Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is a book by Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist. Gottlieb dissects the stories of some of her clients while telling a story of her own, during which she found herself seeking a therapist when faced with crisis in her own life. I’m going to share a couple of quotes from the book and the ways in which they resonate with me.
Hierarchy of Pain
“There is no hierarchy of pain. Suffering shouldn’t be ranked, because pain is not a contest. Spouses often forget this, upping the ante on their suffering — I had the kids all day. My job is more demanding than yours. I’m lonelier than you are. Whose pain wins — or loses?”Lori Gottlieb
I’ve found myself at times, feeling a sense of resentment towards my significant other because I was feeling a lack of satisfaction at my demanding job. It was draining my energy and robbing me of my ability to be the mother I wanted to be. All the while, he was doing a job that allowed him the flexibility of working from home. I knew better than to compare myself to anyone and to feel envious (especially in regards to the person I’m building a life with), but for whatever reason, I was doing it anyways.
This sentence is a reminder that we all suffer in our own way and there is no real way to compare your suffering to that of someone else. No one can ever feel your pain, and vice versa. So, making the assumption that someone else has been granted the courtesy of feeling less pain than you or having an easier life is wildly counterproductive. Although, taking the high road and choosing a healthier mental approach is often easier said than done, so be patient with yourself.
Attempting to compare suffering isn’t always in the context of assuming that your life is harder than someone else’s, sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes you get angry at yourself for feeling upset because you believe that there are other people who are suffering much more than you. You feel ungrateful, selfish, guilty even. This is also a false assumption.
“—by diminishing my problems, I was judging myself and everyone else whose problems I had placed lower down on the hierarchy of pain. You can’t get through your pain by diminishing it, he reminded me. You get through your pain by accepting it and figuring out what to do with it. You can’t change what you’re denying or minimizing. And, of course, often what seem like trivial worries are manifestations of deeper ones.”Lori Gottlieb
Don’t deny your pain. Strive to face it and figure out where it’s coming from.
Seeing our parents as flawed humans
One of Gottlieb’s patients is a mother with adult children who made some pretty major mistakes in raising them. All of her kids have cut her out of their lives. She’s faced many unhealthy relationships in her life and now, at the age of nearly seventy, she meets a man who is head over heels for her and simply wants to love her in the way that she always deserved to be, but never was. Due to her fear of opening up to him, and confessing her mistakes in life, she pushes him away. Later on, she writes him an open letter, telling all of the painful details from her past. After she reads this letter, explaining all of the mistakes she made as a mother, Gottlieb draws a comparison between this and her own relationship with her mother.
“So, like Rita’s children, I went through a period where I shut my mom out. And while that had long passed, as I sit with Rita and hear her story, I have the urge to cry — not for my pain, but for my mother’s. As much as I’ve thought about my relationship with my mother over the years, I’ve never considered her experience in exactly the way I am now. I have the fantasy that all adults should be given the opportunity to hear parents — not their own — rip themselves open, become completely vulnerable, and give their versions of events, because in seeing this, you can’t help but come to a newfound understanding of your own parent’s lives, whatever the situation.”Lori Gottlieb
This line spoke volumes to me. My relationship with my mother has been complicated, to say the least. As a teen, we always butted heads but as I grew older and matured, I learned to let her in a bit and we have grown closer over the years. Now, after becoming a mother myself, I found myself criticizing her choices as a mom and distancing myself yet again. I have been having a tough time finding a balance with setting boundaries in our relationship but also not being too critical of her.
Recently, I have had the revelation that I am still dealing with an unhealthy amount of anxiety in my life. It started over a year ago, after I gave birth to my daughter. It has been happening on and off, and I’ve been incredibly distracted by the demands of my job. This combination has caused me to avoid facing these issues, allowing them to go on much longer than they should. When I would have a good day, I would tell myself, “it’s over, I have nothing to worry about anymore, I’m healed.” Unfortunately though, I was not healed, and beneath the surface, the anxiety had been deepening and deepening.
I realized that it was time to quit my job. It was a difficult decision to make because my job was not the root of my problems but it was causing me to avoid facing the problems by keeping me so busy. I’ve realized that I’m incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to quit my job and focus on my mental health. I have been smart with my money over the years and if we budget accordingly, my family and I will be okay financially for a while, while I figure my life out. So many moms aren’t given this choice. So many moms are thrown into motherhood and never have the support that is needed to adequately recover. So many moms, have to work like crazy, making them unavailable to their children, mentally and physically — because they simply don’t have the financial means or support from their spouse/family to just quit. These moms might never face their mental health issues, and these issues will never go away until they’ve been dealt with.
My mom was one of those moms. She had to work full time to support three kids, and she didn’t have a supportive spouse. Who knows how long she could have been struggling with mental health issues that continuously went unresolved. Comparing my struggles as a mom to my mother’s and putting myself in her shoes — seeing her as a flawed, imperfect human just like every human is — prompted this empathetic revelation. If I were in her shoes, I might not have the option to just stop working and focus on myself. I would have to keep on going, living life in this perpetual state of anxiety. I hope I can help my daughter understand this principle one day as well, when she begins to dissect the choices I made in raising her.
I could honestly dissect this book in its entirety and never get tired of Gottlieb’s words. But if I did that, you would have nothing to read! I’m sure I will reread this one day. I’m still asking myself if I read this book at the perfect time in my life or if it’s just one of those books that tells you everything you need to hear, regardless of where you are in life. I’m thinking it’s the latter. Here are a few more quotes from the book, just to get you thinking!
As always, please share any thoughts in the comments & thanks for reading.
“I thought about how many people avoid trying for things they really want in life because it’s more painful to get close to the goal but not achieve it than not to have taken the chance in the first place.”Lori Gottlieb
“The inability to say no is largely about approval-seeking — people imagine that if they say no, they won’t be loved by others. The inability to say yes, however — to intimacy, a job opportunity, an alcohol program — is more about lack of trust in oneself. Will I mess this up? Will this turn out badly? Isn’t it safer to stay where I am? But there’s a twist. Sometimes what seems like setting a boundary — saying no — is actually a cop-out, an inverted way of avoiding saying yes.”Lori Gottlieb