I wish I had a dime for every time I've asked a client, "is that something you have control over?" I could easily be retired and nestled away quietly in a log cabin in the beautiful foothills of Montana. So many mental health issues today are directly a result of things completely outside of our control. Think about this for a minute, how much control do we have over our co-workers behavior? How much do we allow the behavior of our co-workers to effect our day? The answers to both might initially be "a lot" but realistically the only thing we have control over is the way we choose to respond (if we respond at all) to the behaviors of others.
There are all sorts of therapeutic directions to go from that point of the discussion but the focus will now shift to kindness. Let's take a look at a potential scenario and what our options might be in handling that scenario. A mother is standing in line with her children at Wal-Mart and one is screaming she wants a toy, one is tapping her on the shoulder loudly yelling "mom!" over and over again, and another is bouncing up and down on the front of the cart. You come up behind her in line and she sees you looking at one of the kids and she says sharply, "what are you looking at?!" Most, if being honest, would immediately shift to defensive mode or simply ignore the woman, however, the person who truly loves themselves seeks to aide others and also is more capable of seeing things from other's perspectives. One choice that many would not have thought of is to simply be honest, "I was looking at your beautiful children and admiring how you have been able to keep it all together, I know when my kids did this I struggled to be as patient as you."
This choice not only deflects any further negativity but also helps in picking up a Mother who, based on her initial reaction to you, is at wits end and likely needs a daily dose of kindness at that point. It is also an opportunity to teach kindness as well.... sort of like a happy, fast spreading plague.
Kindness is incredibly empowering. It's something we can always choose and by having that ability we gain power over our lives and we feel awfully damn good doing it. Had the response in the above scenario been negative, who actually had the control, me or her? What would I have felt afterward? What might have she felt afterward? Being kind to those who are unkind is like hitting someone with a surprise left hook they didn't see coming because it is often the only thing that people like the above mentioned Mother have ever experienced.
So, why are we so negative and why aren't people more kind? A lot has to do with our culture and media exposure. We don't really value kindness as much as we should. When watching any action movie where there is an antagonist and a protagonist, the plot usually revolves around the bad guy doing something to the good guy and the rest of the film is the good guy getting revenge on the bad guy. You can trace this from Gun Smoke to today's blockbuster superhero movies. Revisiting control for a minute, we have been duped into believing that being mean, aggressive, vindictive somehow promotes change in others....giving us a very false sense of controlling those people. In all truth, those above traits create fear, resentment and a eventually abandonment. Another influence is our constant bombarding of negative posts through social media. I once counted 30 posts and of those only 5 could be considered positive or neutral. I encourage clients to unplug as often as possible to get away from the daily deluge of awful.
Practicing kindness is at times difficult because we feel that we are somehow letting those who have wronged us get away with something, but if you hold grudges they truly are getting away with stealing your enjoyment for however long you hold the grudge. Practice kindness and take your power back!
Derik S. Berkebile, LCSW, CMH, ACHP-SW
Couples Counseling: What It Is.......and Isn't
For couples, just the idea of seeing someone to help work through their issues can seem defeating, or at the very least, make you feel like maybe you just weren't meant to be. Couples often come because during the course of their time together they lost touch with what made the relationship desirable in the first place. So, how does therapy help?
I guess I should start off by stating what couples counseling is NOT. This might save me a few sessions of changing expectations in the future. First, it is NOT a sounding board to get the therapist to validate that YOUR issue(s) with your partner are correct. In other words, don't come to counseling expecting the therapist to say to your partner, "oh, John is right, if you just do what he is suggesting, Jane, you'll be fine." If your therapist is blatantly siding with one or the other, it may be time to see another therapist. Couples counseling is NOT a venting arena as well. This may establish a baseline of what the communication patterns are like, but after a few sessions the communication should be improved and the disrespectful yelling, name calling, belittling, etc. should be improved. Finally, it is not a place to get the therapist to FIX your partner or your problems. For all the faults you may perceive your partner to have, successful counseling usually starts by focusing inward and relies on the COUPLE to fix the problems with insight provided by the therapist.
It may seem counterintuitive, but relationships thrive when the individuals involved first feel good about themselves. They are confident and secure in who they are and do not require much in the way of validation (see Maslow's Hierarchy and self-actualization.) Many relationship issues begin with the need for one partner to receive validation from the other. For example, "I did the dishes tonight so my wife should say thank you and express gratitude." When the validation isn't received the negativity cycle begins spinning out of hand and arguments ensue. "She didn't say thank you so I am not doing anything more tonight." Wife sees this behavior and questions it in an all too familiar pattern, "are you just gonna lay around all evening?" Knowing the mindset of the husband, how he is already primed for aggression, this response elicits further negativity.
Now, imagine if John had just done the dishes because he likes the part of himself that is helpful and didn't look for validation. What if Jane had expressed her concerns in a less aggressive way? What if John realized that he felt disrespected and hurt by his wife's reaction instead of going straight to anger and was able to share that and work through it with her? That is the essence of couples counseling. We first learn to undo some of the dysfunctional schema that result in unrealistic expectations for our partners. We then strive to build self-confidence and how each partner can aide in this for each other. Mindfulness strategies are often used to teach clients to "cue" themselves when they are starting into the old patterns of communication and to use a more positive means of communicating with one another. Therapists teach self accountability, taking ownership of your problems in the relationship and working together to fix those instead of pointing out how the partner is at fault. Homework assignments are often included to keep the couple on track between sessions. To summarize, in an overly simplistic way, couples counseling is the undoing of the patterns that lead to the undoing of the relationship. Couples who engage in counseling often go on to lead better relationships together than those who never went at all. It is not a sign of individual weakness, but an important step in having the best relationship possible.
Please feel free to leave blog comments below or to share.