A lot of therapy is about sort of stepping back and seeing things – seeing yourself – from a different perspective. Getting out of the weave and the warp of the moment and looking more at the whole fabric of the situation you’re in. Seeing if there’s any repeating motifs or themes that might help you unlock some solutions… or even unlock parts of you.
And the wonderful thing is that you can do this without being in formal therapy.
Don’t get me wrong, traditional therapy is a great way to get the hang of this pattern-spotting business. And it’s incredibly powerful to work with someone who’s got your back and can help you see any blindspots you might have. But once you’ve become a pattern watcher, you can use it anytime you like, to find deeper insights and often deeper healing, too.
So what sort of things might you try to notice? What helps spot the patterns?
Sometimes questions like these are a good place to start:
Cloudy days will come.
For you. For your family. For your friends.
And not just the kind that dominate the skies above you. But also the ones that help set the weather within you. The internal cloudy days that send your mental and emotional landscape into overcast sadness.
Cloudy days will come…
I was thinking this the other day, when some of my family came to Sydney to visit. Even now, in spring, it was suddenly cold and wet again. And even though it was sun that we wanted, it was cloud and some rain that we got (as you can see in the photo).
So what do you do when the internal cloudy days come to visit? How can you get through them? Or maybe even prepare for them? On this year’s Mental Health Day, perhaps it’s worth getting mentally meteorological and taking a look at what you’ll do when your weather changes.
Anger. It’s got a pretty bad reputation. And we’re often told what to do with it: be careful with it. Suppress it. Vent it. Override it. It’s like anger’s some kind of volatile, toxic force to be harnessed or defused.
But maybe there’s another way of looking at it altogether.
Maybe you can actually learn from anger. Listen to it. See what it has to tell you. Get curious about it.
The sticker in the photo (above), in a cleverly vandalised train carriage I travelled in recently, has another suggestion for how to respond to anger:
“If anger is present
rove to another age”
So let’s take another look at anger for a moment.
Storytelling seems to be written so deeply into us. We’ve done it for millennia, to capture knowledge and wisdom and heart. Yet stories aren’t only verbal. They’re visceral, too. They’re the lived-out stories of our days.
So what kind of story are you telling with your life?
Where might the story of you be headed right now?
(And is that where you’d like it to go?)
When you pull back from the minutiae and dialogue of the everyday, what themes seem to emerge off your pages? Are there patterns re-visited across time?
And as the author of this particular story, this particular life, what does all of that mean for you?
Let’s delve into the pages for a moment.
In Part 1 of this post, we looked at the concept of safety in relationships, and drawing a boundary around the damaging behaviour in them (the axe in the forest).
So what about your relationship with your self? Are there parts of that relationship that are potentially damaging to you, too? Parts where you’re sharpening your own blade against yourself?
Are there thoughts you catch yourself thinking that seem to do more harm than good?
That leave you feeling depleted?
Maybe there’s a harsh sense of self-judgment?
Maybe there’s self-doubt?
Maybe there’s just an overwhelming sense of not being any good? Feeling defective somehow.
If so, then could it be possible to draw a boundary around that stuff as well? To protect your inner forest from the blades of those axes.
Stuck in traffic on my way home the other day, I could feel the frustration building, when I happened to spot a taxi with “Your Driver” painted boldly on the door right under the driver’s window.
It made me wonder about who my driver was at that moment… me or the frustration.
So I wonder, on the road you’re travelling, who is your driver when things get tricky or tough?
Who gets behind the wheel at difficult times?
Does it seem automatic to just let them take that control?
And then what happens?
Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to facilitate an ‘in conversation’ event with Rev Dr Stephanie Dowrick, as we explored the idea of seeking the sacred in life, and what that might look like.
On the way there, I spotted these words on a menu board in a restaurant garden:
“Enjoy the Beauty Inside”
I’m sure it meant the beauty inside the restaurant, but it seemed a really apt thing to see just before talking about the concept of sacredness…
During that conversation, Stephanie lamented that therapy often required so much “work” and that it often seems so negatively framed. That therapy seems to need us to unravel our lives right back to the beginning and re-live all the painful bits. To dredge up the ugly past and stain the present with it somehow.
And maybe this is true, sometimes.
For in therapy’s earlier days, it started out as just such a thing.
But, thankfully, it’s grown since then.
Many therapies now also look to our future and ask us to imagine what we’d like to bring about there, and how we might do that…
Out here in Australia, Halloween is an inherited festival that’s only just starting to catch on. And though is still seems a slightly foreign ritual to me, there are also benefits in approaching things like this as an outsider. For sometimes you can see into things a little differently with fresh eyes…
So maybe we can look at this tradition afresh together and find out what else Halloween might offer us (other than the tricks or treats).
What meaning lies beneath it?
And how can you perhaps draw some of that meaning back into your own life.
Have you heard of bibliotherapy?
It’s thought to be the art of healing through books and reading (and more recently, incorporates online reading material, too). And though it might seem like just a fancy word for a trip down the self-help aisle of the bookshop, it’s actually been around for quite a while – since at least the 1930s – and was apparently used following WWII to help soldiers recuperate.
More recently, bibliotherapy has often been claimed and redefined by the briefer and more directive therapies, including CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), and has had things like ‘homework exercises’ woven through it. Or it’s seen as something you can sort of ‘apply’ to children. But its original intent was a bit more complex than that.
For bibliotherapy also incorporates your relationship to the content of what you’re reading – be it poetry, philosophy, whatever gets you going. So it’s not just about the ‘7 steps to happiness’ stuff.
And it also connects you in relationship to the other people you may read about, or even to the authors themselves and the way they capture ideas and aspects of life in literature. So it can lift you out of isolation. It invites you to be enriched and joined to others by the whole dynamic experience.
And maybe there’s yet another way of looking at it…
For what if you were the book?
This sign is supposed to be about protecting your material possessions. Yet the deft work of someone’s pen has opened up a whole new meaning here…
And with that notion, the one of passion thieves – and what they might look like – and how to stop them.
Externalising is the (strangely revolutionary) idea that you are not the problem.
That, in fact, the problem is the problem.
So what? you might think. It seems a pretty self-evident truth. Yet, initially, the field of psychology saw things differently. For a long time, the overwhelming thought was that the flaw lay within people themselves, and so it was people (not problems) that needed ‘fixing’.
Yet, as our friend with the passionate pen outlined, there are other ways of seeing this stuff. Ways that stop the blame game (and the guilt game and all that shaming and self-doubt that can come with the idea of personally being the problem).
So how does this externalising thing work?