Sunday, 5 June 2016

An Anxious Adolescent - part 3

The student continues to explore the idea that events don’t cause our extreme ill feelings but rather it is our interpretation or thinking about them that does. The belief we are worthwhile only when others do is an errant philosophical view and our student is beginning to realise that his unrealistic demand that others MUST like him to be likeable is doing him a disservice.


In the counselling office in a school in South Australia

Counsellor:   You say that you feel anxious when you think you have ‘offended’ someone. Is that fair to say?

Student:  Yes I want people to be happy. I hate it when they feel bad because of me.

Counsellor:  It would appear that you believe you are responsible for how others feel. You say you ‘made him upset.’ Would that also mean that you believe others ‘make you upset?’

Student:  Yes. People can make me upset and I can upset others.

Counsellor:   I want to talk about a ‘must’ rule that people make over time. It is a rule that is not a helpful one to have.

Student:  What do you mean? Do I have a must rule? I don’t think I do.

Counsellor:   What do you think about the rule ‘people must like me or I’m no good?’

Student:  I’m not sure what you mean. Where does this rule come from?

Counsellor:  OK instead of using the word ’rule’ replace it with ‘belief.’  Say ‘I believe I’m OK only when people think I am.’ (Student repeats statement). A belief is a strongly held view about something that we believe is true.

Student:  Why do I believe this? Where does it come from?

Counsellor:   You have learnt this from an early age. You have learnt that you are only ‘good’ if others think you are ‘good.’ When someone disapproves of aspects of your personality or something you do you don’t just feel disappointed you feel really anxious and sad. Someone or something is not ‘making’ you anxious but your ‘thinking rule’ your ‘must belief’ is!
‘It's lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.’ Muhammad Ali 
Student:  Do you mean that my belief that that kid I was talking about ‘must like me and think I am a good person’ is what is causing my anxiety?

Counsellor: Yes exactly! Your belief (that you believe is true) is making you anxious because you don’t get what you must have and that it is really awful that you don’t. You think you need the acceptance of others to be worthwhile!

Student:  Isn’t it normal to want other people to like me? I try very hard to be liked.

Counsellor:  We may want to be liked and admired by others but really needing others’ attention and admiration to ‘make’ us feel worthwhile and accepted is an unhealthy MUST rule. That is ‘people must like us for us to feel good about ourselves.

Student:  OK I am getting the hang of this. Other people who might disapprove of my behaviour don’t cause my anxiety but my must belief does. I think ‘he must think I am a good person.’ Is that right?

Counsellor: Yes, well done. Not only must he approve of you but it is so awful that you can’t stand it when he doesn’t!  You must get what you want and when you don’t you feel highly anxious and very unhappy.  You will maintain your anxiety as long as you believe your MUST belief/rule.

Student:  How do I change my unhelpful rule? How can I learn to manage my extreme worry?

Counsellor: The antidote to ‘I must have the approval of others for me to feel OK’ is Unconditional Self-Acceptance (USA). It means ‘I accept myself, warts and all even when I stuff up, even when someone disapproves of me in some way!’ This is a healthy rule/belief because you remain in control. You remain healthily concerned but not so anxious that you can’t focus on your work.

Student:  So when someone thinks I have done something bad I’m not bad, is that what you are saying? 

Counsellor:  Yes you are always worthwhile no matter what, even when you screw up or someone rejects you. When you asked someone if they had a problem and he mistook what you said and showed annoyance towards you it did not in any way take away your value. You are only worthless if you believe you are and you believe you are when you believe ‘I MUST have the approval of others to be worthwhile.’

Student:  I get what you mean.

Counsellor:  Practise believing ‘I prefer others to approve of me but they don’t have to. I accept myself no matter what. I can handle this.’
Student:  I’ll do that. Thanks. 

''I don't have to be what you want me to be.'' Muhammad Ali

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