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When To Walk Away and When To Get Closer

I had a very interesting chat with a friend of mine today and it brought up a subject that I think will be beneficial to you.

My friend rang me just before taking her 65-year-old mother to hospital to get a diagnosis on a breast lump. The mother has already said that if it is cancer, she doesn’t want any treatment for it. She has her reasons for this, and this is probably another subject to write about another time.

My friend said that her feelings were fluctuating between accepting that her mother is already refusing treatment, which could mean (in the worst case scenario) nursing and watching a much-loved member of her family through a terrible illness. This obviously makes her feel sad. On the other hand, she thinks about how selfish her mother is being. This leads her on to consider all the things her mother should fight for; such as her grandchildren and her children, and this makes her feel angry. She said that she can understand her mother’s wishes but it doesn’t make her feel any more at ease about it. Her attempts to think logically is not congruent with the way that she feels.

A little before this conversation, we had discussed her 22-year-old daughter’s tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend and the simple but disastrous mistakes they were both making. Ultimately, we spoke about stepping back from getting involved. As a mother, my friend had tried to become the peacekeeper, which is admirable. However, as a result she became the burden bearer when anything went wrong. Therefore, not only had she become the shoulder to cry on for her daughter, but also the financial assistant, nanny, chauffeur and bed and breakfast at any given moment. She was frustrated as her daughter was repeatedly making mistakes in the relationship but seemed unwilling to change her behaviour, regardless of the impact it was having on those immediately involved with her, especially her 9 month old daughter.

My friend has tried everything she can to help her daughter but ultimately, she has no control over what other people do, say and think. She has invested a lot of emotional energy into this relationship problem and it has left her feeling frustrated. Particularly because it is impeding on her abilities to focus on how she can effectively deal with the sad news of her mother.

My advice to her was to take a very big step back from it. It is not her relationship and she cannot tell other people how to live their lives. She was ‘investing’ so much of her emotions in her daughter at one stage, that it was almost like it was her relationship.

My friend then asked me what she could do about how to feel at peace with her mother’s decision. I told her this:

In order to really understand someone and to be able to understand their thoughts and behaviours, you have to become them. I don’t just mean saying things to yourself like: “I can see why she did that.” I mean you have to really become them. Step inside their shoes and get under their skin. You need to take on their thoughts, their actions and mannerisms. Consider their version of the world – of their life as they perceive it, not how you perceive it to be. Then, and only then, do you get a true picture of what their life means to them. The decisions that they make and the behaviours they display become far easier to understand and accept.

With regards to her daughter’s relationship, she needed to take a big step back. Back into her own life instead of taking on the burdens of someone else’s. In contrast, in order for my friend to understand her mother’s decisions she needs to step forwards. It is important for her to get so close that she becomes her mother so that she can find a way for her head and her heart to understand and feel the same about whatever decision her mother makes.

Immediately she replied “But that scares me!” I agreed and explained that the reason that it is scary, is because emotions are involved. You may be aware of others that have said “It’s easy to sort out other people’s problems but I can’t sort out my own.” When you are having to deal with something that is close to you it evokes emotion, and normally not pleasant emotions. Our instinct is to run from anything that makes us feel bad. Why? Because it is painful.

Humans are not great lovers of pain. We have devised many ways to deal with our most painful experiences; like pushing them to the back of our minds. This option is not always available to us. Sometimes life forces us to face our fears. These fears can overwhelm us causing anxiety and sometimes panic. More often than not, this is because we are seeing and thinking about the experience from our own point of view. We are thinking about how it will affect me? As a consequence, what will I lose? It stands to reason that saying such things to yourself is going to produce a whole host of answers. These answers will be your worst case scenarios and therefore, you are very likely to feel terrible about it.

Changing your perspective can help enormously. In the case of my friend and her mother, I asked her to put herself in her mother’s shoes. I asked her to consider it as her bad news. That this is happening to her at aged 65 with that life. Having made this decision, how would you want others to react around you? By becoming the other person and therefore looking back at yourself as a third-party, it can bring new perspectives, new lessons to learn from, and new thoughts and feelings that you would never have achieved had you stayed in your perspective only.

We all have relationships, with family, friends, work colleagues and acquaintances. Are there any relationships in your life that you need to move closer to or do you need to back away?

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