May 31, 2015

Finding hope in the storms: Life after the flood

It has been a long hard week for so many people in the Houston area.  When we went to bed on Monday night,  we could not have imagined what would soon be at our doorsteps, literally at our doorsteps. The thunder boomed, the lightning struck and the rain poured all night long. Many people stayed up anxiously waiting as the flood alerts rang on their phones.  And then they scrambled to move valued possessions as the waters started seeping into their homes. 

The insurance adjuster who later came to assess the damage told us enough rain had fallen in Houston to fill the entire state of Delaware with 10 feet of water. On some parts of our street,  the water came up to my chest.  The city sent rescue boats to help the elderly,  or anyone else stuck in their homes. Imagine boats where streets used to be.  The air was filed with the sound of helicopters and rescue vehicles.  It is an incredibly surreal experience. At least temporarily,  the waters had s swallowed our neighborhood. People felt dazed and confused.  

Even when  the schools reopened, you could see the empty looks on people's faces.  I remember seeing someone whose home had flooded walking up to the school. As I reached out to give her a hug, she sobbed in my arms. This is a woman I barely know,  but we are all in this together, and so, I cried too. After traumatic events like this,  emotions sit right bellow the surface,  and nearly anything can push then out. This is the kind of thing that is hard to capture in pictures. It is hard to capture how vulnerable people feel.

The beautiful side of all of this is seeing how neighbors and friends did come together to help one another. There are countless stories of people helping neighbors pulling out wet carpet, moving furniture,  making meals, and taking in neighbors who needed them. 

One of the best predictors of how satisfied you will be in life and how well you will deal with difficulty is social support.  If you have supportive friends or family,  you will likely weather the storms of life. 
We live in a very individualist society.  I think it is part of our cultural DNA to value rugged individualism  and independence. And sometimes that works fine,  but in moments of difficulty,  it becomes obvious that we are not islands. We need each other.  I firmly believe we are made to live in community. 

We are made to help and be helped. Our lives are richer when we share in people's need and suffering. I think most people can accept this.  But what many of us have more trouble with is accepting the help. We are socialized to see accepting help as weakness, and as burdensome.  I can tell you from personal experience as well as my experience helping my clients in therapy, that is not the case. 

It will be a blessing for you to let people walk with you in your times of need,  just as it will be a blessing for them to help you.  These are the kinds of experiences that make us feel human. This is how we create community which ultimately makes life more fulfilling.

We all have our own burdens to carry.  Whether you have gone through a traumatic event,  or are just having trouble adjusting to the stresses of everyday life,  I encourage you to reach out and share your story.  Your honesty and vulnerability will help relieve your burdens,  and your courage to share will help others open up. Reaching out might just be the difference between feeling drowned by the troubles of life or feeling surrounded and buoyed by love and support.

The day after the heavy rains,  we had a few hours of blue skies, sunshine and cool breezes. There was no rainbow,  but just as in the story of Noah, I would like to think there were signs of hope.  I would like to think we are part of that story of hope and redemption as we share our burdens with each other. 

If you are struggling with pain or feeling stuck in your life, professional counseling can help. You can contact our Houston therapists by phone at 713 - 591 -3612, via email at nancy @ wilsoncounsleing. org or visit the Wilson Counseling website at  to find out more. Help is just a phone call away!

May 10, 2015

Melting Away Parental Guilt

Sitting across from me on the sofa with her adolescent daughter, Lydia was tearful and a little overwhelmed. I had not planned to meet with them that day, but I had a cancellation and was able to fit them in. Lydia's daughter Sandy had been in treatment with me for the past few months for an eating disorder. Though she had made great strides, Sandy continued to struggle with stuffing her emotions down with food. Sandy was working out the trauma she had experienced as a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a family member. Sometimes Sandy acted out, sometimes she numbed out. For her, going numb was easier than letting the pain of her experience live alert inside her.

The trouble of parental guilt

Just like so many of the mom's who bring their children in for treatment, Lydia was incredibly resilient and was determined to do right by her daughter. Watching your daughter deal with any illness is tough. For Lydia, this pain was compounded by the extreme guilt she felt that her daughter had been abused. As the words started tearfully flowing, Lydia said in a tone barely louder than a whisper "All I wanted was to protect my daughter, and I wasn't even able to do that." She felt like a failure at the one thing that mattered most to her.

I could see Sandy, who initially sat stoically, start to soften up, lean in and put her arm around her mother. Sandy, I asked, "Are you upset with your mom for the abuse? For not protecting you?" She replied without thought, hesitation or anger in her voice "Not at all. I am just angry that they (the family member) have made her feel this way." And it was easy to see the the truth of her words in the protective way that Sandy looked at her mom.

Guilt is a part of parenting

Guilt is a part of being a good parent. Period. It does not necessarily mean you have done something wrong. On the contrary, what I have found is that guilt tells me something great about my clients. In this situation, Lydia's sense of guilt tells me that she cares deeply for her daughter, that she has a strong protective instinct, that she dreams of good things and peaceful relationships for Sandy. It also tells me she takes her role as a mother seriously and holds herself as Sandy's mom to a very high standard. I encourage you to ask yourself the same question I asked about Lydia when you are experiencing guilt. 

What wonderful thing does the guilt say about me?

I often help people recognize guilt for what it is--a sign post. What does your sign post say about you? For Lydia, she was eaten up by guilt, paralyzed by it. But through therapy,  she was able to recognize something good about herself because of the guilt she felt. Her guilt meant that she loved her daughter, and that was a great thing. Once she recognized that it helped melt away some of the guilt so that she could continue doing the hard work of parenting a teenager.

Your situation may be different from Lydia's, but I can guarantee you that you experience guilt as a parent. Maybe you feel guilty about not spending enough time with your kids, or about being impatient and yelling, about being too protective or not protective enough, or about not being able to provide the things you would like for them. The list could be endless.

Melting away the guilt

You would not experience any of this guilt if you did not love your children and want good things for them. Now, if you can just show yourself the same compassion you show your kids when they are less than perfect, you too can work past the guilt. You can work at being the kind of parent you want to be.

I am constantly impressed, amazed and dumbfounded by the parents who bring in their teens to therapy. These are parents who invest in their kids, who share their vulnerabilities, who love them through tantrums, acting out, being lied to, and many other difficult experiences. As a parent, you may doubt yourself, but remember, you are a work in progress. And you are exactly the parent your child was meant to have.

As mother's day and then father's day approach, I feel thankful that there are parents like those who walk in my door who are trying day by day to love their children well. They are shaping the future one heart at a time. And their investment is not in vain.

No matter what their guilt tries to tell them. 

If you are struggling with pain or feeling stuck in your life, professional counseling can help. You can contact our Houston therapists by phone at 713 - 591 -3612, via email at nancy @ wilsoncounsleing. org or visit the Wilson Counseling website at  to find out more. Help is just a phone call away!