I have spent the last few days working on my final paper for my Counseling Theories course, and I’ve likely got a couple more to go. The paper asks me to consider the past eleven major psychological theories that we have been focusing on, ranging from Freud’s psychoanalytic theory to the umbrella of cognitive behavioral therapies, to Postmodern approaches. In the span of these 500 textbook pages lays theory after theory of varying ideas of how people come to be who they are, and how to best engage them to encourage positive changes. I say this because I write a great deal about belief restructuring as a way to analyze one’s life. I think it’s important to state that’s only one way of interpreting human nature.
Do you believe you are the expert in your life? That you have the internal resources, as you are, to recognize where you stumble, and also how to patch those divots? Or, perhaps you believe you know what you know, and how you feel, but you feel if you could learn some life tools you might grow from them. You see, some theories believe the client is the expert and some believe the therapist is the expert. Now you can begin to see why I’ve spent the past several days, and countless hours, hashing through theoretical perspectives trying to discern what it is I believe to be true about human nature and the change process. The reality is, there is not one right answer, and likely none of my classmates will produce the same combination of theories, with the same reasonings as I did.
So, what works for one likely will not work for all… but, if I may, we do tend to judge ourselves based on that one-size-fits-all principle. What size pants do you have to be to be considered skinny? What size to be considered overweight? Or, is it based on your body type? If anyone said it was based on your body type I’m going to say you are way ahead of the curve here. We create suffering for ourselves by our willingness to play along with these socially and culturally constructed ideals. How much makeup is too much? Are white shoes allowed after Labor Day? How do ‘good’ mom’s tend their children? How many disagreements in a relationship constitute concern? How often are you supposed to be intimate with your partner? How far does a ‘good’ dog owner walk their dog each day? What’s a reasonable grocery bill? How many dishes in the sink are too many? You see, there is no one way fits all but yet we are likely holding ourselves to the standards that we have told ourselves are true, and they are different for each one of us.
One psychological theory that I do succumb to falls under the umbrella of cognitive behavioral therapy. In this theory, there are techniques designed to encourage clients to dispute irrational beliefs. This refers to challenging the “should’s,” “oughts,” and “musts” that fill our internal dialogue. Ultimately, how you or someone else ‘should be’ with regards to anything. You should eat (fill in the blank) for lunch to be healthy. You ought to call your friends (fill in the blank) times per month. You must bath your dog (fill in the blank) times per month? I find that challenging these assumptions, or ‘should’s,’ought’s,’ or ‘must’s’ helps to reveal misaligned beliefs that are not leading us in a direction that we value in life. These are considered cognitive distortions, and I am of the mindset that what we believe, or think, creates our emotions and our subsequent behaviors. In other words, if you want to change how you feel, or how you are behaving, you need to focus on changing your thought patterns.
So, how do you come to recognize who you are, and how you feel, and how you choose to behave? Do you believe you have choice in your life? And, if so, how do you exercise that choice to positively, or negatively, impact your reality? Do you believe life is a fixed path and you are fated to your destiny? And all the lumps and bruises that come with that fated path? To me, I feel that I am the type of person who will always choose empowerment. I feel like everyone’s life purpose is to be present with life and embrace all that it presents before us. To do this, I need to have choice in my behavior, my thoughts, and my feelings. I need to know that even if there are a million and one ways to view life, that how I’m viewing it makes me feel stronger, healthier, and authentically me.