Making Meaning for Oneself
It’s really hard sometimes, isn’t it to make meaning of one’s thoughts, one’s experience and one’s history at times. I believe that making meaning is a really significant thing in therapy. Often when I begin with a client I will draw out their genogram. It’s like a family tree with lines, squares and circles to show me in picture form what your family of origin was like and what family is like for you now. Many clients look back and say, “Oh my, now looking at that helps make sense about why I feel the way I do.” That’s meaning making. Other times people come and we finally place words to shame or guilt. We also may need to affirm what abuse you encountered. We may need to look how you interpret your situations or your anxieties to see if there might be other ways to think about things. How you make meaning of your abuse, or the bullying you may have received will pop up in your future relationships if you do not process through these situations. Making meaning about who you are makes a tremendous difference if you have a faith background or not. In therapy we can explore how your faith might enable you to make greater meaning out of your situations.
If for example, you were bullied as a child, and now you are a working individual, any kind of constructive comments from your employer may trigger an automatic outburst or intense anxiety because you’ve interpreted the comment as bullying. The employer may get frustrated that he/she doesn’t know how to approach you without you becoming defensive.
Another example would be if you were a child that deeply wanted the love of your father and for whatever reason he was not able or did not chose to love you in a way that encouraged you to grow. As you grow older, you might marry and yet have this odd, deep yearning for attention and love that your husband or wife cannot fulfill. Unfortunately, you blame him/her for not loving you well, and you have an affair. You say you’ve fallen “out of love” and this is the meaning you’ve made. However, without fully processing the grief involved in a lack of love and attention from a father, you may end a marriage and do it all over again in the next relationship because you’ve not addressed the issue.
These are only a couple of examples of meaning making. It’s vitally important! How do you make meaning when your spouse gets chronically ill; or if you miscarriage; or if you have difficulty at work; or if your child becomes depressed or worse yet dies. All of these things are tremendously painful and will need your full attention to walk through and at times it will feel like you are wading through the mirk and mire.
It is an incredible privilege to journey with you to make meaning of what’s going on in your lives. I am thoroughly blessed by your strength and courage. Many, many times I see people who display tremendous resiliency and love as they try to make better the lives they live. It is my honour to journey with you!
I am not the Expert; Here’s why:
I have a confession to make. This is the first time that I attempt to blog after four years have gone by, because a) I had a ghost writer that helped me keep up with the blogging and b) as much as I desire to write, I have no idea what to say sometimes. So I hope to continue this blogging however I do admit some fear and trembling as I begin again.
For those who don’t know what a ghost writer is, it is someone who speaks with you about a topic and then writes as if it was you. You will notice in previous blogs that I would collaborate with Sharon – those were the times that she wrote and I’d edit; and other times she would collaborate with me and those were the times that I would write and she would edit. It was a great partnership at that time. My apologies if this disappoints some of you.
And then secondly, to confess that there is a fear in writing. Yes, therapists have fears too! This week someone responded to me with “I trust your judgement, because you are the expert!” Yikes! That statement makes me nervous. When I was taking my Master’s, the professor was adamant that as therapists we are not the experts of our clients’ needs. I can agree that in my studies and through experience, I may have gained some expertise, however let me make it very clear that you, the client, are the expert of your situation and how you feel, think and experience what you are experiencing. I try my best to engage with you so that I have a clear understanding your situation and I may challenge you to look at things from another perspective. But you know your situation best! I also believe deeply that each one of us given life, has the capacity to live it to its fullest. We may need to grieve pain in your present experience, or process your childhood or traumatic experiences or learn more helpful coping skills but deep within you, you have the capacity to live your best life. It is my responsibility when you come in to my office to help you navigate that fullness of life. We engage in a partnership when you come in. You are courageous to begin this journey!
Principles for Real Living:
I am responsible for my own attitude
My attitude affects my actions
I can not change others, but I can influence others
My emotions do not control my actions
Admitting my imperfections does not mean that I'm a failure
Love is the most powerful weapon for good in the world
Desperate Marriages by Gary Chapman, Northfield Publishing, Chicago 1998, 2008