By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC
Upon learning I’m a therapist, people often ask for advice. “What do you think I should do about [insert any imaginable life situation here]?”
I hate to disappoint, but I don’t have all the answers. Contrary to popular belief, a counselor won’t tell you how to fix your problems.
Keep in mind that you’re the expert on you. When you combine your knowledge with a therapist’s expertise on human behavior, a collaborative partnership is formed. The process of change begins. You hold the answers, but they’re locked. The process of therapy unlocks the mind.
There have been times in counseling sessions when something I say “clicks” with that person. They experience a moment of clarity or have a sudden realization.
The following list is four key statements that “clicked” with my clients.
1. “Say what you mean.”
How many times have you provided an explanation using partial truths? For example, you cancel on a friend, claiming a migraine. Your head may hurt, but at the same time, you’re embarrassed to go to the bar with her. She can’t seem to go out without getting obnoxiously drunk. Another example would be a wife who tells her husband, “I’m fine,” when she’s not. In both examples, truth is avoided.
When you don’t say what you mean, you deprive yourself. You’ll feel frustrated, and you may lose the chance to explore deeper issues. Your communication becomes second-rate. And if you find yourself saying what you think someone wants to hear, that’s not communicating; the point is to understand each other, not to mislead or appease.
Saying what you mean is freeing and it allows you to live an authentic life.
2. “Just say, ‘okay.’”
This is about not engaging with that one person who pushes your buttons (or with your own irrational thoughts).
I’ll use myself as an example. I once received a stern email from my boss, instructing me to complete a task ASAP… a task I finished three days ago. Initially, I panicked, second guessing myself. But after double checking my work and finding it complete, I silently fumed to myself. Does my supervisor think I sit around doing nothing all day? (Or maybe he thinks I’m incompetent?) Why wouldn’t he check before sending an email? I drafted and then rewrote my response several times. I asked a co-worker to look it over and she laughed and asked, “Why didn’t you just tell him, ‘Okay’?” She was right. I had allowed my irrational self (and insecurities) to take over. The project was done, which is what mattered; there was no need for an emotionally-charged response. Another example would be a married couple who constantly fight. They argue to the point of shouting because neither wants the other to “win.”
If you link your self-concept to how others perceive you, the idea of admitting defeat threatens your identity. Instead of feeding into the argument, especially when you’re provoked, just say, “okay” and leave it at that. Furthermore, if there’s a toxic person in your life, for example, an ex that you co-parent with, don’t respond to a provoking text or to a barb. You gain nothing by proving you’re right (other than maybe a self-important spark of satisfaction). In the end, you’re still the loser because you took the bait and allowed someone else to orchestrate your emotions.
Don’t sacrifice your peace of mind; just say, “okay.”
3. “This is nothing you can’t handle.”
It may not seem like much, but this sentence can lay the foundation for change. A seemingly unsolvable problem is broken down into manageable solutions. A catastrophe becomes a challenge.
When faced with the impossible, we panic. Our emotional mind has all the control while our rational mind fades to the background. However, the rational mind can be coaxed from hiding with guidance.
The next time you feel helpless and are thinking, “This is impossible,” remind yourself it’s nothing you can’t handle. Once you’re in that mind frame, the solutions will come more easily.
4. “Always take ownership.”
This is about owning your actions, especially when you make a poor decision. You’re going to make mistakes. Don’t make excuses. Admit fault and apologize when needed.
I’ve counseled clients who made excuses for their wrongdoings, even their crimes. (“I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for [insert plausible reason here]”). By placing the blame on someone or something else, you stunt personal growth. You’ll continue to make the same mistakes, and it will never be your fault.
You can’t live an authentic life without taking ownership, nor will you gain the respect of others. Be authentic; take ownership of your mistakes (and achievements!)
If reading this list “sparked” something for you, think about the changes you want to make. Develop a change plan. And then take action!