Stories through The Therapeutic Lens
Fictitious People; Real Issues
We are alive with stories. As a teacher and therapist, I am continually reminded of Carl Jung's perspective that the thing that is most personal and private to us, is that which is most universal. We all experience challenges and hardship, that's a given. No matter what age or how enlightened we become, we are still here riding this big wave of life and it is a sacred privilege for me to walk along side another human's private universe. We learn to self-regulate and more importantly we learn to co-regulate around all sorts of issues including grief, addiction, rage, trauma, anxiety, workplace, family, friendships, boundaries, compassion, sexual diversity, religious diversity, climate change, divorce and more. If you are new to all of this and want to find a "place" or a fresher understanding, I offer you some vantage points in these short snapshots.
Anna has had high levels of anxiety for as long as she can remember. As an adult Anna wants to work on her relationship with anxiety so that she can reduce its hold over her. She wants to equip herself with some skills and cultivate an attitude of self-compassion to keep on keeping calm, and continue to enjoy the life she has created.
Stephen Hayes co-founder of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy reminds us to identify and focus on our values.
“Life is a choice. Anxiety is not a choice. Either way you go, you will have problems and pain. So your choice here is not about whether or not to have anxiety. Your choice is whether or not to live a meaningful life.”
Steven C. Hayes
Vera has had a gut full of her in-laws and needs to make sense of how she can exist in the bigger picture without them taking up so much of her psychic space. She wants to move on from just venting and find a way to establish peace in herself.
Vera wants to learn some everyday skills and explore what boundaries mean to her.
Suzie is a beautiful and intelligent woman in her mid thirties. She has admitted to building a fortress around her that prevents any meaningful relationship. Suzie has had some early trauma that she wants to work through.
We hear the word “boundaries” bandied around a lot, but what does that look like in our day-to-day realities? What does it mean to be a ‘boundaried’ person, and is it true that we cultivate more love and compassion when we have healthier boundaries? Why not put it all to the test?
The thing that makes this business so tricky is the fact that interpersonal boundaries are not obvious; they do not exist in pure vision, like a fence or a traffic sign which would make it easier to recognise.
Recognising personal boundaries requires more effort, more thought, more personal responsibility.
How many times can you remember 'dropping your load 'or swinging your 'nice girl/guy' pendulum 180 degrees? Boundaries help nourish our sense of personal sustainability.
“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They're compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”
― Brené Brown, Rising Strong
Polar Bear Peter
Peter wants to surrender a bit more to his needs. He has carried the responsibility and load of a highly difficult situation with strength and endurance. Peter wants to find the courage to change his current circumstances.
"I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question"
Rita is in her mid-twenties and wants to work on her self-described raging reactivity. She has a tendency to let it rip and wants to learn ways to cultivate her relationship with rage. Rita wants to sale on calmer waters.
“Anger is a catalyst. Holding on to it will make us exhausted and sick. Internalizing anger will take away our joy and spirit; externalizing anger will make us less effective in our attempts to create change and forge connection. It’s an emotion that we need to transform into something life-giving: courage, love, change, compassion, justice. Or sometimes anger can mask a far more difficult emotion like grief, regret, or shame, and we need to use it to dig into what we’re really feeling. Either way, anger is a powerful catalyst but a life-sucking companion.” Brene Brown
Jill is in her mid to late 40s and has hit an impasse in her life. She has left an abusive relationship and a soul depleting job. She's done with her past but her future has not quite arrived. The present is suddenly scary and she is waking up with night terrors. Jill wants to make sense of her world and forge new meaning in her life.
Yontef and Jacobs (2008) describe the experience of impasse:
The experience is existentially one of terror. The person cannot go back and does not know whether he or she can survive going forward. People in the impasse are paralysed, with forward and backward energy fighting each other. This experience is often expressed in metaphorical terms: void, hollow, blackness, going off a cliff, drowning, or being sucked into a whirlpool. (p. 344)
Gordon is in his early 60s. He lost his wife six years ago and is now approaching retirement. Gordon is struggling to process his grief which he has been feeling more intensely of late.
"Grief is not just a series of events, stages or timelines. Our society places enormous pressure on us to get over loss, to get through grief. But how long do you grieve for a husband of 50 years, a teenager killed in a car accident, a four year old child: a year? The loss happens time, in fact in a moment, but its aftermath lasts a lifetime."
Ed is in his mid to late thirties. He finds it hard to forgive himself when he makes mistakes as an adult, and tends to beat himself up for days. Ed wants to take a look at how he can show himself more compassion change this way of being in the world.
"Our sorrows and wounds are only healed when we touch them with compassion"