Stuck not broken!
Are you stuck, scared, angry, and sad? Are harsh self-judgments, anxiety, cravings, shame… photo-bombing you? When these fault lines pierce the past and the future, do you doubt the present?
It’s no surprise to me that when clients come to therapy they want to get rid of these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. It would be a surprise if they didn’t.
It is said that almost every psychological disorder, from stress to anxiety, to depression and addiction, comes down to avoidance. Caught up in a whirlpool of negative urges, hurtful thoughts and feelings we all have our escape routes…in private and in public places.
We all want to be happy, don’t we? It’s not too big an ask.
Happiness is such a loaded word these days. And culture strongly reinforces the message that happiness is the ultimate goal. But if we buy into this message, the chances are, that we are destined to invest a lot of time, money, and energy in emotional controls.
I often ask clients what happiness means to them. Their answers vary but invariably they’re linked to external sources: the perfect partner, body, job, and car, gadget, money, marriage!
When I ask if happiness is about facing the good and the bad without a struggle or perhaps just about leading a rich and meaningful life, I can see by their faces I’m not even in the arena of their dreams. ‘Is that the organic version,’ one client recently asked. Maybe his question is a good one. Because the happiness I’m talking about is rooted deep in values. Its focus is internal, not external. It is not located in someone else’s garden, it is located in ours. We, and only we, are responsible for it.
What strikes me in the early stages of therapy is how much more I know about what clients don’t want in their lives. At this point, I ask them what emotional control strategies they use if their ‘happiness’’ does not materialise.
I view strategies as neither good nor bad. But wonder with the client if their strategy is creating a better life, a life where the full range of human emotions can be experienced in comfort. I ask them about the cost in terms of wasted time and energy, money, health, family, friends. If a short term fix is now just another long term problem.
I view all of this non-judgementally. I see clients from equal point of view. Therapists (including me) can be as susceptible as the next to the seduction of advertising, idealised lifestyles, airbrushed photos of friends and foes, Facebook, Instagram.
None of us are immune to falling into the happiness trap.
But control is not the solution... it’s the problem.
Control is an illusion which makes us believe we have more power over our lives than we do. And like the magician's assistant we keep buying into it (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, excessive exercise or eating, etc.) whilst expecting different results.
The mind is a seasoned story-teller. It can recite without hesitation the same words, insults and arguments year in and year out.
And the story we tell ourselves especially when narrated by a critical self can do damage. It’s a double edge sword. On the bright side, the mind is brilliant, it can send men/women into space, design computers, make strikingly beautiful art. On the dark side it’s destructive, contrary, hurtful and petty – curiously…even on the brightest and happiest of occasions.
Therapy gives us the time to be heard accurately and listened to. It’s the antidote to stuck! It teaches us to press the pause button and gives us the tools to handle our ‘stuff’ when emotional controls dominate our behaviour. It helps us to unhook from difficult thoughts and feelings, to notice when we start denying or distorting or magnifying painful emotions. It encourages us to develop competencies, to become aware of compassion a potent mediator that holds us tight when life gets hard.
For some it can be a long journey, for others relatively short. For people who are stuck it brings light and liberty. Therapy offers us choice!
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