Monday, February 22, 2010

Dis*ap*point -verb (used with an object)

–verb (used with object)
to fail to fulfill the expectations or wishes of: His gross ingratitude disappointed us.

This word, this concept of disappointment has come up several times in the past few days. When something crops up like that, repeatedly, I try to give it some attention. How do you deal with people being disappointed with you? How do you deal with being disappointed by others? What does it even mean to you?

I had a client tell the other day that coming back to a therapy session was difficult because there was a fear that I would be disappointed in the client. I was a bit taken aback. I had to ask myself whether I was disappointed. The thought never occurred to me to be disappointed in my client. I reframed the thought and we moved on...

Later, I was talking with the parents of a youth and the word 'disappoint' caught my attention again. I had the privilege of being asked to baptize a teen that I'd worked with in my former role as a minister to youth in Oklahoma. Her mom told me that when talking to her daughter about being baptized, she asked, "If you know it is something you should do, why haven't you already done it?" Her daughter told her that she didn't want to be a disappointment to God. As I continued talking to the mother, I became curious what it meant to "disappoint" someone. She told me that growing up, she would rather her mother get angry at her than to be disappointed in her. I understand that concept, but I never really stopped to consider what it really meant.

With my own children, I try to avoid getting angry, or if I am, I at least try to be honest about it. Sometimes when I'm disciplining one of my kiddos, I have to wait until my anger dies down so I can think clearly and be more effective. When that happens and I'm able to talk to the whichever child it is, I have used that phrase. You know the one... "I'm very disappointed in you..." instead of "I'm very angry with you..." Before now, I thought I had a handle on what I meant, but now I'm not so sure.

Being bothered by not being sure, I started to think about what it meant to disappoint someone, or be disappointed in someone or something. Before I looked up the definition, I came to the conclusion that it had to do with 'expectations'.

If I expect something to be a certain way and the reality of that thing falls short of my expectation, I'm sure to be disappointed.
If I believe that someone expects a certain thing of me and I am unable/unwilling to meet that expectation, I'm sure to disappoint that someone.

So, really, does disappointment have to do more with perception of reality than it does with reality itself? What if I hold no expectations about a person or a situation? Does that mean I am immune to disappointment where that person or situation is concerned? Is it even really possible to hold *no* expectations?

Where this concept sticks in my craw is where it has to do with a person's perception of him or herself. How terrible is it to live with the idea that you have to meet a person's expectations of who or what you ought to be in order to not consider yourself to be a disappointment? Surprisingly I see it all the time, and not just with my therapy clients. I think it is a more pervasive problem than we like to admit.

Tonight, I wrote a message to a friend trying to explain that I was not going to add this friend to my contacts in Facebook. Note that I am being very specific in my wording in that previous sentence. I have a friend. A person that I value enough to consider a friend in real life. That friend wants to be a contact of mine on Facebook. Facebook uses the phrase, "Add this person as a friend" and creates an expectation. The unspoken phrasing is that if I do not add this person to my contact list, then somehow, that person is no longer my friend, or that I don't wish to be friends with that person. Voila! I have just disappointed my friend.
It is insidious, isn't it? How we create expectations (sometimes unwittingly, although I think the creators of Facebook did it on purpose to create this very situation) by creating perceptions that don't always reflect the reality of the situation.

In truth, not adding a person to my list of contacts on Facebook (or MySpace, or Twitter, or LinkedIn, etc) doesn't change anything. It just means I didn't add them to my contact list. It is not a venue in which I wish to interact with this particular friend. Could it mean something else? Sure. But does it?

In the situation with my children, where I use this concept of setting expectations and the possibility of disappointing me as a discipline tool... is that too manipulative? I don't think it has to be. As a parent, it is my sacred task to set clear, reasonable expectations for my children to grow and develop. I leverage my relationship with them, my love and affection for them, into behavior modification. But a parent has to be careful here, as it is easy to overdo it and create expectations that are unreasonable and leave a child feeling inadequate and unable to ever please the parent. Then they may end up in therapy later, wondering why they feel like a failure when they come home for the holidays despite their diplomas and six-figure salaries.

Perhaps I've spent too little time over the years working out how I disappoint or am disappointed by others. The more I think about it, the more I see how pervasive this idea, this concept truly is.

So, what can I do about it? First, I think it is probably a good idea to do some "meta-thinking", that is, thinking about how one thinks. Do you have reasonable expectations about things or do you always blow things out of proportion? Perhaps the opposite is true and you're too laid back and don't take things seriously enough. That is precisely the case I've seen in some pre-marital couples when they come to counseling. One member of the couple doesn't step up to the level of expectation of the other and it leads to all sorts of hidden resentment. So, step 1 is to consider your own expectations and evaluate whether they are reasonable.
Next, it is probably a good idea to think about what other's expectations are of you. Has someone set unreasonable or unachievable expectations on you that you've spent lots of time trying to live up to? How does that make you feel? Like a failure, hmmm? What if you were able to unshackle yourself from unreasonable expectations and say, "No, that is unreasonable. I refuse to be held to this unreasonable expecation." What would change in your life? In your relationships?
Let me know, would you? I'm really curious, and you don't want to disappoint your friend, do you?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Feeling like doing a survey....

It has been a while since I filled one of these out, so I thought I would just goof off a bit:

Welcome to the new 2010 edition of getting to know your family and friends. Here is what you are supposed to do, and try not to be lame and spoil the fun. Change all the answers so that they apply to you. Then send this to a bunch of people you know, INCLUDING the person who sent it to you.

Some of you may get this several times; that means you have lots of friends. The easiest way to do it is to hit 'forward' so you can change the answers or copy and paste. Have fun and be truthful!

1. What is your occupation right now? Currently, I'm working as a Case Manager for a State Funded program called STAR (Services to At-Risk youth and families). It involves going into homes and schools to do Solution-Focused Brief Therapy with adolescents and their primary caregiver(s). I really like the job, but not so much the required paperwork. I am also seeing clients in private practice at Texas Family Institute. Again, I love being a therapist. And, I've got the photography sideline that keeps me from getting overwhelmed.

2. What color are your socks right now? Black. Boring, huh? I have some socks that are more entertaining, but not enough pairs of them to wear them in rotation. For instance, my friend Beja gave me some red dress socks with black toe and heel, with little white Jolly Rogers on them. Love them.

3. What are you listening to right now? Ugh... a mix of odd noises. Down the hall, the kids have a CD player with children's tunes that they like to listen to as they go to sleep. In the living room, Amelia is watching IQ, a movie that she knows by heart. Of course, there is the clickety-click of the keys as I type... Music wise? Well, I've been collecting albums of Reliant K.

4. What was the last thing you ate? We had dinner at a friend's house and they served Mesquite smoked chicken. It was Delish!

5. Can you drive a stick shift? My first car, Bob (1983 Honda Accord) had a manual transmission. Before I had Bob, I had to learn to drive my Dad's 1987 CJ-7 Jeep. I love shifting and miss our cars that had stick shifts. :(

6. Last person you spoke to on the phone? I think I called Amelia to let her know that I needed to stay with Mary Hannah at a Girl Scout Cookie sales booth instead of just dropping her off. One of the other adults who was supervising had to run an errand so I stuck around and sold a truckload of cookies.

7. Do you like the person who sent this to you? I'm not going to mention whose note I copied this from, but suffice it to say that I haven't spoken to or interacted with this person in a while, it just happened to be in my "note feed" when I went looking for a survey to fill out.

8. How old are you today? I'm 33 as of today. Interestingly, we had Eleanor's (my youngest daughter) birthday party today. She turns 5 years old next week.

9. What is your favorite sport to watch on TV? Probably football. I'm not a big sports person, so I don't have any favorites (teams, sports). Football is the one that I watch most often when I watch something. I can't remember ever watching an complete event of another sport on TV, now that I think about it.

10. What is your favorite drink? I've gotten to know several drinks recently. A friend gave me a two-cup coffee maker for a graduation present and I've been using it to brew single cups of Tea, Chai Spice Tea. Then I put in some vanilla chai creamer for a double chai kick. It is great. My favorite juice is grape juice. Given a choice of soft drinks, I prefer Vanilla Coke. I'm not a big fan of much alcohol, but when I do imbibe, I like fruity drinks where you can't really taste the alcohol much.

11. Have you ever dyed your hair? Not permanently. I've done some youth events where we played around with spray in color, but it all washes out.

12. Favorite food? Potatoes. Bake 'em, Fry 'em, Put 'em in a stew. Seriously, I'm a big fan. My favorite is probably the way they prepare them in Europe, particularly in Belgium, where I used to live. Pommes Frites mit Curry Katsup. My absolute fave.

13. What is the last movie you watched? In the theater? Avatar in 3D, or, as Amelia and I jokingly dubbed it: Fern-hontas, by Gully (A mash up of Pocahontas and Fern Gully, two movies with almost identical plots)

14. Favorite day of the year? I don't know that I have a favorite day. I have favorite times: When I have time to relax and travel or be with friends and family. So holiday times are nice (except when they involve a lot of stress and planning)

15. How do you vent anger? I don't get very angry and when I do, I'm generally just grumpy at people for a while... Amelia says that I usually talk about it in a generally annoying therapeutic way.

16. What was your favorite toy as a child? I remember that I had a lot of Star Wars toys for a while as a young child. Don't recall a particular favorite... perhaps I should ask Mom or Dad if they remember one specifically. For a while, I did carry around a stuffed Ewok doll.

17. What is your favorite season? I like colder weather, generally, but I also appreciate springtime.

18. Cherries or Blueberries? Cherries, I think. For a while in Germany, we lived in a house that was adjacent to a cherry orchard.

19. Do you want your friends to e-mail you back? If the email requires a response, sure. Most of the emails I send do get replied to. However, I'm a bigger fan of having people comment on my statuses and notes (hint, hint). :)

20. Who is the most likely to respond? No idea. In fact, I'm not a fan of this question in every survey. Fill the survey out for the survey's sake, people. Don't try to predict who will validate your efforts by returning the survey.

21. Who is least likely to respond? See answer above.

22. Living situation? Finally in a rental house with just the four others in my immediate family. We're loving it.

23. When was the last time you cried? I'm actually a sympathetic crier and find myself tearing up sometimes with my clients when they are processing something difficult. For my own emotional release, I think the last time I cried was thinking about my kiddos and diabetes and the unfairness of it all.

24. What is on the floor of your closet right now? Unopened boxes of organizational apparatus, a lock box with personal papers. It is probably the least cluttered room of my house.

25. Who is the friend you have had the longest that you are sending to? I don't know that I'll tag anyone for this note when FB finally imports it from my blog.

26. What did you do last night? Hung out with the family. My last client was at 4pm and then I came home and had dinner and cleaned house a little and just hung out. Great friday night.

27. What are you most afraid of? People finding out how insecure I am. I sometimes feel like I'm just a breath away from people seeing me as a failure. Mostly, I know that this is not very true, but sometimes it sneaks up on me and tries to get me to buy into the lie.

28. Plain, cheese, or spicy hamburgers? I heart hamburgers... all varieties.

29. Favorite dog breed? Mid-sized ones that are friendly without being threatening.

30. Favorite day of the week? Thursday

31. How many states have you lived in? I've resided in more than a few, but the ones I have memories of living in: Texas, Oklahoma, Florida. When I was very young, my parents lived in several others with us kids, but I don't have many memories of those stays. However, I have lived in several countries as well, with my father being in the USAF. Athens, Greece; Kaiserslautern, Germany; Klein Brogel, Belgium have all been places that I've called home.

32. Diamonds or pearls? I like all the Pokemon sets :) (You have Ethan to thank for this silly response)

33. What is your favorite flower? Don't really have a favorite to look or smell, but my favorite to say is "Chrysanthemum"

34. Favorite place traveled? Germany. I would love to go back to central Europe and travel more.

35. What do you do for fun? I like to play with photographs, play board and role playing games, spend time with friends and family, cook, read, goof off on the internet, watch movies...

36. Dream job? Playtester for a game company

37. if you could travel in time what would you do? Visit different time periods, strictly to observe.

38. Have you met your “soul mate”? Jesus! :)

39. Most bizarre thing you’ve done? I decided to be the person that God created me to be. This is bizarre mainly because I think that many people never do it, so it makes me special.

40. Favorite thing about yourself? I like to think that I try to see the best and believe the best about a person, even if I don't particularly like them or enjoy their company.

End of survey. -jeff

Monday, February 8, 2010

Full plate.

Okay, so I'm working on a metaphor here and I would appreciate your feedback. One of the concepts in therapy is that of Differentiation (click here for an explanation). I've used the idea of having a full plate that keeps getting stuff piled on it to explain to clients how they are taking on someone else's anxiety for them, or "By holding their anxiety, you are doing for them what they ought to be doing for themselves". Anyhow, if you have time, please read the following narrative and post feedback. Thanks!

The full plate: A metaphorical narrative.

Josie was a sweet person. She cared deeply about people that were in her life and hated to disappoint them. However, she was having some trouble because she was feeling pretty overwhelmed with stress. She was in college and now, in her second year, classes were starting to get a little tougher. Josie was having to study harder and lately her mom had been pressuring her about her friendships. Actually, she was pressuring Josie to spend less time with school and more time connecting with friends. Josie knew that her mom had never taken any college classes and considered it a waste of time. After all, she had done just fine for herself with just a beautician’s license and she knew that Josie was just putting on airs. So, when Josie came over to the house one evening, her mom launched into another lecture on how it was time for Josie to stop trying to get ahead and start taking care of what she was capable of becoming. Josie’s mom had always been a little critical and never had any problems telling Josie what she thought Josie ought to be doing. The problem was, Josie had made some mistakes in the past and in those circumstances, her mom had been right. So, part of Josie doubted herself and trusted that her mom knew what was best for her. Another part of Josie knew that going to school would give her more opportunities for her future. It was frustrating, dealing with the anxiety that grew from those feuding parts of herself. Her mom knew that she was struggling with those things, so she took some of her own anxiety and verbally dumped it onto Josie’s plate. Whew, now that she’d vented her opinion about Josie’s activities, her mom felt much better! Josie, on the other hand, left her mom’s house with her already full plate piled high with not just her worry and anxiety, but also her mother’s junk.

Josie tried to go about her routine; study for class, put in a few hours at work, go to school, clean up her apartment. However, she couldn’t shake the anxious feeling that maybe her mom was right. She called her boyfriend to visit with him about how she was feeling. Seth, Josie’s boyfriend, didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy for her. He told her that it was just another example of her mom trying to run her life. Besides, he was angry with her because she hadn’t called in three days. He told her that he couldn’t live without her and that she needed to check in with him so he didn’t have to worry about her. She knew better than to ask why he didn’t just call her if he was worried. Last time that happened, he’d yelled at her about how he did all the work in their relationship and he made her feel really guilty, so she just kept quiet. Seth did that a lot: take his own anger about things and twist their conversations so that the problems in their relationship were Josie’s fault, not his. He was angry and scared about his situation because he’d been laid off yesterday and this verbal exchange gave him the opportunity to take some of his anxiety off his own plate and put it on Josie’s. Once he did that, he felt a little better. Josie, on the other end of the phone line, looked at her already overflowing plate and began to despair. She could felt like she could barely handle her own issues and now, she’d let her mom and her boyfriend dump some of their anxiety on her plate, too.

Josie’s best friend, Georgia, asked her to lunch. Georgia sat across from Josie and commented on how full Josie’s plate looked. “How did you manage to get all that piled on there?” asked Georgia, good-naturedly. Josie began to explain, all in a rush, about her problems. Without realizing that she was doing it, Josie began to spoon all the excess from her plate onto Georgia’s. Georgia laughed and pointed out, “Jo, you’re trying to do to me what your mom and Seth did to you!” Embarrassed, Josie scooped it all back onto her own plate. Georgia told her, “I’m not upset, hon. I understand how overwhelming this must be for you, but let me show you a better way to handle this stuff.” Georgia called the waitress over and asked for some to-go boxes. When they arrived, Georgia asked Josie to tell her again about the issues she was dealing with. As Josie talked, she and Georgia moved the junk that Josie’s mom and Seth had dumped on her plate into separate boxes. Once she got the stuff off her plate, Josie immediate felt better. “But what do I do with those?”, she asked her friend, gesturing toward the Styrofoam containers. Georgia asked, “Does that stuff belong to you?” Josie caught on and laughed at her friend. “I think I get it now!” She and Georgia spent the rest of their lunch talking about Josie’s stress and Josie managed to not spoon any onto Georgia’s plate. Georgia said, “See, it is possible to deal with this stuff and still maintain a healthy relationship, like our friendship. I’ll always be here for you, but these are things that you have to manage for yourself.” They hugged and promised to get together again soon. As Georgia left, Josie knew she needed to drop off a few items with her mother and her boyfriend that she didn’t want to carry around any more. She would let them learn the same lesson she’d just learned about dealing with one’s own anxiety and issues.

Again, I would appreciate feedback; therapeutic, grammatical or just informative.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Magic glasses

Dear _____________,

While I was talking to you today, my heart hurt for you. You told me about all the things that were troubling you. You were scared and worried and overwhelmed. Despite your past experience of having lived through plenty of other hard situations, you doubted that you would come through this one.

It wasn't just one thing weighing you down, it was a series of misfortunes, as if Life had conspired to dump trouble upon trouble all at once in your life. All my reassurances fell on deaf ears. You weren't able to accept the viewpoint I was offering: hope, empathy and comfort. Things won't always be this way, I told you. But anxiety and worry drowned out my words to you.

You probably still can't accept it, but I wish that I could give you a glimpse of what I see in you. I wish there were magic glasses that I could let you borrow that would allow you to see yourself as I see you. I know your story, tales of resilience and overcoming impossible odds. Negativity has clouded your remembering, but I know the truth: you've made it through some pretty tough times, and you've done it with grace and dignity. You're stronger now that you used to be and yet you still listen to that doubting voice inside you that tells you that you're not good enough and that you deserve what is happening in your life.

If you could put on these magic glasses and see in you what I see in you, your self-doubt would evaporate like the morning vapors as the sun begins to warm the earth. I'm not being overly positive here, I've seen you handle adversity. There is a part of you that is capable of making those tough decisions and dealing with the outcome. There is a part of you that rises to each challenge. I won't pretend that it has always been easy, but the fact is that you are here and that you are surrounded by the evidence of your triumph thus far. So I wonder how you were duped into believing that what you are facing now is insurmountable.

With magic glasses, your self-confidence would be restored. Not an arrogance, just a surety that you are capable and resilient. I think these magic glasses would help you to see not just yourself as you really are, but it would help you keep the right things in perspective. You see, those voices that crowd you and try to shout you down are there for a reason. They serve a purpose; to help you and protect you from being hurt. But they've taken on more than their appointed role. They're trying to make your decisions for you, trying to force you to act out of your worry and anxiety. These glasses would help you to appreciate their input, but help you to understand that they don't have all the information.

Maybe that is why I can imagine having these glasses, these magic lenses that magnify your strength and beauty; because I don't have the voices of self-doubt to interpret what I'm seeing in life. I wonder, though, if you could imagine borrowing my glasses. Would you be able to see yourself differently? Would it make a difference in your life?

I remember the words of Winnie the Pooh to Christopher Robbin:
"If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together.. there is something you must always remember. you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. but the most important thing is, even if we're apart.. i'll always be with you.”

Here is the secret; the magic that powers the glasses that allows me to see the strength in you is similar to the bond between Pooh and Christopher Robbin. It is relationship. But while theirs is a fictional story, it mirrors the reality of my relationship with you. I know that you have that strength and beauty in there because that is how I made you. When I breathed the breath of life in you, I placed a piece of myself in there. It may be true that you couldn't make it.... on your own... but if you could only see the YOU I see... it contains a part of ME, so I know that it contains all it needs to overcome the world, because I've already done it for you.

I love you.