I need my teen to be happy

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Episode #113 – I need my teen to be happy

Question of the Day: 

Dear Torie,

My daughter is cutting herself. The knowledge of this is ripping my heart out. The only thing I ever wanted is for my kids to be happy and clearly she is not. 

My head spins in circles all day wondering what I did wrong, worrying about whether her therapist is truly helping, whether I’m doing enough, blaming her Dad, stupid COVID, social media. I need her to be happy. Why can’t she do a better job of managing her mental and emotional health? The stress of this situation is overwhelming me. 

I want to be a good resource to her and I have been. When I’m with her, I say the right things. If you were watching me interact with her, you’d think I had my act together. But on the inside, I’m a mess. How can I help my daughter get through this phase and find happiness, without losing my mind? 

Ava

Parent Educator Answer: 

Cutting is a form of self-harm. Self-harm is not new, it’s been around for a long time and encompasses things like cutting, scratching, hitting oneself, burning the skin, hitting one’s head against the wall, pulling hair from the head, picking at wounds, pinching, or biting skin. 

 

Teens use self-harm to help them deal with emotional pain. It doesn’t mean they are crazy or suicidal, they just want relief from the invisible pain and pressure inside them. Self-injury offers a way to feel in control of the suffering, to provide a physical manifestation of what they feel internally, and releases some endorphins providing a mood boost. 

 

When you learn that your child is cutting, it’s an opportunity to get them the help they need so they can learn to process emotions in a healthy way. This is not a job you can or should take on yourself. Even if you have your graduate degree in psychotherapy and have completed your 3,000 hours of practice, your child still deserves an outsider’s perspective with a professional skill set and a trusting relationship with another adult. 

 

There are a lot of things you can do as a mom to help. Carrying the burden of your child’s mental and emotional well being is not one of them. 

  1. Ask her directly if she is engaging in self harm without judgement or worry. 
  2. Validate her negative emotions with this powerful 3-word-sentence, “You feel ________.” 
  3. Brainstorm activities your teen can do when she feels stressed out.
  4. Encourage your teen to put feelings into words. This could bewith you, talking with friends, or in a journal or workbook.
  5. Create opportunities for fun, either with you or with her friends.
  6. Set a good example. Talk out loud about your emotions and how you process them in healthy ways.
  7. Hold a higher vision for her future that includes overcoming self harm. 

 

Life Coaching Answer:  What gets in the way of being a loving, helpful and supportive mom who feels peaceful on the inside, not just shows it on the outside? 

Needing your child to be happy. 

 

It sounds strange that “needing your child to be happy” causes us unhappiness.

Of course we want our kids to be happy! It’s all we’ve ever really wanted. It’s why we get up at 3am to change their wet bed sheets. It’s why we clean up their vomit and wipe their butts. It’s why we drive them all over town to soccer games, gymnastics meets, and birthday parties—to make them happy! It’s why we give them candy, cookies and toys they don’t need. 

 

Or is it? 

Maybe we get up at 3 am because we love them. Maybe we clean their vomit and wipe their butts because we think that’s what a good mom would do. Maybe we drive them all over town because we are giving to them what we wish we had. Maybe we give them candy and treats because WE LIKE seeing them happy. 

 

What if all the work we have done while raising kids has been for US? That the idea “I’m doing all this so she will be happy” was just a lie? What if we DON’T need our kids to be happy in order to feel like a good, loving mom. Perhaps we do kind and loving things for our kids because it feels good to be kind and loving. When they experience negative emotions, as they will about 50% of the time (being human and all), what if we could still be kind, loving, and believe we are good mothers who are doing the right thing? 

 

When we think the thought, “I need you to be happy” it feels terrible. We take all our power to feel good about the job we are doing as mom and we put it in the hands of a struggling, unhappy teenager! This feels terrible to us and to our teen. NEEDING our kids to be happy feels like dependency and control.  

 

What if you don’t need her to be happy? What if you can allow her to be unhappy without making it mean you have done something wrong? We don’t know what her life’s journey will include, but we do know that she signed up for a human experience that includes pain and suffering. 

 

We try to control our kid’s happiness so we don’t have to experience fear. But if we can work on releasing our own fears, we give our children the gift of a sane and healthy mom. 

 

Do not try releasing fear by suppressing it, pretending it’s not there, or beating yourself up for being scared. This is counter-productive. It’s really helpful to have a compassionate witness who can help you uncover the things that scare you and walk you through a process of dissolving the fear. This is a difficult thing for a mom who clearly loves her daughter very much. You deserve to have support for yourself so that you can be a caring and compassionate support for your daughter.

 

Supermom Kryptonite – Matching Pictures

When our kids are harming themselves, it is easy to match that energy and use this circumstance to harm ourselves. We imagine all this pain and suffering our child is experiencing and this projecting causes us to suffer. We go to guilt with thoughts like: “it’s my fault, I did something wrong, I’ve failed.” We blame ourselves, or others, which keeps us stuck in negative emotions. Even though it’s a natural reaction, it isn’t a helpful one. This is the default setting of the ego. Instead of focusing on what we want to create with deliberate intention, we let other people or circumstances take us on a roller coaster ride that isn’t much fun. 

 

Use this as an opportunity to set a clear intention and focus on what YOU want to FEEL (not what you want her to feel or do). Do you want to feel peaceful? Focus on the peace all around you. Want to feel confident? Focus on all the areas where you feel that emotion. Don’t keep your attention on the one thing that makes you most scared. Broaden your field of vision so you can create more of what you want by focusing your attention. 

 

 

Supermom Power Boost – Name 5 things you see before you. 

 

I used to have A LOT of FEAR!  I could go into any situation and find something to be scared of. I could be in a spa getting a massage and worry about how much money I was spending or whether the masseuse was going to talk the whole time. I would go on a hike in nature and worry about someone raping me or being attacked by a mountain lion. My mind, on default, came up with all sorts of scary things to worry about. Having unhappy kids was an especially big trigger for me to imagine scary future scenarios.

 

When I was learning to let go of fear, one of the most valuable things I started doing was naming 5 things I could see right in front of me. A computer, a light, a piece of paper, a book, a pen. Naming things you see takes you out of anxiety brain and into the present moment. I would ask myself, “Is there any immediate threat?Am I about to die of starvation or exposure?Is anyone attacking me?” Despite the scary and vivid pictures my mind was conjuring up, these questions forced my brain to acknowledge the truth that, right then, I was safe. 

 

Once I acknowledged that it was my anxiety talking and not reality, I could take some deep breaths, soften my muscles and realign with the present moment. Right now, in this moment, all is well. Once I calmed down, I would repeat this sentence, “I trust myself to rise to the occasion if something bad were to happen in the future.” I reminded myself that I don’t have to anticipate future bad things happening as a way to prepare myself. I can breathe and relax and trust that I will handle whatever comes my way, when it comes. 

Quote of the Day: 

“Fear and Love can never be experienced at the same time. It is always our choice as to which of these emotions we want. By choosing Love more consistently than fear, we can change the nature and quality of our relationships.” Gerald Jampolsky

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