TWENTY IDEAS ON HOW TO BE HELPFUL
1. Each of use has been sufficiently irrational so that we are now able to sympathize with the irrationality of ANYONE.
2. People live by their principles. If a person's life is confused and contradictory and seemingly without a meaningful purpose, it is because his or her principles are confused, contradictory and seemingly without a meaningful purpose.
3. A loving attitude is crucial in all of life.
4. A loving attitude is nourished by remaining reasonable and calm in the face of another person's extreme
5. The HEART OF BEING HELPFUL is a loving attitude.
6. A loving attitude is shown by remaining calm and reasonable while in the middle of someone's emotional storm.
7. What causes anyone to act in desperate way is helplessness that seems overwhelming.
8. Overwhelming helplessness IS the same as feeling cut off from human support JUST WHEN one feels one cannot handle life alone.
9. A loving presence--along with a loving attitude--is also important in order to be helpful.
10. A loving presence is a joyfulness about life itself....one's own life, the life of someone else, and all of life.
11. A loving presence is most helpful in the face of someone's intense suffering.
12. A loving presence in the face of someone's suffering IS THE RECOGNITION that suffering is a sign of life, not death, while remaining connected and glad the other person is still alive.
13. How can one be a loving presence and sustain a loving attitude in the presence of someone in extreme crisis? Answer: By finding something in yourself that resonates and parallels what the other person is experiencing.
14. How can one be a loving presence and sustain a loving attitude in the face of someone who, for example, expresses extreme rage and/or humiliation and/or grief and who is feeling or acting out of control? Answer: By finding something inside yourself that resonates and parallels what the other person is experiencing and then doing ONE MORE THING...
15. After you find something inside yourself that resonates and parallels with what the other person is experiencing, you must do one more thing---ACCEPT sympathetically that same experience in yourself!
16. What prevents us from being helpful to someone? We cannot be helpful when the other person expresses something that also exists INSIDE OURSELVES THAT WE HAVE STEADFASTLY REJECTED AS UNWORTHY OF SYMPATHETIC UNDERSTANDING!
17. We sometimes cannot be a loving presence and cannot adopt a loving attitude so long as there are experiences inside of ourselves that we steadfastly refuse to accept or refuse to regard with self-sympathy.
18. Reread item 14 above to be sure you understand that if there is anyone whom you believe you could never be helpful in relation to but who seeks your help or who you have an opportunity to help, it is because what this person so badly needs help with is something that you refuse to sympathetically understand inside yourself.
19. NEVER TREAT A PSYCHOLOGICAL EMERGENCY AS AN EMERGENCY!
20. Instead of treating a psychological emergency as an emergency, use the occasion of an emergency as an opportunity to make much deeper and caring contact with the other person while SIMULTANEOUSLY making sympathetic contact with parallel experiences within you!
21. Such emergencies are handled helpfully by regarding them as occasions for some very important OPPORTUNITIES for you to learn and grow in human compassion.
22. An aspect of couples therapy that is often overlooked by therapists-- and an aspect of married life that is often overlooked by the culture at large---is this:
Couples typically live with a huge dread of recognizing to themselves and to one another just HOW VERY MUCH THEY NEED THE RESPECT AND UNDERSTANDING OF ONE ANOTHER. When they can express and confide this DREAD to one another, so many conflicts and other problems may melt away.
Note that it is not the need for respect and understanding that needs to be confided in each other. What needs to be confided is the DREAD each partner feels in having to RECOGNIZE one's own neediness.
It is the dread that is not talked about that drives partners away from one another. The DREAD! The DREAD!
Not the need for understanding, not the need for respect, not the deprivation of either or both. It's the dread of recognizing the intensity of one's own neediness for the partner. In not being able to recognize one's need because of dreading this recognition so much, one is not able to be communicate what would make each other feel truly intimate together.
What keeps them unable to be intimate is DREAD of a specific topic of conversation...the topic of the dread itself.
And so, many marriage partners and other love partners become strangers or enemies because they cannot recognize how much is their need for each other. And since they cannot recognize it, the can not talk about it.
Again, it's the DREAD that is almost never recognized, not by couples and not by a very large number of couples therapists. Dread is very yukky feeling of shame or humiliation mixed with lots of fear.
Things would be so different if one partner able to confide in the other the following kind of statement, "I wish there were some way to tell you how much I need your respect and understanding, but I feel so much fear and shame and difficulty even recognizing how important it is to me to get your understanding and respect that I can barely get this very statement finished right now. It all feels so dreadful to just think about how very, very much I NEED you! You might think I am a baby saying this, and I would certainly understand that because I feel like a baby even saying this. Maybe maybe babies are on to something important, however! But it feels just dreadful to think I might be a big baby and my saying all this I am afraid could be making you feel dreadful, too. If you feel like I do, you would feel bad talking about any of this and I'm worried I could be right now making you feel ashamed and fearful and full of dread that I am even saying any of this."
Of course, hardly any couples anywhere will be able to have this conversation because it is a conversation that is so very dreaded everywhere in our culture. And the fact that this sort of conversation does not happen because it is so dreaded is what ends up causing so many couples to change over time into strangers and enemies.
23. The following are mistaken, destructive beliefs that pervade the culture at large and the profession of psychotherapy in particular--
A. Married persons should be able to feel as independent persons rather than as dependent on one another for their psychological well being. This is a destructive belief.
B. When couples feel a great need for one another they are pathologically "co-dependent." This is a destructive belief.
C. Married couples must not try to "control" the feelings of each other. This is a destructive belief. Couples who do not help each other manage intense problematic emotions or who do not try to cause positive feelings in each other are not able to act lovingly in relation to one another.
D. Nobody can make you feel bad except yourself. This, too, is a destructive belief. Even if we sometimes--or even often--cause our own bad feelings, it does not follow that nobody can ever make us feel bad.
These 20 ideas have been culled and adapted and somewhat elaborated from the wonderful book titled "The Heart of Being Helpful." The author is Peter Breggin. There are many, many more ideas in this book, too, that I have not presented above. This book is a marvel and unlike any other book you will have ever read in psychology. If you are like me, you will find the wisdom in this book about human nature, emotion, and relationships staying with you and especially in times of crisis. If you have already read this book, I bet you will agree with me about its uniqueness and value.
This book really is the best single guide I have used to being helpful to people suffering intensely--if indeed I have ever been helpful. It has been also helpful for me to recall things I learned from this book when I found myself suffering intensely.
Peter Breggin is an exceptionally smart yet compassionate psychiatrist and psychotherapist in many ways. And his own many kinds of personal and professional crises make him exceptionally well qualified to write such a book.
Breggin has been one of my heroes to try to emulate. He has shown exceptional guts in taking on all that is corrupt and unscientific and unprincipled in the practices of psychiatry and psychotherapy. His intellectual clarity and personal integrity--combined with his well-developed ethical sensibility and understanding of the centrality of love in human well being--make him an author that should be, in my opinion, among the highest on anyone's list of best authors on mental health.
With thanks to Prof James Duffy.
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