Accepting and Facing Ourselves. Some Reflections!

As I was cleaning up my office and filing away articles I had laying around, I came across one that had a lot of impact on me and my counselling practice over the years.It was from a Psychotherapy Journal from 2007 and I think I came across it while studying and writing an essay on Mindfulness. I always remember the concepts it presented and found them very valuable, as I work with people on their issues (or at least supported them in working on them). And equally so when I look at and explore my own issues!! So I thought this would be good to share in this blog.

This article is called ” Hello Darkness, discovering our values by confronting our fears” by Steven Hayes.

Steven explains that he keeps a supply of Chines Finger Traps in his therapy office. Does anyone remember these? I do have memories of playing with one as a child, so can picture them well. They were like a tube made out of straw or woven plastic, and you would push one finger from each hand into each end. As you then try to pull your fingers out, the tube diameter shrinks and it grabs your fingers firmly. The more you struggle, the more you are trapped! The only way to create enough room to get your fingers back out, is to do something that is counter intuitive. You push them together and deeper into the tube, which then relaxes its grip.

This example is to show, in a concrete and material way,  the idea that often the more we struggle with the problems in our mind, the more confused and stuck we can become. That trying to escape from difficult thoughts and feelings often makes them worse.  Steven Hayes writes of often giving them to clients, to play with and relate to, and he mentions a client who came to realise that his struggle and battle with anxiety was constricting his whole life. and that only by moving into and confronting his pain could he find the room to live a full life.

This approach invites people to step into the now and change their relationship with their experiences. To accept where they are at and stop trying so hard to manipulate and change their own inner world . In my opinion the later often involves telling ourselves off for having the issue  in the first pace and telling ourselves we are not good enough as is-so we have to try harder. In all my years of counselling I have come to see that this is NOT helpful. It especially does not help us feel good about ourselves.

As Steven writes: when we try to avoid, escape or control painful feelings, the present becomes the Enemy and we become fixed on an imaginary future (where all will be different/better) which we will never reach and only feel worse about not reaching. He does mention that turning around and facing the issue involved abandoning some sense of control and this can feel counter intuitive (Scary, I think).

As I write this I realise it fits with my views that Loving ourselves and Accepting ourselves as is, is the only way to change anything. Maybe reading this article made me realise that my values lie in this direction. I know I read it early on in my career but it had a lasting impact.

Later on I discovered Carl Rogers, another therapist, whose Paradox of Change I have had blue tacked to my mirror for over 10 years. this says:

” If you can accept yourself as you are and give yourself permission to have difficulty with it, then the curious paradox is that you will change”

“When I can accept myself as I am then I can change, and when I accept you as you are then you can change”

I now see how this fits with what the article was on about. I still love that way of thinking and know how powerful this is!! Now to find some Chines Finger Traps to keep in my counselling room. Maybe on e bay??