I had my 4th CBT session today. We are really getting into the nitty-gritty of it- pinning down what my automatic thoughts are when I am feeling certain moods. It is more challenging than I thought and I totally see why this is an approach that is all about practice, practice and more practice.
So the scenario we focused on today was probably my most common of late — waking up in the morning with a sense of dread and heaviness, of sadness and disappointment. I wake up this way pretty much every morning to some degree or other, though I have to admit it has slowly gotten better over the last few weeks. Typically I wake up this way, and then my day improves as it goes on.
I had a difficult time pinning down what my thoughts are behind these moods but I did come up with a few things:
- I am always going to feel depressed.
- I am a disappointment and failure in life.
- I cannot do it all.
And then I was stuck.
So Julie, my therapist, just let me talk for awhile. I ended up talking a lot about obligation. The feeling of everything being an obligation that I dread. Making breakfast. Coming up with a fun plan for the kids when I get home from work. Work itself. Even ‘fun’ things, like plans to have coffee with a friend feel like an obligation.
And then she asked me, “What does obligation mean to you?”
I said it meant feeling tested, and it being a weight on me.
I have perfectionistic tendencies, though I don’t talk that talk. I look at my children and other people and I always know that to truly love someone, you love them warts and all. That is fine and dandy, except I seem to not allow myself any warts. I have to be perfect.
My mother, in subtle and not so subtle ways, taught me this from a young age. I had to be the nice, quiet little girl. I had to get top grades. I had to study what my parents wanted me to study, so that I could make them proud. They were typical immigrants, hard-working and never ones to squander an opportunity for improvement. They were committed to giving me a good life, free of the hardships that they endured, and they had a very specific idea of what that would look like. It was well-meaning, but absolutely suffocating. The piano lessons that I really wanted whenI was 8? No, you don’t learn piano unless you plan to become a world-class concert pianist. And, chromegurl, you never finish what you start, so forget that!
I learned from a young age that it was easier to put up, shut up, and give them what they wanted. I never rebelled. I quietly did what I had to do on the surface, to make them happy. And when it came to things that I knew would make *me* happy, I did them completely under the radar so as to not rock the boat. It was only well into adulthood that I began asserting myself and my true needs more. But there still things that I don’t share with my mother. It just isn’t worth it. She has dementia and lives in her own alternate universe much of the time. It would just be cruel and confusing to her.
But…back to obligations. I always did what was expected of me…out of a sense of…you guessed it…OBLIGATION!
I have homework. I need to think about obligation, commitment, etc. Come up with some definitions. Continue creating thought records. And, most significantly, try to let go of some of the things I consider obligatory. As in, why is it my job for me to figure out ways to entertain my 12 and 14 year olds? They are old enough to come up with a plan. I am to simply set up the parameters for them (for example, no screen-time during the afternoon) and let them come up with something.
Let go, let go, let go…will I be able to?