Counselling can help you change for the better

Being able to deal with change is essential to our happiness.  Most of us are good at some aspects of it, and not so good at others.

We might be early adopters of technology, and eagerly welcome the latest version of iphone, blackberry, ipad, android tablet or laptop.

The benefits of which means that we have more flexibility and a greater ability to  communicate with more people, more often.  A good example of this is me writing this on a wet and rainy sunday afternoon in Glasgow, and you being able to read it, wherever you are, at whatever time it is.      Changes that may be more challenging for us to deal with are those imposed on us particularly in our work environments.  A new corporate culture,  a change of management style, process changes or an IT system upgrade can leave us struggling to cope.

At home, most have 24/7 access to shopping, banking, paying bills, as well as unrestricted access to news, entertainment and information.

We can also network and instant message people we went to school with, have worked with, gone out with, or have never met at all.    Most of these changes are exciting, full of potential and give us endless opportunities for contact and connections.  And they also create their own problems.  Our lives are more visible to others, and can therefore be more open to positive or negative scrutiny.  When relationships or friendships break down, being able to see how well the ex is doing, can be difficult, especially when you are not doing so well yourself.

And this flow of information provides endless opportunities to hear or see messages that encourage us to Try Harder, Be Perfect, Be the Best, Excel at all costs.   To ‘upgrade our selves’ and be a ‘better model’  , whether that is to be more financially successful, have a better lifestyle, be thinner, fitter, have  ‘more friends on facebook’,  or be a better partner/parent/ wife/husband/ daughter/son .

And whilst these internal or external thoughts and beliefs are undoubtedly motivational to athletes to achieve their Personal Best, or those auditioning for the Apprentice,  for many they can  lead to feelings of worthlessness, dissatisfaction and disconnection.  Its not any surprise that  there are higher than ever levels  of stress, depression and anxiety .

Comparing and competing with each other, in all aspects of our lives, leads to intense pressure to perform well, and doing well at work, seems to come out as top of the list of ‘what’s important in life’ for many.  So,  if you are not doing well at work, there is an  inference  that you are not doing well as a human being.

And this often has a knock on affect on relationships.  If we aren’t feeling good about ourselves its much easier to blame a partner for their shortcomings.  Its easier to look outwards and judge, than look inwards and address our own issues.

RD Laing,  sums this up with the following;

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice.  And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.  “

The other a client  reported that when he came home from work, all he could do was sit down and watch television, as he felt too exhausted to do anything else.  He said that his eyes glazed over, as if hypnotized, by the images on the screen.  He talked about being envious of people he had seen in the park, doing ‘ normal things,’ walking dogs, running, playing with kids, playing football and tennis; and he felt that that he was not able to motivate himself to do any of these things, and he recognized that he was missing out.

He is outwardly successful, with a very good job, he is financially secure, and in a good relationship, but inwardly he is struggling and he has come into counselling to get help in seeing what is going on in his life more clearly.  He wants to become a more active participant in his own life, rather than a passive recipient.

I went to the optician recently as I was having problems with blurred vision after reading or working at the screen.  When I put on the new reading glasses, I was astonished at how clearly I could now see, and became aware of how much I had been squinting and struggling to read.   The world of print suddenly became clearer and more accessible,  I could read phone messages and the small print on packaging.

It struck me that my role as a counsellor wasn’t a million miles away from how the optician had helped me. He helped me explore different ways of seeing the world, through trying on different lenses, and helped me to see more clearly.

Perhaps the benefit of counselling is to try on some ‘inside out glasses’ .

The following ways of ‘seeing the world’ often result in the emotional equivalence of blurred vision,  by having these views, they will mean that you won’t always see clearly, you might recognise some of them.

Emotional perfectionism = I should always feel happy, confident and in control of my emotions

Performance perfectionism= I must never fail or make a mistake

Perceived perfectionism= people will not love and accept me as a flawed and vulnerable human being

Fear of disapproval or criticism= I need everyone’s approval to be worthwhile

Fear of rejection = If I’m not loved, then life isn’t worth living

Fear of being alone = If I’m alone then I will be miserable and unfulfilled

Fear of failure = As long as I’m successful / attractive/ intelligent and achieving things then I’m okay

Conflict phobia = people who love each other should never fight

Emotophobia = I should never feel angry, anxious, inadequate, jealous or vulnerable

Entitlement = People should always be the way I expect them to be

The first step is identifying that you may be seeing the world through one of these self defeating thought patterns,  recognizing them and being aware exactly what it was you were thinking.

This is where working with thought diaries is useful, as its sometimes difficult to pin down what it is you are thinking.  You might also find it helpful to go and have a few sessions with a CBT therapist, who can introduce you to working with tools yourself.  Being really honest about what you are thinking can be quite tricky, as we often don’t even want to admit it to ourselves.

The next step is looking for the triggers that activate these beliefs, and being fully aware what you are doing, and when you are seeing the world this way.  It’s like walking along the road seeing a hole, and not stepping into it.

Once you have this awareness, the next step is to help ‘recalibrate’ or change these thoughts into more useful or helpful thoughts.

A good way of getting these more positive thoughts is to imagine you were able to let go of ‘your fear of failure’ lens ,  that you were able to put things into perspective,  and think, actually it’s okay that I don’t do everything well, I don’t have the time to do this perfectly, I will do the best I can, and that is enough. And I am not going to ruminate after the event.

Counselling can help you change your own thought patterns, and help you to create options and choice about how you see the world.

It can help you see that you will not always be happy, or in control.

That it is not realistic to never feel anger or upset, and to accept that life does involves suffering.

That you will fail sometimes, and you will make mistakes sometimes.

That you are not perfect, and neither is anyone else.

That relationships won’t always work out,

That  life will have rejection, loss, and disappointment in it,

And you will cope, and be able to bounce back again.

By seeing the world in a more accepting way,  you are able to build compassion and self acceptance, to recognize that you are okay as you are, a fallible human being, that sometimes excels, and sometimes is just good enough.

And always being kind and gentle to yourself,  accepting that change is an ongoing process.

Changing for the better is about noticing and being more aware of how you are viewing the world, about challenging and questioning your perceptions, being open to new ideas, and always being active and fully present participants in our own lives.