by Monica A. Ross, LPC
Something else I found in looking into the research on resilience and how an individual becomes empowered to rise above circumstance—it has something to do with the realistic sense or awareness that while there may be negativity surrounding a problem, it helps not to focus on the negative.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has a name for this focusing on the negative—”mental filtering” or “selective abstraction.” It’s one of the twelve unhelpful thinking styles I review with people in therapy.
There’s that word again—realistic.
When I see it, I think of other words like truth with a little “t” and also Truth with a big “T.” I think of shifting realities and multiple perspectives. I think of perception in general and how logic tends to flow from perception.
I also think of the feeling of being stuck or trapped in perceptions and how a person can become concretized in a way, refusing to let go of firmly held beliefs. I met a woman, another writer this week, who wrote the following article “A Blueprint When Feeling Blue: How A Mental Health Diagnosis Can Be Empowering.”
In it she speaks of her own mental health struggles, something I have written about as well. She makes the point that as her experience with and knowledge about mental health issues grew her perceptions on the topic changed. I can completely relate.
As we develop over time from childhood into young and older adulthood we start to question established assumptions and social norms and I think this is especially so for those assumptions that we have in some sense outgrown. That is in part what brings people into therapy.
This rabbi puts it nicely in his story about the lobster outgrowing his shell.
Most often people do have a desire to face reality, they want to know what the truth of the matter is for all kinds of questions. In some sense walking into a therapy office is an attempt to gain a realistic awareness of what a problem or issue is for the person(s) suffering.
And there I am alongside, the sounding board approaching the session in a collaborative way and with everything I can think of that may apply from all of my studies in an effort to bring relief. This is why they come, my clients. They just want the time and space to think about things.
Awareness starts with the firm acknowledgement that there is a problem of some sort—that there are symptoms and behaviors that are unwanted and causing distress. That distress is fueled by the negativity surrounding the event. This is the what the research on resilience is referring to, but therapy or life for that matter isn’t about dwelling on the negative information.
It is helpful to examine the causes and consequences of an issue, but to stay there without looking to the future, without looking for ways of facilitating growth and change, and without finding solutions to the distress is a bit worrisome.
I mentioned that I got accepted into a Tech Incubator called Transformative Technology Academy or TTA. I’ve been in zoom meetings and reading materials pertaining to the trainings. One of the pieces of information I came across is from an economist named Umair Haque.
I’m going to loosely paraphrase here, but he was quoted on his approach to the following emotions: happiness, anger, and sadness. He says “[h]appiness is when you are growing, it’s the expression of possibility. Anger is the frustration of possibility and the stifling of growth. It’s a cry for intimacy, closeness, respect, and truth. And sadness is the loss of possibility.”
Think of the lobster’s struggles in the video above.
People who are feeling lost, alone, afraid, or powerless are experiencing issues regarding potential in some sense being thwarted or flat out denied. I would agree with that. I think too, that possibility rides alongside safety.
With safety, which we all seek, comes the impulse to explore and to realize what was formerly only a possibility. Without safety the world is viewed as hostile and cruel. Is safety something that we can create or it something given? Both. The therapy room is a great example of a safe place.
As is the case with most of the concepts I discuss in these posts, we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants. These ideas are not new, they are life concepts mentioned here and there across all of time and in different ways.
To me, taking the time and space to talk about big idea concepts like meaning and purpose, the self and society—is about taking the time to synthesize information. It’s about tying together threads from all of the wisdom of great thinkers, not the least of which have come from the field of psychology but also more broadly from the fields of religion, philosophy, and literature—to do all of this in an attempt to combine with one’s own individual experience in order to foster greater insight.