What does it mean to listen and talk gently to yourself? What is the answer to the “Million Dollar Question” many therapists get asked?
Usually when I go for a walk or hike in a new area, I look for a “trail map.” Imagine entering a large forest, a new place you have never been with many paths. You hesitate, question yourself and fear traveling in the wrong direction. Anxiety takes over about “making a move” because of the fear of taking the wrong path. My role as a therapist is to become that trail map and invite you navigate each path towards change.
There is a misconception of the practice of therapy and of the role of the therapist. The question that often arises is, “Don’t you get sick of listening to people’s problems all day?” I’ve faced this question at every social gathering and I am always pleased to be given the opportunity to answer. I don’t listen to people complain all day. I invite and help you make behavioral changes by encouraging you to listen and talk gently to YOURSELF. So, what does that mean?
“Self-awareness” occurs when we stop, listen without judgement and talk gently to ourselves by challenging that pesky negative internal dialogue. For example, “John” comes to me throughout the therapeutic relationship and professes that he “hates his job” and “can no longer do it.” However, John continues to stay in that position. John and I “stop and listen” to what he is telling himself. As he takes into account the content of his internal voice, he notices a lot of self judgement. He becomes aware of a negative internal dialogue. He tells himself, “nobody else will want to hire me” or “I knew I was a failure, my father always said so and that is why my boss hates me.” On the therapeutic journey, John and I notice that he is not listening to his “needs” and he is also “triggered” by his boss. Eventually, John challenges self-judgement and looks at what it means to change his situation. Change will entail facing many fears, identifying triggers linked to the past, challenging that pesky negative internal dialogue and adjusting destructive behavioral patterns.
Change begins with listening and talking to yourself “gently.” Change means acknowledging the skeletons of the past without inviting them to dance, living in the present and facing the “unknown” of the future. This is your journey and you get to decide, without judgement, which path is right for you.