We all likely have our favorite personal qualities that we secretly (or publicly) admire about ourselves. While many of these characteristics are probably universally positive, it is possible that something we love about ourselves—for example, assertiveness—might be perceived by someone else as bossy or overly forward.
Similarly, when discussing perceived “flaws” in counseling, people in therapy are often surprised to discover the very things they dislike about themselves can be reframed as beneficial in some way. Coming to my office gives people a chance to see themselves from a new perspective. This doesn’t mean they always agree with my viewpoint, but as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, being able to see yourself in a compassionate manner is always the first step toward behavior change.
When seeking out solutions to problems, it is worth noting that most problems have some benefits to them as well. In therapy, we call these secondary gains.
Here are some upsides to common complaints brought to individual counseling:
anger is easier to deal with than not allowing yourself to feel anger. A person in therapy might feel worried that the anger is uncontrollable, but the positive side to feeling anger is just that—the person is actually feeling something and can do something productive with that anger. Anger can relieve stress and prevent runaway anxiety. Anger gives a therapist a lot of opportunity to help.
The Upside of Loneliness: Someone with loneliness has already advanced past many of us who fill our days trying to prevent this feeling; he or she is experiencing something we fear most. A lonely person seeking companionship has already been figuring out how to structure the day, soothe the quietest moments, and engage in solo activities. Plus, someone who has learned how to live through loneliness can be well prepared to be an independent and self-sufficient partner. A person in therapy who expresses loneliness gives the therapist a chance to help him or her build a life around the most permanent relationship: the one with him or herself.
The Upside of Anxiety: A person who is anxious may want desperately to soothe the physical feelings that accompany anxiety. What that person doesn’t realize is that the flip side to the anxiety is the concerted effort the brain is making to soothe him or her. The person is tuned into life and cares about something; otherwise, anxiety would not be present. Therefore, we can reframe anxiety as a normal response to something that has just gotten blown out of proportion. Anxiety is an extreme measure of self-care.
The Upside of Depression/Pessimism: People who have worst-case scenario thoughts about their lives are usually very good at predicting and overcoming potential obstacles. This can turn anxiety and brooding into action, which is empowering. A person who is depressed usually has positive aspects to life that have been downplayed or haven’t been tapped into. This is one reason why depression is so difficult to tackle without professional help; there are immense blind spots with regard to positive qualities that a therapist can help someone in therapy see and use.
Solution-Focused therapy, in my opinion, is better than any other therapy when it comes to helping someone reframe their problems and see opportunity and choice. Find a therapist to learn more about how it may help you.
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