What’s the point of talking

Andrew Wake Newsletter, Parenting

Hi to all,

I was talking with a patient this week who was fed up. “Why do you want to talk about crap from my past all the time. Can’t you just increase my meds and make me feel better!”

In therapy we were gradually getting closer to some painful events. And he didn’t like it and just wanted his pain solved.

“It’s like a fog…I don’t want to think about it; it just makes everything worse”.

 

I thought about this after the session and I think he was onto something with his “fog” metaphor. His experiences when they occurred could be considered like liquid poison. At the time so dangerous and unable to be dealt with that they were pushed away. However, pushing them away didn’t make them go away. Instead, they hung around and dispersed into a fog, clouding and influencing other parts of his life with fear, avoidance, anger and shame.

 

A cliché we often use in therapy is, “If you can talk about something, it is probably not a problem”. And the reverse is also true. If you can’t talk about something, it probably is a problem. Think about the last time you and your child (or partner) had something you couldn’t easily talk about. Though it was about a particular something, the inability to easily talk about it can make the other “somethings” you have with that person more tricky.

 

At our next session I tried to explain to him why I kept offering to talk with him about his foggy past. Talking together was an attempt to condense the smothering and suffocating gaseous mist into a clear bottle of liquid. You can’t do much with fog…it is everywhere, affecting and touching everything. But you can do something with a bottle of poison. And it then becomes clearer what is and is not tainted by that poison. Talking about past events doesn’t solve them; some things are just crap. But sharing and clarifying their story helps in coming to acceptance of it. In many of the difficult things in life, the way we get through is to do it together.

 

As parents we naturally want to have a conversation with our kids when we observe they are suffering. The liquid poison of not getting a specific party invitation can easily turn into the fog of no-one likes me. The best way for them to get over grief (whether developmental such as discovering they are not special, or accidental such as the death of a loved one) is to share it. Often there is no logic, no answer. But what we can do is share their suffering: “You are not alone. I cannot solve this problem, but I see you, I hear you, and I am with you, it will be ok.”

 

Initially this is often not what they want and they may reject our help. They don’t want their suffering to be understood and supported; they want the pain gone…they want that invite! It is a universally disappointing experience for a child to realize their parent is not all-powerful to solve their problems. But over the years the acceptance of this truth sets them free from impossible expectations of others. It is why one of the tasks of parents is to gradually disappoint their child.

 

As I wrote in the V.O.5. newsletter (Nov 2016), we cannot solve their disappointment or save them from it, but we can validate their experience and emotions, and offer understanding and support.

Andrew