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I Know What's Wrong But How Do I Let Go?

by Lee

I started noticing that I had issues with anger from the time I was a teen. I grew up with a heroin-addicted brother in the home. The emerging dynamics were extremely scary and dysfunctional. As I moved along in my teens, my fear morphed into rage. My mother let me get away with expressing my anger through vicious words, defending it to my brother and father as my only outlet. This gave me the mindset that I was entitled to express my rage through angry words.

I have had a lot of long-term therapy as an adult and take anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medications. In my lifetime, I have suffered a lot of psychic trauma not only in my family growing up, with many untimely and tragic deaths of loved ones. I suffered extreme marital and financial problems for a long time, but thankfully, my husband and I for some years have been working actively at being better people and better spouses, and our relationship is in a much, much healthier place.

I began attending to my spiritual life after a serious illness. I embarked on a daily practice of positive thinking, positive affirmations and gratitude. This sustained me for a long time and changed my life significantly. Having been a compulsive overeater all my life, though, I began to realize that if I was still compulsively overeating and endangering my health, then I was not truly fit in mind, body or spirit.

With an aim to continue my whole healing, I joined a 12 Step program for compulsive overeating. (I am extremely obese.) I struggled with the idea of powerlessness, character defects, etc. because my spiritual practices had called me to eliminate self-criticism and negative self-thoughts and to embrace my power. I am not sure how much this shift in self-perspective contributed, but my spiritual practices began to disintegrate, and with the additional struggle to put down excessive, addictive foods as a method of self-medication, and so did my ability to handle my emotions.

Lately, I have been out of control with my 17 year old. She's a great kid who has never given us a moment's real worry, though as a teenager she has her moods, whims and exasperating demands. It seems to be the material whims that trigger me most. I have extreme fears about financial security, and when I am afraid, I strike out. I feel that even though we have a comfortable life with many advantages and just about all of the gadgets and little luxuries that most kids covet, she compares us with friends who have more than we do materially and she is never satisfied.

She got a new digital camera for Christmas (the old one was OK, but not great), a winter coat (which she wasn't sure she liked, and was not happy to have bought at a store carrying designer goods at discounted prices), and many other nice things - EVERYTHING on her list and more. She made comments yesterday about how other people know where to shop for coats, and later in the day, after her friend showed up with a new 4G cell phone/MP3 player, announced that she wanted an iPhone and became obsessed with getting one.

I am loathe to say no to anything she asks for, which triggers my financial fears AND fears of either spoiling or depriving her, which causes me such emotional upheaval that I revert to rage. Then, in a fit of guilt and self-doubt, I give her what she wants. I feel she takes advantage of the fact that she knows I can't say no, which makes me feel hurt and rageful even more. I take all of her moods and demands as a personal affront, and then I revert to infantile behavior of which I am deeply ashamed.

I think I am very triggered by the fact that my daughter is a H.S. junior and headed fast for college. I have lots of guilt over the fact that my husband and I had two episodes of financial strife the have left us unable to pay for her entire college education, (never mind grad school,) and I am overwhelmed by fears about her starting life out in great debt.

I think some of it is also early separation anxiety. (My daughter is an only child, and the center of my universe.) All of this is fear, fear, fear - fear that she is coming to hate me and will leave me entirely, fear that she will hate me for not having provided better, fear that she will incur debt and suffer serious financial problems like I did, and that she, like I, will come to grieve the loss of a vision I had of what my life would be like, including financial security, a house, travel and such, and that she will wind up full of oppressive regrets and self-recrimination by the time she reaches my age. (I am 51.)

So, I know that underlying the rage are issues of trauma, grief, massive survivor guilt, low self-esteem, moderate depression and anxiety (yes, I am being treated), mid-life crisis, pre-empty-nest syndrome, and when you get down to it, FEAR, FEAR, FEAR. I have many resources for helping myself, but for the past few months now I can't seem to feel I deserve to feel any better, even though I am taking my family down with me.

I can't seem to muster up positive affirmations with any regularity because I feel so unworthy. It's a vicious circle. Thankfully, my husband has been patient with me even though I know my anger upsets him, especially when directed at our daughter, as he knows me well and knows I am suffering and need his help. He helps diffuse the situation and talks me back to reason, but my shame and self-recriminations linger. It's this lingering that is worst of all. I can't let go. Because of it, I keep trying to do damage control by reasoning my position, but often this degenerates back into dissention, frustration and rage.

I have come to see that much of what I thought of as my highly motivated, problem-solving nature is based not in strength but in fear. I see that my fears cause me to fret everything I do and to try to control everything, including my husband and daughter. I see clearly that my fear triggers my rage over and over and over, but I don't know how to let go! Even after I have raged, I tend to dwell on it and can't seem to get past whatever it is, though I see the urgency of doing so.

Your thoughts are most welcome, along with any targeted suggestions for literature, programs, self-help groups, activities, etc., to help me learn to let go.


Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Lee, and thanks for telling your story here. I suggest you read and follow the recommendations on this page: letting go of a relationship.

You are a bright woman. Find a path, and stick with it. You can do what you set your mind to, including your health and weight loss.

Your focus needs to be on you, not your daughter. Make up your mind to love yourself, and begin practicing self affirmations every day.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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