Wednesday 23 January 2019

Ask Allison: 'I have always struggled with jealousy and I find that it is affecting my feelings towards my sons'

 

Allison Keating. Photo: Conor McCabe
Allison Keating. Photo: Conor McCabe
Advice: Author and psychologist Allison Keating shares her insight

Allison Keating

Question: I am finding it very difficult to deal with my feelings of competition and jealousy. I am a 50-year-old mother of two wonderful teenage children, happily married to a great man. I gave up work when my children were little because I wanted to be there for them and enjoy their childhood years. I didn't really like my job so it was no great sacrifice personally. I have always struggled with jealousy and I find that it is affecting my feelings towards my sons. Internally, I am constantly comparing their accomplishments with those of their peers and I feel really angry when they fall short. I would never let them know this in a million years, as I know this is toxic and I want to stop, but I don't know how.

A Secrets and guilt lie heavily. Thank you for your question and honesty: it sounds like you are fighting hard against a major, personal, internal battle. The energy required to hide anger and act like all is okay is toxic, deadening and emotionally exhausting. What you need to do is to open up a space just for you to explore and reinvent yourself.

Taking the 'Russian doll' analogy from my book The Secret Lives of Adults, let's look at what roles you have been fulfilling. The first role you have is to yourself; it gets even more complicated when we break it down into a trilogy of self, where your public, private and unconscious selves reside. The 'public' you is so happy with your two wonderful sons and the success of a connected, happy relationship to your husband. These two roles are also part of your 'private' self - but the gap between how it looks on the outside, everything you wished for and how you feel privately has widened to the point of it being so uncomfortable that it's time to take action. Even though it doesn't feel like this to you, this is a really positive thing. You aren't motivated by a little bit of discomfort - the feelings of toxicity really get in there and they can be the ones to drive change.

The anger and competitiveness tell another story, an important one for you - and one you need to hear the message it is trying to deliver to you. These private, secret feelings are perhaps painfully complicated with shame, as you rationally 'know' you have it all, but your 'unconscious' self - the one with all your drives, desires and personal needs - is saying something else.

You gave up a job you didn't really like; no big deal, as you said you didn't really like it. But, what about now? Rather than living vicariously through your sons, what do you want to do? Who are you? Sit with this question for a moment. If you broke it down into what people would say about your public self, they might say you are a great mother and wife. What would you write about the private you?

I'll ask it again: what do you want? This is an incredibly difficult question when you have focused all your energy on fulfilling the physical and emotional needs of others. It can become very easy to forget 'you' and it can feel awkward - a word I hear often is that the person/mother doesn't want to be 'selfish'.

Here is the truth: it is selfish not to mind your own needs. You say your boys don't know, but we work at a much more subtle level with our unconscious. We are built to pick up non-verbal cues: the real answer mostly lies in what people don't say, but that sigh or tension is noticed. You can give yourself and your sons and husband one more gift, and that is the gift of healthy boundaries - knowing where you end and they begin. It's time for this mother to be her own self. Don't worry, you will still have that deep connection to your family (remember the Russian doll) as all your relationships are separate, yet connected.

So many mothers have a crisis of identity, often at this time, when their children begin to be more independent and take flight. It can leave you questioning the meaning of your life and what your purpose is. Take your anger and use it. Anger is a secondary emotion: it's the tip of the anger iceberg. What you need to get down to is how you really feel.

The real feelings may be a mix of loss, feeling scared and unsure, vulnerable and lost. These emotions, although uncomfortable, are the way out as you start your reinvention. Routines make life stale. You have to ask yourself: 'What will freshen this up? What will bring life back in for you?' I suggest joining a wonderful group of inspiring women on Facebook called the Forever Fierce Revolution. Seeing other women being brave, taking chances and experiencing growing pains in the second act may just help you see you are not alone and this is the time for you. Have courage and be kind to yourself at this exciting time in your life.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at allisonk@independent.ie

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