Many clients come into my office asking if it’s possible to remove troubling aspects of their personalities. Often I might hear:
Can you help me to get rid of my anxiety?
Is it possible to completely eliminate my depression?
How exactly do I totally let go of my anger?
As a new therapist just starting out in practice, I actually believed that it was possible to completely remove these pesky parts of our personalities.
But what I have learned in my twenty plus years of working with people is that aspects of our personalities don’t usually just go away. So I needed another way of looking at things. Another way of coping with, learning from and living with the troubling parts. I needed a way to help people pay attention to all the parts of themselves and to mix in a healthy dose of acceptance.
And out came the idea that our minds are like a large classrooms full of all types of kids. Rowdy, silly, calm, boisterous, anxious, impatient, mopey, generous, angry, open and fun-loving.
On any given day, one type of kid or another might be knocking on the door to get our attention.
We can get better at getting the rowdy ones to sit still and listen for a bit, or the impatient one to slow down a smidge, but there might just be some truly unlikable parts that no matter how much we address, just won’t completely vanish.
And guess what, our inability to get rid of parts of ourselves is not bad news.
We can actually repurpose difficult parts of ourselves to do what they do best. The angry part might help you to take notice of potential danger. The depressed part might help you to have empathy for others. The overly silly part might help you to lighten up. Think of how you have re-purposed qualities that haven’t been so useful in one situation into something that actually is very useful.
So how does this approach play out in day to day life?
A good example was the way I answered the knock today.
Though most aspects of my life are going well (kids, family, career) I’ve been noticing a quiet mopey, depression lurking around. Yet because most things are going well life I’ve been ignoring the unmistakable feeling of sadness.
Today I asked myself: If a friend told you they were feeling this way, what would you say to them? The answer was easy.
I went to the classroom of my own mind and asked the mopey, heavy part of me: “What’s up?”.
I didn’t invite it to the front of the classroom to run the show, I didn’t let the voice run amok, yet I didn’t shun it (anymore) either.
Instead I asked what it needed from me.
The message was clear and simple. I need a little more sleep and a little less food. I need a little more down time to compensate for the uptick in work. I need a list to know what I need to get done before the weekend.
A little more of this and a little less of that?
Yes. for now that was it.
After the check in I noticed that almost immediately the classroom of my mind became quiet again. I was able to exhale, feeling more at ease.
Now I must admit. It is not always that easy. Sometimes the noise from the back of the classroom comes from the crazier, wilder parts. When that happens we can always call in back-up. (That’s what good friends, family and therapists are for.) Ignoring the noise isn’t going to help. It never does.
Ask, is there a voice that wants to be heard, some part of the classroom that may have something important to say to you? What if you took a minute, slowed down and gave it a voice? You might just receive a message that will allow you to exhale.
Nicole C Weiss LCSW
- Phone: 619-318-5012
- Email: [email protected]