be in my life to counter the hard work and seperateness of our life now? What changes do I need to make?  What boundaries do I need to put in place?  And  how can I cultivate my gratitude and appreciation of life rather than focusing on the negatives?

I do have meaning in my life already of course.  I have 3 amazing children who I have chosen to bring into this world and to look after personally.  I have an understanding, loving husband and a community of family and friends who I love. What is missing is my own personal purpose.  And a joint life plan with Chris – my amazing, dynamic, creative husband. I just need to make it happen.  Not everybody needs this. But I do.  I need clarity and meaning otherwise my ego starts getting angry at people I love, or I find myself folding into the fetal position to make it through the day.

 

 

Written: Started at home, finished in the cafe at Southwater County Park, Horsham.

21Mar/14

What to do in an Emergency!

overwhelmed

This morning while preparing a workbook for a client, I came across an old worksheet that I’d created for another client.  I was feeling messy, disorganised and overwhelmed and the questions on the worksheet hit me square in the face.  A little voice said ‘This is what you need – right now!‘  So I delayed work and took ten minutes to do the worksheet. Here are my answers.

Q1: Describe in one sentence what is making you feel overwhelmed.

I feel overwhelmed because I feel I have so much stuff to do but am not organised so don’t know what to do.

Q2:  When you are feeling overwhelmed what thoughts keep running through your mind? Identify words, phrases, ‘shoulds’ & ‘whys’ that you keep repeating to yourself.  What do you keep saying over and over to yourself when you feel overwhelmed? Write these down.

It’s all such a mess.

I’m so disorganised.

I’m wasting time and time is so precious.

What can I do?

What should I do?

I can’t cope with all the clutter.

I’m so useless.

Here I am again!

I’ll never have a successful  business if I don’t sort this out.

I’ll never sort this out!

Q3: Take each one of these thoughts and rephrase it in a more positive, accepting, compassionate way.  This will be difficult, and you will probably not want to do this.  Step over this resistance, and force yourself to do it. Tell your gremlins, or your inner critic to back off.  If you are still fighting it, just do one.  But make sure it is your most dominant thought in times of overwhelm. [I just did two combined into one]

Overwhelmed thought: ‘It’s all such a mess, I’m so disorganised.’

Rephrased thought: ‘ I’m feeling disorganised and overwhelmed with the mess around me and my To Do list – and that’s OK. It’s only natural to have times every now and then when things get chaotic.  Instead of running around like a crazy thing in a panic, I can remember to breathe.  I can notice the spring flowers and the blue sky, the bright sunlight streaming through my office window and the hum of a distant lawnmower.  I can let peace and gratitude into my heart in this moment. I can nourish my soul and use my intuition to take a first small step . Compassion and action will help me. When I feel stronger I can work out how to be and feel more organised and gain more daily clarity. For the moment I am feeling calmer and happier – and that’s OK too.

Q4:  Finally, look at your rephrased, kind and positive thoughts and try and pull them together into one general statement that you can use in times of stress, anxiety and overwhelm.  You can still use all the rephrased thoughts aswell but it is useful to have one ‘motto’ which you find easy to remember when you need it most.  Below are a couple of examples:

I don’t want to be perfect.                                          I am doing a good job, keep going.

Take your time and prioritise.                                  Take a deep breathe and be kind to yourself.

My motto for today: Take a deep breath, notice the moment, and the world around you and be kind to yourself. You don’t always need to be in control….let it go….

Strangely this worked wonders.  It took the pressure off and I started thinking and feeling ‘Oh, it’s ok to feel overwhelmed sometimes. That’s alright then. Maybe I can just start with making some notes on a new blog post.’

When we do feel low, anxious, stressed or overwhelmed we often get stuck in our negative thoughts which makes the situation worse.  Accepting the situation for what it is – not what it could lead to and what it means about us – and distancing ourselves from it allows the judgements and the pressure to dissolve.  Not completely perhaps, but reducing it enough for us to take care of ourselves and get back on track.

emergency

16Mar/14
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Pay Yourself First

It’s Sunday and my favourite treat is a lazy morning reading in bed before breakfast. My husband and our youngest son go off to rugby training around 9am so the freedom of a few hours to ‘get things done’ mixed with the spring temperature and nourishing sunshine is inspiring me to start on some long neglected household chores, while my eldest two children do their homework.

As usual my head is buzzing with all the things I could do which would make me feel so much better – more organised and in control and hence lighter, more confident and happier. I could crack on with ironing the pile of school uniform. I could sort out our bulging ‘bits and bobs’ drawer, or do a spring clean of my wardrobe. I could cook healthy snack for the week, or do a bit of gardening.

But something stops me. I have a question for myself. Is it time to pay myself first?

My latest book is about creativity, by Dr Eric Maisel and quite honestly it has led to a huge shift in my thinking about myself, my own creativity, my bouts of depression and ultimately my happiness. He believes that creative people – whether they are artists, sculptors, musicians, scientists, chefs, writers or indeed anyone who has an urge to create things and be innovative – have a stronger need to make meaning in their lives. When this need is not met, depression all too easily creeps in. For me this explains so much about what I’ve struggled with during my life.

It’s taken 41 years for me to realise I am creative. Duh!

It’s taken 41 years and a lot of heartache for me to realise that my constant striving to create a successful career/coaching business is not the result of me needing to ‘prove’ myself to others but a powerful need to create a meaningful life and make a difference.

It’s taken me 12 years to realise that my dreams of creating a happy healthy family are not just an element of my perfectionist behaviour but also an innermost urge to do goings my way, to create a new (maybe better?) way of bringing up a family. Of creating compassionate, courageous, emotionally intelligent children who are more confident and happy than I have been. It’s a sign of my creative side that I want to be rebellious and innovative and not just accept that just because this is how everyone else does it, that I should too.

Dr Maisel advises that if you are a creative person like me, and I’m sure like many of you reading this, you should get your creativity done first. Do it first thing, when you get up. Pay yourself first. Put your oxygen mask on first, in order to help others.

So this morning I paid myself first. I’d been thinking of how to get my children, especially my older two to raise their expectations of what a Sunday is for. After homework, their goal seems to be centred around how many hours they can link on Minecraft or Clash of Clans on their iPods. During my peaceful breakfast sitting outside in the sun, listening to the birds I created what my daughter Jasmine labelled as a ‘habit planning goal tool’. (Photo)

I then resisted the strong urge to get on and get stuff done and sat down to write this. I haven’t written much on my blogs over the last year, and it feels good. Very meaningful to me. And hopefully insightful for you. Thank you for reading.

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23Oct/13

I’m not a fish!

How many times do you find yourself reacting to the people around you or the circumstances you are in as if you are on autopilot and have no choice how to behave?  And how many times do you notice this has happened after the event, rather than during or even before?

Very often? Yes, me too.

Our habitual emotional responses are triggered many times each day, and personally I’m not happy about it! Reacting automatically often means that I act in a basic, selfish, uncivilised kind of way, as if my intelligent, rational self has been bypassed.  I respond like a child or chimp would.  I don’t want to keep making the same mistakes over and over again, but I find it really hard to stop myself.

Here is a tip that I was given by an amazing woman who definitely lives life to the full. When you feel yourself being pushed along by your emotional reactions, or pulled into a fight by someone else, say the following mantra to yourself and take control of your response.

“I’m not a fish!”  “I am not a fish!”

Let me know how you get on.

29Mar/13

What They Didn’t Tell Us About Parenting.

Does it sometimes feel like you are the only person who struggles with the whole parenthood thing?  Why don’t our miraculous ‘bundles of joy’ bring us the happiness we thought they would?  Why don’t other parents talk about how hard it is?

Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman felt the same way.  Below is their funny and honest TED Talk which ‘exposes 4 facts that parents never, ever admit — and why they should.’

I watched this about 18 months ago and after the laughter, let out a huge sigh of relief that someone else was talking about these things that I wanted parents to talk about.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think by commenting below.

Many Thanks,

Thea

http://ted.com/talks/view/id/1036
22Mar/13

The Power of Vulnerability

TED Talk:  The Power of Vulnerability – Brene Brown

http://ted.com/talks/view/id/1042

This was the first TED Talk I watched.  It blew me away.  Not only is it funny and entertaining, Brene’s message is urgent and powerful for all of us.

Please comment below about what you thought and how you reacted to her talk.

Many Thanks,

Thea

15Mar/13

Do You Love New Ideas and Inspiration?

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If so…you need to know about TED.

about_ted

TED is a nonprofit organisation devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out, in 1984, as a conference bringing together people from three worlds:  Technology, Entertainment, Design.  Since then its scope has become ever broader, and covers almost any topic imaginable.

The goal of the foundation is to foster the spread of great ideas. It aims to provide a platform for the world’s smartest thinkers, greatest visionaries and most-inspiring teachers, so that millions of people can gain a better understanding of the biggest issues faced by the world, and a desire to help create a better future. Core to this goal is a belief that there is no greater force for changing the world than a powerful idea.

The two annual TED conferences, on the North American West Coast and in Edinburgh, Scotland, bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less).  These talks are then shared online at the TED website and watched by millions.

I love watching TED Talks, often when I’m doing housework or cooking dinner.  Some of them are funny, some make me think ‘Wow!’, others are thought provoking, and some really have changed my life.

Every Friday I will select a TED talk that I think will inspire, motivate and educate us all, and post it here.  I hope you enjoy them and share them with your friends if you do.

All the best,

Thea

http:www.ted.com/talks

14Mar/13

I’m in Charge!

Do you ever say this to your children?

I'm in charge

Most of us grew up being told  ‘Because I said so!’  either in words, or in the tone and meaning behind the command.  I knew my parents – especially my Dad – were in charge.  Yes, I had arguments with him in my teens, where I tried to explain my point of view but in the end, what he said was adhered to most of the time by my brothers and I.

Over the last year or so, I’ve resorted to telling my children (sometimes in a loud voice, otherwise known as shouting)  explicitly that ‘I’m in charge.’   I tell them that they can talk about decisions and rules they don’t like with me at another appropriate time, but when I tell them to do something, they have to do it – because I’m in charge. It’s my job to look after them, and I know best, so do as I say. Now!

A few short years ago, I would have been shocked that I would ever use this approach.  I was all for explaining the situation, discussing their fears, opinions and emotions, taking their imput into family rules and decisions.  I still am.  But at the right time.  I’ve come to realise that at some moments (sibling arguments, doing chores, stressful, busy or dangerous situations, for example) talking and explaining are not appropriate.  Clear instructions and discipline is.

I don’t enjoy it. It feels wrong.  It upsets them, and it upsets me.  It makes me feel like a heartless dictator.  But just because something is hard and uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  So often the doing the ‘right’ thing is also the harder option.  Kids need boundaries and strong parents, and I believe within a loving, supportive and emotionally intelligent family, blind obedience is appropriate at some times. (Well I believe it mostly – part of me still questions that if I was a better parent would I need to do this?)

So anyway, I’m writing about this because I used this phrase this morning.  I’m tired and jetlagged and I probably went from zero to 60 too quickly, and I probably shouted to loudly and rudely, so there is a sour taste in my mouth.  I don’t feel good about it. I need to remember to be calmer next time.  But overall, I think it is something that my kids need to understand, and be reminded of occassionally.

What do you think?  Please comment below.