The practice of mindfulness can be a way to deal with both our anxieties and our avoidance issues.
“We get these multiple levels of pain,” said Tulsa therapist Dennis England, LCSW. “Primary pain is the fatigue we feel at the end of the day. We aren’t going to make that go away. Unfortunately, what happens is that we start telling ourselves things like, ‘I’m a bad parent. If I really loved my kids, I wouldn’t feel this way.’”
England says to cope with these feelings we might reach for a glass of wine, or turn on the TV to numb out.
“Secondary pain, or dirty pain, is the pain we feel when we act on our feelings. One glass of wine or one TV show is okay, but if we are losing ourselves in TV or drinking three or four glasses of wine and not interacting with our family, it’s a problem.”
England, who practices Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT, a form of mindfulness-based therapy, says that an important first step is recognizing that life is hard and parenting is hard.
“It’s going to be full of sadness and pain and discomfort, and also full of joy and elation, and comfort.” In our culture, we try to get rid of the bad feelings. But with practice we can learn to “make space” for all our feelings and thoughts: both those that make us comfortable and those that disturb us. “We learn to hold our thoughts a little more lightly. Thinking negatively about my kids or my spouse doesn’t mean anything except that I’m tired,” England explained.