Thursday, 31 March 2016

Would you be a friend to yourself? Self awareness.

This is the *extended article, which was published in The York Press on Tuesday, April 5th, 2016.

I have been visiting friends, who are unwell and feeling rough.  Ann is post operative and Sarah is having chemotherapy. Both friends have experienced some truly horrible times through life, as well as good times. We talk, discuss problems and laugh. I commended Ann on her attitude and she replied, “Well, if I was miserable all the time, no-one would want to come and visit me.” When I said much the same to Sarah, she replied, “What’s the point of making everyone else miserable, just because I’m going through it?” 

Ann and Sarah have personal insight and a mature level of self-awareness. They are not self-absorbed and think of and help others too.  

Their comments made me think of the focus on loneliness in the media at the moment and I thought of people who moan rather too much.

* In life there are people with whom we interact and can come away energised, even if the conversation has contained negative elements. There are other people where we can feel drained after spending time in their company. Therapists are taught to protect themselves from the negativity that can naturally exist in a therapy session. There can be times when, if not careful, a therapist can feel  that the client has plugged into the therapist's energies and drained them. It's one of the reasons I chose to be a solution-focused therapist. Despite the problems aired, how much more positive it was to focus on the client's resources and how they were going to be used in finding solutions.  

One of the motivators in finding a more positive approach in mental health came as a nursing assistant and thus, an observer, working on an acute psychiatric ward twenty years ago. I was appalled after the morning get-together, when the patients would come out of the room, most of them with heads down, crying, walking in a line along the corridor (lined with boxes of tissues!), as if they were covered in a shroud of misery, which of course, they were. Sitting in a room for an hour, all feeding off each other's misery could only lead one way. That way was downwards.

In my studies, I was taught about the invaluable ‘Observing Self’. Imagine an internal CCTV.  The ability to look at yourself in situations and think about how you are behaving. Perhaps not a comfortable exercise, but very helpful. I’m tall and sometimes use my Observing Self in situations where I become aware that I’m perhaps standing a little too close, maybe speaking too loud too, perhaps too intrusively. I don't always get it right, but I try to be self-aware.

A client told me that he didn’t have any friends. Despite further discussion, he couldn’t elaborate. So I asked him to imagine he was taking me to his local pub. He had to imagine that we walked into the pub and could see him standing at the bar. I suggested that we went to talk to him. As quick as a flash, he told me not to, because he wasn’t very nice. I asked him why he wasn’t very nice. He said he pinched his friend’s girlfriends. He had used his Observing Self and now we had something concrete to work with.

*I have had to withdraw from a couple of friendships, because the negativity and lack of self awareness was draining me. It's sad, because others have felt like that too. It may appear selfish to some people, but we need to protect ourselves from harmful relationships, otherwise we can become unhealthy, both physically and emotionally.

We all love a moan and a gossip, but there is a limit.  The limit is when people withdraw from your company. Would you want to talk to you, visit you, help you, introduce friends to you? If not, why not? 

Can you change your attitude? Ann and Sarah know that you cannot change events, but you can change your attitude to them. 

Small changes can bring big differences.