Encouragement, Pain, and Survival

In May, I presented at the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology’s annual conference in Minnesota, along with colleagues from Adler University’s Chicago Campus. Our panel discussion was on encouragement, and we spoke about the different ways we have experienced encouragement in our lives and tried to pass it along to others.

In my discussion, I used the metaphor of a “big switch” that I consciously imagined as a way to “switch off” self-doubt. I credited my teachers and mentors (including the late Dr. Bina Rosenberg, who was my personal therapist as well as a beloved colleague and a noted Adlerian who worked with Rudolf Dreikurs) with providing the encouragement that I had needed to overcome self-doubt.

An audience member remarked at the end of our panel discussion that the “big self-doubt switch” was an appealing metaphor that she planned to keep in mind as she goes about her work as a therapist. I joked that I pictured it as one of those big, steampunk-looking knife switches like you would see in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, and pantomimed throwing that kind of switch.

Also in the audience was Debbie Joffe Ellis, a notable psychotherapist whose late husband was Dr. Albert Ellis, the originator of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy. I hoped that she had taken something from our discussion, as well, and felt a bit special to have her as an attendee for our little presentation.

Today I saw that Debbie had posted a blog entry on the Psychology Today blog, with the title, “Reducing the Pain: Focusing on What Is Good, Including and Despite Tragic Events.” In it, she described three events that had shaken her significantly – witnessing the aftermath of a plane crashing into the Hudson River on May 27, receiving an abusive e-mail message from someone over a business matter, and spending the holiday weekend alone while thinking of those who have passed away. In each case, she emphasized the choice that she had – whether to feel crushed and beaten down, or to remind herself of what she does have and appreciate those things. On the holiday weekend, that included the friends she has to whom she could reach out.

That last part resonated with me, because I had used the trip to Minneapolis to visit a dear friend and his wife, whom I had not seen in many years. Although we had many valid reasons for not seeing each other, I realized that a big one I had never acknowledged was that same self-doubt. Maybe he would think I wasn’t as good a friend as I’d thought. Maybe our lives had been split for too long. Maybe … Well, may be it was just more of that self-doubt. Rudolf Dreikurs always spoke of “the courage to be imperfect.” So maybe I needed the courage to say I still wanted to reconnect and feel close to my friend (and his wife, whom I’d never met). Even though I’d done a much less than perfect job of keeping up the friendship.

So overall, I hope that my thoughts at the conference, and Debbie Ellis’s thoughts afterward, share a common thread. We need to make the choice to accept the events in life in positive ways. We need to be conscious of our strengths and positives, and we need to choose to focus on those -rather than on the frightening, discouraging, or disappointing things that happen.It’s advice I’ve always tried to give others, but as Debbie and the other audience members helped me see, we all need to make the choice to do the same thing ourselves in our daily lives.

 
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