“The slender threads of causality are rewoven and reinterpreted as we attempt to explain to ourselves and others how we became the people we are.”
There is no doubting that our past influences our present state. Counsellors and psychologists worldwide are familiar with the impact, influence and often ongoing unexamined integration ones family of origin (FOO) has on why we as individuals act the way we do. We long for meaning. We long for connection. We long for authenticity, to be.
Whenever we share stories, we are not only retelling events, but layered amidst those stories are the memories, and their meaning.
Livingston highlights that “because acceptance of responsibility for what we do and how we feel requires an act of the will, it is natural to blame people in our past…especially if there has been serious physical, sexual or psychological trauma”. He emphasis that to move forward one must sympathetically examine the past whilst focusing on the learning and rejecting “assumptions that even the most awful experiences define our lives forever.”
“Change is the essence of life.”
By asking the simple question of “What’s next?” one is provoked to look beyond the complaints, the patterns, the paradigms that one is living by. Instead the question ‘implies both a willingness to change and the power to do so’. Simply put, it empowers individuals to self-agency, to personal ownership, and ultimately to personal growth.
As a psychotherapist Livingston reveals that rarely does he “have a clear idea of what people need to do to make themselves better”. As an impartial and objective observer and participant he holds ‘them to task’, points out ‘connections between the past and present’, raises questions ‘about underlying motives’, and expresses ‘confidence in their ability to come up with solutions that fit their lives’. Thats the role of a therapist!
“Therapy, properly done, is a combination of confessional, re-parenting and mentoring experiences.” The therapeutic alliance and relational rapport will be different from one therapist and individual to the next. There is no single one size fits all.
Livingston touches on the tightrope fine line therapists walk between being a supportive listening ear and the need to sensitively and compassionately acknowledge past pain, whilst emphasising we all have a choice and seeking to encourage personal growth beyond past trauma.
For Livingston, his key indicators come down to this: “If I find myself bored or offended by a story…find a sense of learned intractable helplessness to be hard to work with…find that ‘I am providing most of the energy and optimism, or if I am losing hope for change, it is time to stop. If the person I’m seeing reminds me too closely of one of my own parents, of a person with whom I have had conflict, or of a girl who rejected me in adolescence, I know I am in dangerous territory.
Livingston concludes: “It is misplaced kindness to offer only sympathy, even where it is clearly justified. It is hope that I’m really selling. If, after extended effort, i cannot persuade someone to buy, I am wasting both our time by continuing.”
I must admit I found this weeks chapter a challenge. I’m studying a Masters in Clinical Counselling so am all too aware of the demarcation between the role, relationship and responsibility within therapeutic interactions. I’m good at making those delineations.
But at a far more personal level, I’ve been intimately confronted by another’s personal choice, and decision they didn’t want to grow. Despite my best efforts to encourage, support and walk alongside this person, they concluded they’d prefer the easy road reverting to the comfort zone and safety of a paradigm that protects past trauma and the safety of the status quo, rather than choosing to navigate the road to personal growth.
Personally, I find it one of the saddest states of mind that someone concludes they are powerless to change.
I’ve come across far too many people across all walks of life who make such a choice. Bound by their trauma they choose to stay stuck. Unwilling, unable and acting from a place of fear they conclude they are incapable of change, especially when it comes to affairs of the heart.
Success is not defined by what we achieve, but rather by what we accomplish in overcoming adversity.
Perhaps you’ve had your own struggles? I know I have! 18 months ago I walked the golf course with a mate and we both talked about how we were unhappy with our physical state and our desire to become healthier. Small, incremental and intentional decisions have seen me shred some 18kgs since then. I’m proud of myself. I’d found myself stuck in a job that zapped my motivation and no longer offered the meaning I once embraced. I’d fallen into the trap of comfort eating and allowing my external circumstances to shape my internal values. I made choices to change.
So to those who take on challenges – whether it’s overcoming childhood trauma, mending broken hearts, facing up to unhealthy habits, destructive mindsets, struggles with weight, questions of self-worth, or being assertive enough to express one’s needs – all power to you!
Change isn’t always easy…but growth is always worth the effort! So let me encourage you, as I seek to encourage myself…be courageous! Risk all for growth, for love, for life.
Is personal growth really possible? You choose. 🙂