Eric Hoffer, the social writer and philosopher, once said "the search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness." Similarly, John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher and social theorist said, "ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so."
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Sara, a person who has consulted me frequently for help for many years, has been a harsh self-critic; essentially, picking up where both her parents left off. While therapy has helped her to become more accepting of her shortcomings and occasional failures, Sara still, at times, can berate or belittle herself for an occasional error in judgment, a social gaffe, or even a disappointing experience on a blind date.
"Stop being so defensive!" is a phrase known to have begun or to have escalated many a battle between people in a relationship. The person told to stop being defensive usually responds by stating that he or she is not being defensive. The accuser then uses that response as evidence to prove his point and an argument ensues. The issue that was the subject of the exchange gets lost in the anger-storm and not reopened for some time, if ever.
This intriguing question – in so many variations – has been asked by many people who are struggling with both the joys and the consequences of being involved in a serious romantic partnership. For some, being single is a most desirable state and valued for the many freedoms and opportunities it affords. There are many who choose to be single and resist serious romantic involvements because they do not wish to complicate their independent and autonomous lives. For others, being single is a time of waiting; waiting to be partnered so that they can, as one client remarked, "feel whole again." For them, being single is just unacceptable; or, worse, a possible indication that they are 'undesirable', as in "nobody wants me."
Many clients have spoken to me about their experiences with people in their lives wishing that they would – or, worse – telling them that they must "get over" some emotional condition or disorder from which they are suffering. This could be a state of depression, a grief reaction to the loss of a loved one, or something else that requires time – and maybe professional help – in order to overcome.
Some people, it seems, need to be 'right' more than they need almost anything else. I am frequently struck by the verbal lengths a person will go when they are very sure of themselves and someone challenges their belief, their memory, or their knowledge about something. This need takes many forms and is an interpersonal transaction often observed in the context of my work with couples.
Many people are under the impression that in order to forgive someone for some offense, like a betrayal, for example, they must somehow forget what happened in order to forgive the offender. These people will sometimes argue that it is impossible to forgive a person for some wrongdoing unless the offending act is somehow exorcised from their system, "deleted from my hard drive," as one client stated it, or forgotten by some other means.
In my ongoing work with couples, I have often listened to stories from clients about unfortunate developments in their relationship. They sound something like this: "we just don't have fun anymore," or "this marriage has been in a rut since our firstborn came along," or "there's no romance left," or "we're like a pair of comfortable old shoes…don't wear 'em much, but don't wanna throw 'em out, either," or "intimacy? are you kidding? what's that?!"
My work with Rachel was in the context of couples therapy with her and her husband, Ira. With Lila, an individual client, the work took place by using our relationship to help her work things out.
On several occasions, I have observed clients who seem to be listening when I am talking to them, but leave me doubtful about just how much they actually heard of what I said. When my doubt is high, I might ask for a response in order to test my impression, since this is obviously important to address.