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.

Q — What do you want to work on today?

What do you want to work on today?

This is a frustrating question for many of my client friends, though they hear it most every appointment with me. Some deflect the question and talk on about the events they have experienced since they have seen me last. Some ask me outright, “don’t you know me well enough by now?” Others look at me with a placid glaze hoping that I will answer my own question, which I sometimes do, especially later in the day.

My clients are smart. They are intuitive. And manipulative.

Some want me to set the agenda — many people find it easier to follow than to lead, or maybe they are worried about making a mistake. Some of my client friends think that I am the omni-competent professional and that I should be able to tell them what it is that they should work on. Some people must simply think that I can’t think of a better opening gambit.

Here is what the question means to me and why I have used it for 40 years.

  • The question is addressed to you, the one sitting in front of me. It is not about what someone else wants you to work on, or why someone else want you to visit with me. The session is entirely about you.
  • It is about want, not the oughts – shoulds – musts you carry around in your head. It is not so much about what you need to do or what someone else thinks you need to do. The responsibility is yours to figure out what you want.
  • It is not about sharing or chatting or being a sounding board. It is about mutual work towards a particular goal decided by you.
  • It is about today. It is not about tomorrow or yesterday or sometime far, far away. It is not about your genogram history, though that is relevant. It is about right now and how that fits into the continuity of your life.
  • Also, it is an important question to me when I go for help. It assumes that I am responsible for myself. I like that. Maybe it’s a compliment.

So that is why I ask this quite predictable question. And while I am asking it, I am watching you and thinking. I want to see what efforts you will make to manage me. I want to see if you will avoid work by talking about the past or projecting to the future. I listen for your subjunctive tense [“well I would’ve done that if…”]. I wonder if you will start in blaming your partner, or your trauma, or your family of origin.

I listen to what you want to work on and what you want from me, so that we can work together in the complicated narrative of your life.

See you next time.

I Am Especially Fond of You

Carole and I speak of our love for each other often. Sometimes too much for me, but still appreciated. She also speaks of what she likes of me – that I am attentive to her, that I think outside the box, that I am freer than I used to be. And, of course, I tell her that I am especially fond of her and those particular ways of which I am especially fond of. It always evokes a smile in us both. I feel secure and I think that she does too.

We have been married a long time and I am glad for it. I expect her to love me – what choice does she have after all these years? – but to be fond of me, that is something more.

I loved “The Shack” when I first read it. It made me question, wonder and weep. I love the idea of a black, matronly woman as God! Paul Young wrote this book for his kids as a Christmas gift and in a short period of time many thousands wanted to know what he was telling his children: that God was especially fond of them. I think that is what I want in my life – to know that God is especially fond of me. I know that this is what I want from my wife and my children. And I want them to know that I am especially fond of them too.

I know that I am not especially fond of me. Perhaps that is why to have God and others orient toward me in this way is a wonder.

Many people I see in my counselling practice don’t have anyone that they think is especially fond of them; spouse or child or friend or God. So they try to be perfect, hope to cause no offence, work to be right most of the time, hide from any conflict, all in the hope that someone might read through these adaptations and, perhaps, that the someone will discover something to be fond of.

Sound like you? Maybe sometimes.

Like the beautiful woman I met who had all the augmentations done to her face and body but could not find a man who was fond of her – the inside her. Or the painfully narcissistic young man who entranced everyone but could not make a relationship that would last. Or the grandfather who criticized his children and grandchildren and could not give up “correction” (as he called it) for fear that his loved ones would turn out as empty as him. How un-fond of a man to himself and his progeny.

But to be found as a person who is fond of others and to have others be fond of them. That is amazing.

The Shack movie is coming out shortly and I expect to be disappointed. Unless I discover again that God is especially fond of me and of you. I hope so. I believe so.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Just Thinking with Jasper

Jasper, my first grandchild, had a stunning insight recently. We were driving from a movie (Kungfu Panda) at a downtown cinema in Vancouver. We saw some obviously poor people on the sidewalk and I said to him that the church tries to help poor people. He asked me, “How does all the singing we do at church help the poor people?”

Interesting.

I was thinking of trying to answer Jasper’s question and then I remembered what I have taught for years; that an unanswered question can open a relationship for a lifetime. Answers often close down conversations. They certainly close down thinking.

Jasper surprises me how intelligent he is. He is 6 years old and has superpowers like his dad, who is really smart. Brent is not from our side of the family. We are more attachers-emoters than thinkers. (Christine, if you read this, you are really smart and have superpowers too.)

I have come to think that the church is great for attachers-emoters that need to believe something or lots of things, to keep their attachments in check. Otherwise, they would jump on their high horses and ride in all directions at once.

But thinkers are in trouble at church. Most preachers work to have you believe stuff, not think stuff through. This has resulted (humble opinion only) in a paucity of thinkers and a plethora of believers.

Seminaries train their seminarians in how to believe and to convince others on what to believe. Sermons might take 5 hours a week or 20 hours a week to prepare, depending on whether we are more OCD or less. Sermon prep is a thinking process. But then sermonaters preach it like like listeners are to believe it. Not think it.

I have a yearning to preach a sermon or many sermons first saying, “I don’t think I believe what I am about to say, but I am thinking it. Will you think with me?”

I would like to call my churchly friends “thinkers,” rather than “believers” as in “I love being at church with fellow thinkers.” Jasper Patrick McLaren would probably like this kind of church more. So would his dad.

And I don’t think there is a connection between singing and helping.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]