One of my clients just had an extraordinary revelation in a conversation we were having that may have changed her life forever.
We were talking about her adjustment to single life after an 18 year marriage that she believed was going to be forever.
She sighed, it was not at all what she expected. And yet, here she was after all that time, with her own apartment . . . alone most nights.
Once in a while she stays with a good friend . . . But, on the nights she’s alone . . . she can’t sleep. She said she feels incredibly sad, a little frightened and . . . just bad, icky. She thinks “There’s something wrong with me. Right? Must Be. Otherwise I wouldn’t be alone.”
She tells me how this plays out making being alone at night so uncomfortable.
I asked, “Would you like to close your eyes for a moment and explore this?”
I know her well. She’s such a hard worker and a very willing client. She says, “sure.”
I say. “That thought ‘there’s something wrong with me’ go back and tell me how old do you feel?”
It brought her back to being under 2 in her crib. She hated being alone in that room. There were neon lights from the stores outside flashing monstrous shadows and images that were scary. The one time she climbed out of her prison bars and began her way downstairs, her father boomed at her from two floors down in the store, “If someone doesn’t get back in their crib very soon, someone is going to be very sorry!”
OMG!!! Shocked and terrified, she scurried back to the discomfort of her barred bed.
She mused, “It doesn't sound so bad now, but at the time it was terrifying, creepy. How could he know I was out of my room?! He was all the way down stairs. How much noise could I have made in my feetsy pajamas? … Truth was my big brothers informed on me.“
That angry threatening voice repeated in her mind for a long time. She judged herself as a bad little girl.
After allowing her to explore what she remembered and the feelings it evoked, I asked, “What was the same then as in the situation that triggers these feelings now?
She said. “In both cases I feel abandoned, alone, like I’m not worthy of being allowed to be with the others”
I invited more, “So let’s back up. What’s different now?”
“I’m not stuck in my crib. I can turn on the light. I can get out of my apartment if I really want to. I can choose to do things, write, listen to an audio, watch a YouTube, join an online group and converse, go down to the front desk and talk to the guy on duty, read a book . . .”
I smiled at her, “So you can see how this works, right? Now you have choices where you didn’t when you were so little.”
She took a deep breath and sighed, “Right.”
This is such a useful exercise that gets to the core of a situation that stops us, brings us down to a moment of vulnerability and truth and gives us options.
Would you like to try for yourself? When stress or anxiety is trying to get the best of you? You might try it along with a sensitive friend who can keep you company.
It’s a great idea to keep a journal of what you noticed back then vs. now and what your options are today. And give yourself lots of credit for discovering little solutions.
I’d love to hear what you learned.
My client reported that she’s sleeping better.
If you’d like to learn more, contact me at DrSharonLivingston@gmail.com
Leave me a voice mail at 603-505-5000 [I promise I’ll get back to you]
And you can visit my website. www.SharonLivingstonPhD.com