It is funny how our clients all know that life is not fair, but still they expect it to be! It is one thing to know intellectually that life is not fair, but another thing to give up the sense of entitlement and expectations that it should in our day to day lives. Sometimes it seems so hard to help them change their ingrained habits of thinking!
Life's unfairness often comes in the form of our discontent over the actions and reactions of others in our lives. People give us so much to react against! All too often we expect people to be fair and act in ways that we consider "right" and often find ourselves angry and indignant over words, actions and reactions from others. Expecting that people should "know better" we often unconsciously use ourselves as a yardstick for how people should be, thinking "if that was me, I would ..." This leads to much wasted time and even you life caught up in holding grudges, being hurt, bitter while holding others accountable for our own difficulties. As a psychotherapist for 35 years, I have been struck with how many people blame their parents, exes, children, co-workers for their problems. Just recently a 64 years old women complained that her problems in life were her parents fault. WHAT? Didn't she see that this victim mentality was the reason for her disappointments? Didn't she realize that how her life turns out is because of her, not them? Such wasted time and sadness result from thinking life should have been more fair. Does this sound familiar in your own clients?
This judgmental mindset can lead to lifelong discontentment when people in our lives, including parents spouses, coworkers, our children, our friends and neighbors fail to support our notions of how they should be. Help your clients change their heads! As obvious as it sounds, some of our clients need help with understanding that no one can really stress you out except yourself! Not even traffic or the snow! Rather it is our attitude and our perception of the stressors in our lives that cause us internal stress. Barring physical endangerment and life debilitating illness, much of our reactions to stress can be totally in our control, and not in the control of others! So next time your clients say things like "she makes me so mad" or "my mom stresses me out" help them realize that that could not be further from the truth!
What does Swiss Cheese have to do with it? How can thinking Swiss help your clients?
Swiss cheese is a metaphor for life itself. I find metaphors very powerful in working with my clients. Metaphors can help clients get "unstuck" from old habits of thinking with a refreshing away to look at things. Metaphors help reframe things in a new light, and lower your clients defenses when they uphold some rigidity in the way they view things. I love the analogy of Swiss Cheese, as it perfectly symbolizes life itself. After all life is not smooth and predictable like American or Cream Cheese. Like the Swiss, our lives have inevitable “holes” and “imperfections,” and these challenges are what enriches our lives and gives us character and depth. Even the image of the Swiss with all its holes reminds us that we need holes in our lives to make our lives distinctive and flavorful. Interestingly enough, it is a fact that the bigger the holes of the Swiss, the sweeter and more distinctive the cheese. What an analogy to our lives! We develop resiliency by overcoming challenges and obstacles. By moving through life’s holes rather than getting stuck in them, we become stronger. By embracing life's holes, we make peace with the fact that life has its share of stresses, disappointments and setbacks, and it was never meant to be predictable, smooth and fair. Life misfortune and even trauma is not reserved for only the bad eggs in society.
When I use the analogies like these with clients and it is not uncommon for them to have an "aha" moment that really sticks with them. Another analogy I love using is the one of the caterpillar shedding its own discarded, shriveled skin, incubating in a cocoon, to emerge as a beautiful and colorful butterfly. Like so many of our clients, as they grow and change through therapy they can emerge like butterflies and actually their souls can take wing and soar! The sunflower is another personal favorite example of how growing toward the sunny "light" and moving towards optimistic and sunny ways of thinking can make you one stronger and stand taller! Tall and proud, emanating with brightness and beauty!
So, it might sound nice if life did not have holes and everything went along swimmingly, but no one has that kind of life. It is up to us to help guide our clients through their holes and show them how they can learn and grow in the process of getting through them rather than try to avoid them. The holes in our lives are rich in learning and provide insights into ourselves and others. By embracing the holes in our lives, we can shift from bring stuck in the “whys” in our lives to focusing on to “what’s next?”
Judy Belmont is a counselor, mental health speaker, and the co - author of "The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life: How To Get Through Life's Holes Without Getting Stuck In Them!". More information at www.judybelmont.com