I’ve had my share of therapy.
My mother was a clinical psychologist, and I grew up around the concepts of consciousness and the unconscious, growth and awareness, and “authenticity” before “authenticity” was even a buzzword. I’m quite certain she did some sort of therapy on me during my childhood. I remember vividly her briefcase with the blocks from the Stanford-Binet IQ test. She prepped me at home, at 4, in advance of the required testing for early entry into kindergarten. She pushed me my whole life.
When I was a new doc in practice, I did therapy to help with my feelings and thoughts about my relationships with my boyfriend at the time and with my mother. Even as an adult, I was expected to have “intimate” conversations with her. Not “intimate” like sexual details or anything, but innermost thoughts, dreams, and opinions. As I write it, this doesn’t sound bad, but it was positively stifling. Every phone call would last an hour or more. No superficial chit-chat about the weather; no, she needed DEEP. I think she was in heaven when my 7-year relationship with my residency heart-throb ended. She didn’t like him, and she didn’t want me ruining the career I (she) had planned out for me.
The therapy at that time was helpful. I got help in trying to differentiate from Mom and stand up for myself. When I told her about it, she bad-mouthed the therapist because she didn’t yet have a PhD. Looking back now, I can see her narcissism and her controlling nature well into my adult life. Because I always looked up to her and wanted her praise, I didn’t push back.
When I was dating my current husband, she met him while he was on a business trip to her city. What a mistake. She challenged everything he said and raked him over the coals about his relationships with his siblings. He came home shell-shocked. Nevertheless, we did get married, and my mother acted like the quintessential mother of the bride, being social with everyone and acting like a queen.
She came for the births of both of my kids but didn’t stay long and didn’t really help. She dubbed herself “Grand-Moma,” but she was not the “Happy Grandma” type. As my life became my own, we spoke less and less. She never acknowledged that her grandchildren deserved anything from her. So they got nothing, not even at Christmas or birthdays. We continued to send cards to her, but these were summarily dismissed as trite, superficial, and inauthentic.
Fast forward several years. Another therapist, this time for my husband and me to work on parenting issues, and this included the kids (now 10 and 12) prior to a planned family trip to Europe. Family vacations had historically been nightmarish; arguing, pouty children who pushed each other’s and our buttons. These were not vacations; they were trips to nice places, with all the frustrations but none of the comforts of home. This is where I first learned about the Enneagram. I’m a 3. My husband is a 6. We learned a bit about our kids too, and how to better align with each other in our relationships. Then after the trip was over, my husband bowed out of the therapy sessions, and I continued with individual therapy. I learned a lot about myself and my mother’s influence over me.
When she died in 2018 and left me and my kids nothing, I made another trip back to therapy. All the feelings of anger, resentment and grief over my mother’s figurative (and now literal) loss were churning and burning inside me. But there was also a relief. The struggle was over. The struggle of when to call her, what to say, what to write, would be received or rejected, like the gift she once sent back. And then there was the guilt about the relief. Oh man, did I need therapy.
Now that I am several years older and wiser, I can be thankful for the things I learned from her and be more objective. But I find myself thinking a lot about the past and how it has impacted who and what I have become. It was through her encouragement and guidance that I became a doctor. As much as I thought I was making my own decisions, I can see that she was shaping (manipulating?) my formative life. Those were the old days when I didn’t know any better.
So today, after 25 years of marriage, kids in their 20s, burnout, and a pandemic, I recognized a lot of anger, frustration, and constant irritability. On a whim, I decided to try online therapy. My first match was a male therapist, who probably matched with me because I clicked “anger management” as one of my issues. At our allotted time, he texted that he had a workman at his house and would be delayed. My obedient self hung on for 30 minutes. A sign? I went back to my profile and asked for an older, female therapist who worked with relationship issues and offered executive/professional coaching. I found a great one.
After our first session, I have some new insight about my marital relationship (not at all how we started), some homework, and another appointment. How is this different from coaching? Not sure yet. I think, eventually I will want to talk more about my mother. I suppose that is more therapy than coaching. We know that things that happened to us in the past shape how we relate, how we parent, and how we are in the world.
As for me, I am excited to start on a new growth curve and see how this shapes my life, my relationships, and my coaching. They say every coach should have a coach. Right now, this is the kind of coaching I need.
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