Cornwall Counseling


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This is not a talk show


Therapists, rather than helping their clients tackle the more critical, covert sources of their emotional distress, often treat them for the signs and symptoms they expressStress, for example, has a very loud voice and will not likely be easily concealed by contradictory behavior, i.e., unhappiness, depression, anger, rage and discontent are all common and quite obvious indicators of some form of personal hardship.  We have to be careful as therapists, however, not to treat these emotional and somatic gestures as if they were our client’s primary illness.  The emotional signals our clients send are more often symptomatic of something much larger.

  • Lethargy, lack of interest and inertia may be symptoms of thinking that one’s life is wholly irredeemable and that there is no hope left. 
  • Anger may be a symptom of fear
  • Attention deficit (ADHD) and behavior disorder (BDD) may be symptoms of weaknesses in a child’s physical and social environment – or a parent’s inability to undertake the responsibilities of raising a rambunctious and demanding child.   (The way I look at it, if Helen Keller’s parents were able to raise Helen through childhood into meaningful adulthood, and we elect to give children chemical lobotomies because they won’t sit in their chairs at school, we’ve lost an essential component  in our present-day system of parenting and education. We are also addressing, in this example, the symptoms of the real problem.)

Like most things in our fast food culture, people who seek help resolving an emotional hardship want immediate relief of their symptoms – step up, get your product, swipe your card and leave. (And there are many therapists who are happy to do it that way.) Rather than working to modify the source of the symptoms, people often want the kind of help that will, instead, make them sleep, stop crying, stop obsessing, stop caring, stop feeling – to be NUMB!  If we treat our client’s from this perspective, however, it is unlikely that we will ever help them achieve emotional stability over the course of their lives.  

Ah, I see you’re back.  How can I help you?”

“I’m really depressed, again!”

“Heavens, you’ve only been gone an hour.  I really thought the last year of therapy had helped. That can be expected. People get depressed when they lose their job. What happened?”

 “I got fired!”

Relieving the overt symptoms of distress is often a therapist’s first goal.  It isn’t nearly as tough, however, as resolving the covert problem.

“Oh, that’s horrible! What are your plans?”

“I don’t have any.  I can’t get out of bed in the morning.  My life has gone to hell in a hand wagon.”

“I am SO sorry to hear all this.  This is all normal, though. You can’t let this get you down.  This will all turn out good.  You watch!  You’ll get another job – you and those pearly whites!”

If we persist in addressing only the symptoms of emotional distress, and attribute their cause to some external source, we will be forever chasing after temporary, short-term relief. For example, if a child persistently gets second degree sunburns in the summer, and h/er physician treats the burn with a topical medicated cream – and does nothing else, we would not be recognizing and addressing the prevailing issue, which is that the child’s parents can learn to take steps to avoid the damage in the first place.  The child may need to learn about the suns potential to cause serious injury.  If we can take steps to impact the true problem, rather than the symptoms of the problem, we will likely be more successful at negotiating an intervention.

This example might be used to develop and improve our approach to mental health mediation.  If we teach our clients that depression is just an expected result of misfortune, the client will likely always express depression whenever s/he experiences misfortune.  The client will be forever, as well, left to seek outside help to resolve nearly all of h/er emotional problems.

Contrary to the conversation, above, we might, instead, practice differently:

“Ah, I see you’re back.  How can I help you?”

“I’m really depressed, again!”

“You’ve only been gone an hour. How do you know you’re depressed?”

 “I got fired!”

“What I mean is . . . how do you know you’re depressed?”

“I can’t eat.  I sleep all day.  I sit and stare at the wall. You know . . . that sort of thing.”

“How is that a problem for you?”

“Oh, here we go again!”

“Yes, this is not a talk show.  This is therapy.”

“Well, I shouldn’t have been fired in the first place.  My boss is an asshole.  He was out to get me.”

“So is your problem that you were fired or that you shouldn’t have been fired in the first place?  Or maybe your problem is that you think your boss is a rectum?”

“Both!  All three!”

“Which event do you think is contributing to you staying in bed and not eating?”

“Probably thinking that my boss shouldn’t have fired me in the first place.  It’s his fault I’m in this shit mess.”

“What do you suppose you’re telling yourself about your boss these days?  What are you saying to yourself about him and these events?”

“I tell myself that my boss shouldn’t have fired me.  I didn’t do anything and people shouldn’t have to suffer if they didn’t do anything. People who follow the rules shouldnt have to put up with shit! My boss should be fair with me.  I ought to be treated better.  I deserve it.  I think your boss should always show you respect!  I need things to go smoothly in my life in order to be happy. If things don’t go smoothly, then I just can’t stand it!”

“Is that it?”

“No! My wife things I am a fuck up!  My boss might as well have cut my balls off. Maybe he and my wife are right about me.  Maybe I am a fuck up! My kids are mad because we can’t do much anymore, because I don’t have any money. I’m sure people are laughing behind my back.  I can’t even go out and mow my grass.  If people see me out during the day, they are whispering that I am a failure.  Which I am. Oh, hell, it goes on and on.”

“Sounds to me like maybe losing your job and getting fired are not your problems at all.”

“How so?”

“All that stuff you’re saying to yourself about your boss and your neighbors, your kids and your wife, that might be a bigger problem than losing your job.  Maybe if we can change some of that self-talk, some of that insane, nutty shit you say to yourself, you might make yourself feel better.”

“How will we do that?”

“That’s the hard part. That’s why I’m a therapist and not Dr. Phil.”

It is NOT the therapist’s role to treat the obvious symptoms h/er client presents in therapy.  It is our role, however, to uncover and treat our clients’ problem thinking – something they don’t often know they have.  By doing so, we will improve the likelihood that our clients’ symptoms will experience some measure of relief through more logical and rational thought.

The very thing that separates a client from a therapist is in the therapist’s understanding of the human mind and the human body – not only its structure, but its plastic, ever-changing environment for emotional evolution.  Your client depends on your ability to show h/er around inside their own heads (a place where you would think everyone would be more intimately familiar) and help them uncover the true nature of their emotional distress.  If you can have an impact on your client in this way, you will have helped h/er build h/er skills at self-help and self-sufficiency.  If you continue to treat your client’s symptoms, you will be establishing a foundation for a lifelong commitment to dependency.

Self Esteem is for Nut-Heads


The particular advantage of having a WordPress blog is being provided daily statistics to help determine my readers’ interests.  This graphic representation of the highs and lows of my blogging adventure, at a glance, tells me when readers yawn, when they sit silent and when they applaud. For example, over the recent holidays I could tell my readers’ interests were elsewhere.  I could have written a detailed map leading to Blackbeard’s loot and not even a pirate would have bothered investigate.  Regardless, I was astonished to find a true treasure trove hidden in my trendy numbers. It seems each time I write about self-esteem there is a colossal spike of interest.

Shall we?

It may be that when I talk about self-esteem, I try to wring the life from it.  This at a time when to question the unparalleled value of self-esteem on emotional health borders on blasphemy. It is my best judgment, however, that the modern- day concept of self-esteem has been grossly distorted, socially mismanaged and left entirely unregulated.

I find the same phenomenon has occurred with the word gender, which has somehow come to mean biological sex.  The word gender was never intended to have such a strong connection to the word sex.  It was, however, intended to describe a psychological mindset defining one’s notion of masculinity and femininity. The word is now used to avoid the word sex, replaced instead with the word gender which is, apparently, more delicate–sounding.  The problem is, the mismanagement of the word gender has entirely distorted its use in its original context. Like the word gender, self-esteem has become like a paste, or a layer of concrete, used not to enlighten us, but to protect us from from reality.

Personally, I am more inclined to weigh my own human value using less of a buffer and a bit more clarity.

Well then.

When the imaginative concept of self-esteem was first introduced to the world in the early to mid 1960s, people benefited a great deal from it.  The term was intended to celebrate the revolutionary idea that humans are an amalgamation of flawed, less flawed and nearly flawless characteristics.  Where prior to the concept of self-esteem our personal rating system was held against the strict, singular standard of success and failure, perfect and imperfect, the self-esteem movement offered an alternative to labeling oneself the sum total of h/er most recent failings.  The idea that we could be a combination of traits, good and not so good, all at the same time, was revolutionary!  People, it seems, as long as they lived, according to the original idea of self-esteem, were each works in progress and, therefore, wholly unratable – especially where children were concerned.

We should have stayed there.

Our modern use of the term self-esteem is not only utterly hopeless in its regard for children, it is at odds with a number of other widely held, entwined social constructs.  For example, parenting, for the most part, is a system of teaching children right from wrong, good from bad, best from better.   Children are supported in these lessons through appraisal and the subjective opinion of ostensibly knowledgeable adults.

“Am I good?”

Yes dear.  You’re a good, good boy!”

“She didn’t play as good as I did.”

“Yes dear.  She’s a bad, bad girl.”

“Yes.  She is bad and I am good.”

“Stay good dear. I don’t manage well when you’re bad.”

“I will.  I promise.”

As children grow and learn, their audience grows larger and includes, among others, teachers and peers.  Adolescence and young adulthood is a period of judging oneself against an often harshly narrow social standard. Adolescents respond, as expected, by assessing their social competence against an externally driven appraisal system that is limited to either good or bad.  Why not? During childhood, there is very rarely a single moment in the child’s social education dedicated to developing anything but an external focus for their personal value.

“Everyone says I’m fat and stupid and lazy.”

“Oh that’s not true. You have a pretty face.  You are also good at cheese carving.  You just need to boost your self-esteem. Let’s make a list.  You’re just going to have to learn to stop listening to everyone. What matters most is how YOU see yourself.  Ignore everything else!”

This period of early human development is the start of the life-long struggle that most of us continue to experience every day.  We have not been trained, nor have we taken the time to manage our personal value using any other system of measurement than good or bad, derived from external opinion.

And here lies the foundation for my idea that the original, very innovative idea of self-esteem has been bastardized.  We are left with the notion that in order to have healthy self-esteem we must think of ourselves as perfectly good IN THE FACE OF CLEARLY CONTRADICTORY EVIDENCE.  In truth, each of us holds within us a psychological and genetic makeup that is a mixture of strengths and weaknesses.

To live outside that knowledge is to live as a free-range nut-head.

And so, we are left with no alternative but to abandon this out-of-date idea of self-esteem and replace it with the more modern concept of self- and other-acceptance.  We might begin our own journey by telling ourselves: “I can accept myself even though I am not perfect, good, better or best.  And, because I can accept myself as imperfect, I can accept that you are not perfect either!”

It will take the strength of will to do this.

Happiness


Enduring, long-lasting and permanent happiness may not even be a prospect of wo/mankind. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.  If you win the lottery, you will be worried that time passes too quickly for you to spend all your money, or maybe people are taking advantage of you or maybe you have lost your drive to succeed at the things you used to dream about.  With that in mind, it may be best to view life as an inevitable series of ups and downs – never so good it couldn’t be unpleasant and never so bad that it couldn’t be better.  Your personal definition of happiness may take these factors into consideration.  There are three rules to enduring happiness.  Unfortunately no one knows what they are.

Mindful Commitment


At issue today is the EI learner’s potential to succeed at using EI philosophy, alone, as an efficient method of social problem-solving. From my experience, the EI learner who only manages to identify faulty thinking and does not commit to continue the problem-solving process – toward discovering a more reasonable, manageable belief option – may be at continued disadvantage for improving h/er emotional intelligence. The learner may be left with making a decision – using the EI self-help paradigm or returning to a more familiar pattern of social problem solving. The learner must recognize these pitfalls and strive to overcome them.

According to the basic premise of EI theory, in order to overcome emotional conflict, we must practice and strengthen more useful and adaptive social problem-solving behaviors. By establishing personal practice methods, those behaviors the learner can sustain over time, for example, behaviors that encourage objectivity when being judged by others, may:

  • help the learner rely more on h/er own judgment of h/erself and h/er worth;
  • discourage emotional conformity
  • encourage emotional range;
  • encourage self-determination;
  • help to build the value of self acceptance over the concept of self-esteem;
  • strengthen the process of solving one’s own emotional problems, likely resulting in better preparation for the next time shit happens.

Without some vigorous, consistent effort on the learner’s part to think and behave differently, success with EI theory is extraordinarily limited.

Finally, the most promising benefit of using the emotional intelligence theory in social problem solving with articulated disputation is the potential for the learner to recognize the similarities between h/er past and current emotional issues. If the learner is successful at mindful commitment to resolve h/er emotional issues using this EI paradigm, s/he is more likely to use the solutions acquired from these experiences to address future problems.