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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Thinking Like A Therapist/Analyst (Getting UnStuck)

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.


Mehdi A. said...

Quite helpful. Thank you for sahring :)

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

Glad it was!

Lily said...

Oooh, this is hard. I'm attempting to do this now in IOP. I have cemented so many thoughts, beliefs, fears, etc as a result of my abuse and have been living that way for so long that I didn't even realize how it was affecting me. But I am trying...

And you are right about it not being a quick change. It's subtle and seemingly slow.

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

Hi Lily,

yes, many good things are, I think.