Universal Issues

Things That We ALL Work On

When we are children the people around us are our teachers. When we learn that some of the things our teachers taught us no longer fit, we can honor our teachers for what they gave us and then go forward to learn that which we still need.

Virginia Satir — Thoughts and Feelings

I have noticed that everyone who comes through the doorway to my counseling office ends up working on two things:

  1. communication, both communication with others as well as self-talk; and
  2. setting boundaries or appropriate limits on their own and others’ behaviors (internal and external boundaries) for emotional and physical safety.

The client is taught and encouraged to be mindful of the ego state* that he or she is experiencing at any moment–whether the Critical Parent, Nurturing Parent, Adapted/Wounded Child, Free Child or computer-like Adult–and to recognize what ego state the person whom they are communicating with or observing is experiencing at that same moment.

Often, we work on developing clients’ assertiveness skills so that they can communicate to other persons when their behavior is problematic to the client. All my clients learn simple techniques that they may memorize and then utilize to develop “scripts” that they can use when necessary in either personal or business relationships to call attention to and cooperatively resolve behaviors that are detrimental to the relationship.

Clients learn: (1) to describe the specific undesirable behaviors in their situation and (2) the negative effects of those behaviors; then (3) to specify the preferred behavior desired from the other person; and (4) both the positive and negative consequences, one of which will result if they do/don’t do what is being asked of them and which depends upon the choice of the other person, in response to the client’s direct request for a specific behavioral change.

This exercise brings together the first two concepts that we began with above–communication and boundaries. By communicating directly the specific change that is necessary, the client sets a boundary for the other person that says, in effect, “You may not continue with your previous (specific) behavior(s) without a negative consequence. If you do as I am asking, our relationship should improve. It’s up to you. Will you do (specifically) what I’m asking?”

*Dr. Eric Berne mapped interpersonal relationships to the ego-states of the individuals involved: the Parent, Adult, and Child states. He then investigated communications between individuals based on the current state of each. These interpersonal interactions he called transactions; certain patterns of transactions which appeared in everyday life he called games. (Wikipedia.)

We also work to help clients learn to be mindful of what they are feeling, thinking, and doing at the present moment. At any single moment, one can directly focus on (be mindful of) only one of those three processes. These mindful moments are the building blocks that clients use to forge new pathways in the brain (thoughts) that lead–with time, patience and practice–to more emotionally satisfying, consciously lived experiences.

For example, we may discuss the feelings that the client is experiencing, perhaps fear, anger, loneliness, joy, gratitude, etc. Those feelings will, of course, have thoughts and behaviors associated with them; however, it is essential sometimes to simply take the time to allow clients to be aware of what and how they are feeling emotionally, especially when uncomfortable feelings have been “stuffed” or ignored for many months or even years.

Another time, perhaps only moments later, we may discuss the specific negative thoughts that the client is having so as to help him or her to reframe those thoughts in such a way that the client can consciously decide upon a specific positive course of action to pursue which is more likely to lead to satisfaction.

Moments later, we may discuss the client’s behavior in specific instances–especially repetitive behavior patterns–that result in less than satisfactory results or consequences.

Of course, our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors combine in ways that fit together…if we are thinking, for instance, that we have failed at something, we may feel sad, disappointed, or embarrassed; and we may behave by withdrawing from others deepening our negative feeling.

Alternatively, if we are thinking, about a pleasurable experience we’ve had, we are also feeling happy, and behaving accordingly, perhaps smiling or laughing.

If an individual arrives at adulthood without the knowledge of his or her value and worthiness to get what he or she needs in life and to feel contentment, there is a reason that must be dealt with and corrected (“unlearned” and “relearned”). As the successful therapeutic process occurs, persons begin to experience healthy self-acceptance, self-compassion, and pride and to function well in all of their circumstances and roles. Nearly always, unhappy early life experiences lie at the bottom when clients scratch the surface and ask why they haven’t already learned this vital approach to validating their own experience.

Oftentimes growing up, we learned to believe that our value comes from our performance, rather than simply as our birthright. Looking at any newborn baby, one can quite readily see the value that we all have coming into the world, unable to do much of anything! A very wise mentor once said to me, “You are a human being, NOT a human doing.”

I try hard to teach clients to separate their feelings and thoughts about their deeds from those about their worth and value–and that we all have and keep them, no matter what we do. Perhaps it’s an over-simplification, but we must all learn to embrace our humanness and remember that, “To err is human.” Let me hasten to add, however, that this does not mean that we are not accountable for our misdeeds. Of course, we are. But, regardless of what they may be, we still always have value and worth as human beings.

Our feelings tell us where we are; our intellect tells us what to do; our learnings provide new options; our experience checks them out.

Virginia Satir — Thoughts and Feelings

My Goals as a Therapist

To help clients:

  1. learn to define and validate their own reality;
  2. make conscious, healthy decisions for themselves;
  3. accept themselves as valuable human beings, capable of being in control of their lives so that they will,
  4. eventually, no longer require my guidance in getting their needs met and experiencing contentment.