Is your world sometimes a really irritating place…….?
There was some wonderful weather over the recent Easter break and for many this was how our climate should always be. High pressure and sunshine rather than westerly winds and rain clouds.
This disparity between how we want things to be and how things actually are, is often reflected in the concerns that are brought into the counselling room. It is as though the world in all its different manifestations stubbornly refuses to match our expectations. It is not just the weather. Other people including friends, lovers or work colleagues can have an infuriating habit of just not acting in the way that we expect. Things are not always as they should be. Life can be irritating.
These challenges persist over time. At the outset there is an optimistic expectation that things will be great once a task is completed, once a certain date is reached or once someone finally says what we have always wanted to hear. Except that when this event horizon is eventually reached, certainty and peace do not always follow. Instead another set of frustrations gradually arises and we are back in that same familiar place. Life can be really frustrating at times.
So what can be done? The answer can be quite a lot and also very little. The challenge is how to bring those opposing truisms together into something a little more helpful. And that may be where the counselling room can be useful.
Therapy provides a safe opportunity to look at what is happening in your world, to try to understand why and to then consider how to deal with those irritations in a way that is most appropriate. For you. And that ‘for you’ needs repeating. This is about what is most appropriate for you. Not for your partner or parent, not for your friend or colleague but for you. What is the right approach for you to adopt. And as those inevitable frustrations of life grow you certainly do have quite a choice of actions to take.
Let’s start with the stoic approach. My counselling practice is located in central Chichester in West Sussex not far from the small town of Bosham with a wonderful church where King Canute’s daughter is reputedly buried. Canute is often identified with the well-known story of a ruler using the power of the tide to remind his followers of the limitations of even absolute power. We can however also see something of the stoic in Canute’s calm acceptance that whatever his orders and proclamations, the tide will still come in and his feet will get wet. And so it can be for us. The rain comes and we have a choice. We can sit inside and grumble or accept the reality and go out with an umbrella. A job, a friend, a house is lost. We can despair or choose to begin the search anew. Life is how it is and we can choose just to accept that if we wish to do so.
I see another different option for dealing with these irritating outcomes in Dylan Thomas’s most familiar poem ‘Do not go gentle into that dark night’. This powerful poem entreats his father not to go quiet into that dark night but to rebel and rage against the dying of the light. The subject matter may be rather dark but there is something wonderfully rebellious in encouraging an all-out temper tantrum with regard to what is occurring. Life (or in this case, death) is just not fair and we ought to be able with almost adolescent rage to give full voice to that frustration. It is not fair. This should not happen, not in this way.
A further alternative to dealing with the irritations of life is to calmly work with some basic strategies and techniques to try to improve things. This rational and perhaps rather staid approach encourages us to manage the vicissitudes of life in a more measured and controlled way. In counselling terms this suggests working with a CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) approach which is rooted in a logical rational process. Solution focused therapy is a similar technique.
There are of course many other approaches. One which is an extreme antidote to all the above is just to give up. To stop. To collapse inwards. To simply surrender to the fates. To passively accept all that which the fates of Greek mythology, those figures of Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos have already decreed will happen to us. Our destiny is set. Why spend time and energy trying to fight and to deny this. We are powerless to rebut whatever the world has thrown at us. And why should we bother.
I am never quite certain whether this extremely fatalistic response to events is the easy way out or whether it is actually a position which requires great strength to adopt. Either way within this note it is just one of the wide variety of responses which are in theory available to us when these irritations threaten to overwhelm us. The interesting challenge is which one approach to adopt.
Friends and family within this unforgiving world will of course have expectations of us. We will be encouraged to adopt that sensible approach which matches our role in life as far as others perceive it. That will usually mean that we will be expected to do the adult thing by suppressing the extremes and looking to adopt that rational approach.
That is fine unless we have reached the point that we are just fed up with having to be adult and sensible. That can be when the therapy room can provide a very helpful space. Sometimes it can be really useful to have a safe place in which to just play around with outrageous ideas, to give real voice to that which you would really like to say or to even just think the unthinkable out loud.
A fundamental of therapy work is that the counsellor is not judgemental. This does not mean that we will not also think what is being said. Of course we will reflect back, we will wonder with you about outcomes and consequence. But unlike those other important people in your life a professional therapist will not tell you what to do. It is your life. You own it. The good, the bad, the fun and the irritating. It is your story. What the counsellor will do in the therapy room is look with you at those irritations and help you to explore how to go forward.
Things can change. Life can be better. But before the creative work can begin, sometimes there may be a need to find a time and place where those overwhelming frustration can be spoken, acted out or worked through in a way which feels appropriate for you.
And if you should think given all those current irritations in your world that the therapy room may well be a safe place in which to play with these, then welcome to the counselling world!