Humans 101

Many of us neglect our own needs to avoid seeming self-centered — and then we wonder why we’re so unhappy

Portrait of a person—wearing a bob haircut, big dark sunglasses, and an orange knitted sweater—looking to the left side of the image in a very dark space. Reflected in the sunglasses is an open window showing a sliver of blue sky on each lens.
Portrait of a person—wearing a bob haircut, big dark sunglasses, and an orange knitted sweater—looking to the left side of the image in a very dark space. Reflected in the sunglasses is an open window showing a sliver of blue sky on each lens.
Photo: Marco_Piunti/E+/Getty Images

In my early twenties, the subject of “selfishness” came up frequently in my therapist’s office — specifically, my fear of being selfish. In my attempts to avoid selfishness, I was living in its opposite — and equally self-centered — extreme: self-negation.

My therapist explained it like a thermometer: Boiling hot was selfishness. Freezing cold was self-negation. And somewhere in between, right around the normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees, is a self-caring and responsible zone (which involves moving through a challenging zone of self-doubt that lies between 98.6 and ice).

“I feel like you’re freezing to death. I’m trying to…

There’s power in being a supporting actor

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

Temperamentally and statistically speaking, I’m a prime candidate for burnout even at the best of times. A serious child in a family that dealt with various mental illnesses and addictions, I was reading This Stranger My Son in the fourth grade. I was not unique among future therapists. A woman I once interviewed to work in a rehab told me she read The Fifty-Minute Hour at around the same age.

By the time I was in high school, I was beginning to think happiness was not for me. I believed that for me to be happy, everyone I cared about…

It never hurts just to ask, "Is there anything I can do to support you better?" Maybe the answer is "nothing." Sometimes, nothing is the hardest and most loving thing to do. I also have to ask, has your child requested any change in pronouns? It seems you may be imposing something that hasn't been asked for, at least not yet.

I like the idea of having a meeting with the other parents, if only to see how the admin reacts to the idea. Meaning, are they interested in facilitating a resolution to the issue, are they interested in the safety of the other child, or would they like just to keep gossiping about the other family? I'd not be comfortable staying in a school situation where the admin is willing to gossip about any child or family, even if they have been a "thorn in the school's side." I realize this is level 101, but anyone willing to gossip about that family is willing to gossip about yours. Is that where you want to be?

I love the response of taking it to your pediatrician. Beyond that, in your situation I would request of all of them that they not talk about you or your daughter behind your back, nor give unasked for advice. But I would also have to remember that I can't control what they do. I can just control how much I let it alter my behavior.

It sounds like you handled the external situation reasonably. The challenge is not personalizing her response, which could just as easily be embarrassment and worry - I'm sure she sees this in her daughter elsewhere - and not about you at all. You will definitely teach your son to be bullied if you teach him by your behavior that it's not okay if other people seem ruffled and that it's your job to smooth it over. If they don't plan play dates anymore, that frankly sounds like a win, unless you can give yourself permission to set boundaries on behalf of your son, whether or not other adults are present. If this friend is someone you especially enjoy, make grown-up plans at another time, with separate babysitters.

You may already be aware of these resources, but Therapy Den and Open Path Collective are two organizations with directories of folx just as you describe. (I'm nobody's affiliate - I am self-employed in MS and TN but happen to appreciate and support these two orgs.) Therapists on TherapyDen.com are devoted to all forms of inclusivity; and OpenPathCollective.org exists to offer low-cost therapy with therapists who know that financial inequities are real.

I know it's genuinely hard to find therapists who are aware of their own mainstream values. …

If you do a bit of research, you'll soon be able to answer for yourself that homeschooling can give many children a definite advantage, without the need to create the artificial situation of "socializing" with same-aged peers. (At no other time in life, other than mainstream school, is our social life limited to those our own age.) You can also find lots of anecdotal evidence that homeschool doesn't turn out well for some kids. What I'm most struck by is your feelings of defeated, tired, depressed; and it makes me wonder if you might be able to see this decision more clearly (either way) if you would address those feelings first.

I hear you that those behaviors fit, which is why I recommended that book. I do not, though, diagnose children with adult disorders. The behavior in children is simply a coping mechanism when reinforced in their current environment, which includes peers. We call it a disorder when someone graduates to adulthood but still uses those childlike strategies to get needs met.

I suspect you already know this, based on your interest in this topic :) My response is really for others who may read and not realize these diagnoses don't belong to children.

I hear you that those behaviors fit, which is why I recommended that book. I do not, though, diagnose children with adult disorders. The behavior in children is simply a coping mechanism when reinforced in their current environment, which includes peers. We call it a disorder when someone graduates to adulthood but still uses those childlike strategies to get needs met.

I suspect you already know this, based on your interest in this topic :) My response is really for others who may read and not realize these diagnoses don't belong to children.

Christie Bates

Brainspotting Therapist in TN & MS. Buddhist minister at Deep South Dharma. Writer. All about Practice

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