October 19, 2009

Decide Not to Decide

It is quite common for people to enter therapy in the midst of a crisis. They want answers.

Is my marriage over?

Cognitive therapy is all about replacement thinking. A cognitive therapist will listen for faulty or dysfunctional thinking patterns that are contributing toward a client's lowered mood, anxiety, anger, or indecision.

And sometimes those problematic thoughts are questions. Especially questions whose answers involve major life decisions. Upheaval.

My job is horrible! Should I quit now or find a new job first?

One calming thought replacement is decide not to decide. At this moment, anyway. Perhaps for an undetermined period of time, if the situation allows. Give yourself the time to make a more informed decision.

I'm not happy here. Should I move back to the West Coast?

First we must explore whether there is an urgency to decide now. Many, if not most, of life's crises do not require immediate action. They may, at some point, require a decision. But right now? Not usually. And hasty decisions are often the source of regret or self-doubt down the road.

My neighbors are so toxic. Is it time to move?

What crises typically do require is calm and thorough deliberation. Careful consideration of the options available. Analyzing the situation so that we know what we're dealing with. Generating a range of steps to take before making a drastic change.

By the time someone has entered the therapy room, however, they are often worked up into a frenzy or feeling overwhelmed to the point of depression. They are not thinking clearly. They cannot focus. They are unable to come up with creative solutions. They're engaged in black or white, all or none, thinking.

So rather than focus on making the decision, we want the client to slow down, calm down, reduce the stress, increase the self care, and decide not to decide.

Concentrate on self-soothing. Take care of yourself until you are in a position where you can carefully assess the available information, until it can be gathered in a calm, deliberate and accurate manner. And then reflected on without haste. Seek opinions from respected experts or someone who has been in your shoes.

Slow down.
Get some good sleep.
Think of my options.
List pros and cons.
Get some support.
Consult with friends, colleagues, loved ones, a professional.
Take a walk.
Take deep breaths.
And full exhales.
And again.
Give myself the time to decide.
In good time.

Decide not to decide.
Until I am ready.

Sandy Andrews, PhD is a Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist in Austin, Texas

October 5, 2009

finding friends

In my last post, I talked about being new in a city and the struggle to find friends.
Years ago, I read a research study dealing with social support. It found that the variable most predictive of a friendship developing between any two people was, simply, time spent together. Not common interests, like I guessed. Not same background or religion. Not age. Not level of education.

Greater length of time spent in each other's company was the factor most associated with friendship bonding. Either long periods of time in one space (think weekend workshop or jury duty) or repetitive intervals across time (weekly art class). Time that allows for talking and getting to know each well enough to break down the barriers and move to a point where calling each other for a get together feels acceptable. Safe. And eventually easy.

I wish it were faster. I wish we could attend a party, walk up to someone new and say, "Hi. I overheard your conversation and you seem like someone I could be friends with." But this rarely happens. It might have been this easy in kindergarten. The older we get, though, the longer it usually takes. We grown ups are a leery lot.

Place of employment is a common venue for making friends. We can see the "time spent together" factor at work here. Many of my clients in this friendless predicament report the social scenerio at their jobs is lacking They might have made slight inroads or none. "Everyone is married." Or, "They're all older than me." Or, "They all do the bar hopping scene. I don't like bars." When friends don't arise in the work place, it can lead to looking around and wondering, "Now what?"

Well, here's one idea for the now what. Remember this one goal: Put yourself into situations where you are likely to see the same people again and again.

Visiting a museum one afternoon is not going to cut it. Signing up for a book club where the same people will be meeting week after week might.

What kind of situations? Start with an interest. A hobby. A creative outlet. An athletic pursuit.

What do I like to do? What am I interested in doing that I've never done before? What have I long wanted to try but haven't made the time to do so? Gardening? Creative writing? Volley ball? Woodworking?

Thumb through the newspaper in the local/metro or life section. Check out informal classes or adult education available at nearby colleges. Read over the available class schedules as a way of getting ideas or jogging your memory: photography, landscaping, stained glass, salsa or country western dance, yoga, walking tours, home improvement, bridge, dominoes.

Look for events that meet repeatedly, once/week or every other, where it seems likely you'll see the same faces on a repeat basis. A one-time seminar on a Saturday is better than sitting home and meeting no one. But a class or support group that meets regularly is a better bet for getting in the time needed to develop a friendship.

Some venues encourage interacting, such as team sports, creative writing classes, support groups, walking clubs. Others are more of a solitary pursuit. Avoid the latter. We want to optimize our recreation and volunteer time. Go where the opportunity for getting to know others is made easy.
The beauty of my plan is this: Even if your pursuit doesn't result in friends, let's say you're not interested in anyone who shows up, you are spending time doing something entertaining, challenging, and fun. You might be learning something.

Another benefit? You become more interesting this way. So when you do meet someone who has friendship potential, you're more likely to have something to offer. To be found friendship worthy.

So starting with something you're interested in is one friendship finding avenue. I'll have more to offer in a later post or two.