Posted on January 16, 2015 | No Comments
by Linda Herman, LMHC
Last week I wrote about “intentions” and the challenge of living intentionally while also being able to “be” in the moment.
Today I want to discuss these ideas further. To live with intention is to know our values, purpose, and meaning.
Our intentions are guidelines, giving us the framework in which to go about our daily lives. How easy it is to forget our intentions when we feel hurt, angry or thwarted. If we lived fully in the moment when very upset, we might be like the toddler who has a temper tantrum when his toy is snatched away. We would be consumed with emotion, paying no attention to our overall “intention.”
Emotions can run strong among family members. People often come to therapy when situations have escalated to a point where feelings are raw. They cannot see beyond their immediate hurt and anger. At least for the time being, their intentions have been set aside.
They may want to strike back (hopefully just verbally), or do just the opposite: withdraw. My first task in such a situation is to just listen. People cannot begin to consider other ways of addressing problems if they do not feel heard or understand first.
I may reflect their feelings back to them, checking to be sure that I am getting the entire picture as they see it.
While I may understand someone’s desire to “let the other person have it”, I know that doing so is not without consequences, especially if the retribution is loaded with harsh actions or words. It is then that I suggest that we look at “intentions.”
I ask the following kinds of questions: What is the goal here of your response, to build up or tear down? Do you want to get closer or create more distance with this person?
This generally leads to some reflection. I don’t tell my clients what they “should” do; rather I suggest that particular paths of action are likely to be damaging to a relationship, while others may lead to a closer bond. Most of the time, people really don’t want to “tear down” or make things worse. But they are not sure how to respond to the emotional injury they feel.
Therapists can help clients come up with alternatives to what has not been working. This does not mean sugar-coating a negative reply. But it will mean taking out language that negatively labels or demeans another. It means being aware of language that has elements like “you always…” or “you never…”
My role is to help people clarify their language so that they can say what they like, don’t like, want and don’t want in a relationship. They can be very pointed, while not diminishing the other at all.
Living in the present is not easy. Knowing your intentions/purpose is an invaluable guide along the way.