When people tell me about their problems, they give me their interpretation of themselves, their family, and their situation. In that case, they are asking me to share their perspective. They present the problem so that I will find a resolution that suits what they see in the problem. If I do that, I am restricted from the very beginning. Those clients don’t really need me; they only want to use me as a henchman to provide the resolution they want. I can’t accept that. I reserve the right to look for myself.
After all, a client comes to therapy seeking help. Often, however, a client is seeking affirmation, in which case I find it more useful to look past the client and not to focus on the person; in that sense. I look at the family and the total situation. When I’m having great difficulty with someone, I look at that person as if he or she were four years old and ask myself what could have happened to make this person turn out like this. Then I have a completely different picture of her or him, and I get closer to what is essential than I could have by listening to the words.
Bert Hellinger — Acknowledging What Is (pp. 70-71)
Whenever someone is talking to me about a problem they are having, I get a quick sense whether they just want me to affirm the way they feel about their situation or if they are genuinely looking for help of some kind. In the beginning, I was quick to give affirmation after affirmation until one day I questioned whether I was being useful. What I soon realized was in order to have an honest dialogue with them—and to remain true to myself—giving them the affirmation they were seeking wasn’t always the most helpful thing to do.
We are comfort seeking creatures. Very few of us prefer to constantly reach beyond our comfort zone without pulling or prodding of some kind. More often than not, when we go to seek help in counseling we’re really going for affirmation—at first.
In my counseling training, we are taught the presenting problem that brings the client through the door is rarely the real issue they need to work through. With a high degree of certainty, we can assume the issues the client talks about the first couple sessions are probably only the “ice breakers” before they feel comfortable enough to unpack the big stuff.
Most people go to their friends or family to get all the affirmations they can fathom, but the problem is, those affirmations rarely give the person the help they need. If all they are looking for is you to agree with everything they say, chances are you aren’t helping them. Friends or family that will be straight-up honest with you and affirming at the same time, those are the kind of people I prefer to spend time with.
We all have blind spots. Instead of seeking affirmations from others to see things the way you see them, risk telling your story then ask them to be honest about what they see. Remain curious and assume you may learn something. If they truly want to help you, they will have a difficult conversation with you from time to time.
Have a blessed day.
Peace and Love,