A Lesson from a Frog

So my family, like many families this month, signed up for Disney+. I was watching Muppet Babies with my kids, and the episode we were watching had a classic Kermit dilemma. Miss Piggy wanted him to garden with her, and Fozzie wanted him to play basketball. Kermit said yes to both because he didn’t want to disappoint either of them. Beaker and Bunson got involved, clones happened… and as you can imagine, there was a huge, co-dependent mess and no one was happy.

I, of course, immediately made the leap (uh oh, accidental frog puns are hoppening!) to many, many, many times I have worked with clients in exactly this type of situation. Kermit is the nurturer, the fixer, the emotional laborer of the muppet group. Those are incredibly useful, wonderful traits. We love the people around us who take care of us like that.

But just like when Kermit-clones took over and everything went awry, when a nurturer’s whole focus is on someone else’s feelings, things can backfire. When the Kermits of the world see a situation where they might disappoint their loved ones, they go into instant distress. They bend over backwards to try to fix the situation so that the other person doesn’t feel unhappy - often long before the person even expresses unhappiness. Kermit gets stressed out over the imagined threat of unhappiness for Miss Piggy and Fozzie. He goes to great lengths and expends a LOT of energy trying to avoid situations that would cause them disappointment, annoyance, or inconvenience.

In Kermit’s mind, he loves them and wants them to be happy. But he’s also communicating something else -- “the worst thing in the world would be for you to experience discomfort.” Many of the Kermits I know are mothers, who are trying to help their children avoid that discomfort. When that is the dynamic, they are unwittingly communicating another message, “You can’t handle difficult feelings.” Kids internalize this and believe that the worst thing in the world is to experience discomfort because they wouldn’t be able to handle it. It eats at their self-confidence. It erodes their resilience.

If you see yourself as the Kermit in your family, I want to remind you that: It’s okay for other people to feel their feelings, no matter what those feelings are.

If you fix everything for everyone, they won’t get the satisfaction of fixing something for themselves.

If you remove all of the obstacles, they won’t get the growth from overcoming them.

One of the paradoxes of this situation is that often that your loved ones don’t want you to fix everything. Kermits get stressed out. Kermits can easily turn to martyrdom. Kermits usually don’t do enough self-care. Your Fozzies and Miss Piggies can see that. As Miss Piggy said in the episode, “If you didn’t want to garden with me, you could have just said.”

She would have been disappointed that Kermit chose to do something else. She would have experienced disappointment, and then lived through disappointment, and understood that she could live through that emotion. It’s okay for her to feel disappointment. It’s okay for other people to feel their feelings, no matter what those feelings are.

So take a few moments, and a few deep breaths. Other people are allowed to have their feelings. You are allowed to have your own feelings. You are strong enough. They are strong enough. Learn a lesson from the frog.

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