UNDERSTANDINGS BETWEEN YOU AND ME

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Understanding 6: Honestly looking at ourselves and changing may be stressful, but we need to do it.

 It is often comfortable and easy to stay the way we are. Changing may be gratifying or stressful and is frequently both. Temporary stress is a natural, necessary part of recognizing a weakness or feeling we had previously hidden from ourselves, trying out a new behavior, facing a fear, releasing a pent-up emotion, and changing. Growing as a person may take you to new places, provide new challenges, require leaving old and acquiring new friends, etc. Giving up an old security blanket is scary; yet, many therapists, based on their experiences, believe that crises frequently lead to important improvement and growth in our lives. So, some stress is good and/or can be used to advantage.

Understanding 7: Do not hesitate to work on your most serious, meaningful, and intimate problems.

 Self-help is not just for simple behavioral changes, like nail biting or working harder. You are encouraged to work on any deeper problems that you may have, too. Examples of these would be excessive self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy, fear of intimacy and jealousy, lack of purpose in life, irritation with others, sexual concerns, and others. Granted, you may want to do some easier projects first, but don't procrastinate with the tough problems. Self-help must pay off in meaningful ways for you to keep trying.

 This understanding is not to exclude simple self-improvement efforts. At this point in your life, it may be more important for you to strive for further improvement in areas where you are already doing okay. A good socializer can become a more intimate and helpful friend. A pretty good student can become a true scholar. A morally good person can become a moral leader, who encourages others by example to become a genuine, caring Candy Striper, Big Sister, or Hospital Volunteer. Your "problem" at this time may not be serious, like suicidal depression, but rather to become the best person you can possibly be. Both are important "projects." Prevention of problems is important too.

Understanding 8: Becoming a good self-helper will probably require a lot of time and effort. You should prepare for problems in advance. It is a life-long task.

 You may feel overwhelmed and discouraged when you realize all there is to learn about self-help, all the books that have been written. Certain of your problems may have existed so long that it seems impossible to change them. The idea that changing may require daily, even hourly, attention could seem like "too much trouble." Many attempts to change ourselves fail because the old habits seem so strong; indeed, change may be a long, uphill battle. Expecting some failures may help you deal with them.

 Many of our attempts to change ourselves fail because we are unwilling to put in the time and effort necessary. Our entire culture expects quick, easy solutions. Related to this is my experience that many students do not understand a treatment or self-help method after reading it the first time. It is not because the methods are too complex to be understood but because many people are newcomers to "self-help" and others are careless readers and in a hurry. They think they understand, but they often need to read it again and discuss it with someone else. This takes time.

 Moreover, as mentioned earlier, much of popular, self-help psychology is remedial, not preventive. That's too bad. Too many people only read about marital problems after divorce is threatened. Too many people read about depression after feeling suicidal. Too many people change their diet after a heart attack. The best time to learn to swim is before falling overboard, not afterwards. Try to anticipate and prepare for problems. Try to prevent problems, nip them in the bud. Therefore, you should read about possible problems as well as about pressing problems.

 All I can say is: learn as much as you can, keep trying different approaches until you succeed. Don't be so discouraged by failure that you give up (you have learned something from failing: namely, what doesn't work for you with this problem at this time). Think of yourself as continuously learning to be a better person; try to generate high enthusiasm for self-improvement; resolve that you will overcome the obstacles in your way.

Understanding 9: Don't wait for magical solutions. DO SOMETHING to help yourself. Be strong! Confront any resistance to change and challenge all your defeatist attitudes. Learn to believe you can change things.

 There are many reasons why people avoid change--fears, lack of motivation, resentment of pressure, helpless feelings, procrastination, wanting to fail and/or avoid responsibility, wanting to live spontaneously without planned change, wanting sympathy and to be taken care of, feeling that it's too much trouble to change, pride and stubbornness, being willing to accept our own rationalizations ("it runs in my family"), being inflexible and "set in our ways," feeling that we are not okay and deserve to be miserable, and other motives.

 It may be hard to understand your reasons for avoiding change if you are a procrastinator, but remember, there are reasons for everything (the procrastinator should read chapter 4). Look for your reasons (it's likely to be several reasons). For example, shyness may enable you to avoid the stress of socializing; being irresponsible may get other people "off your back" since they are likely to stop expecting you to be a mature, capable, dependable person (see chapter 4).

 If you decide some self-improvement is especially important but haven't made plans for changing within a day or two, then focus on the reasons for your inactivity. If you can't be sure of the reason(s), then guess at it. Try to deal with the possible resistance to change like any other problem, i.e. develop a plan of attack by analyzing your resistance to change as well as the problem itself, as described in chapter 2. There is good reason to believe that self-help techniques aren't remembered and used unless the person believes he/she is able to change him/herself. Question the validity of your pessimism. And, people who have failed to change in the past won't believe they can change until they have drafted a good plan and done it. So, give it a try.

 Practice thinking positively about your ability to change; be strong and do things to prove your self-help skills; daydream frequently about how nice it will be after you change (see chapter 14). Likewise, face up to the bad consequences of not changing; don't give excuses and let yourself "off easy;" refuse to accept weakness, helplessness, and self-defeating attitudes. As Epictetus said 2000 years ago, "No man is free who is not master of himself."


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