By John Robertson, R.P., Registered Psychotherapist, Serenity Renewal for Families
I have been working as a therapist and in the helping field for close to eighteen years. I have been witness to some amazing healing journeys of individuals, couples and families, finding their way back to the light. What I’ve discovered is the starting point for all of this healing is not an outpouring of words from a professional informing clients how they should ”fix” themselves. Many clients hope for a “magic elixir” that will change things back to the way they used to be or start things over. While there may not be an easy formula for healing, the catalyst for change and growth is often more simple and available than we imagine.
How we cope with issues and relate to people as adults is often defined when we are young. Many of us have heard of attachment styles as being something learned in our early years. When people seek therapy, we often look at how their attachment style within their family relates to what they hope to change. Based on their early learnings, people usually react to threatening situations in one of three ways.
(a) They seek closeness and protection. And if they find someone who listens and is supportive, they can relax knowing their voice is heard, they are loved and secure, and they can be confident in returning to their own activities. On the other hand, if this attachment figure is unavailable or unresponsive to their needs,
(b) they intensify their attempts to get the attention they require through strong emotional responses or by acting out (including addictive behaviors) or
(c) they completely disengage, spending time in isolation, believing that self-reliance is the most effective way to cope.
Consider this personal example for clarification. If my son returns home from school after being bullied, he may be hurt and emotionally distressed and need comfort from me or my wife. If we allow him to simply talk about how he hurts and what his needs are, we can then try to help him understand what next steps may need to be taken. However, if we are caught up in our own busy days and do not give him the time to be heard and dismiss his needs, he may act out to demand our attention or shut off and go somewhere to be alone. Any of these three responses, repeated over time, can become learned behavior that a person will use to cope.
So, can listening be the springboard for change and healing? I believe it can. In a family, as well as in therapy, the world can open up when people stop talking and start listening. Next time you are alone with your partner, child or friend, offer them five minutes of your time, uninterrupted. Often the words they need to hear will come directly from their own mouths and all they require from you is to be listened to. Often, when we feel acknowledged and heard, we are more open to learning and communicating, something we witness in counselling and in workshops taught here at Serenity Renewal for Families.
John Robertson operates a private practice and is a Registered Psychotherapist for Serenity Renewal for Families, an Alta Vista Charity that assists individuals and families affected by addiction and other impactful issues. To donate to families needing assistance, call 613-523-5143 or visit serenityrenewal.ca.