Broken clocks: Why We Need Therapy

Imagine you have a lovely clock - a real showpiece, that you like to keep in a prominent place in your home, perhaps on your fireplace mantle or in your curio cabinet. One day it just stops keeping time. What will you do? You have a few options:

1. You could move the clock to a different place in the home. Perhaps it wasn't happy on the shelf, mantle, or in the cabinet. Maybe if you move it to a new place, it will start working again.

2. You could take it down from its place and shine it up. Maybe it needs a good "spit and polish". If you shine it all up, change its appearance, perhaps it will start working again because it looks brand new on the outside.

3. You could blame the clock for its inability to keep time, and try to shame it back into working again.

BUT it is not very likely that any of the above options will result in your optimal outcome, which is for the clock to accurately tell the time!

We are so like this when it comes to our mental health and our psychological well-being. When we feel badly about ourselves or the status of our lives, we tend to look around us at our surroundings. "Maybe if I lived in a different house, city, province, or country, things would be better..." "I just need to go to a different school or enroll in a different program; get a new job, or join a new church, club, or networking group, then my life would be better." But here's the thing: wherever you move the clock to, it will still be broken. And no matter where you go, you take YOU with you. If you're broken in one place, and all you do is make a change in the geography, you will still be broken.

After we have made some changes to our surroundings, the next place we look to for "fix-its" is the external part of ourselves - the part everyone else sees. A new haircut, style, or colour; a change in wardrobe; an extreme makeover... the logic is simple. If I LOOK better, maybe I will FEEL better. Trust me when I say this: If your sense of self is "broken", no amount of makeovers will fix it. This is why all of those extreme makeover shows we see on TV have a counselling component involved - because regardless of what you look like on the outside, if you FEEL ugly, unloved, or unwanted, ultimately nothing else will matter.

Lastly, when we have tried all we can to control our surroundings and our appearance, we turn to blame. This typically happens out of sheer frustration. "I've tried EVERYTHING, and nothing works!" Have you ever heard that before? Perhaps you have even said that before! If you've tried everything and nothing works, that must mean that there is something inherently WRONG with you... right? Well - on the one hand, you are right: there is something wrong... but you knew that all along - otherwise you would not have been "trying everything" to fix it. But what happens here is that rather than focusing on the specific issue (the clock no longer tells accurate time), you are focusing on the clock itself and making the clock the problem. The challenge in this thinking is this - blaming the clock for its own problems MAKES NO SENSE. You wouldn't look at the clock and say, "You're broken because you're a clock." That's stupid. Likewise you shouldn't look at yourself and say, "I'm broken because I'm me." That's just as dumb. Sorry. But it's true. Blaming yourself doesn't improve your chances of "fixing what's broken" any more than blaming your clock will magically make it work again.

So what is the best option for your broken clock? How about taking it to a clock-maker or a clock repair shop, and asking them to take a look at it. The clockmaker will carefully open it up, look at the inner workings of the mechanisms, diagnose the problem, tell you what it is, and with your permission, s/he will proceed on replacing broken or damaged parts and then putting the clock back together. If all goes well, your prized clock will once again be keeping accurate time before you know it.

I'm sure you know where I am headed with this by now. When you are experiencing emotional pain, mental illness (that ranges from anxiety to depression to PTSD, schizophrenia, OCD and all points in between), your best option is to go see a professional. Find a therapist who understands and specializes in your particular challenges (you wouldn't take your clock to an auto repair shop), and ask for their help. A good therapist will ask a lot of important questions that are relevant to your problem, s/he will encourage you to "open up" so that together you can examine the inner workings of your issues, diagnose the problem, tell you what it is (in their opinion), and with your permission, s/he will proceed on working with you to repair the damage and put things back into working order.

It has been said that "even a broken clock is right twice a day", so it is perfectly OK to continue through life like a broken clock, being "right" purely by accident and on only so many occasions, or you can choose to see help from a qualified professional who can help you make sense of your challenges and equip you with strategies and skills so you not only survive but thrive.

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