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Counselling, Brexit, and the art of compromise

In the continuing furore around Brexit, a much-discussed theme concerns the willingness of each side to compromise. The need for flexibility is acknowledged as essential if meaningful progress is to be made. Yet, there is also accompanying talk about the critical nature of red lines, with each party seemingly holding a vice-like grip to that which is seen as sacrosanct for each side in the debate.

If that interminable struggle presents very real difficulties within national political life, similar concerns can also be seen with the way in which we try to deal with many of the problematic issues that we have to face in our personal life. That difficult challenge of accepting that things may have to change is one which we all encounter from time to time, yet the way in which we respond can have very real consequences for our emotional health.

A disruption to our mental well-being which may appear as a sudden outbreak of anxiety or a panic attack can sometimes have origins in rigidity of thought. The more we are insistent that key aspects of our personal or professional life, such as relationships or work roles, always have to be a certain way, the more we inadvertently invite a challenge to our emotional health. This can occur if things are suddenly not as we want them to be, or if events develop in a different way to that which we expect.

A key to the extent of our rigidity of thought can be found in the internal language that we use. If our internal language often employs imperatives which tell us that we ‘must’, ‘should’ or ‘ought’, the more likely it is that our view of the world will be rather inflexible. If we continually use phrases such as ‘I have to’, ‘it is essential that’ or ‘I am indispensable’, the more difficult it may be to accept change or to find a way to adapt when our lives do not follow the path that we expect.

If we can find a way to be flexible, to readily accept change and to adapt to new and unforeseen circumstances, we are more likely to benefit from reduced stress and less anxiety.

This is not to suggest that we should function without boundaries, as we all need a framework to support us as we walk through life. We require reference points to assist us in carrying out the different roles we have as a friend, partner, lover, parent or worker, but boundaries do not have to be rigid, and reference points do not have to be set in stone.

We will mature, grow and develop during our journey through life, however long or short that may be. We will change and evolve both physically and emotionally. If we can acknowledge that change is in-fact the normality in life, then perhaps we can more easily begin to accept the benefits of changing those rules that we seem to carry around with us. These are those internal rules which set out our current view of just how things should be.

Despite how well we can allow variation, there will inevitably be some occasions when it is very difficult to accept change. That is particularly so if the change is forced and is painful. Obvious examples can be the unexplained loss of a friendship, the distressing ending of a relationship, the onset of serious illness, or a sudden redundancy. Sometimes change can be so abrupt that attempts at rational internal dialogue become impractical. When that happens, it may be that additional support can prove helpful. This could include working with a counsellor or talking with a psychotherapist to find a way in which to deal with that sudden change.

If we can find a way to move from a very fixed viewpoint, even on really important aspects of life, this may provide very real benefits for our mental health. If we can develop a willingness to acknowledge and even embrace change, that internal shift can have a beneficial impact on our emotional well-being.

A readiness to demonstrate flexibility will help us to deal with the unexpected in a way that a rigid frame of mind cannot. Our willingness to compromise, to change our minds and to look at things in a different way, is a sign of strength. It will certainly help in the quest to maintain good emotional health, whatever lies ahead.

That more relaxed approach may also help us to deal with the fallout from those big political issues too, including whatever happens with regard to Brexit!

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Geoff Boutle MBACP (Snr Accred)

Geoff Boutle is a BACP senior accredited therapist working in private practice in Chichester and West Sussex.… Read more

Written by Geoff Boutle MBACP (Snr Accred)

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