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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Coming from a Position of Uncertainty

Dear Ms. Curtiss,

Well, I finally bought Brainswitch out of Depression & I'm enjoying it very much. It was a realization of my son's struggle with depression that impelled me over to Barnes & Noble to pick it up. I sat there & sped through the first 104 pages. It was at page 104 that I knew I had to buy this book.

I have actually struggled for so long with depression that I have come up with many of these strategies by trial & error - and necessity. I had to raise my son alone, so it was imperative that I find ways of functioning in this world.

I was chronically tired from the incredible amount of energy & courage it took for me to get through a day. One thing that helped me to find tools that work (because my parents are alcoholics) is 12-Step Alanon. Much of the wisdom in your book I found in my 23 years in Alanon. But I was unable to pass these skills on to my son.

I thought that it was just natural teenage rebellion that he refused to follow my example and do the things that work.I thought he'd snap out of it & start to choose happiness over his dark "stinkin' thinkin'" as it is called in 12-Step programs.

Your book is really helping me in reaffirming many of the things that I know.Thank you for your insights, many of which I did not directly know. I am not sure how to proceed with my son though, except prayerfully & gradually.

I am wondering if you have any direct strategies for helping a loved one. I thought I would send him a select page or two because he has already refused to read any books that I have bought for him. I have searched Brainswitch for just the right pages that might peak his interest. B_________


Dear B_______

It is very difficult to help someone else, even your own child, unless you have built up the kind of trust that when the person is confused, or hits some kind of wall, they ask you for your opinion.

The reason it is so difficult is that people are usually fearful, and it is their fear that has caused them to develop defensive strategies (such as drinking) to alleviate the fear. (Fear is extremely painful and most people repress it.) Mostly what fearful people fear is criticism. Even the suggestion of criticism. They just can't take it. They consider criticism an attack, rather than helpful, no matter how excellent and well meaning.

You can see people walking around with hunched shoulders and a caved-in chest because their fear has gotten them to take this protective posture (to protect their heart which is breaking but they repress the pain of it). They have protected their minds as well with a big fence to keep out all criticism, which is how they view someone's offer of suggestions.

The way a human being avoids the pain of fear is to blame. As long as you are blaming, you are focused on someone else's faults or weaknesses and are not focused on your own pain. So the fearful person is poised to blame the help-giver because the help is seen by them to come in the form of criticism. This defense strategy is not at all helpful in regular life, but it serves to alleviate fear.

Since most people don't know they are afraid, they just think the other person is wrong, or non-supportive, or that life, in general, has given them a bad deal. The other thing that fear does is make you right. Being right is a defense against fear. Being right (defensive) means that you are coming from a position of certainty—“I am right,” or “fine” or “don't need you,” and you are stupid, or wrong, or don't know anything.

From the position of certainty, your brain is closed down to further information. You already know everything. This is especially true of teenagers.

In order to get people to consider new information, you have to move them ever so gently from a position of certainty to a position of uncertainty. Sometimes in a counseling situation, the counselor might respond to someone who has just regaled you with how they are just “fine, thank you very much, I don’t need counseling” by asking--

"So things are working for you the way you want?”

or

“Do you have your hopes and dreams coming true or are you just coping?”

The person might decide at this point that maybe they could do a little better. A tiny spark of doubt might penetrate their own mind. They might wonder to themselves that they actually don't know what to do next. If so, they might be open to some new information. Not much, all at once, but something. Something small and non-critical that might seep in and later they assume they thought it up themselves.

Mostly teenagers are afraid and don't know it. For a person to improve, they must somehow confront their fear and start to grow their courage. I know I talk about dealing with repressed fear at great length in Chapter 10 of my book Depression is a Choice. You can get that book for just a couple of dollors on amazon.com A. B. Curtiss.

2 comments:

Ginger said...

B., I applaud your strength and courage. Raising a child alone is tough, & you put one foot in front of the other & did what you needed to do. Pat yourself on the back for being accountable, responsible, and loving.

A.B., your reply to B. enlightened me further about fear. I'm still learning about how fear "works," how it functions in our lives, & ultimately does us & others harm if not "seen" & addressed directly. Thanks for sharing this great post.

A. .B. Curtiss said...

Thanks Ginger for your comment. I think I remember another similar letter that I answered with some of the same information. But there might be a different angle that would add a new perspective and be helpful as well. I'll post that today. A. B. Curtiss