Base Counselling Services

base: the fundamental assumption from which something is begun

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It's not you, it's me.

"It's not you, it's me."

It's a classic break-up line, one to soften the blow so the other doesn't feel as rejected as if you said what you were really thinking. But...what if it's true? What if you really are the problem? Something I've noticed about the growth process for my clients is that there is a steep upward movement in personal development when there is a realization that they are the only ones responsible for their actions, reactions, and responses and they don't need to be a victim.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not abandoning my roots here! I still fully believe that the things that occur early in a person's life have a strong developmental impact on how they view themselves and the world around them. It's that exact view that drives this blog post - events in adulthood - as opposed to childhood, where a person may actually be helpless - get viewed through that same child-like lens of helplessness, which leads to victimization - a blaming of others for one's problems.

What would happen if you were able to view your life through a more mature, more powerful lens? What if those things that happened in your childhood shaped you, but didn't define you?

First, some words about that little voice in your head. I call it your inner critic. Everyone has one. Mine has an Irish accent that I gave him when I was in grad school and struggling with the confidence needed to talk to perfect strangers and feel like I was actually helping them. That inner critic's job is to keep you from saying and doing socially awkward, dangerous, thoughtless, or otherwise foolish things. It's a good job. The problem is, that inner critic is critical of absolutely everything you do. People with high self-confidence have developed the ability to tune out their inner critic on a day-to-day basis and only listen when that critic is behaving in an appropriate manner (No, Inner Critic, my hair is fine. Ok, Inner Critic, I will not make that joke about dead babies.). People who listen to every word that comes from their inner critic tend towards victimization. "It's not fair, they don't treat you right", which can turn into anger and mistrust: "No one cares what you think, say, or do."

So what? So now you know you have this angry little critic inside you, calling out every flaw and injustice. That's step one. Recognize that inner critic for what it is - a tool for you to use. It is not your life-bible. You do not need to do, say, or believe everything that critic says.

According to Joyce Callet (in The Ethics of Interpersonal Relationships), once you recognize that critic for what it is, you can then identify the anger behind it - an irrational, emotional response to frustration that requires no justification. Feeling angry is okay. Seriously.

When you rationalize your anger (people should treat me a certain way), then you can get stuck in anger that turns others away and is massively unhealthy. Stay away from obligation - the ideas of fairness or rightness or should-ness - since they can lead to paranoid feelings (e.g., my mother should listen to me but doesn’t do it how I think she should so, obviously, she hates me). Just go ahead and be frustrated and then move on and away from thoughts about the requirements of others and how they treat you.

Talk about your anger in non-victimized, assertive ways. Give up the idea that you are owed anything by anyone, and take control of getting what you want and need to reduce your own frustration. Admit that you are angry, work on developing the ability to see the difference between how you feel about a situation and the actions that led to that feeling (no one can make you mad; in reality, it is your interpretation of the situation that leads to frustration and, subsequently, anger), and stop limiting yourself by blaming others.

After all, if you're not happy...it's probably you.

 

Masked by Sunshine

Ah, summer. Finally. Trees are green, grass is lush, and the sun is shining. Days like today make it seem like there isn't a care in the world. The problem we can fail to see is that while we feel better in the sun, the issues we had in the fall, winter, or spring aren't actually gone. They're just masked by sunshine.

Don't get me wrong - I love summer. I smile more. It's the time of year I feel the most alive. However, when stress, anxiety, depression, or any other multitude of issues decide to park in your psyche, they don't go away just because the sun is out. It just feels that way.

See, the experiences that are imprinted on us, the things that shape the way we think, feel, and behave all come from somewhere and, sunshine or snow, they don't go away without specifically addressing them. It just feels like a bigger deal to be depressed when there's three feet of snow on the ground and no end (or sunshine) in sight.

So, how can you possibly enjoy summer knowing your problems are lurking around the corner, waiting for the first rainy day to jump on your back and return you to your own private hell? Simple: beat them to the punch. Do whatever you can to address the difficulty you're facing.

First, awareness. If you've ever bought a new car, I'm sure you were surprised on the drive home how many people had your same car. That's how psychological awareness works as well. Once you start to pay close attention to what is going on in your world, you start to see patterns emerge. Once you start to recognize the patterns, you can begin to predict (ahead of time!) how you are going to react to a given situation.

Second, decision. Once you begin to recognize the patterns and are able to accurately predict behaviours and responses, make some decisions. How long are you going to allow yourself to act a certain way? Sometimes actions and responses are biologically based and will require the services of a psychiatrist. For the behaviours that are truly under your control, start to make the call to put the negative reactions in their place.

Third, follow-through. Now that you know (or at least are pretty sure) what's going on in your head and what you want to do with it, do it. Nike got one thing right: Just do it. It is simple but certainly not easy. You can decide all sorts of things, but those decisions are meaningless until there is a follow-through. This is where people get hung up. It is the hard part. It is the part that requires that you hold yourself accountable for all the things you think you should do. This is where you feel guilty for that bag of chips late at night, or calling your mother for the third time in one night, or dumping that girl in a fit of anger.

But, don't give up. You've spent your whole life building patterns. Now, you get to expend energy adjusting those base patterns into something that reflects who you want to be. I will say it again: it is hard work. If you are unable to change things on your own, look around for someone to give you a hand. Write, talk it out, go to therapy, whatever will work for you. But whatever you do, keep at it.

See, sunshine is great. It helps your garden grow, makes your skin warm, and lets you drive with the windows down and the music up. But, it doesn't fix your problems. You do that.

The Best Friend You'll Never Have

I once heard it said that a good counsellor is the best friend you'll never have. I wish I could remember who said/wrote it, but alas, I can't. You'll have to Google it yourself, I guess ;)

I also once heard that if you have good friends, you'll never need counselling. Not sure where I heard that one either (my memory is not what it used to be).

I agree with one of those two sentiments. You'll know which one pretty quickly.

The first one.

Here's why:

1) Think about your best friend. How did you develop your friendship with this person? Likely, a good chunk of your relational development was spent conversing about things that matter to you. The more time you spend with another human being you trust, the closer you become to one another. The closer you become, the more you trust this person.

It is similar with a counsellor. You spend time together. Dedicated time for your counsellor to hear you out. To listen, to help you hash through the really hard, uncomfortable stuff, to not judge, and not go anywhere. You feel unburdened, because you are vocalizing the stuff of life that normally stays hidden. If you are in a position where you have a small support structure in your life, a counsellor can fill an important void.

On the other hand, if we believe the second idea, then the number of friends shouldn't matter, as long as they're good. The problem is, even good friends get tired. Even good friends run out of ability to help. Even good friends sometimes won't tell you what you need to hear if it is not what you want to hear.

2) Part of a best friend's job is to be honest with you, even if it uncomfortable. Your counsellor should be able to do this with you. Even if you have great friends who always tell you the truth, sometimes their delivery options leave a little to be desired. A counsellor should be trained to tell you uncomfortable things in such a way that you believe it is in your best interest, even if you don't believe it right away.

It also makes a difference that your counsellor doesn't know you from any other walks of your life. What a counsellor says to you isn't loaded with the baggage of what he or she said last year at the New Year's party. You should be convinced that what your counsellor says to you is entirely unselfish and solely for your own benefit.

No matter how good your friends are, there is history with each and every one of them, and that history affects how you hear what they say. It affects your interpretation of their meaning. The lack of history with your counsellor (and, as you progress in counselling, the type of history) makes difficult and uncomfortable conversations less so.

3) No matter how close you and your counsellor get in a counselling, therapeutic, working relationship, you will never be friends. It is precisely this seemingly harsh lack of a future that allows such an honest relationship. Your counsellor should not be in any way concerned about his or her own fulfillment in this relationship - it is a one way affair, solely for your benefit. This lack of looking out for one's own interests on the behalf of the counsellor allows him or her to be honest with you about where you are, allows the counsellor to say, with empathic concern, hard truths.

No matter how good your friends are, within any "traditional" relationship, there will always be an element of looking out for one's self. This can prevent complete honesty in a relationship. There is also a real possibility of your very good friend lying to you to protect your feelings. If you are in counselling, generally speaking, your feelings, emotions, and functioning levels are already hurt. They don't need to be protected, they need to be healed. Sometimes that takes a surgery that a friend simply cannot do, no matter how good the friend.

Overall, no matter how many friends you have, or how good they are, or how honest they are with you, there may be an occasion for you to seek out professional help. Find someone that you feel comfortable with, that has a similar worldview to yours, and that you can be honest with because there is a chance you will feel uncomfortable and need to be uncomfortably honest with at some point within the journey.

But that's okay - you've got the best friend you'll never have along for the ride.

Why You Need Therapy

You think you have things pretty well figured out, and the things that do bother you are pretty small in comparison to the rest of the world. Or, perhaps you think that all couples feel that way about one another. Maybe you think that it does not really matter in the end if you are happy or just...existing.

Well...you're right. Sort of. Chances are, you do have things pretty well figured out. And, it's actually fairly likely that most couples feel that way about one another once in a while. But it does matter in the end that you are doing more than just existing. 

See, here's the thing: you may need therapy. You need someone to talk to. Whether it is a counsellor or a friend, you need to have someone that can listen and help you figure this out for real. Not just to feel better for now, but really, truly understand exactly what it is you feel and why. 

As a counsellor, I have the distinct advantage of not being involved anywhere else in your life. I don't know your group of friends. I don't know your parents, and I'm not your kid's baseball coach (mostly because I am no good at baseball). I get to look in as far as you let me and help you see the patterns that you are so accustomed to that you never put it together as a pattern. You live inside your life. I don't. I get to see it from the outside and help you gain a different perspective. As you gain that extra perspective, you begin to see emotions rising within you faster. You feel with more accuracy. You communicate more clearly. Little things don't bother you anymore. 

It's not far off of looking at a road map. Some people look at a map because they have no earthly idea where their destination is, let alone how to get there. Others have a general idea, but need some specific help. Still others are pretty sure they know how to get there, and they simply want confirmation it's the best way. 

Therapy (or counselling, or professional help) benefits you directly as you learn about yourself. Scads of people who are paid to do research have figured out that if you voice your concerns, they automatically seem less concerning. Of course, this varies for everyone and you may feel only a little bit better to start. Or you may feel worse at the start. The therapeutic experience is a living thing - it changes, even with the same counsellor over a number of years, it will be a little bit different each time. 

So, here's what I think: if you have the sense that things could be better for you; if you feel like maybe you aren't functioning with the emotional intelligence you thought you had; if you have heard yourself repeat "I can do this myself" more than once; if you feel like there's got to be more, you're not crazy. You're not a failure. You want to live a better life. 

And that, dear reader, is why you need therapy.

What Counselling is (or isn't) About...

    Over the last few years, I have seen hundreds of new clients step foot through my doors and sit on the couches and chairs of my various offices. Each of those people have taught me something about what counselling is and what it isn't. Clients carry their own perceptions and misconceptions about what they can expect from a counselling session. I thought it may be nice for you to have an idea of what you can expect out of a counselling session with me. 
    Of course, a session changes and moves with you as we spend time together. Aside from the first appointment, there is no rote script to follow. There is no checklist. No musts. The first appointment is about me getting to know you, where you've come from, and why you're sitting in my office. It is the only time you'll see me take notes. It is the only time I'll be working off a script (and even then, I tend to stray where you take me). It is the preliminary get-used-to-talking-about-things-you-don't-tell-anyone-else session for you and it is the get-to-know-you-and-what-you're-about session for me. You get used to talking about yourself, and I get used to how you talk about yourself. It is how we set up how we will work together (because we do therapy together) for the rest of our time, however long that may be (we'll cover that in the first session, too). 
    As we work together, you need to understand that this may be the only place in the world where you can speak without being judged for it. You will know that you are understood and that I will not tell you not to feel something you know you feel. That is not what therapy is about.
    Therapy is about you being able to unload without judgement or fear. It is about being safe. It is about giving yourself the time and consideration to think through and explore all the facets of your life that you have left unattended for whatever reasons, be it trauma, busyness, or just plain old neglect of yourself.
    Coming to therapy does not mean you are crazy, nor it is an admission of weakness. Even very good drivers consult road maps at times. For some, that is what therapy is: consulting life's maps. Am I on a good trajectory? Could I be taking a better route? 
    For others, counselling is like figuring out a puzzle. The challenge is that you have no picture of what the put-together puzzle is supposed to look like. You're not sure you have all the pieces. You're not even sure the pieces you have are from the same puzzle. All you have is a bag of puzzle pieces, and life is telling you to put it together. That's where counselling comes in. 
    Together, we dump out the bag of puzzle pieces. Together, we take the time to turn over each and every piece and examine it to see how, and if, it fits. Through this difficult, and sometimes quite emotional process, you begin to understand yourself. You gain an awareness of who you are, of why you make the choices you do, of why you think the way you do about yourself and others. In learning about yourself, you begin to recognize the areas of your life where you can take back some of the self-control you seem to have lost. You also begin to see how you have made good decisions. When I reflect what I am hearing back to you, it is your chance to say, "Yes, that sounds right!", or, even better, to say, "Actually, no, I don't always do it that way." 
    What a wonderful feeling to be able to understand yourself more clearly. To be aware of how you are feeling as you feel it. To be able to connect to everything that is going on inside you at the moment in which it happens, rather than have it (whatever "it" is for you) sit and fester and rot and eat away at you. 
    The hard part is being willing to come and talk and explore and actively participate in delving into the hard things to understand how the base of your life can be changed. It is a long process. It is hard, emotional work. It takes a toll on your emotions, but it is worth every tear. 
    The hardest part for some, is the realization that they have been living life for so long in a way that suddenly feels "wrong". It isn't wrong; it may be ineffective, unproductive, or painful, but that is very different than wrong. But, there are more things about therapy that are hard. Therapy isn't easy. Baring your soul to a stranger, while easier at first perhaps, gets more difficult the longer you come.
    I'll tell you this now, and it may seem silly to read it here first, but trust me - it will make things easier later. Your counsellor will be the best friend you can never have. Read that sentence again, please.
    This is not a friendly chat over coffee (although, I have been known to have coffee while in session). This is not a band-aid solution, this is not homework, this is not Googling "how to not be angry". Your whole life has been going in a certain trajectory and now you want to change that trajectory. You have built a life on certain assumptions. You have developed a base. Now you want to change that base. It will take a long time. It will take a lot of work. It will take times of me confronting you and you confronting me. 
    Sometimes it may feel like you are going nowhere. Sometimes it may feel overwhelming. Overall and over time, it will feel like you are changing. And that is what counselling is (and isn't) about. At least, it is with me.

 

Copyright 2014 Base Counselling Services

Ashley Hanson Theravive Therapist