Thanks so much to Josie Thomson for coming onto Studio10You this morning to talk about her journey back from cancer with the help of conventional medicine combined with meditation. Your generosity in making your CD – Simple meditation for busy people available to download for free on your website is fabulous.
Anyone interested in learning this valuable life skill can contact Josie directly at www.josiethomson.com.au
I ran into a young man this morning who has recently lost a friend in tragic circumstances. I had heard what had happened, so when I saw him I told him how very sorry I was. He looked incredibly sad and thanked me for my thoughts, but was quick to point out that he wasn’t the person who’d been most affected. There are people who were much closer to him, he told me. The idea being that he shouldn’t be given much sympathy or empathy because there were more deserving people. While it’s a lovely sentiment to remember that others are suffering just as much or more than us, it’s still important to allow ourselves to grieve.
It’s a very common strategy – to remind ourselves that others are worse off and sometimes it even makes us feel a little better. But it’s also healthy to have some temporary self-pity. It’s perfectly understandable if you are disappointed to have missed out on a promotion or upset that you didn’t succeed at an auction for your dream home. Your newly diagnosed illness may not be terminal, but it’s still okay to be distressed or even devastated before you learn to adjust to living with the symptoms. Couples who experience fertility issues after they have already had one child still struggle.
It’s even okay to complain a little about the small things that can upset or irritate us. Yes, we don’t want to sweat the small stuff, but a little sweating before we put things in perspective is perfectly normal.
It’s equally important not to enforce this way of thinking onto another person. It’s not terribly empathic to tell someone that there are others who are facing tougher times. Far better to validate their feelings by saying that you’re sorry to hear about whatever they’re going through.
We are incredibly resilient creatures. We are adjusting to life’s rocky road all the time. We just shouldn’t feel bad if we take a brief detour down an emotional path before rejoining the road to recovery.
On Christmas Day, we will have four extra people around our table. If they didn’t come to us, they would be alone. What’s so lovely is that I didn’t invite them, my daughter did. She wasn’t comfortable knowing that our extended family would be enjoying time together while others were on their own.
A lot of people find the holidays extremely difficult – those who are grieving, those whose families live overseas or interstate, and those who are struggling with depression. It can also be a hard time for couples dealing with fertility issues, those whose relationships have recently ended, and children whose parents are not coping after a split. Many people would prefer to bunker down and wait for the festive season to end. We obviously need to respect people’s wishes to do what’s best for them.
But there are many others who don’t want to impose on anyone else but would jump at the chance to be included – we just have to ask. And then there are those who don’t want to join in a big celebration, but would certainly love some company over this difficult period. Taking an hour to drop by with some Christmas cheer may be the difference between a person feeling totally isolated and invisible to feeling valued. Such a simple gesture can mean the world to someone else. What a fabulous life lesson to give to our children.
As a general rule, whatever we feel like doing is usually the opposite of what we need to be doing for our physical and mental health. When we are lacking energy for example, we often crave sugar. But is that what we actually need? Probably not. We really need some protein, or some exercise, or some sleep!
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to give in to that desire to withdraw socially. When we’re not feeling confident or we are feeling down, there is often this strong compulsion to hide away at home and see no one. The trouble is, when we avoid socialising, our confidence and mood drops ever further. If we force ourselves to accept that invitation to meet a friend for coffee or have dinner with a mate, we usually come away feeling a bit better.
Exercise is often avoided due to a lack of energy or motivation. But what’s the best way to increase energy and motivation? Exercise.
In fact avoidance nearly always makes things worse. Avoiding ringing that person you think you’ve upset, staying clear of bridges or tunnels for fear of collapse, or ignoring that lump you noticed months ago are all going to potentially cause more problems. Play the opposite game – ring your friend, tackle the smallest bridge you can find, make an appointment with the doctor.
Most of us are great at giving others advice. Notice how many times you’ve advised a friend or family member to do the opposite of what they’re wanting to do. Now it’s time to give yourself that same great advice.
We are the parents, we should know best – or do we? When it comes to adolescent romance, it can be hard for parents not to interfere. We are understandably protective of our children’s feelings – no matter how old they are. We want to make sure that they end up with someone fabulous. We want to stop them from getting hurt and making bad decisions. But not only is it unrealistic to think that we can shield them from any pain, we may actually be causing some of that pain if we meddle in their relationships.
Adolescence is a time of insecurity and self-doubt. Rejection is keenly felt and acceptance and popularity are so important. Our job is to be their greatest fans and their strongest supporters. We may not be the best relationship counsellors. That’s because we take our years of wisdom and experience and try to put their issues through our baggage-laden filters. If we have been cheated on, we risk teaching them that boys or girls can’t be trusted. If we have been crushed by rejection or abandonment, we risk teaching them to take control of things by dumping someone before they get dumped themselves. If we have been blissfully happy in our relationships, we risk teaching them that any conflict should be a deal-breaker.
If your child is happy in a relationship, be happy for them. If your child is having relationship issues, be a non-judgmental sounding board and allow your teenager to come to his or her own conclusions. If you don’t like your adolescent’s boyfriend or girlfriend, try to see more of them. By having them spend time with your family, they might start to grow on you as you get to know them, or your child might come to see what you see.
It’s just as important that we don’t attach too strongly to our teens’ partners because that may make it difficult for everyone if the relationship breaks down. Our children shouldn’t stay in a relationship to keep us happy. And herein lies the tricky path we must negotiate – staying neutral, yet supportive. Unless of course you see anything worrying. If your child is being treated really badly or you are worried about the negative impact the relationship is having on them (they are more withdrawn, losing confidence, or becoming insecure), then gently express your concerns and encourage them to talk about how they’re coping in this relationship. Tell them how much they are loved and how they deserve to be treated. Then sit back and hope that they make a good decision.
The benefits of incidental exercise have been drummed into us for years – get off the bus early and walk the rest of the way; take the stairs instead of the lift; get out of your chair and walk to chat to a colleague instead of sending an email. Incidental couple time is just as easy.
Most relationship counsellors push the idea of couple time where the relationship can be nurtured and intimacy restored. But many couples are too busy with work or children to spare an evening or a weekend to be together without interruption. It’s also expensive to routinely use babysitters and eat out. So while I will join the chorus of counsellors recommending spending a regular night together or a weekend away, here are some ways to enjoy some incidental couple time:
- If the children are all out, don’t do chores – do something together, anything!
- It can be difficult to find time for romance so enjoy a “quickie” every now and then
- Meeting for a 15 minute coffee is an easy way to reconnect – it doesn’t have to be a meal
- Have a conversation over SMS or email – keep it light-hearted or sexy
- If your partner has an errand to run, go along for the chance to talk in the car
- If you’re meeting friends at 7.30pm, leave half an hour earlier and stop and have a chat over a glass on wine beforehand
- Finding 10 minutes to have a cup of tea together on the weekend should be doable – it’s good for the kids to see you talking and laughing instead of always being busy
Most of us can remember snatching any time to be together in the early days of our relationship. Sharing incidental couple time can take you back to those fun days of lust and freedom.
A woman recently told me that she was shocked to learn that her adult daughter was still upset about a minor incident that happened 30 years ago. The daughter had actually made frequent references to the fact that her brother had been taken on a weekend away and she hadn’t. Each time it was brought up, the mother had pointed out how long ago this had happened and had explained why she had not been taken on the trip. What’s wrong with my daughter?; this woman asked me. Why can’t she move on?
Put simply, if a person is having trouble letting something go, it’s because they don’t think that their feelings have been acknowledged or validated. I encouraged this woman to resist the urge to defend her decision all those years ago and to simply tell her daughter that she can imagine how upset she must have been to have been left behind. In this woman’s case, the mum had to say it twice before the daughter said: Thanks Mum, that means a lot. It’s amazing how easy it can be to release a long term hurt if it’s acknowledged.
Couples often come into counselling with a bucketful of resentment. These hurts can feel insurmountable because the couple has argued about the same issues time and time again. But often, true validation has never been given. Instead, I hear people apologising and defending their behaviour, which although important, doesn’t quite cut it. For any apology or defence to be heard, there needs to be some acknowledgement of the pain that was caused. If you want to help your partner move on, try saying things like;
I can only imagine how upset you were that I went to work instead of picking you up from the hospital.
You must have been so angry and hurt that I invited the person who had hurt you to my 30th.
It must have been so distressing when I didn’t go to your mum’s funeral.
You must have felt betrayed when you saw those text messages on my phone.
Once your partner (or child or friend) has heard you truly validate their feelings, they are far more likely to hear the reasons for your behaviour and you would have gone a long way towards helping them move on.
We all have triggers – those people or situations that constantly spark feelings of frustration or anger. We can avoid some of our triggers, but if you’re easily frustrated by other drivers, your sister, or a colleague, avoidance is difficult (and not healthy). A helpful way to build tolerance for bad drivers or challenging people is to make a series of predictions.
Getting easily frustrated by other drivers is probably the easiest place to start making predictions. Defensive driving is all about assuming that others will make mistakes and being prepared for all eventualities. If you’ve ever taught a teenager to drive, you’ll know how often you have to point out that other drivers may not indicate, may not stop at a stop sign or a red light, or may suddenly do a U-turn in the middle of the road. Experienced drivers can often predict when someone wants to turn right without indicating or when someone is looking for a parking spot without any consideration of who’s behind them. In other words, if you put your mind to it, you can predict a lot of the behaviour that frustrates you. To increase tolerance when driving, see how many times your predictions come true. Celebrate successful guesses and feel your frustration decrease and your tolerance increase.
If your child is consistently irritable when they’re tired or hungry, no doubt you’ve already created strategies for keeping your own anger at bay at danger times, which are all based on the idea that you know when they’re not at their best. And if a colleague, extended family member or friend pushes your buttons, you can also prepare yourself by making a prediction about what they will say or do that would usually annoy you. Smile inwardly when your prediction comes true. See how others’ actions hurt less when we stay in observation mode – just observing other people in a non-judgmental way.
To some extent, how well siblings get on with one another is just luck of the draw, but personality traits, level of hardship experienced, age gaps, and the number of children all play a role. All parents dream of creating a family in which their adult children remain close and support each other through life. Sadly, but not surprisingly, sibling rivalry is very common and the competitiveness and resentment can last way into adulthood. Although there is no guaranteed formula for preventing family feuds, there are some ways to promote sibling harmony:
- Give children the chance to sort out their own squabbles. As long as it’s not getting too rough or abusive in any way, kids can be fighting one minute and giggling the next. When we jump in too quickly, we risk dividing them rather than allowing them to come together.
- Try not to reward disloyalty. Call it dobbing or telling tales – but if we act on the word of one child over the other, we reinforce this behaviour and another opportunity for them to sort it out for themselves goes begging. If one child tells you that they have been hurt in some way, encourage them to stand up for themselves. If a child is dobbing on a sibling for some wrong doing, remind them that you’re the parent and they needn’t worry about policing their brother or sister’s behaviour.
- Don’t give one power over the other. Unless there’s a large age gap, giving an older child the responsibility of looking after the younger children can lead to resentment. Instead, it’s good to give them all age-appropriate responsibilities.
- Encourage siblings to advise each other. Family dinners provide the perfect opportunity to workshop various dilemmas. If one child is having problems with a teacher or a friend, encourage the other children to offer their advice on what to do. They often have far better ideas on what works in the classroom or in the playground than we do.
- Be proud when they are united against you. Whenever you hear one child sticking up for another, know that you’re doing a good job. When you hear them say Don’t listen to Mum or Dad – that won’t work, try this …., be pleased. You might still overrule any class action your children attempt to take against you, but at least you know that their relationship with each other is getting stronger and stronger.
- Never divide and conquer. If you complain to one child about another, then you can unconsciously be aligning them to you by making them feel special. Instead, model empathy and compassion by expressing concern about a child who is acting out and vent to your partner or close friends instead.
There’s been a lot of discussion on the dangers of over-praising children and on creating adults with a sense of entitlement. But just because we shouldn’t tell our children that they are simply brilliant at everything they do doesn’t mean that we can’t support their dreams. Perhaps they want to represent their country in some way or maybe they want to be the Prime Minister or a Nobel Prize winning scientist. Younger kids dream of being in the police force or on stage. Whatever their dream, what’s the best way to support them?
For really young children, it’s easy to respond with something like: Wow – a fireman, that would be great or I can see you in green and gold. Parents know that little kids change their mind from week to week, so support is often in the simple form of an encouraging smile.
When they are in Primary School, their dreams can stay fixed for a period. They can be really focused on the idea of being a ballet dancer or a Hollywood star. We need to resist the urge to warn them that stardom is not all it’s cracked up to be or that their genetic makeup may limit their future as a dancer. Instead, talking about their dreams is a wonderful opportunity to bond. Questions such as: Why do you love ballet? What do you think life in Hollywood would be like? Who do you look up to? allow us to get to know our children who are growing up so quickly. At the same time they get the message that we care about them and we love hearing about their dreams.
Adolescence is the time when we want to really start teaching important life lessons. But again, we want to be careful not to crush their dreams and their confidence as a result. When they express that they want to swim in an Olympics or write a prize winning novel, we don’t need to point out how hard those goals are to achieve. If they say they want to be a doctor and their grades don’t seem to be heading in the right direction, it’s tempting to try to manage their expectations. When a teenager chats about what they want to do with their life, we can grab the chance to talk about setting smaller goals on the way to achieving dreams. Asking them what they think they need to do to make their dream a reality is a fabulous way to show support without over-praising.