I have a lovely client who would describe herself as depressive, something that she was familiar with since being a little girl. Recently she'd been feeling pretty darn good, having left a toxic job. However, when I checked in with her last week she said she had been feeling pretty bleak since we last spoke.
I asked her when it started and with some prodding, we discovered it was ever since she had labored to cook a special meal for her mother and mom didn't like it. In a hurtful tone she complained that the meal was basically inedible -- some was overcooked and other dishes barely cooked at all.
Her cutting words had sent my client into a downward spiral where she spent the next days feeling worthless, hopeless, and generally bruised. It was a familiar experience, having spent much of her life there.
Once we had identified the specific event that had triggered her mood, we were in business, because I've learned that once we resolve the emotionally upsetting situation, the overshadowing negative feeling "magically" disappears.
We started by figuring out how to resolve the situation so she could get back on track. It was clear that she needed to tell her mother about her experience regarding what had transpired. So we started to construct her communication, following the Attitude Reconstruction model of using "I"s (talking about yourself), specifics (not over-generalities, like always or never), and kindness.
With some probing, it was clear she felt anger and sadness because she had made quite an effort to make a nice meal and the only comments were negative.
We start to construct her communication: "When you said the meal was terrible (the specific event), I felt incredibly angry, disappointed, and sad (my feelings and emotions), because I had put a lot of effort into trying out a new recipe (why I felt the way I did). Your comments about my meal actually put me in a tailspin and I've been feeling terrible these last couple of days.
Having identified the specific situation, and her feelings about it, she was ready to state her request -- for that specific upsetting event and in the future.
"What I'd like is for you to compliment me on some aspect of that dinner, especially my time and effort to make a special meal for you. And in the future, when you feel unhappy, I'd really appreciate it if you watched what you said to me, because I easily get my feelings hurt and I'm really sensitive. I thrive on praise and kind words."
End by appreciating something about the person. "I love you to pieces and thank you for hearing me out."
I told her that she might need to lovingly repeat what she said, because sometimes we have metaphorical wax-in-our-ears and aren't initially receptive to another person speaking their truth. So it's important to lovingly and calmly repeat your communication until you have the feeling that it's been received.
The client exclaimed, "Why didn't anyone tell me that it does no good to keep repeating my old tapes about how terrible I am. It's so much easier handling the SPECIFIC upsetting situation. I feel like I'm learning how to speak up confidently. Now I will feel complete with what happened and I can let it go, rather than to have it fester for days, weeks, or months."
When I checked in with her the following week, she said she had delivered an abbreviated version of what we had worked out and it was well received. She felt better almost immediately. Going through the long version of her "I" had clarified her thinking about what she really wanted to say. She could then modify it to suit the occasion. She said she felt her relationship with her mother had subsequently deepened! Victory!!! All praise to the power of speaking up constructively.