“Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed; to kindness, to knowledge, we make promise only; pain we obey.” – Marcel Proust, author
“… HE WAS NOT THE CLIENT…IT WAS HIS MOM,…”
Kalinda first contacted me two years previously. She was a middle aged bookkeeper, married to her second husband, Jeremy, for over 20 years. They had a son, Oram, aged 19. Kalinda was a tall, slight woman with lots of nervous energy reflected in a continuous stream of friendly chatter. Kalinda said she wanted me to help her son who was struggling in high school, even though she was convinced, he was ‘a very smart kid.’
I met with Kalinda, her husband and her son. Jeremy presented as a submissive spouse trying hard to keep his family intact. Oram was a pretty typical teenager struggling with the demands of high school. But, he seemed more frustrated with an overprotective, nervous, domineering mom, who tended to speak for him.
I think Oram agreed to work with me, more to placate his mom, than anything else. He politely attended two sessions, but, seemed to be just going through the motions. He then cancelled the next two sessions. My follow up calls, and emails, to him and his mom were not returned. It was clear, he was not the client…it was his mom, Kalinda. I made a note on Oram’s file to this effect, and closed it.
“… SHE ARRIVED ALONE SAYING NEITHER JEREMY, NOR ORAM, WOULD AGREE TO COME…”
Then, Kalinda contacted me again, saying Oram was struggling even worse now, and she wanted to bring in him to talk about it. She also said she had tried a bunch of other counsellors with no success. The morning of their consultation, she arrived alone saying neither Jeremy, nor Oram, would agree to come with her. I suggested to her that we discuss her situation and see how I might assist her.
It was readily apparent Kalinda was an inquisitive and eager learner, who spent a lot of her time researching on the internet solutions to her son’s ‘problems.’ She suspected Oram was displaying the symptoms of at least two or three psychological conditions, but had been unable to find anyone to confirm her suspicions or help him.
It is not uncommon for a parent to be sitting in a psychologist’s office requesting help for their child, since every parent wants to ensure their child’s well being. But there is a saying in the field that ‘whoever sits before you, is the real client.’
“Without pain, there would be no suffering, without suffering we would never learn from our mistakes. To make it right, pain and suffering is the key to all windows, without it, there is no way of life.” – Angelina Jolie, actress
“THAT WOULD BE JUST LIKE HIM…TO PULL A STUNT LIKE THAT!”
It is not uncommon, for a well intended parent, to lose sight other own well being in their efforts to nurture their child. With this in mind, I asked Kalinda how she was doing with all the challenges she had been facing with Oram?
“I’m fine!” she replied quickly, brushing off my query.
“As I recall you were on sick leave the last time you were here. Are you back to work now?” I asked.
She seemed irritated by my question, but replied, “I’m planning to return to work soon…I just need to get Oram into a college, or training program, somewhere first.”
Then she added quickly, “Would you be using a CBT approach to help him?”
“Kalinda, I want to focus on you for a few minutes. Oram is 19 year son age, an adult by many standards. Did you ever wonder…has Jeremy ever suggested, or has Oram himself ever said, he wants to make his own way in life, make his own decisions?”
“Did Jeremy call you before I got here this morning? That would be just like him…to pull a stunt like that!” she replied, anger rising in her face.
“……IT IS WHAT A GOOD MOTHER IS SUPPOSED TO DO!”
“No, Kalinda, Jeremy didn’t call. What I noticed was how concerned you are about Oram, and how long, you have been concerned. And, since you are not back to work yet, I’m wondering if you have been first taking care of yourself?”
“Ken, I can’t focus on my career until I know my son is on his career path…it is what a good mother is supposed to do!” she replied, her anger rising further with the colour in her face.
I replied, “Kalinda, did you ever think a good mother, if they want their child to learn to take care of themselves, must model it, by taking care of herself?”
Then I added, “Even though you seem very focused on saving your son, neither Jeremy or Oram are here with you. That suggests to me, they’re OK…but you’re not!” Tell me, how you are doing these days…how you are coping with, not just Oram, but the rest of your life…your health, your work and the rest of your life!”
She looked at me with a cold stare. Apparently, I had asked a question, out of bounds for her…outside the ‘safe topic’ of her son, Oram. She sat for a moment composing herself. Her eyes watered briefly as she searched for an answer for me.
I went further, “Kalinda, you’ve been here twice about Oram. I have worked briefly with him and he seems to be doing OK at taking care of himself. I met Jeremy at our first session two years ago. As I recall, he was not near as upset about Oram, as you. I got the distinct impression, he accompanied you, more to support you, than because he was concerned about Oram.”
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”
– Khalil Gibran, poet
“…WHAT IS THE MORE IMPORTANT THAN ORAM, YOU NEED TO BE TALKING ABOUT, WITH ME?”
I paused to let her process this, and then I added, “Now, you are back again, but by yourself this time, and still talking about Oram. You are clearly very stressed out and not back at your job yet. In my mind, it begs the question: ‘what is the more important than Oram, you need to be talking about, with me?’ And, I think it’s you, and your coping skills, which need your attention right now. What you think, Kalinda?”
Her stare softened a little, as she thought about my comments. Her face went through several contortions including confusion, then sadness, then fear, then resignation.
Finally, she said, “I worry about him so much! He seems so fragile at times…then he gets mad at me for smothering him, and then, he looks so tough and independent. I just want what’s best for him…isn’t that what a mother is supposed to do?”
“Kalinda that is exactly what a mother is supposed to do…but not at the expense of her health, and her life. One of the greatest challenges parents face is balancing their own well being with their children’s.”
“Ken, balancing my responsibilities has been a constant source of frustration my entire life. I just don’t know how to do it.”
“Kalinda, I can help you if you are prepared to learn. Does that interest you?” I asked.
“I am, Ken, but it sounds really scary to me…I don’t know if I can handle it!”
“…A NEW CAREER…I’VE BEEN CRUNCHING NUMBERS FOR YEARS, AND I’M TIRED OF IT…”
“Well, let’s take it one step at a time.”
“We will start with you, and what you want most for yourself. What is your biggest goal in life…the one you think about most, that is just for you?” I asked.
Kalinda stared past me for a moment and then responded in a soft voice, “A new career…I’ve been crunching numbers for years, and I’m tired of it…I want to help people more directly in the future…especially those who are very sick!”
Then she added, “I also want to understand me better…why do I avoid doing what I want with my life?”
“So, it would interest you to know more about your purpose and highest values?” I asked.
“Yes, I know I need to grow me, and I know I want to use my creativity more…but, how do I start…where do I start? Ken, I find it so confusing… and scary!”
“Kalinda, the benefit of fear is it motivates us to act…so its OK to be afraid. And, now you are acting decisively!” I said encouragingly.
Then I added, “Let’s begin with, what is considered, the most important perception anyone can have…which is, your perception of yourself.”
And, that’s where we started Kalinda’s journey that day. She identified the top five traits, or behaviours, she liked most about herself. Then, she identified the top five traits, she most disliked about herself. I told her what we were going to do with this information, and how it would assist her to grow, be more creative, and appreciate herself, and others.
She was eager to take a book with her to read further about the ideas we would be using in our work together. Kalinda booked her next session, and left expressing, both enthusiasm and curiosity.
“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.” – Mary Tyler Moore, actress
“…SHE WILL UNCONSCIOUSLY BE ATTRACTED TO OTHER PEOPLE AND EVENTS, TO CREATE MORE PAIN TO MOTIVATE HER…”
A couple of days later, I received a terse email, about seven words, cancelling her upcoming appointment. I was surprised in a way, but also not! It looked like Kalinda let her fear, take control of her life, again. It may be she got too little encouragement at home to return. It may be she got too much encouragement. It may be she got none! Whatever, Kalinda reverted to her safety strategy of diverting her attention away from her own needs to grow, and focus it somewhere else.
Nature is determined to optimize our survival. There are no mistakes in the natural system in which we live. For Kalinda that suggests, she will unconsciously be attracted to other people and events, to create more pain in her life, to motivate her forward in her survival journey.
So, she will spend some time trying to focus on other challenges (e.g. finding symptoms and labels on the internet), lower priorities (e.g. Oram), humbling circumstances (e.g. relationship conflicts), or tragedies (e.g. health issues).
This will create more pain to motivate her forward, again to take care of herself, and her future. Nature ensures we learn when they are ready, when we are sufficiently motivated to learn,…not necessarily when someone wants to teach us.
“Life is a daring, exciting adventure to be appreciated or it is nothing.”
– King Ayles, author
Until Next time…
Now you know, it’s vital you take care of yourself first, before all others. Otherwise, you can’t be anything for anybody else, whether it is daughter, son, spouse, mother, father, teacher, employee, etc. Be wary of those trying to save you…it means they think you are less than them in some way…are you? Do you agree with them? Explore these ideas…you won’t regret it!
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