As human beings we are hard-wired to make sense of what happens to us. This is an important skill since good judgement about the world gives rise to emotional and physical safety. Sometimes, however, we might be continuing to interpret our current experiences based on skewed or narrow unconscious assumptions about how to approach life that we have made in childhood, adolescence or at a traumatic time in our lives. How can counselling and psychotherapy help?
A Simple Example of the Power of Interpretation
In the winter the skin on my hands gets sore if I don’t use hand cream. At my office the other day I slapped on a little too much of said hand cream and then had to spend several minutes trying to rub it in before I transferred it to every door handle in the building. Two of my colleagues saw me doing this. The first asked if I was cold (interpretation: I was rubbing my hands to keep warm) and the other, rather tongue in cheek, asked if I was all right (interpretation: I was wringing my hands in despair). Both had observed my behaviour and interpreted – mistakenly – what it meant.
Common Skewed Assumptions
When we interpret others’ behaviour towards us we will often go on to use these interpretations to form assumptions about who we are and what other people are like. We will do this throughout our lives but particularly so in childhood when we are learning about how to be in the world and are dependent on others for survival and emotional well-being. Some examples of the kind of assumptions that are likely to get in the way of us leading a full and varied life include:
- people are untrustworthy
- I can only rely on myself
- he / she doesn’t care
- I am unlovable
- the world is unsafe
- abandonment is catastrophic
- I am superior to others
- my own needs must always come first / last
- to be loved I need to achieve
How might Counselling or Psychotherapy Help?
Anxiety is frequently a symptom of beliefs about how to approach being in the world that have outgrown their usefulness. Successful counselling or psychotherapy involves shining a light on the just-out-of-awareness assumptions which might be limiting your life. Together, we will explore how you might have made sense of your experiences and whether these interpretations of reality continue to serve you well. For instance, you might be making decisions about how to be in the world which are useful to you in some situations (e.g. at work) but not in others (e.g. in your personal life). With the support of therapy, you might decide to experiment with alternative assumptions about who you are, what other people are like and how to be in the world until you arrive at a set that is a better fit to your current life circumstances.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to psychotherapy and counselling interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation. Emailing in the first instance seems to work best.
Copyright Caroline Clarke, Counselling and Psychotherapy in Brighton and Hove
Image courtesy of bugphai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net