Monthly Archives: April 2018

Change your gravel

*

Six months ago he came in so wired and anxious we needed to walk the neighborhood for forty minutes before he could sit and talk comfortably.

Now he tells me, “I feel better.”

“Good,” I say.

“I sleep better,” he says.  “I’m less tired.  I worry less.  And I stopped snapping at everyone.”

“Good.”

“Yes, but confusing,” he frowns.  “Because I don’t know why I feel better.”

“Why do you think?” I ask.

“Well, it has something to do with this,” nodding at the two of us sitting together. “Because nothing else has changed.” 

I know what he means.  He still hates his job, remains unsure in his marriage, still struggles with the legacy of growing up in an alcoholic home.

“And what about this” — I imitate his nod — “helps you feel better?”

“Well, talking,” he says.  “I never knew just talking could help so much.  But beyond that,” and he shakes his head.  “Do you know?”

“I know how I see it,” I say.  “I can tell you that.”

“Okay.”

“Therapy’s not mysterious,” I say.  “All a therapist has to offer is two things.  One’s a safe place to tell the truth —  that’s the talking part.”

He nods.

“The other is a new way of seeing things.”

“Seeing things how?”

“Imagine a small pond with black gravel on the bottom,” I say.  “Now imagine that every day you throw a piece of white gravel into that pond.  What happens over time?”

“The white gravel collects,” he says.   

“And if you do this daily for years?”

“Eventually the white gravel covers the black.”

“That’s just what is happening with you.”

He thinks about it.

“So the pond is me.  And the black gravel is…wait, I know.  It’s Plan A.

God bless him, he’s read my book.

“Right.  For six months you’ve been replacing the feelings and beliefs you carried out of childhood — many of them unconscious — with stuff that works better.  Ideas that allow you to think, feel and function in healthier ways. 

“Think about it.  What do you believe now that you didn’t six months ago?”

He’s quiet for a while.

“Three things,” he says finally.   “Holding in feelings made me sick.  That’s the first one.  The second is that I didn’t cause dad’s drinking or my parents’ shitty marriage.”  He pauses.  “And the third is that being anxious and depressed all these years doesn’t mean I’m weak or stupid or a failure.  And that there are other people like me out there.”

“Bravo.  You’ve changing your gravel.” 

“I guess so,” he says thoughtfully.  “Changes everything, doesn’t it?”

 

 

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If this, then that

Control means the ability to dictate reality — to edit people, places and things according to our needs and preferences.

It is the single most important idea in our lives.

Why? 

Because, more than any other, the idea of control shapes our emotions and behavior, our relationships and personalities.

Because what we believe about control — even when we’re unaware we believe it — determines how we feel and how we act.

For example:

~ If I think control is always a good thing to have, I’ll feel deprived whenever I can’t have it.

~ If I think control is always necessary, it will become my priority, and I will seek it regardless of consequences.

~ If I believe my safety depends on having control, I will feel anxious or panicked or overwhelmed whenever control is impossible.

~ If you and I both want control at the same time, we’re going to have a problem.

On the other hand,

~ If I remember that control is often impossible and/or unnecessary, I’ll feel less driven to seek it in all situations.

~ If I know I can feel safe even when I don’t have control, I’ll work harder at learning healthy alternatives.

~ If I’m aware that humans get addicted to control, I’ll be more careful about when and how I go about controlling, and feel more satisfaction when I am able to cope without it.

~ If I know that controlling can wreck communication and destroy relationships, I’ll think twice before trying to control you, or using it to solve problems that crop up between us.

Whenever I meet new clients I listen carefully for their view of control, since more than anything else it summarizes how they see themselves and their relationship to reality.

The more they experience reality as threatening or doubt their ability to cope with whatever life hands them, the more they see controlling as both good and essential. 

The safer they feel, or the more they trust their coping ability, the easier it is for them to see controlling as a problem, or to to imagine feeling safe and happy without control. 

My job as their therapist almost always amounts to helping them move from the first camp into the second. 

 


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