“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
I think many of us have heard that quote before….and to some extent it seems to hold true.
As a counselor, I find people often seek counseling because they want help in bettering an important relationship in their life. Clients may be bewildered to how an important relationship in their life has gotten to where it has gotten. Whether it is their spouse, family member, colleague, or a friend, I find clients will frequently claim to have NO idea how they got to such a bad place in the presenting troubled relationship.
Most of our problems in our everyday lives, including our relationships, arise from our inability to understand the power of perception and how this can affect one’s life, experience, and relationships.
It is the job of a therapist to guide clients to a better understanding of themselves and to a better understanding of how others may be experiencing them. Counseling requires the clinician to dive into a client’s worldview and challenge any cognitive distortions he/she may present with that may be causing conflict in their life.
I think we can can all agree it is much easier to see the problems in perceptions of others than it is to see in oneself. If you’ve ever listened to someone’s description or opinion of you and it sounded completely foreign, you probably found yourself wondering where on earth this person was coming from. Yet ask yourself, are you able to recognize when your opinion seems off base to another or when someone else has NO idea where you are coming from?
Do you feel you are cognizant of your words and actions–specifically the impact they may have on others?
People, more often than they care to admit, say and do things without thinking out the consequences of their words and actions. Maybe you find you are guilty of this as well. Most of us are from time to time. Being able to make amends when our behavior has a negative impact on another is the hallmark of emotional maturity. But before we can do this we need to develop a sense of self-awareness and how our behavior impacts others. This is why counseling can be so beneficial to everyone at one point or another over the course of their life.
As a counselor I find myself frequently asking clients regarding their behavior, “What were you hoping to accomplish by THAT?” This answer can very telling to the motivations behind what a person says or does in relation to other people. The sad truth is people often act against the very thing they are hoping to accomplish in their relationship.
In life, we often say things or do things without paying mind to what we are hoping to accomplish.
I find as a clinician if you can’t understand why someone is doing something, look at the consequences of their actions, whatever they might be, and you can in turn infer the motivations from the consequences their actions are bringing about.
Thus if someone is making everyone around them unhappy and you are scratching you head as to why, their motivation may be very simple—to make everyone around them unhappy including themselves. The fact is many people do not act in their best interest as head scratching as that may be.
Then there are people who are too easily ruled by feelings, impulses, and fleeting thoughts. Children have this luxury. Adults do NOT.
As an adult you are free to conduct yourself as you wish. But natural consequences are to follow. Thus if you tell off your boss, expect to be fired. If you drink and drive, expect to be arrested. If you eat 5,000 calories a day, expect your pants to not fit. If you mistreat someone, expect than to exit stage left out of your life. Insert bad behavior and negative consequence here.
Natural consequences are the inevitable results of our actions. The Buddhist religion refers to this as “karma.” Christianity refers to this as “reaping what you sow.”
In counseling, the clinician works with the client to figure out how their actions, words, and behaviors lead to the current state of their relationship. One of the many benefits of counseling is it challenges a client’s perception/cognitions (As a counselor, I am a big fan of cognitive behavioral therapy which entails cognitive challenging, cognitive restructuring, and cognitive reframing, which is a therapeutic process that helps the client discover, challenge, and modify or replace their negative, irrational thoughts ie their PERCEPTIONS).
The truth is everyone sees situations differently and based on what they interpret, their actions will be a perfect match for what they see. The problem with this is some people have faulty perceptions. In the end our perceptions form our reality.
This is why relationship conflict is inevitable and common. We are bring own your unique lens and worldview to everyone we interact with and to every relationship we have.
Counseling can be a helpful resource to figure out a way to mend a trouble relationship–whether with a spouse, partner, friend, coworker, or family member. Therapy can help you better understand how the relationship has unraveled to this point.
It is important to realize that perception is quite a self-centric and individualistic process. Allowing your perception to interfere with your feelings and the way you interact with others can be problematic if you are off with how you are perceiving things. When you are stressed, overly emotional, or suffer from some sort of mental illness or personality disorder, your perception is almost guaranteed to be off.
Through the counseling process, you can begin to unravel the many layers your world view and if you struggle with any problems of perception.
A common issue I see in counseling, is that some people can be led down the rabbit hole of worrying about how OTHER people perceive them
I gently remind clients we can’t control how others see us. But being mindful of how we’re perceived — and whether it matches with how we see ourselves can lead us to reflecting on behaviors we might consider changing.
Counseling brings the focus back to you and YOUR perceptions–not other people’s thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. All of which we are powerless to control.
Through the therapeutic process, your clinician can help you see many of our problems are caused by faulty ways of thinking about ourselves and the world around us. It is the therapist’s toolbox to help you challenge, reframe, and restructure how you view problematic relationships in your life–for your benefit, so you can adopt more positive, functional thought habits.
Counseling can also help you function better in your relationships.
The fact is most of us are not trained on how to listen or how to challenge our own perceptions. People attempt to validate their own perceptions—even if they are faulty! People selectively interpret what they see on the basis of their interest, background, experience, and attitudes. If you want to interact effectively with someone, to influence them, first you need to be able to listen to them and perceive them accurately–outside of your own projections, biases, and possibly misguided emotions.
Although it may seem overwhelmingly difficult to change your own ways of thinking, it is actually like any other thing you hope to get good at – it is hard when you first begin, but with practice, you will find it easier and easier to challenge your own negative thoughts and beliefs.
For instance, say you and your partner are having the same fight over and over again. In your mind, it is ALL your partner’s fault. If ONLY he (or she) can see they are in fact wrong, everything would be okay. Let’s be real here. People get into fights because neither side thinks they are wrong thus having this line of thinking is not beneficial to you or your relationship.
This is where cognitive restructuring can come into play to help you. THIS technique involves identifying a situation that leads to stress, anxiety, anger, and the thoughts and feelings that arose in that situation. Working with the clinician, you work to examine the thoughts you have and in turn determine what is true about them and what is not true about them. The final step is you work with the clinician to develop an alternative and more balanced thought and determine how you will feel (outcome) when you adopt this new way of thinking.
Cognitive behavioral therapy emphasizes three main components implicated in psychological problems: thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. By breaking down difficult feelings into these main component parts, it becomes very clear where and how to intervene.
If you are struggling with managing your relationships in your life, it may be helpful to work with a clinician to examine the way you think. CBT works to identify unhelpful thinking patterns and devise new ways of reacting to a problematic situation.
The power of reframing is undeniable. A change in perception of how you view things that others say to you, instantly helps you release tension. If you continue to operate on auto pilot without reframing your perceptions, what you actually experience is NOT the way the person experiences him or herself. You are experiencing your perception of the person–which may not be grounded in reality but clouded by your emotions and feelings.
More importantly when we dedicate the time and energy to work our perceptions and the way we experience life, we learn to focus on the now. Too often our perception is clouded by the past or future acts which have no meaning to the present moment at hand. Only NOW matters in our interactions with others. Yes, there are times we need to process through and discuss the past with others or figure out a way to move forward, but this is all do from the space of NOW.
Too many people get stuck in the past. Or project their mind into worries over the future. Both cause problems in our perception of the here and now.
Perception forms the foundation of your life. YOUR reality. Which may not be the reality of other people in your life. If you can become mindful of every person you interact with has their unique lens of how they look at the world, it can help you better navigate the relationship. When you change the structure of your perception, you change the structure of your world.
If you find you are struggling with a valued relationship in your life, consider giving counseling a try. It might be just the thing you need to transform your life and relationships.
To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):
Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC
Anew Counseling Services LLC
617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649