This mom believed that by being angry it would send the message to her son about how she felt; and, that anything less would send the signal to her son that she thought his job and his girlfriend (especially, the girlfriend!) were okay. We explored control/no-control and time/space boundaries that all had relevance (i.e., she explicitly didn’t allow the girlfriend into her home).
But, it was this question that was the pivot point for her to let go of her unhelpful (angry) thoughts: “I know that you won’t physically allow your son's girlfriend into your home because you don’t care for her … but I’m wondering how many years of the 10-years that she’s been your son’s partner that you’ve allowed her into your house through all of your negative thoughts and conversations?” The answer was “over 2-years” … and with that reckoning, she was able to see that until she gave up the angry should-could-would thoughts, that the girlfriend was fully present in her life even though she’d never stepped foot through the front door.
*: This story has been modified to protect confidentiality
Photo - Creative Commons (Brad Smith "The Front Door is Open")
I have to admit that I’m not a fan of Dr. Phil, but I do so like his “how’s that working for you?” line. Likewise, the work (actually, “The Work”) of Byron Katie doesn’t resonate with me, but I did have a chance to use one of her classic lines: “can you think of a stress-free reason to keep believing that?” in a recent counseling session.
I was working with a middle-aged mom* who was constantly angry with the choices that her young adult son had made – comparing him, in her mind, to the ideal son who had made a “better” career choice and girlfriend selection. Yet, her son had been in his job for 5-years; and, living with his girlfriend for 10-years. So, in effect, this mom was waging a war with reality; she was hoping that by remaining angry it would somehow shift the long-standing reality.
Leslie Gernon is an outdoor guide (i.e., shinrin-yoku walks, wellness walks, and labyrinth events), counselor