my space tracker

Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: January 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011

Thinking Like A Therapist/Analyst (Getting UnStuck)

"If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got."

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." ~ Albert Einstein

Often people come in to therapy because they are stuck in some way. Or at least they believe they are stuck. Either in a difficult relationship, or situation. Or a job, or perhaps, (and this is often the most painful kind of stuck), in bad feelings, thoughts or beliefs and ideas that no longer serve them well. And a lot of the time, these ideas and feelings seem so automatic that they are hardly noticeable. Like lightening during the day. And when we hear the thunder, feel the fallout, from these ideas and feelings, then we know something is wrong.
So what's the fallout? Bad habits, lots of fighting with your partner, self-attack, lashing out at others, feelings of hopeless, self pity or extreme frustration, anxiety and depression. And the feeling that we are stuck.

Its no small task to change our thinking, or to even get to the root of what our thinking really is. And then, the funny thing often is, when we are able to really get to the heart of our ideas and our thoughts, we are often resistant to letting them go, to changing our minds. We are quite attached to our beliefs, even when they no longer serve us well. And even to our pain. Sometimes our misery is familiar, comforting, or seems to keep us connected to what we have lost.

So here's where thinking like a psychoanalyst or therapist can come in handy. We don't have to operate with a heavy mandate of solving anything so fast. It's lovely when good changes can come about and new solutions surface, and that usually does happen when things get talked out well. Sometimes, it does happen quickly. Either way, it happens when we can do a few things the way analysts are trained to do.

Be curious. Study the problem. Without judgement or criticism, let all ideas and beliefs and feelings flow and be talked about. Just airing them out brings relief. And studying what you really believe and why.

Next, and at the same time, and in no particular order: Wonder why you hold on to what you believe. You can ask yourself, "What is my objection to reconsidering this belief?"
Some 12 step folks suggest making a list of all your fears and then taking each one through the following question analysis: Why do I have this fear (belief). Where and when did it originate? How do I perpetuate it? What would I do differently if I did not have this fear?
Recently, someone told me, "I will not give in to my wife's crazy requests. If I do this, I will be at her mercy. And I will not sacrifice what I know is right." (His wife's requests were not dangerous to anyone). As a result, this man fights with his wife a lot. They are both frustrated, in quite a bit of emotional pain, and thinking of divorcing, even though they do love each other.
Tucked away inside this belief is lots of good info. Why does this guy belief this? What are his objections to thinking differently? What would happen if he believed that giving in to his wife was a great way to make her happy? (And so what if he still thinks she a bit nuts. He loves her). What if, in addition to letting his frustration fly (to someone besides his wife), he learned that some of his beliefs were really his fathers, or his uncles or his way of protecting himself against the way he was treated as a kid? What if he would feel better about himself, not worse, by studying his beliefs?
There are lots of possiblities and examples. And we when let them breathe, we too breathe easier. Life gets better. We can get comfortable in our own minds.
When we feel stuck in the same old thinking and the same old pain, we can find relief by stepping back and letting some fresh air in - in the form of curiosity. It's hard to do when you are suffering, but stepping out just a bit, and into curiosity can go a long way toward new and better things.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Suffering and Loveliness

"When I am willing to question and therefore feel whatever is there - terror, hatred, anger - with curiosity, the feelings relax, because they are met with kindness and openness instead of resistance and rejection. To the degree that my feelings are familiar, that I've felt them before in similar situations - feeling left out, rejected, abandoned - the willingness to allow them offers a completely different scenario than the situation in which they first developed. ~ Geneen Roth, Women, Food and G-d

I've had my head in Geneen Roth's newest book, Women, Food and G-d. And its good.
Among the gems in her latest book, Roth talks about reteaching ourselves loveliness. She talks about acceptance, letting go of self - hate, being willing to feel our feelings, living in the moment and using our compulsions to teach us about who we are, who we want to be and what we need.

Okay, the ideas are not altogether new. The 12 step folks have been talking about these for decades, and so have meditation masters, religious leaders and therapists. Sometimes its the same messages with different wrappings. But the messages are aways good. And Roth's packaging is gentle and easy, and often poignant. That does not mean that living the message is easy, but that's the good news, actually. It means there is possibility.

The messages stretch beyond food and eating disorders, they flow into marriage issues, career, grief, finding love, personal growth. One big obstacle to progress is the negative voice. Roth (and others) call it The Voice. The 12 step folks call it "the disease." Some call it your negative tapes, your inner critic. Your repetitions. Whatever you call it, its the voice that says you can't be helped, that there is no hope, that its all bunk. That you are awful, or that those who are frustrating you are awful. Its the voice of status quo that keeps you doing what you've always done. Its the voice behind the idea that familiarity is comfortable (and it is sometimes!), but not when it is driven by fear, or by the not quite clear notion that in order to stay safe, you will have to do what you always did.
Many of us find that what worked to protect us most of our lives often stops working for us once we are in relationships, or trying to advance in careers, or personal growth as we age along. When we slow down and study things a bit, we can see inside ourselves, our relationships and let things breath and change.
Here in my office, where feelings are welcomed "with tenderness," as Roth says, things can get sorted through, and life can get better.
I often work with couples and individuals who are suffering. Some from obsessions, from anxiety, rumination, or anger. Some from frustrating relationships, fear or grief. People often find that progress and relief come from talking it out, from letting your fear flag fly, letting your anger breath, and then uncoil.
I really like Roth's idea of reteaching ourselves loveliness. Its such a soft approach to all the hard feelings we endure when things are not working quite the way we'd like them to. It is lovely to feel and not be swept away from it. It is lovely to feel and not necessarily act, or destroy or lash out. Or in. It takes practice, of course. But Roth says that we are very good at practicing suffering, that we can redirect ourselves to practicing kindness, to ourselves and to others.
I am, of course, inclined to agree.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Is It Worth the Effort? (Landing on the Upside of Hope)

  • "How you spend your days is how you spend your life..." Writer Annie Dillard

  • So, I am thinking about hope. And about resiliency and about moving forward, about acceptance and about effort. And a lot of folks I know are thinking about these as well. I like the idea of paying attention to what we believe about the intersection of hope and effort and emotional pain and healing... so here are some thoughts...

Is it worth the effort?...

It's the question that nags at our psyches...but it nags quietly. And it has many variations...

Is it worth the effort it takes to work through my anger?
Is it worth the effort it takes to say the right things even when s/he has hurt me so much?
Is it worth it to help him/her understand what I need? (When I wish they would know already)
Is it worth showing up at a 12 step meeting when I'm not really so bad off right now?
Is it worth it to talk about past pains, since they are in the past?
Is it worth it to reach out to someone I've hurt and make amends?
Is it worth it to learn how to forgive?
Is it worth it to keep a budget?
Is it worth it keep talking when I can't exactly define how it helps?
Is it worth it to work on the issues in my marriage?
Is it worth it to learn about my character?
Is it worth it to develop my creative side? To write? To sing? To paint? To dance?
Is it worth it to sit quietly and learn how to slow down?
Is it worth the effort to read things that will inform me, support me, inspire me?
Is it worth it to pray? To meditate?
Is it worth it to consult with someone when I am confused, impulsive or trying to understand something better?
Is it worth it to remember to be grateful for what I do have?
Is it worth the effort to take care of my mind, by body and my soul?

and then this, too...

Am I worth it?
Is s/he worth it?
Am I better off on my own?
Is it (am I) worth the money?
Is it (am I) worth the time?

and then this, too...

What if it doesn't help?
What if it doesn't work?
What if it no one approves?
What if the results are not fast enough?
What if it seems too hard?
What if s/he hurts me again?
What if I have to sludge through a lot difficult feelings?
What if.....(you fill in the blank...)

and what if it is worth it? Or at least worth an honest try?

I think sometimes that when things seem bleak, hope almost seems painful, as if answering "no, its probably not worth it" will protect us from further hurt, further disappointment, further frustration.

I land on the upside of hope. Yes, I think, in most cases, its always worth it.