Until I became a parent trying desperately to get my child the help needed to survive a life threatening eating disorder, I had no concept of what real sorrow and pain are. Many of you have heard me speak and know my story of not being listened to by so many health care professionals who’d not been trained about these illnesses and clearly had not been trained to listen to the insights from parents and take those seriously.
Many parents have told me that they live by the adage, “A mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child.” It’s easy to see why that is an adage. When our children are suffering, it’s really hard and takes special skills to not be in extreme suffering ourselves. Many of us have found ourselves in such a deep pit of despair and hopelessness that we find we no longer are able to enjoy previously enjoyable activities. Experts call this anhedonia, which is the inability to have pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. This clearly doesn’t help us or our loved ones who need us to be on our “A Game.”
It was during my coaching training (yes, there are coaching schools accredited by the International Coaches Federation (ICF) that certify coaches in this relatively new profession) to become a Certified Co-Active Coach in which I learned of the magical power of shifting perspectives and how it is possible to have joy and sorrow co-exist. Fortunately I was getting this training at the same time I was falling down into this vast rabbit hole of suffering and trying to save a child’s life from a thing I’d known nothing about.
After I’d learned about eating disorders, parenting a child with them, how to heal myself and do my parallel process and had all the coaching skills including how to reclaim joy amidst the sorrow, I was excited to start coaching parents to have joy again when they had a child with these life threatening illnesses. What I quickly learned was that it was no good to tell them I’d help them have joy again. That was like telling a drowning person you’ll bring them joy…they don’t care about that at the moment, they just need a life ring.
Once parents have the life ring of proper health care for their child and support for themselves, the cornerstone of the healing framework for parents is self care. And a piece of that self care is using the tool of a gratitude practice. Having accompaniment and accountability are necessary for people who’ve just been scooped out of the deep end of the ocean of despair and hopelessness.
Last week I wrote about having a gratitude practice during a pandemic and how it has the capacity to help grow hope and help us cope.
It turns out that gratitude helps grow joy too according to researcher (and hero of mine), Brené Brown. So even though I no longer tell my clients that I’m going to help them grow this joy that they cannot conceive of, I hold the intention for them to reclaim it. And most do, eventually. But we don’t talk about it early on.
I love the work of Brené Brown. In her research on joy, she found that those who could easily access joy had a gratitude practice. “Gratitude is a doorway to joy.” ~ Brené Brown
When parents hear me say that it is possible to have joy despite their circumstances, they often don’t believe me. It helps them to be reminded of this groundbreaking research on vulnerability and courage by Brené Brown in which we can use the tool of practicing gratitude to grow our joy. I paraphrase here from one of Brené’s famous TED Talks, “The one variable that people who can really lean into joy share in common, is practicing gratitude.”
JOY is a big cornerstone of my work in that I believe that we can all find joy despite our circumstances.
Without mentioning joy, I now meet people where they are at, in their deep suffering and help them to help their loved one. In the process, those who work with me for a long time and do their parallel process, have indeed reclaimed JOY! And…their kids are healing.
In this time of deep uncertainty for our world, I hope you can find your way to gratitude and eventually joy and healing.
Please keep practicing safety protocols outlined by the CDC and stay safe.