Solution Focused Therapy

Borrowing perspective

As humans we care about how others perceive us. Our primitive programming prioritises human connection. To a degree, caring what others think keeps us kind. But often we can care too much. And caring becomes worrying. Worrying becomes anxiety. Anxiety can make us feel trapped. 

We worry about how our colleagues perceive our communication style; our office ‘banter’, our outfit, our handshake, our weekend plans, our email signature, our Zoom backdrop. 

We worry about how families perceive our lifestyle, our house, our job, our partner, our carbon footprint, our choices.

We worry about how our friends perceive our personal style, our level of engagement, that thing we said or didn’t say, that thing we did or didn’t do.

The parents among us worry about what our mum and dad friends think of our parenting style, our children’s diets, manners, birthday parties, screen time.

This worry shuts us down, and pushes us further and further away from our own authenticity. We try to be what we think others want and what we think others need. We try and try and try, until we find ourselves a world away from our own sense of meaning. Disconnected from our inner strength. Lacking confidence and losing self-esteem.

Ironically the friends and family members who we love and trust the most will tend to describe us with far more kindness than we describe ourselves. 

When we step, with both feet, into the perspective of a loved one, someone who knows us better than anyone else, and look back at ourselves, we can shine a light on strengths, capacities, and resources we never recognised were there. 

In solution focused therapy we encourage our clients to step into this alternative perspective and we ask;

“What would this person notice about you that lets them know of your strengths? 

“What stories would this person tell that had inspired their confidence and belief in you?”

Sometimes, when our own lens is misted over with worry and self-doubt, borrowing the lens of a loved one can help us achieve clarity on exactly how, underneath all the trying, we are already the person we hope to be.

Mindfulness, Uncategorized

Back to school – What have we gained? What have we lost?

Standing at the school gate (behind the freshly painted yellow line) I watched yesterday as my children skipped off towards their classrooms without looking back.

Seeing their school bags bob out of sight, ushered by smiling teachers, marked the end of 6 months of lockdown. Parents were shuffled out through the new one-way system, blinking in bewilderment as we stepped out onto the pavement. Everything was so strange and yet so familiar; we seemed to slip back into the routine so easily that in some surreal sense it felt as though lockdown hadn’t happened.

Standing in the drizzle, I was, for the first time in half a year, free. Free from what had begun to feel like an inescapable, chaotic dance of multitasking, entertaining, cooking, tidying and refereeing, Now I had the chance to look back down the mountain we had climbed.

Our little nuclear family experienced no tragic personal losses from COVID-19, beyond those we witnessed in the news, which we followed helplessly, until the numbers and the politics became too confusing. Our three boys are young. They hadn’t missed out on any milestones or rights of passage. In many ways they adapted into lockdown with as much ease as they adapted back out of it. Just like that.

Lockdown had its upsides. Our children bonded and their bonds grew stronger. They played together for hours. In the absence of schoolwork they had to do, they began to lead their own learning; crafting, drawing, painting, reading, writing stories. They explored every inch of the garden. They spent more time than ever before with their dad, who was working from home. They built genuine friendships with their grandparents. As parents we realised the strength of our support network.

But there were losses of a different kind and with these came consequences for the whole family. We lost routine and a stabilising structure to our day. We began enthusiastically enough, the children and us, following a timetable, keeping up with a ‘school day’ of sorts, juggling working from home with homeschooling reasonably well. The grandparents joined in with zoom lessons and virtual story time. But as the weeks went on, the novelty wore off. Enthusiasm waned. Bedtimes got later, school days got shorter. Keeping homeschooling varied and interesting for three different ages was a challenge. Fighting was relentless and inevitable. The children learnt about Netflix and how to use the remote control. Their methods of mischief became extraordinarily creative.

As parents we lost time. Time to invest in our own projects so that we could feel personally fulfilled and able to give more of ourselves. Time to invest in our own self care so that we could do a better job of caring for others. Time to focus on one thing at a time, whether it was work, a phone call, or admin task so that we could give others our full, unwavering attention.

As parents we also lost space. Amidst the unbroken noise of three boys, we lost space to think. Space to get out and go. Space to calm down. Space to have an uninterrupted conversation. We literally lost space to sit, as the couch became a fortress.

We tried to solve these losses ourselves, but ended up simply moving the loss from one place to another, like a sliding puzzle.

We took on new projects to mark our personal space. In turn we lost time to invest in caring for each other and for ourselves, and we lost patience with our children as we piled yet more on to our multi-tasking list.

We stayed up late to gain back some child-free time with each other and time for ourselves. In turn we lost sleep, and we lost both time and space the following day as we limped groggily through the day with tired brains.

And now, looking back down the lockdown mountain we have climbed with its steep slopes and craggy crevices, we have time and space to process the last 6 months.

I have time and space to ask myself – How much did our lost space and time as parents impact our family through lockdown? Could I have done things differently? What could I have done better? Will my family be ok? These questions are likely to lead me to negatively introspect about the past and negatively forecast the future, creating worry and anxiety.

We have waited a long time for this time and space. Too long to fill it with self criticism and doubt. So I’m going to fill it with gratitude. Gratitude is an immensely powerful tool we can use to situate ourselves firmly in the present. Consciously considering what we are grateful for connects us with the people around us, and with the present moment itself. So,,.

I am grateful for family.

I am grateful for friends.

I am grateful for home.

I am grateful for passion.

I am grateful for hope.

What are you grateful for?

Solution Focused Therapy

Will it always be this bad?

In the thick of a crisis, this question often presents itself. Perhaps we ask it of ourselves, our close friends, our family members, our therapist.

How we answer this question depends on where we are, in that moment, within the vast complex landscape that lies between pessimism and optimism.

The view from the depths of the murky Valley of Pessimism, fills its beholder with hopelessness.

From this perspective the events in our lives appear permanent: “It will always be this bad,” we assume.

From this perspective, the events in our lives appear pervasive: “This is going to ruin everything,” we fear. 

From this perspective, the events in our lives appear personal: “ This is all my fault,” we blame.

In stark contrast, the view from the peak of the glowing, wholesome, Mountain of Optimism fills its beholder with hope.

From this vantage point, the events in our lives appear temporary: “This moment too will pass,” we believe.

From this vantage point the events in our lives appear specific: “There is more in my life,” we acknowledge.

From this vantage point, the events in our lives appear external: “This does not define me,” we determine.

When we ask “Will it always be this bad?” we are asking which way to look. We have a choice to look towards the vibrant colours and long open vistas of optimism, or towards the dark, murky gloom of pessimism. 

And the direction we look will determine the direction we walk.

In Solution Focused Therapy we believe in the potential of every question to open up an avenue of hope. Each question carries, within its many answers, the possibility for change. The potential for a different perspective.

We can embrace this potential for hope in the questions we ask ourselves and those around us everyday. 

When we ask ‘will it always be this bad?’, we can recognise that there is a part of us that believes it won’t. Recognising this, we can then give this hopeful part ourselves space to lead the way towards positive change.

Mindfulness, Solution Focused Therapy

Looking on the bright side

In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, one of our main intentions is to shift the client’s focus away from the problem and towards the positive. Humans have a natural negativity bias, particularly when we are feeling stressed. This is because when we are stressed, we spend more time in our primitive minds and the primitive mind is a negative mind: it always sees the world from the worst possible perspective. The primitive mind has to be negative to ensure our survival as a human species. If we answered the door to an eight foot tiger, it’s highly unlikely that we would invite him in for tea, and chuckle as he ate all the cupcakes and drank all of Daddy’s beer, as happens in Judith Kerr’s children’s story The Tiger Who Came To Tea.

Thankfully, if we did open our front door to an eight foot tiger (or it’s less fantastical equivalent) our fight or flight response would kick in within a fraction of second, pumping out adrenalin, increasing our heartbeat, preparing our body for escape. Operating from within this stress response, we would assume the worst, we would be hyper-vigilant to any movement the tiger made, and we would be obsessional about figuring out an appropriate escape route. In this scenario, our stress response is our friend, it’s working for us, we are immensely grateful for its input.

However, in many situations, this negative focus causes us an enormous amount of needless suffering. Raging or descending into gloom about a smashed wing mirror doesn’t fix the mirror. It just suck us into our negative primitive mind, reducing the value we can both give and receive from our interactions with others. When we surface from our rage and gloom back into our intellectual minds, we are likely to reward ourselves with a hefty serving of shame about how we handled the situation. We have grown our hurt. Similarly, ranting when we find our kitchen wall has been redecorated with permanent marker, courtesy of our three-year-old, doesn’t miraculously remove the scribble. It just sucks us into our negative primitive mind, reducing the value we can give to, and receive from our child. When we escape from the cycle of ranting and regain intellectual control, we’re rewarded with the all familiar weight of parental shame about how we handled the situation. Our suffering has swelled.

In these stressful moments, wrenching our attention away from the problem and towards the positive can loom like a mammothian task. ‘Looking on the bright side’, as simple as it sounds, actually entails a lot of practice if we are to be able to apply it when we most need to. In his book Waking Up, Sam Harris suggests that just one positive thought can act as a lever to pry the mind loose from “whatever rut it has found on the landscape of unnecessary suffering.”

Acknowledging, out loud if necessary “at least the rest of the car is undamaged” or “at least we have some paint left to cover up the marker pen”, can help us to manufacture a feeling of gratitude for all the bad things that have not happened. Research has shown that gratitude is a powerful mechanism for increasing well being over time, but it can be equally powerful as a safety net when stressful events occur, bouncing us back into our intellectual minds where we can access rationale and reason, and suffer less than we otherwise would have done.

References

Harris, S. (2014). Waking up. Simon & Schuster

Kerr, J. (2006). The Tiger Who Came To Tea. (1st Ed). London: HarperCollins