By Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC, Person Centered/ Rogerian Psychotherapy
Imagine your best friend comes to you deeply distraught—her father died six months ago, and her mother’s health is rapidly deteriorating. Over the past year, she has been consumed with managing care and legal issues, making funeral preparations, and grieving. Naturally, some things at work and at home have slipped through the cracks here and there. She comes to you feeling sad, helpless to stop her mother’s decline, and angry at herself that she just can’t seem to get it together.
What would you say to her? You probably would comfort her and remind her that she is only human. You would tell her that having to deal with the practical and emotional issues associated with aging/dying parents while managing a full-time job, a spouse, and children would leave anyone feeling overwhelmed and spread too thin. You might even suggest she take some time for herself to get a massage, order dinner in, and ask for more help from her partner and children with some of the household responsibilities. You probably would also offer to help her in any way that you could.
Now, let’s shift gears. What if you were the deeply distraught friend? Would you be as understanding and compassionate with yourself as you would be with a friend? For many people, the answer, quite simply, is no. While we tend to be gentle and patient with our loved ones, we all too often hold ourselves to cruelly unrealistic standards. We have a tendency to berate ourselves for not being superhuman. If this sounds like you, take a step back and think about what you’re doing. If you are attacking yourself in the midst of an already stressful situation, you are only depleting the resources available to help you cope. If this has been your default position for some time, it will be challenging to change this type of thinking, but here are some tips for getting started.
First, instead of launching an attack on yourself, step back and assess the situation as objectively as you can. Ask yourself what would make the situation easier to deal with. You might realize you just need a break. If so, make taking a break a high priority—whether that means scheduling a massage, planning a weekend away, or simply taking a nice stroll outside. Just do something that feeels good to you. You might be surprised at how refreshed you feel. During challenging times, the essential questions should not be, “How can I tear myself apart?” Instead, ask, “How can I make myself more comfortable?”
Second, your objective assessment of the situation likely will reveal that you have entirely too much on your plate. Jam-packed schedules seem to be the norm these days, so when a crisis hits, there is very often no way to make room for handling the crisis while maintaining business as usual. Give yourself permission to ask for help. Whether that means reaching out to family, friends, and colleagues for help, hiring help, or a combination of both, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. People generally want to be helpful, especially to loved ones facing challenging times. In fact, people probably have told you to let them know if they can help. So, do it—let them know how they can support you.
Finally, accept your humanness. Challenging times do require you to dig a little deeper and find more than you think you have, but you must remember that you are still human and you have limits. As these limits emerge, accept them and be as kind to yourself as you would be to a dear friend. You deserve it.
© Copyright 2013 by Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC, therapist in Brooklyn, New York
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