02 Nov

Mindfulness: How am I going to change?

Most people tell themselves (or they are told), that they need to change, somehow control their behaviour, to just get a hold of themselves and simply stop being something (angry, jealous, anxious, depressed etc…).  But the simple truth is we cannot successfully “force” our self into changing.  That is simply misguided thinking and it will only lead, at best, to frustration and disappointment.

It is amazing how many people are trying to become better, and are only making matters worse.  Perhaps 95% of the people I see in individual and couples therapy are suffering from this difficulty one way or another.

We have to want to change.   Of that there is no doubt. But it is not enough to want to change.  If we don’t understand what works and what doesn’t we may be spending an inordinate amount of time, energy, and resources  trying to do things that either take us nowhere, or only make things worse.

It is a powerful and compelling notion that if only I look at my life differently, if only I change how I think about myself and others, then perhaps I can be happy. But it is no simple task to truly alter one’s ways of thinking, feeling and acting. There are so many impediments to change, so many sources of confusion and illusion.

If we do decide to change, where do we start?   What is really going to make a difference, and exactly what kind of difference will it make?  What does it even mean to be a better person?

It is my contention that our common ways of understanding how to change ourselves, what we are trying to change into, and why we are even trying to do this, are misguided.

Most people who feel unhappy with some aspect of their self would like to believe that there is some short and easy way to change themselves if only they knew the secret.  Primarily, the form this takes goes something like this – “If I just think long enough and hard enough about what I am doing wrong, I can find a solution and then act on it”.  It is not surprising people think like this. We are fed this illusion in many ways.

Watch some of the popular  “getting help” shows or read most mainstream advice columns and that is how it is presented.  All you need to do is listen to what someone tells you is wrong with you, how to fix it,  and there you go.

Thus it is that most people I see in my practice think, or hope, that if they come to see me for a short chat they will learn this secret and then poof, they will be able to apply it and the transformation will be complete. Believe it or not, this simply does not and cannot work.  In the article entitled “Mindfulness – Freedom From the Known,”  I will try to explain why.

09 Nov

Lies and Uncertainties

Trust versus mistrust. Perhaps this capacity is the greatest factor in determining whether someone can truly enjoy their life and love, or whether they spend it in survival mode and fear.  Almost assuredly if we are to be happy we have to be able to trust another, and trust our self.  This article considers this distinction in more detail.

One of the frequent complaints I hear from patients in my practice concerns their difficulty in trusting people.  When this issue arises my first question to myself is directed at the possibility that there is something I am saying or doing which may be triggering this issue at this time.

Following my own inquiry, I then ask the patient to explore this issue in more detail and eventually inquire with them directly about my own actions.  If there is something amiss between us then we have an opportunity to work this out until hopefully, it is resolved.

Typically however, the complaint being expressed by that person is in reference to the “masks”  people wear or the “games people play”.   I think it is generally true, that in order to function in our complicated world, that people do this.  For some it is simply part of being human in a complex world, while others really are two-faced and manipulative.

Generally my own experience of such behaviours is not one of alarm or disgust but rather an acceptance that this is what we do.  For many others however, the varying roles adopted by others seems almost overwhelming, generating such discomfort in the person that they cope by either withdrawing or becoming confrontive and challenging with the other who is seen as being false.

What I typically wonder about is whether these sensitive individuals have developed those fear responses because they have learned form their experiences early in life that people they should have been able to trust were not actually trustworthy? Did they find, perhaps in their family of origin, that parents said one thing but did another? Was it because the child was made the scapegoat for the parents frustrations with each other, or might there even have been emotional, psychological or sexual abuse involved in the name of love?  Even if the parents were fairly straightforward and reliable, what about teachers, family relatives, clergy, or others in authority positions that may have betrayed trust?

The complaints of these patients have profound implications for their day to day interactions with others, and in terms of their own self.

Obviously if one does not feel sure about another, about their motivations or intentions, it is impossible to relax. Always the doubts are swirling and questions being raised – “What does he mean by that”?, “What does she want from me”?, and so on.

There is no room for trust, and a limited or distorted ability to experience or give pleasure in being with someone.

As for the person them self, the constant inability to relax means a chronically heightened level of stress and anxiety creating a wearing on their body.  There is an overuse and draining of their energy supplies all being funnelled towards one particular goal of trying to read between the lines and assess if they are safe or not.

From this place of fear and doubt there is little we can learn from others that is positive and helpful.

When our psychic energies are primarily and singularly directed towards to checking the motivations of others there is little energy available to be directed towards our psychological growth and development.

Across time it means the separation between our chronological age and psychological age widens disproportionately – we get older but no wiser.  In effect we become increasingly immature.

As I have presented in other articles, this failure to grow is a primary source of suffering, often reflected in depression, anxiety, and relationship conflict.  It is a very unfortunate price to pay due to the sins of others, and it is a horrible and sad way to waste a life.