The first taste of fall has arrived in my area, and I am thrilled. The weather is cooler, there's a snap in the air, and the trees are just starting to change color. I associate fall with family time, fires in the fireplace, and pumpkin everything. When the temperatures start to drop, I start getting more energetic and excited. This is my time of year.
At the same time, however, fall brings other thoughts. Sinus headaches loom, my kids get the snots, and I worry that my daughter will have another string of ear infections. I wonder where the money will come from for Christmas presents, and I find myself hoping that my clients will get through safely.
It amazes me how many emotions can be present at one time. When my son was born, I was excited, tired, overwhelmed, scared, protective, and a little sad considering the loss of the life I used to have with just my husband. Somehow, childbirth was not the experience I had seen on TV. I knew it wasn't going to be, but I hadn't known what to expect.
Often times, my clients tell me that they shouldn't feel the way they do. "I shouldn't be angry at my parents." "I should be happy for what I have." This thought process is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, there is no "should." Who can say what the appropriate or inappropriate emotions or timing are? Certainly there are extremes that can be problematic, but to be sad, angry, scared, etc., is usually a normal human function. Second, emotions just are. We do not get a choice about how we feel about something. We have a choice about what we do about something, but the feelings are there by nature.
We have societal expectations that the Holidays should be a joyous time and that families should be supportive, but these things do not always come to pass. For some, the Holidays are a reminder that they don't live in a Norman Rockwell family or that they never got the things they needed as a child. For some, the idea of family is terrifying or disheartening. They say, "If my family doesn't love me, why should anyone else?" These feelings and responses are normal and are meant to be honored and respected. Hopefully, with time there can be changes in those responses, but they are legitimate all the same.
What I think can be more confusing for clients, especially trauma survivors, is having multiple feelings about the same person or event. Many of them, for instance, are confused that they can love their abusers and be hurt and angry about what their abusers did. They may love their children but fear being around them because they might hurt them. They might be excited to get married and terrified that their significant other will turn out to be an abuser. It is perfectly normal to have multiple feelings at the same time, but this can be frightening to people who want the world to be black-and-white. Part of therapy is learning to hold both feelings at once and acknowledging that both are part of one's experience.
Therapy in itself can be emotionally confusing. While one part of a person may want fiercely to get better, another part may be afraid of what that change will entail. We may want to improve but fear that improvement means we were unacceptable before. Is it possible to be acceptable and still have room for positive change? I think so. It is important to remember that recovery does not happen all at once.
My clients often express frustration that they cannot be over and done with their recovery in a short time. My response to them is that, if I were to wave a magic wand and all your problems were gone, that would be traumatic, just like the problems that brought them to therapy in the first place. If, all at once, your reality were different, you would not know who you were or how you got there. By allowing the time to heal and take things step-by-step, the change can happen at a pace that makes it not as overwhelming and allows you to have some control of the process. Will there be new challenges and responsibilities as you recover? Of course. Remember, however, that you will be in a different place then than you are now. When you were in kindergarten, you could not imagine solving quadratic equations. Eight or nine years later, the prospect made much more sense.
Give yourself time to grow and change in your recovery. Take time to honor yourself and your needs. Grieve your losses and respect your history. Therapy can help you through these things and help you learn to acknowledge and balance mixed emotions. There is hope for change.