The Best Way Out is Always Through

We all have faced a situation that seem insurmountable at one point or another in life. Some problems are insoluble. Some situations a struggle through a dark forest where there is no path and no light to guide you.

Which is why I remind you as Robert Frost so eloquently stated….

The best way out is always through.

As a therapist, sometimes my job is to be with my clients as they “get through.” Which I take to mean looking at one’s situation in a cold hard light. That can be hard to do – but necessary. Because we all are capable of deluding ourselves by telling little, white lies. These lies can come in the form of:
It’s not that bad.
It’s not my fault.

That wasn’t my “intention.”
Things will get better without me changing…if I can just wait it out.

Do any of these sound familiar?

Through careful and meaningful counseling, I work with my clients to strip away the falsehoods and look reality in the face. The work is not always easy. Counseling can be very uncomfortable. Yet when one begins to come to the realization the best way out is through, it’s good to have someone there to urge us on with encouragement and support – knowing that we are not alone. This is the gift of therapy.

Only by being honest and true, can we take a full assessment of our lives and then begin to make real and concrete changes. If we don’t, we end up just doing what we’ve always done and getting what we’ve always gotten.

Life’s too short. Change and personal growth can be difficult. But the alternative is stagnation. And a stagnant life can be full of depression, anxiety, fear, anger, etc.

Thus it is time to ask yourself: are you ready to make is through to the other side?

When Something is REALLY Bothering You

There’s a strong connection between the way you think and the way you feel. And it goes both ways. The way you think affects your emotional state and your emotional state affects the way you think. These are the guiding principles at the heart of CBT and REBT.

There’s a brutal truth in life that some people refuse to accept: You have no control over many of the things that happen in your life.

When something is really bothering you common remedies are to talk about it or to sleep on it. What’s interesting is that when we stop to think about these remedies they don’t really change anything about the situation. All of the external variables remain the same after the fact.

Yet what is in your control is the ability to change your attitude towards these external variables, your beliefs about yourself, others, and the external world at large. Sometimes this change in attitude makes all the difference in the world. It makes a difference in that you feel more prepared to face the unalterable facts of your present.

There are really only two channels for finding relief if you’re unhappy with your current set of circumstances. You can change them or you can change the way you think about them. Not working to change your bad circumstances when you’re capable of doing so is a form of self-sabotage, but we’ve also got to recognize that we all face certain variables in our lives that are immutable, that no matter how much you wish your particular unalterable circumstances were different you’re hitting your head against the wall when you try to change them because they’ll never change.

Being able to distinguish between those unwanted external variables that are changeable from those that are unchangeable is half the battle. Resisting this truism will bring great suffering into your life. The other half the battle is finding a way to live with the things you can’t change, to realize that despite their unchangeability you still retain the power to alter your beliefs around them and thereby find relief. You retain the power to either leave those unwanted unchangeable variables hanging, which is like leaving open wounds unattended, or to accept them, which is like bandaging those wounds in order to let them heal so that you can eventually move forward.

Let’s face it: some things that happen in life are things that you should shrug off and stop letting things bother you, while other situations deserve your attention. Emotionally maturity requires us to be able to differentiate between the two.

The best way to know the difference is to ask yourself what you can do about what’s bothering you. If there’s something that you can do about the situation, do it. You’ll feel a lot better. If there really is nothing that you can do about that given situation, decide to let it go and focus on changing what is within your control: your perspective.

Why Mind Reading is Problematic

SEEING THE WORST IN PEOPLE

Lots of people carry around a lot of resentment and hostility towards others in our lives and it’s not just due to the tangible behaviors they enact that we believe to be wrong. In fact probably more important than the behaviors themselves are the thoughts and motivations we believe are behind these behaviors. We begin to draw up a psychological picture and the picture is grim. We see these people as cold, callous, uncaring, cruel, jealous, spiteful, evil, etc. We see the very worst in them and then take it for granted that their behaviors stem from those bad thoughts and qualities. We use imagined internal motivations as justification for our resentment and hostility towards them. We justify our own bad behavior based on what can be PURE fiction, a story we made up in our head.

Even the most socially adept individuals routinely misread other people’s emotions because of their own biases, insecurities, personal histories, cultural tendencies, attachment style, or situational factors. Often we have a need to see people a certain way to make ourselves feel better; with our view of the other person being a projection.

What we’re falling victim to when we assume we know why people do what they do is the cognitive distortion of mind reading, which is where we ascribe intentions to people’s actions despite little or no evidence to prove it.

A common thing people do is judge themselves by their intentions and others by their actions. Thus they give themselves the benefit of the doubt, but do not bestow this on other people in their lives.

Mind reading is assuming what someone else is thinking without having much to go on. If we rely too much on mind reading, we can make mistakes about what others think of us, which can really wreak havoc with our mood. It can destroy our relationships. Mind reading often leads to depression and anxiety, especially social anxiety. Consequently, it can be helpful to learn to recognize and respond to common faulty thinking patterns such as mind reading.

DISCOVERING THE REAL MOTIVATION FOR DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR

The strategy most of us employ in order to lower that sense of resentment and hostility is to forgive the person we feel has wronged us for the concrete behavior. But a better way, one that leads to mutual understanding, is to actively challenge our own mind reading and at least consider the possibility that the behavior we’re upset about sprung from less destructive thoughts and motivations than we are imagining. That behavior could be the result of deep suffering, mental health issues, wrong perceptions, or the feeling of having been wronged, or any number of other possibilities.

The fact is we don’t know, we just think we know. While the behavior was destructive it may have sprung from a desire to be productive. We won’t know unless we ask the right questions. And at any rate very few people, if any, believe themselves to be the villains in their life dramas. Powerful justifications are put into place to protect the psyche from that responsibility, so that most go about their daily lives feeling more or less justified for the words and actions that have had a negative effect on others. When we can at least make room for other possibilities rather than automatically landing on highly destructive imagined thoughts and behaviors, our resentment and hostility start to make way for empathy and understanding. And that helps us, even if nothing else changes about the situation, because it’s a real burden to carry around resentment and hostility, this burden negatively colors our lives and relationships even when the people we’re directing our resentment and hostility towards are nowhere in sight.

Getting Through The Tough Times in Life

Perhaps you’re not having the best week… or month… or year. I get it. Many feel the same. Covid-19 has not helped!

Over the course of a lifetime, we will each go through many difficult times. We naturally have to transition between different chapters of our lives and none of escape trying moments. It is during these times when it is important to be able to tap into our toolbox of coping skills to make it through.

There are four key ingredients to developing coping skills for resilience: connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and finding meaning.

CHALLENGING THE NON-CHANGE BIAS

Life is full of ups and downs but many of us fall into what we might call the non-change bias. While in the midst of being ‘up’ we think we’ll be up forever and while in the midst of being ‘down’ we think we’ll be down forever. What I gently remind my clients is life is in constant flux. One of my favorite coping mantras is, “this too shall pass.”

So really getting through the rocky periods of life starts with consciously distancing ourselves from the bias of non-change. We can remind ourselves that ‘this too shall pass’. Just like we wanted the good times to stay around forever and they didn’t the bad times will likely once again make way for the good. Both things good and bad, come and go. Something that holds true for us all.

Sometimes the necessary changes to get things back on track are within our locus of control but sometimes they aren’t but either way we put ourselves in a better position to weather the storm when we remember that non-change is an illusion, permanence is an illusion.  As a Greek philosopher famously said, “Change is the only constant.”

IMPERMANENCE IS THE RULE OF LIFE 

Change and impermanence are the rules of existence and the rules of human life. These insights can help us from sinking into hopelessness when things aren’t going our way. The vicious cycle that occurs to many of us when we’re going through a rocky period of life is that we unknowingly contribute to its intensity and duration due to our own cynical attitudes and behaviors. We’re not in a state of readiness where we can notice and embrace various opportunities around us but in a state of passivity or even worse negativity where we’re destructive towards ourselves, others, and the world.

CULTIVATING A STATE OF GOING WITH THE FLOW

So again cultivating a state of going with the flow is beneficial to all aspects of mental health. Life throws curveballs! It is important to see where we can embrace the plethora of opportunities that will get us out of the funk we are in starts with ditching the non-change bias. Even if there’s not a thing we can do to influence the situation external conditions will eventually change on their own anyway, and remembering that will help us better bear up under unwanted conditions.

Take responsibility for how you deal with change. As human beings to be able to adapt is key to survival. Change is something that will test a person’s inner resources and requires adaption if they are to successfully overcome stress and other negative emotions that accompany transition. Very few life transitions, positive or negative, go smoothly or effortlessly. Consequently, any change can take a toll.

If change has caught you off-guard you can get discombobulated. The trick is to remember it is one of many changes that will come your way as you progress through life. Take comfort in knowing we all will have to navigate change in our lives. It is a universal human experience. Counseling can help you dig into your toolbox to see what resources you have to cope.

If you find changes in your life overwhelming, you do not have to deal with them all by yourself. If you hate change, counseling can help you at least tolerate it. There is no law saying you have to like change, but change is going to happen, like it or not.

Stop Complaining and Make a Plan: What Stage of Change Are You In?

Life’s hard.

For many of us, this is just a given. For others, it is something they resist accepting at all costs. And it shows in the outcomes in their lives. They settle, they live in denial, they refuse to accept accountability. All very human reactions. But such reactions will be detrimental to the quality of one’s life.

Let’s be honest. Often, life can feel like we’re scrambling to escape an avalanche of responsibilities and an endless to-do lists of tasks after task. And when we are feeling overwhelmed, it’s easy to find fault or point out what’s wrong, but if we get in the habit of complaining, it starts to create a momentum of its own, paralyzing us from moving forward. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t fall into this trap from time to time.

Many people are deeply unhappy in their lives but experience a tremendous amount of inertia. Some of that inertia is justified in that sometimes our environments won’t support an immediate drastic change. For example, maybe you hate your job, but quitting right now without a backup plan might not be financially feasible when you have a mortgage and kids to support.

The problem though is that justified short-term inertia easily turns into unjustified long-term inertia due to the false bias that an important change requires action right away. Part of this is rationalization for many of us. We might not love our current circumstances but conditions are familiar and predictable, which keeps our anxiety at bay. So we tell ourselves that there’s nothing we can do to change our situations for the better right now and that’s that. This might be true when what we’re talking about is action right now.

But actually all meaningful change, where entrenched patterns of behavior must be altered or new patterns of behavior must be implemented, must pass through the various stages of change before reaching that end point called maintenance where new behaviors are enacted more or less effortlessly and where those behaviors and the environment exist in a stable feedback loop. 

The stages of change are: pre-contemplation, contemplation, planning, action, and maintenance

Five stages of change have been conceptualized for a variety of problem behaviors. The five stages of change are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.

Precontemplation is the stage at which there is no real intent to change behavior in the foreseeable future. Many individuals in this stage are unaware or under aware of their problems.

Contemplation is the stage in which people are aware that a problem exists and are seriously thinking about overcoming it but have not yet made a commitment to take action. At this stage in the game, change consist of wishes and fantasies.

Preparation is a stage that combines intention and behavioral criteria. Individuals in this stage are intending to take action in the next month and have unsuccessfully taken action in the past year. This is where we are researching how to achieve our goals, figuring out the steps necessary.

Action is the stage in which individuals modify their behavior, experiences, or environment in order to overcome their problems. Action involves the most overt behavioral changes and requires considerable commitment of time and energy. This stage is hard as it requires intentional behavioral change in one’s day to day life. It forces us to kick off auto pilot.

Maintenance is the stage in which people work to prevent relapse and consolidate the gains attained during action. For addictive behaviors this stage extends from six months to an indeterminate period past the initial action. This stage determines if the change will be lasting or if we will slip back into old behaviors.

So, our point here is that if you’re unhappy with one or several aspects of your life then it means you’re past pre-contemplation and into the contemplation phase. You’re not at the action phase yet, and it actually doesn’t make sense to take action right now. You’re missing a major step in between. But instead you sink into apathetic acceptance where you tell yourself since you can’t take action you can’t change your situation and therefore undesirable circumstances continue on indefinitely, causing more apathy and inertia.

Counseling can help you kick yourself into the action phase of change. It can help peel back the layers of what is keeping you stuck. People come to counseling in different places of readiness, sometimes entering unsure, only contemplating change. Other times, people are already mid-way through the Action stage when they decide they need some extra help. Regardless, your counselor will tailor therapy for you based on your stage of change.