Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Things you learn in therapy: Re-frame it

One of the things you learn when you go see a cognitive behaviour therapist (or indeed any therapist, I suppose) is to re-frame things. This means that you learn to look at things from a different perspective, and that there is no right or wrong.

Let's say you discuss your childhood with said therapist. You talk about how you may have felt abandoned by one or both of your parents at different times, but at the same time, you wonder why you'd say that because it simply wasn't true. I mean, you weren't actually abandoned abandoned, because your parents were there, or they were returned to you, or whatever.

What a therapist does is to tell you that there is no right or wrong, because what's important isn't whether or not you were actually abandoned, that's beside the point. (Unless you were, in which case I'm sorry that happened to you, but that's not the point I'm trying to make.)

If you look back at the situation as an adult, you might say "but that's bollocks, I wasn't abandoned! My parents looked after me very well!" and feel bad because you're obviously being unfair to your totally non-abandoning parents. This is where the "no right or wrong" thing comes in. That they didn't actually abandon you doesn't matter right now, because the issue is that your younger self had the feeling of abandonment. It doesn't necessarily mean that your parents did anything wrong.

Going on from that, instead of getting hung up on details, you need to acknowledge that your younger self felt abandoned, even if it's not factually correct, and that's the feeling that needs addressing and until you've acknowledged the emotion you can't work through it. It's not about blaming anyone (i.e. your parents); it's just about how you felt at the time, and why that was.

It could be anything. Perhaps you happened to have been a complete dick towards an older sibling, which you realise as you got older and (hopefully) stopped being so annoying. Instead of thinking of your younger self as being a complete arsehole, stop and think about why you acted that way. It could have been because you felt lonely, or that you wanted some attention from the formerly youngest sibling who probably saw you as an imposter when you came along and therefore naturally wasn't too keen on you. What does that say about you as a child, and your sibling as a child, and you both together as children? (Yes, perhaps you just were just a horrible younger sibling, that's also an option, but surely that says a bunch about you as a child as well.)

Not just "wow, I was an annoying little shit to my sibling", but rather "wow, I was a lonely and frustrated child who took it out on my older sibling when s/he wouldn't give me the attention I needed."

Re-frame it.

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