Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Great News: You're Not Your Childhood Self

When I was a kid, I had a lot of nicknames...my dad is hilarious and often did silly things with our names to make us laugh.  He would tell us stories where it was obvious my siblings and I were the main characters, but every time we would call him on it, he insisted this story was about someone named Smathleen, not Cathleen.  And my sister and I would dissolve into giggles every time.  

In addition to Smathleen (which my dad will occasionally still call me and I laugh even more now), I also acquired the nickname Scarlett as a kid.  Why?  Because I was dramatic as all heck and I reminded everyone of Miss Scarlett O' Hara from Gone with the Wind.  

I didn't oppose to the name at the time...probably because my parents didn't think age 3 was the proper time to introduce me to Civil War era films.  As I got older, I began to understand that I was really only referred to as Scarlett when I was being super sensitive or dramatic about the tumult that was my life growing up in a cozy suburban home where I was deeply loved and all my needs were met.  For example, I would flail about making impassioned speeches whenever I, say, saw a bumble bee.  I would freak out at the slightest hint of tragedy.  For example, when I found out Crystal Clear Pepsi would no longer be a thing.  What?  I liked Crystal Clear Pepsi!

Once I grew old enough to be miffed about being referred to as a whiny southern debutante, my family appeased me by easing off the whole "Scarlett" thing.  I was still dramatic, but at least I was flailing less.  My impassioned speeches, however, remained well into high school, I'm afraid.  Thanks for putting up with me, mom and dad!  Consider this post an IOU.  

Maybe you're already seeing the irony here...that an overly-sensitive, overly dramatic girl who could hardly handle the ups and downs of growing up actually grew up to become a psychotherapist.  You know, the job where one enters voluntarily into the struggles of others, remains perfectly calm in every situation, and offers sound feedback when asked.  And I like to think I'm actually pretty good at it.  Life's pretty funny, isn't it?

One of the most common complaints I hear from my adolescent clients is "my parents still treat me like a kid...I'm not a kid anymore!"  And you know what?  They're absolutely right.  You know who else isn't a kid anymore?  Everyone over the age of 18. That said, it can be such a struggle for our family members to see us as anyone other than our childhood self.  Why?

Now that I'm a parent, I think I know.  We arrive in our parent's arms, tiny and helpless.  We depend on them for absolutely everything.  As we grow and change, they have a front row seat for every success and every failure.  They know our fears, our desires, our attempts at greatness.  As we are busy growing and changing, maturing, and forming our personality, our parents are busy keeping us alive and stuff.  So you know what may have escaped their notice (or perhaps caused them to notice at a slower rate than we would like)?  That we're growing up.  Changing.  Becoming our true selves.  

I think parents may notice at a slower rate than we would like them to because secretly, they are missing that dramatic little kid. She may have been loud and whiny, but she depended on them. She needed them, and they liked that.  Maybe they needed that, too.

I hear a lot of teens and adults tell me that their parents don't understand them; they still treat them like a child.  I don't think the family dynamics of early childhood ever really go away.  They still rear up in our conversations and confrontations.  Parents and siblings alike find themselves falling back again and again into the same old feelings and fights that began years ago, perhaps with the added frustration that comes with the sentiment things should be different by now.  

Unfortunately, that should will do nothing but frustrate you and potentially make you bitter.  Rather than focusing on those feelings of frustration, there are a few things you can do.  Remember that you can only control you.  You can choose how you will respond to these aggravating dynamics. You may decide to alter your behavior by setting boundaries for future conversations.  You may decide to avoid certain people altogether.  Or, you may choose to accept that while your family member means well, they probably aren't going to change anytime soon and you are prepared to let it go, let it be, rather than fighting back or having your joy stolen away.  Whatever you decide, try to believe the best of your family...nobody's perfect, and they are probably operating out of their own understanding of the relationships, which, if they're your parents, were formed long before you got here.  

Family relationships can be difficult, there's no doubt about it. The most important thing you can do when stressful yet familiar family dynamics play out is remember who you are now.  Whether or not anyone else in your family is aware, you are not your childhood self.  You have lived, you have grown, you have experienced.  You have suffered, you have celebrated, you have persevered.  You have loved, you have lost, you have evolved.  You can't force anyone to see how you've changed or who you've become...but when you recognize it yourself, and live in that reality, I can assure you that what they think of you becomes quite insignificant.  

Celebrate the ways you have changed, my friends...even if you're the only one who realizes you have. 

****If you're struggling to deal with difficult family dynamics or unresolved issues from your childhood, please email me today.  I'd be happy to guide you in a few, focused therapy sessions via Facetime, Skype, or telephone.  You don't have to journey alone!**






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