The Coaching Situation

Thank you for this opportunity. Though some of this is hard to put into words, I will try. I'm 52 and there is a lot of horrendous personal history regarding molestation, violent family fights. I went on to marry someone pretty unbalanced at 17 who beat me and raped me in the name of God. Now that was a long time ago, and I've received a lot of healing, I've grown, I'm currently in my third year of grad school, pursuing my masters in counseling psychology.

My mother apparently wasn't very nurturing to me; and in spite of doing well professionally herself, probably was not a well person - she married five times, three men, violent fights w/dad, who remarried, the next husband was really violent, it was not good. My younger brother stays close to my mother, and is probably borderline. Really nonfunctional. Often emotionally violent. Unstable. Big guy, big hearted, but nearly deaf, won't wear a hearing aid, can't cooperate with any figures in authority. My mom has been bailing him out for decades.

A few years ago there was an incident in my family - my mother offered to buy me 'my own place' - I was going thru a breakup and was in flux - I live far away. Long story short, I found a property up here, then my brother drove up and moved in. The whole thing was a manipulation to have me basically be responsible for my brother. I refused, he moved back, the house was sold.

I haven't spoken to my mother for a year. Last thing she said to me a year ago was that she didn't want to speak to me "or my scummy son" again. I get a letter last week (out of the blue!) saying she has bought me a house where she lives where "she wants me to have a home"; my brother has been given a separate house. She has lost the hearing in her right ear, and is in rehab for an accident from last fall. She wants help. I'm supposed to go down there and "take over her books and deal with the tenants" (for the other properties she owns).

In the letter, no reference to the fact I've been in grad school for over 2 years, that I'm working towards a career. I could not open the letter for two days. I knew it something dysfunctional and bad. I tend to get depressed. I am really down over this whole matter - how unbalanced everything is, how controlling and yet out of it she seems to be, her venomous nature, my fear that I am her, I'll become her. I am also training with a local organization for victims of sexual assault. They have stringent training for volunteers; I started the advanced section last night, which goes for a month. All just to volunteer. I have been triggered by some of the material, which is natural.

My response to my mother was to locate emails for her and I wrote her a pretty level reply about being in school for at least another year, being in training, that I wanted to help her, she sounded overwhelmed, was there a middle ground we could discuss, please let me know. I did not mention "the house". No answer. I get migraines sometimes, this started in 2002 a few months before I was diagnosed w/breast cancer. I had surgery and radiation. The migraines are usually pretty debilitating with extreme nausea. Hate 'em. Thanks again.

Once we received the coachingsituation, we needed to get more information to create the most helpful coaching response.

1.Please explain your fears of how you think you are or will become your mother? My current course in the psychology of biology, which focuses on the brain, only reinforces my fears of becoming 'like', being 'like', my mother. Genetics are genetics, after all. Scientists understand that trauma rewires your brain, how would one then heal that? Rewire that?

2.Do you know for sure that the email address you used for her was an active one and can you confirm that she received your email? I was able to confirm today that she did receive my email. I called my brother yesterday and today, and finally spoke this morning - she did receive the email, and he read it. Then this afternoon was another letter from her, with a release form which she has requested me to sign in front of a notary, so that she can "put it in her lockbox in case anything happens to me", and the extremely short letter said that she understood that I was too busy in my studies to go into the property business with her and my brother.

3.What exact feelings, thoughts, etc. do you want help with? Guilt, even though I can see 'through' it, still plagues me. I ran this whole thing by a woman in CA who I really respect and see as a mentor - she says I'm being selfish, and I should just drop what I'm doing to help my mother. AND that I probably won't be a good counselor until I do!!!! Like anyone else, I would like to (finally) feel that I know what is best for me. Sometimes I worry that I went into grad school, esp. psychology, in an attempt to please her. But other times I know that I have my own interests, and that I also obviously went into this program out of sheer self defense, knowing what kind of dysfunction I grew up with. I have a hard time loving myself. Feeling joy. I'm doing pretty good grade wise in my program, about a 3.6, you'd think I'd be proud, happy.

4.What do you feel that you still need to get help with from your past? I'm sorry, but I don't get the question. I feel like I am dealing with a current situation, not totally the past, but that probably the past has affected my ability to respond to my mother in a healthy way. I don't even see this as a matter of blame, despite her bad parenting, it's more like the analogy of a plant - plants that do not get the proper nutrition do not thrive, sometimes have disabling challenges. I'm trying to deal with the fact that the more I learn about the brain, that I do wonder how much I can change some of my reactions, emotional makeup.

And mainly, as I am in my grad work for counseling psychology, I would like to feel that I'm not in a dead end because OF my past. Two people that I respect this week have actually told me that I would NOT be a good counselor. While I do not totally believe them, I'm a little taken aback. I mean, I'm going into major debt here on the belief/plan that what I'm doing is a good thing.

5.Please explain your tendency to get depressed and what triggers it? Have you been clinically diagnosed? I've felt suicidal off and on (which I totally believe I learned from my mother, who tried to kill HERself when I was 9, she did it because my dad was having an affair, I was there) but my suicidality is lukewarm and easily reasoned with, the more I learn. I also had a very good friend kill herself in '99, she was antidepressants. Myself, I was on Prozac before, and it was not a good thing. I felt much better when I stopped, went to Hawaii for a short time, swam, ate tons of fruit and lost about 15 pounds. Not that I'm obese.

6.Please add anything else that you feel is relevant or that just comes to mind. I went through a course called Avatar, which at the time was incredibly empowering. One major focus in that program is the elasticity of belief systems. One gets trained to identify their beliefs that hold them back, and create new ones. Yet some beliefs are so ingrained that you can't readily see them. Avatar calls these 'transparent' beliefs. I feel like, of course, that I've forgotten a lot of what helped me change things and move forward. Yet in many ways, I do feel I AM moving forward. I write poetry, a major healing focus for me. I want to publish another book soon, I want to record more music and I want this psychology degree to assist me in helping others - I do want to give something back.

The Coaching Response

The first thing that I would like to address is the belief that once an event has occurred that it is hardwired into your brain or that you may be genetically predisposed in a way that you cannot control. The brain is a remarkable and resilient tool that can be used to your advantage if you know how to, believe that you can, and then do the hard work necessary to create new pathways and new behaviors. You can significantly alter the course of your life despite your origins. If you do not believe this, then your own choices and behaviors will sabotage any efforts you make to change and you will prove your own doubts to be right. That is how most of us experience life, by being right about our limitations. You can choose otherwise. You can train your mind to respond with new responses, even while the old ones exist. The old wiring becomes weaker when it stops being reinforced with old responses and behaviors. When they become strongly conditioned, your new responses and memories supersede the old ones.

Change starts with your perception of your past and of your current events. In the beginning it will take every ounce of effort to redefine your mothers actions and change your beliefs about what her actions and words mean to you. Right now you are in a pattern of emotional expectation and emotional reaction to her. While you understand her behaviors on an intellectual level fairly well, your esteem is too emotionally linked to her to be able to see your way out of it. In this coachinga good goal to have would be to learn how to emotionally detach yourself from the reactions that you have. You also need to learn how to identify what your triggers are so that when they happen you can defuse them and have some new responses prepared to assist you in the process of change.

Because of the lack of unconditional love you had as a child, you are still seeking it from your mother and from others. You have not yet learned how to define yourself and to perceive yourself as having value, regardless of what is happening to you externally. Anytime you question yourself or your value, you need to counter that response with a direct line of questioning. If, for example, in a weaker moment you doubt that you will be a good counselor, you need to examine that thought from a number of different angles to see if there is really any truth behind it. Step number one is to look at your past to identify how that kind of a thought is familiar to you.

Separate the past from the present, it doesn't belong there. Then look at it rationally. There are many kinds of counselor, many levels of coaching abilities and no one counselor is the right one for all clients. You will be able to help most people, but not all. You will give to the best of your ability and once the information passes to your client, what they do with that information is out of your control. A good counselor knows all of this and works within their abilities and the readiness of their clients to grow. You must go through this process anytime you have any type of doubt or negative/limiting belief.

From there, you need to start introducing new beliefs that you can carry forward with you. It is not enough to disassemble your past and redefine your current moment, you also need to choose your new beliefs and if you have to fake it until you make it in telling them to yourself and believing them 100%. I am going to switch examples and move to your relationship with your mother. You really do not know what her true motivations and beliefs are, but your fears and judgments tell you that when you interact with her that it is about you and that gives you the excuse to make her behaviors personal to you. Her words and behaviors have nothing to do with you. Everything she says and does is motivated by her personal fears. Unless you have lived inside of her you will never really know what is going on inside her head. What you can do is to acknowledge that you will never fully understand her behavior and to stop giving meaning to it. This will help to alleviate your guilt.

Yet you have to take control over your thoughts and choose the ones you want to think. Yes the old thoughts will still come up, but you need to keep working at thinking thoughts that define who you are and who you want to be whenever you can remember. Let go of being right about your mother and always choose to believe that her actions have no meaning to you. This will provide you with the energy and motivation to create your future. If you are busy or caught up in giving other people's actions and words personal meaning, then you lose the space you need to focus on yourself. We only have so much of an attentions span, where are you using yours? Your emotional health depends on you not taking care of your mother emotionally or otherwise unless you have taken care of your own emotional needs first. If you really want to get rid of your guilt, embrace this 100%. There will be a time and place where you feel right about helping your mother. You will know intuitively when that is.

Anything external to you will not make you happy. It is how you feel about yourself that creates happiness. When you love yourself and are at peace with who you are, with all the good and bad, all the perfection and imperfection, when you accept yourself where you are in the moment, you feel content and happy. The nurturing that you did not have as a child is something that you cannot recover, and you will not get from your mother no matter what you try or what you do. What you can do to heal that part of yourself is to learn how to nurture yourself in every aspect. When you learn to take care of your own emotional needs you stop seeking them from other people. Your relationships with others become more balanced, based on the balanced relationship you have with yourself.

If you keep moving forward in this vein, all the beliefs that need to be changed will eventually enter into your consciousness to be healed and shifted. It is a byproduct of your increased self awareness and self honesty. Self honesty is only possible when you are willing to give up being right about anything other than who you are and what your true value is. If that is at all a gray area, then use this test: is what you are currently thinking making you feel good about yourself? Is it making you happy? If the answer is anything but a resounding yes, then it is time to let go of that belief. This is true fro all your beliefs, including the ones about your mother.

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