Not sure about you, but I can’t count how many times in my life when the topic of therapy has come up and the person I am with is quick to poo-poo this as whining about your parents and why can’t everyone just get over it already?
Get over it. Yes, I am sure that’s what everyone would like.
It reminds me of this great Bob Newhart clip I came across a while back, where he plays a psychologist and his approach to every client is the same: they get about five minutes to talk about their situation and suffering and his therapeutic response is to yell at them to Stop it! Hilarious. I love it. I wish it were so easy.
The desire to get over it is essentially the whole point of therapy in the first place, right? So I think we all want the same thing.
My guess is that the only difference between those who can get over it and those who can’t is the difference in coping mechanisms. We can all push things down, away, out of sight in one way or another and it just turns out that some of these coping mechanisms work better than others, and they may work for some of us and not for others. And sometimes what works at first, doesn’t work over time and it turns out that you have not really gotten over it after all. At least for some of us.
Earlier this year on NPR I heard someone say that the average age for someone to come out about childhood sexual abuse is age 52. Talk about our amazing ability to get over it. Don’t even get me going about the current ludicrosity regarding statutes of limitations around this. [Good news! Since writing this post, there has been some progress with creating new laws around this. Click here to find out more.]
This piece about whining about your parents though – I think it’s so significant and it’s really true that it does come up regularly. And I want to be really careful about blame here.
If we look at Brene Brown’s definition of blame, it’s really just “a way to discharge pain and discomfort.” Blame is obviously not a truth in and of itself. You can have the most loving, well-meaning parents who have the best of intentions, and still they can make mistakes. It’s entirely possible that the experiences they intend for their children is not how it all gets played out. Our parents provide our first relationships. They inform us about who we are in the world and what the world is all about. Those old wounds? Most of them happen when we are young, when we don’t have the most adaptive coping mechanisms in place yet. Those wounds happen most often at times when we are living with our parents. Even if the wounds themselves are not directly about our parents, parents still play a role simply because they existed (or didn’t exist) in the picture at a time when we still depended on them.
On a side note, I want to point out that I’m not trying to say that there aren’t parents out there who are ill-intentioned, because I don’t want to dismiss the people who have had that experience. I’m just saying that I believe they are very few and far between.
While I suspect there can be some danger in ruminating about bad experiences to the point of just being stuck, I do think it’s important to find the places where we are stuck and actively find ways to work through them.
From my perspective, it’s not really the telling of the story that creates relief so much. So I can see where people might think that endless whining gets you nowhere. But if that’s as far as the conversation goes, then it seems like a part of you is really being missed. The next question has to be – what was that experience like for you? And this is where therapy is so important because not everyone is trained to be a therapist. Not everyone can take their own stuff out of your story in the way that a good therapist is trained to do. It’s why family members and even sometimes friends can’t provide therapy for other family members and friends – because their own emotional investment is too great. And I think this is also where the stigma of therapy comes into play. All too often it seems that the person struggling is blamed for being in need of help, as though there is something wrong with them. I know I’m a little biased here, but why can’t we just start thinking about therapy as support? Support that we don’t otherwise have access to, for any one of a bazillion reasons? Because without that support, we’re just faced with the same old response of Just get over it! and the cycle continues.
Bob Newhart – Stop it! Trigger Warning: the “client” in this clip clearly struggles with some devastatingly serious issues. The hilarity comes in the form of the Newhart character’s over-the-top dismissal of them – an experience that I suspect that many of us can relate to on the receiving end, at least on some level and hopefully never to this degree!