Do you feel that your life would be improved if only you could find
better ways to deal with a particular concern, such as anger, anxiety,
bouts of depression or lack of assertiveness? Or perhaps you feel stuck
in a relationship that isn't working well, or are you in a job that doesn’t bring you
satisfaction? Do you have a problem with addictive behaviors, lack of confidence, fear of social situations? Do you have a chronic medical (and/or pain) condition that is keeping you from living a satisfying life? Are you trying to deal with the aftermath of a dysfunctional childhood, or trauma?
These are the kinds of things people often want to change. Yet
sometimes the most sincere efforts to do so gradually dissolve.
Sometimes there’s even a lingering sense of guilt from failing to manage
things better as the old habitual patterns return all-too-quickly.
There is a common belief that we can “will” certain behaviors to be
different. It is true that we can modify some things about
ourselves with relative ease, but it is also true that we can rarely do
so by just commanding that it be so. Now you could decide that you
want to touch your finger to your forehead, or turn off a light switch, and
make those things happen quite easily. But when it comes to making
deeper, more extensive, lifestyle changes, it is seldom that simple.
Our inner lives are far more complicated than light switches. We are a
whole symphony of different desires, needs, secret yearnings,
intentions, ideas and beliefs. We have personal histories that have
created our own unique expectations and standards, likes and dislikes,
plus we constantly interact with other people who influence our thoughts
and behaviors in many ways. So when we reach a decision that there is
something we truly would like to change, it is rarely as direct as just
“white-knuckling” our way through to new habits or ways of being in the
Our brains have become conditioned to our usual routines, prompting
us to do many things on “automatic behavior.” This is useful so that we
don’t have to re-invent the wheel for every action we undertake.
However, this can work against us in trying to shift away from
continuing with behaviors that do not serve us well or bring
satisfaction to our lives. Making a true change regarding a troublesome
behavior or personal concern generally involves different ways of
thinking about the situation in the first place, and definitely needs to
utilize a set of skills that can help one adapt to different ways of
responding to old triggers or interpersonal patterns.
In therapy people learn new ways to develop mindfulness and awareness that can help interrupt automatic behaviors and manage cues, triggers and cravings. Sometimes
it works best to do this in individual sessions. But at other times,
the changes desired are interpersonal, in which case couple or family
therapy is very useful. If there is a situation in your life that you
are having difficulty with, consider making an appointment to discuss
Kathi Whitten Copyright 2009