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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Goals

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I have to admit from the get go that I have been more of a "keep talking" therapist than a "what's your goal" therapist. I always believed deeply in the value of telling your story, your pain, your fears, hopes, worries, doubts, burdens, angers, whatevers! to an understanding ear. I believe so much in the importance of putting things into words, not actions. At least not until the action has been discussed, understood, thought out.

And I have always trusted that unquantifiable feeling of relief at being heard, understood, not corrected, criticized, blamed, denied, argued with or cheered up. Not that I mind being cheered up, but only after I've been listened to well enough.

It's not that I don't work with goals. Or think we should have them. In fact, I do. It's just that I think they have to be well thought out, and that they can evolve. And we can't set ourselves up for failure. I like to talk about and study goals as a way of understanding what we want. For example, I have a friend who is always criticizing her husband. What he wears, how he eats, how he talks. She corrects him frequently. He of course is not happy about this, and their marriage is on the rocks. I hear her doing it a lot. And I see him looking a bit helpless and a lot annoyed. She told me that she knows she is on his case, but she thinks it will make him a better husband. That's her goal. I asked her if it was working, and she said no, not really. It was actually making him worse. Time to rethink the method. Or the goal. Maybe on some level she wants to make him miserable, to let him know how miserable she feels, or maybe she wants to annoy him because she is angry with him. I think some talking will help figure it out.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about goals when it comes to eating disorders. I know that for those of you who are struggling to put food in your mouth, your goals are a bit cloudy. Some of you have the goal of getting the scale down as low as possible. Some of you have the goal of staying alive. Some of you have the goal of being able to eat as much as you want and not gain weight, or of getting out of the binge-purge tornado. Sometimes, the goals are in conflict with each other. That's when the talking comes in handy. Some really good discussions about what you are doing and why. And what's in the way of moving forward.

A lot of people think of goals in terms of money, or degrees, or achievements. Which is valid of course. I am thinking of goals in terms of life, and relationships. Is your goal to hurt yourself? If so why? Is your goal to hurt someone else? Get revenge, get your point across? If so why? What do your actions mean?

Is your goal to nourish your body and soul? Or to attack? To grow or to wither? To learn more about yourself? Can your goal be to learn to agree to being worth nourishing? Can your goal be to learn about how to be angry without hurting yourself, or how to get relief without punishment?

I think sometimes we are afraid to fess up to our real goals for fear that they are sinister, or misguided, or impossible. Or that they mean we are bad in some way. I think that's stopping short. If we can let ourselves think about our goals, and why we have them, we might get some good insight into what's working in our favor and what's not. And how to have more of what we really want.

Sometimes when someone has hurt us, our goal is to hurt them back. We might not want to admit this. Even if we do, we may also not really want to hurt them, but want to reach them in some way, and make things better.

Back to needing to talk to someone who gets it. Goals are not so simple, but when well thought out, they can shed light on our actions, help us learn about ourselves, our feelings and our needs. They can be guiding lights to our psyche and a chance to unpack our ideas and help us to move forward in our relationships with others, as well make great progress in our relationship with our self.

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