I have recently had many conversations with individuals who have experienced change in their life that resulted in change to the roles they were used to playing. Perhaps all the children have moved out of the house and the role of parent has shifted. Perhaps job loss or school closure have led to new roles of income provider, or school teacher.
As we find ourselves going through life, we play many roles and wear many hats between personal, family, social, and professional lives, we use these areas of our lives to define who we are, what we like, and how we evaluate our self worth. While roles we play can offer a sense of security, and direction, they are often misunderstood as who we are and what makes us unique.
It is important to distinguish that the roles we play DO NOT make us who we are. We are separate beings outside of these roles. The role of Mother or Father are often ones that tend to consume our identity and while we may take great pride in honoring that role, it is important to note that we have needs and wants outside of these roles. When we let the roles we play become our identity, we lose the internal means of guiding our lives.
Using the example of a solar system; The Sun is the center of our solar system and the planets rotate around with the Sun and the gravitational pull as the guide for how the whole system functions. If we were to pluck the Sun out of the center of the system, the whole system would fall apart and cease to exist. When we use the roles we play such as (mother, father, our occupation, or other) we are making that the center of our system. However, what happens when that role changes, or goes away? Everything we have used to define ourselves no longer functions and we find our system fallen apart. Emotionally and mentally this feels as though our entire world has changed, and it feels that way because of how much power we gave to that role to define us.
Rather, if we understand that we are separate from the roles we play, then we create a system that supports change, and makes it easier to go through hard things or rather big changes in our lives with more acceptance, patience, and hope for the future. Rather than using roles for the center of our identity, we use values and core beliefs that create a foundation in every other area of our lives that can never crumble nor become life shattering.
If you have found yourself feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or unsure of how to guide your future, it may be due to overlapping roles and unclear values. Despite your current situation everyone can learn to better balance their lives, the roles they play, and bring more happiness into your life.
Over the last month, you may have had that exact thought cross your mind a time or two (okay maybe a million depending on how well your kids are adjusting to on-line school). Seriously though, during this global pandemic and all the changes to our daily schedules and lives there seems to have been an overwhelming sense of discombobulation and unease with each new declaration. At least that’s my perception from my personal experiences with friends, family, neighbors, clients, and written accounts that I’ve read. It seems to leave a lot of us feeling like we’re living in an alternate universe….(cue the music), “You have entered the Twilight Zone!”.
How do we build some continuity into our “new normal”? By being creative and flexible with our expectations and focusing on our priorities we can reduce some of the anxiety of the unknown. Now, you’re probably wondering what exactly I mean by that and are wondering if I’m going to tell you to create a “schedule” that is color coded with daily achievement goals that is Pinterest or Instagram worthy? Nope!!!! I am going to suggest a couple of things that I have seen have huge impact, both personally and professionally, when trying to create a new normal.
First, set a consistent wake up time. If you are a natural early riser and like to be up with the sun and that helps you feel grounded and ready to start your day; set an early morning time. If you are more of a “I like to laze in bed a bit and then start my day”, type of person then set a little later time. Having a set time to get up every morning creates a natural sense of normalcy for our bodies.
Next, find a purpose in every day no matter how small. It can be from walking the dog to creating a presentation for your work Zoom meeting tomorrow. Just find one thing that will give you a purpose for that day.
Get outside the four walls of your house!!! Even the most introverted are struggling with feeling confined during the stay at home directives and orders. We don’t realize that over the course of a typical day many of us are in and out of our homes, offices, cars, stores, and schools many times. The loss of this freedom of movement can have a strong impact on our mental, and physical, well- being. Combat this by getting outside 2-3 times a day for at least 10 minutes each time. It doesn’t need to be for exercise purposes, although that certainly has added benefits, but just the change of scenery.
Make a connection with friends, family, coworkers, or neighbors every day. No, I am not saying throw the social distancing guidelines out the window and be reckless with your health. I am saying it is important to feel connected to those around us, especially in a time of stress. Isolation and loneliness are not our friends. We are social beings that have a need for connection. Think about it, how does the penal system punish inmates? They put them in isolation…solitary confinement. Break out of your solitary confinement and talk to your neighbor from your porch. Call your sister on FaceTime. Set up a virtual girls’ night. Stay connected!
Lastly, find a way to connect meaningfully with your source of power, whether that be through meditation, prayer, therapy, gratitude affirmations… whatever makes you feel grounded, empowered, and centered. Take the time everyday to find your inner peace and quiet the fears or worries in your mind. And, if you need help and are struggling then there are therapists and resources available on-line that can help you.
Change is something we all do. This may include confronting new challenges in relationships, moving, starting a new job, or welcoming a new addition to the family. Changes, whether big or small, can be a difficult adjustment for anyone.
Let’s try a simple experiment. Tonight, I want you to change the way you brush your teeth.
As you are brushing your teeth, switch from brushing with the hand you usually do and use the opposite hand. I know that some of you will be thinking that will be quite easy, but you may be surprised by how difficult this simple change can be.
Some attempting this change might notice that your brush strokes feel uncomfortable, your arm is not operating in a manner you are accustomed to, and when you finish (if you finish brushing your teeth with your opposite hand), your teeth may not feel as clean! I know, I know ,some of us are blessed and are ambidextrous and this may be easy, but for me this task was not.
Changing brushing your teeth, just like any change in life, will feel uncomfortable, awkward, and difficult, but it is when we continue to work through those difficulties that we improve and grow. These changes may come by choice or can be unexpected.
Changes occur in many different ways; such as, changes in our mental state, making changes in a relationship(s), or even changes in our behavior can be difficult without any help. Where do we find help for changes? The simple answer to that is in therapy. Therapists are like an athlete hiring a coach or trainer. The therapist is trained in helping individuals, families, or couples make changes or achieve their goals. We all know that many athletes have natural abilities, but often they require another set of eyes to give them the guidance that they need to hone those abilities and develop to their greatest potential.
One of the most important factors of making change with therapy is the therapeutic relationship. The therapeutic relationship is the trust you have with your therapist. It what makes you feel comfortable with him/her as you come frequently without judgment of what you have going on. This relationship can take time to develop, but depending on your therapist, you could feel comfortable right away. This relationship means that your therapist is there to have what some call “real talk” with you and help you develop and improve. This means that at times, therapy might make you feel uncomfortable as you explore different aspects of change, but because of this therapeutic relationship, you keep coming back.
Your current or future therapist can be male or female, short or tall, and can even be a new or experienced therapists. The relationship with whichever therapist you choose is crucial. Research has shown that the therapeutic relationship is one of the most important indicators of therapy success (1). If you wanted to be a successful Olympiad, you find a coach or a trainer, right? So, when seeking to make real changes changes or improve, why do we not seek out a therapist?
The first step for many is reaching out to a therapist, which can be difficult. Going to therapy is often stigmatized as making the individual weak, helpless, a failure, or broken. Going to therapy does not make you any of those things, as we all have our individual struggles. Just by coming to therapy, you are showing strength and a desire to achieve and improve.
If you are considering therapy and are worried what it will be like, please come and see us at Wasatch Family Therapy. We strive to provide everyone who comes with a comfortable, safe and non-judgmental atmosphere so that those we see can succeed. Please do not hesitate to contact us at Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555. Together, we can learn further tools to help you through your specific changes.
(1) Horvath, A.O. and Symonds, B.D. (1991) Relation between working alliance and outcome in psychotherapy: a meta-anaysis, Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38 (2), 139-149.