A+B=C (The Upward Slope)

Please read the earlier blog first. It is entitled, A+B=C (The Downward Slope).

I think you have the idea. Our belief systems orient us to outcome or consequence. We can have a positive effect on our circumstances and experiences if our belief systems are working more consistently with reality. if we keep blaming the activating event or trigger, we will not grow. We will repeatedly suffer the consequences of our faulty beliefs. This, in large measure, is why people keep repeating the same mistakes.

A young woman visited me bi-weekly for several months. The sessions were intense and she worked hard to confront her belief system. Growing up she saw herself as pudgy, not particularly confident and remembers being coerced sexually by her brothers and their friends. She believed that she was not deserving of anyone and her only hope was to find a man who would take care of her. She complained that her mother smothered her with unhelpful advice and told her that when she got married to a good man, he would think for her as she couldn’t think for herself.

A+B=C

The activating event for “Shauna” was the continuous judgment from her growing up family. There were many diminishments throughout her childhood and adolescence. She felt empty, cheap and dumb, and acted in a way that invited the sexual exploits of others.

Shauna had to decide if her beliefs concerning herself were true-to-life. She could see the activating events (A) but she avoided thinking about them because they caused her such pain. It was much harder for her to see the beliefs (B) that produced such a chaotic and depressing life (C).

Here are a few of her beliefs: “I am dumb,” “I am worth nothing,” “I am depressed all the time,” “I can’t talk to my parents or my family without crying,” “I have fu_ked so many men that no decent man would want me,” “I can’t get a job that pays more than minimum wage,” “I can’t be happy on my own.” She was hospitalized for major depressive disorder.

It is laborious to examine and interrupt the cascade of harmful events and beliefs that precedes depression. Shauna studied the A’s of her life — her dysfunctional family of origin, the fears she enfolded into her soul, the triangles of emotions in her chaotic family. She measured the B’s she had incorporated. She challenged the beliefs that were untrue and harmful and she unearthed some hidden beliefs that were hopeful and clever.

I think of therapeutic change as being a 5% shift. She created an upward slope to a better life. Shauna made a 5% shift and her consequences improved. And she observes her A+B=C as a morning and evening ritual. It is the content of her journal and the structure of her thinking.

Recently she met a man she quite liked. Rather than becoming inebriated and travelling a downward slope, she asked him questions and interacted with his answers. She decided that she was a pretty good thinker and that she could figure out her next steps.

A+B=C (The Downward Slope)

This is an old psychology formula that makes good sense. “A” is the Activating event or the trigger that gets stuff rolling. “B” is the Belief system or judgment(s) that makes things worse (or possibly better, depending on your beliefs). “C” is the Consequence or outcomes.

This is how the formula works. Mostly the A or activating event (the thing that triggers you) just happens. You can’t control most circumstances and you are not immune to being hurt or upset. It is the B or belief system that produces the C or consequence.

Here is an example from a couple I saw a couple of weeks ago. The male partner was enraged for what he experienced the weekend just prior. This is the A – what he thought his wife did to him. He accused her of shaming him in front of his friends at a really fun party. This is the B – that he felt judged and that he should not be. The C was his rage and hurt and his spiteful behaviour for days following.

This is what went on: she asked him not to drink any more beer that night. He was getting pretty loud and acting “drunk-ish,” she said. She was worried by his disinhibition: flirting, bragging, over-laughing. She asked him quietly to stop the beer, she said. He thinks she publicly shamed him.

A bit later in the session, I asked about his thought processes and what triggered him. “I don’t need her to control me. She is not so perfect. I like to loosen up with my friends. She is so uptight.” That is the B or the belief systems that fueled his fire.

The B (or belief system) produced the C (or consequence) of several days of his swearing and anger, and spitefully threatening a divorce. Her C was to disappear from his sight, visit with her friends in the evenings, make him a Nespresso in the morning.

Here is what I said: “Your problem might be beer – I don’t know that – but it certainly is your belief system. You think that your partner is ruining your life. Where did you get that idea from?”

It still surprises me how hard we hold on to our unhelpful convictions. He needed to be right. He needed her to be wrong. He needed me to validate his narrative.

And then he saw it, reluctantly and thoroughly. He said, “I guess if I didn’t feel ‘small’ with her, I could have handled this differently. Maybe not right away but certainly within a couple of hours.” He apologized to her. She gladly accepted.

Now the therapy begins. He has to sort through his bloated belief system and find out something truer about himself and his partner. (More to come.)

[You are invited to make any comment you wish on this post or anything else on my site by emailing me at life@theducklows.ca. Thanks.]

My Counselling Sessions with Paddy

You can think of this blog as self-promotion and I am not-so-secretly delighted that this client thinks so well of Carole and me. And… there are some great ideas about how to approach counselling in his ideas. It was written in his blog space in 2014 and, 5 years later, he continues to see me on occasion. He offered his approval for posting his letter on my site.

 

I have come to appreciate what a privilege it is to be able to meet with a psychologist on a regular basis. The insights that I receive help to balance my own attempts to figure out what parts of my life require concerted attention, and to receive tools to master life-skills essential for personal success — however you want to define that.

In 2009, I made the life-long awaited choice to begin seeing a counsellor. Beginning to recognize some anomalies in my social interactions, I wanted a chance to speak with a professional one on one about my specific personal concerns. On a recommendation from a trusted friend, I first contacted Carole Ducklow, a Registered Clinical Counsellor. In my first meeting, she read me like a familiar book and identified immediately the issues I was wrestling with the most, unbeknownst to me. Since then it has been a long battle to attend to that personal issue.

My father was diagnosed with cancer two weeks after I first met with Carole. It was as if my decision to start seeing a counsellor was meant to be. Eventually, I turned to Paddy Ducklow, Carole’s husband, essentially to get the appointments covered by my insurance company by meeting with a Registered Psychologist. I knew Paddy as a faculty member in grad school and heard him speak once at church. But I never knew him in person.

On my first meeting, the chemistry clicked for me. He, like Carole, was an attentive listener, allowing me to speak freely without passing any judgments or interrupting me with his diagnosis. He is also a graduate university professor — and that’s what came home for me.

For me, counselling is all about being a student, and the role of student fits me like a glove. I am eager to learn, delve deep with my inquisitions, and I keep in mind the goal for what it is I want to learn. In grad school, it was to master Koine Greek or to understand the technique of orchestration (music school). In this counselling context, it wasn’t “what” I wanted to learn, but “who” — indeed, I, myself, would be the object of my study. The severe depressive episodes, particularly since my father’s passing in March 2010, my relationship with my family and friends, the absence of coping mechanisms for stress — they are all both experienced and analyzed in my daily life. And Paddy has become my personal tutor in the academic study of myself.

I never went to Carole or Paddy to have them tell me how to live my life. I always knew that was my decision to make. Sometimes he would make an observation, and the accuracy would feel slightly off. And so he would try something else. You see, what I have discovered in Paddy these last two years is a trusted guide who brings experience and education to help me form accurate thoughts that allow me to implement change with hope. But in the end, they are formed with me, not for me. I want to change. And that’s why counselling works for me. In fact, there are times when Paddy spends so much time just listening, that I wonder if he is just there so I can talk out the discoveries that I have made and come to my own conclusions. But when I look back, he’s definitely guiding my thinking, even if it is just to confirm that I am thinking along the right track. It’s like seeing a friend on a regular basis, who I willingly pay for the services he provides as I would do any friend that I respect.

There still exists in today’s society such a stigma attached to “seeing a Psychologist” that makes me rather sad to see. It is almost as if you need to be suffering major trauma, or severely mentally sick enough to see a qualified expert. But the truth is, my decision to seek counselling didn’t start with trauma. It started because I was ready to make changes in my life and to understand the background that led me to who I am today. And when a major life change came around, like the death of my Dad, I already had a support system in place to speak plainly about my grief to someone who knows my history and disposition.

Counselling doesn’t have to be expensive. Even in this area where I live, there are several sources that assist those who may not be able to financially afford regular appointments. Honestly, all you need to do is decide that you want to change. Once you make the decision, you will be motivated to find sources of help. Ask trusted friends for references, and do your research into the backgrounds of different counsellors or psychologists. Find one that seems to fit who you are and just give them a call. Then when you go, go prepared. Think about the questions you want to ask about yourself. And bring examples of behaviour that you want to change. Be truthful. These are confidential meetings. There’s no need to impress them. Just relax, even cry if you have to (I do!), and let it all hang out there.

One last word of advice — and this is important. I have been in counselling for 3 years now, and I am convinced that if you decide to start seeking professional counselling, go the distance. Don’t decide to get counselling for a few sessions just to try it out or just get a perspective. Go for a minimum of 12 sessions and really go for it. Try to go weekly for the first month, just so you can establish a working relationship with your counsellor, or figure out if this is the counsellor you want to see. Different counsellors specialize in different areas, and you will want to work with your counsellor to figure out if what you are dealing with could be best tackled by someone else with expertise in that field.

My doctor once asked me why I thought that Paddy was helping me. I simply said, “Because Paddy doesn’t tell me things I already know. He seems to recognize what I need to hear, and what I can figure out for myself.”

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

Pat-Pat-Pow

“True friends stab you from the front” — that is was Oscar Wilde said and presumably he had some true friends.

In my work, I might say, “I’ve got your back but watch your front.” By that I mean, I will “pat-pat-pow” and it might cause you to stumble a bit. 

I think that 80% of confrontation is finding the good and pressing it into my client-friend. That is the “pat” and I do it lots because there are lots to affirm in most everyone. And about 20% is the “pow” or the zinger. Watch for the zinger.

I think of pats a lot in my work. This is finding good and commenting on it. Clients say “thanks” and I say, “It’s not a compliment; its an observation.” Not candy-floss sweetness but what is visible to me but unseen by them.

I think of pows a lot in my work. What will provoke the deepest and most lasting change? How do I de-concretize his thinking or believing? How can I help her get unstuck without harming her? Can I maintain empathy all the while stabbing them from the front like a true friend? And sometimes I think, “WWJD” (as in, “What Would Jesus Do?”).

Normally, I am not too anxious about tension and conflict, but I sure hate harming someone. In fact, I think my job is to create tension and conflict as in, “true friends stab you from the front.” But I will not stab you in the back.