I can remember it like it was yesterday. The sassy, obese mother of a teenage boy on the autism spectrum, sitting there each week as her son’s adaptive aquatics class overlapped with my young son’s session — We would chat on occasion. She was always so snarky, spouting off about her useless husband, her irritating teenagers, and the limitless ways life had done her wrong. I swear there was a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas. She always seemed so jaded, never had a pleasant word to share, and was impossible to cheer up. Honestly, I was relieved when we didn’t have to encounter her any more once my son’s sessions concluded.
If you have been making an effort to connect with others in the special needs community for any amount of time, it is likely you have run into another mom like the one I described above. The bitterness oozes from her pores, and her attitude ushers in an immediate descent downward when you are forced to be near her. Some people, because of the dysfunction with which they were raised or by the faulty perception of what it means to be a Christian, just put up with her attitude and never say a word. They continue inviting her and continue to let her make them miserable because, they figure, she’s had a hard life.
Now hear me when I say, we all have bad days. However, this type of person is not just having a bad day. They have a perpetually bad attitude.
My point in discussing this with you is not to tell you what to do about this bitter person in your circle (although, if you’ve read anything I have written in the past, you KNOW I am a huge proponent of Boundaries). No, my mission here is to get you to take a good, long look at yourself to assure YOU are not becoming HER.
Face it, no one likes to be around someone with a huge chip on their shoulder. Whiners can be very draining as well. So while we all need to be authentic with someone we can trust, we also need to make sure we are not getting stuck in a pit of doom, despair, depression, anger, or negative thinking. As we adjust to parenting our children with extra challenges, we must be developing a “new normal,” finding the blessings around us, adding up more good days than bad.
If we find that we are stuck, we just might need some help to move from bitter to better. Here are some other indicators that we are in a bad spot:
- We can’t stop ruminating about how we have been wronged… by a relative, a teacher, a doctor, a spouse.
- We verbally bite others heads off with increasing frequency, having a short temper most of the time.
- We think nobody’s problems are as bad or as difficult as our own.
- We stubbornly refuse to forgive others.
- People “walk on egg shells” around us.
- We lose the ability to laugh at ourselves.
- Others avoid us or don’t respond to our phone calls.
- We find ourselves full of resentment towards our children, our spouses, or anyone who we perceive has it better than ourselves.
These are red alerts, my friends. If you have a few of these clustered together, it is time to seek out a qualified psychotherapist. While I have no credentials to make professional recommendations, through personal experience, I find that I favor therapists who use Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) because they help you to challenge your faulty thinking.
Here are some other ways to help reframe our downcast emotions, in addition to psychotherapy:
- Serve someone outside of your own family – Nothing shrinks the size of our own problems like humbly helping another person.
- Associate with others who help you keep a positive outlook – Good-finders can’t help but rub off on us. When we surround ourselves with others who maintain a positive mental attitude, rather than those who feed our rage or sense of entitlement, we quickly find that we want to be just like them.
- Get moving – It is proven fact that the endorphins from exercise lift us mentally and emotionally.
- Get adequate sleep – I know that so many parents like us have a difficult time with this one because their children are so dysregulated when it comes to sleep. However, we can also put pressure on ourselves to keep working in a depleted state because we feel guilty. There is so much to get done! Challenge that thinking in yourself. We tend to make poor decisions and are much more emotionally frail when we are not getting good sleep.
- Stop eating the junk – Oh, how easy it is to have junk food in our homes for our children and consume it ourselves. Even so, eating some sort of over-processed cheese poppy thing never helped an athlete win a marathon. That’s what parenting a special child is, a marathon. We need to fuel ourselves for endurance by “eating the rainbow,” and choosing lean proteins, not consuming empty, “naked” carbs. Also, staying well-hydrated is essential.
These are just a few ways to tend to ourselves and the state of our hearts. This is time and energy well spent. Our physical well-being definitely affects our mental and emotional well-being. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 15:19, “For from your heart come the evil ideas which lead you to kill, commit adultery, and do other immoral things; to rob, lie, and slander others.” (GNT) If we find what is spilling out of us is nasty, then we have both internal and external work to do.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the person who others avoid when they see me at therapy with a child or picking up my offspring at a school event. Bitterness is toxic. We all do well to make sure it is not making our hearts its home.