I’ve worked in education for quite a while, so for me, the autumn always represents a beginning and an ending. The beginning of the new academic year, and therefore the beginning of a dash towards Christmas break. It also signifies the end of what in July felt like a long summer, but now feels like a blink during which I failed to accomplish any of the things I had in mind to get done between then and when I knew from repeated experience things got busy once more. Where did the time go? I think this a common feeling among us.
I think this time of year can signal a transition for many of us. Even if your life doesn’t focus around term dates, you might have felt the summertime benefit of longer days - isn’t it nice to get home from the office and find that there are still some daylight hours remaining? Or felt the benefit of lighter traffic, or fewer school children on the train. With the last bank holiday a distant memory, many of us might be counting down the days till Christmas, and perhaps feeling that simultaneous guilt at wishing our time away, mixed with the acknowledgement that time seems to whizz by ever faster, whether we will it to or not. I had every intention of sorting out the spare room this summer, but there the boxes remain, exactly where I left them in June. And I don’t remember making a conscious choice not to deal with them, I just never found the time!
I sat back and thought about the aspects of Gestalt therapy which support me as my life gets busier, and I would like to share some of them with you:
Living with what is…
The summer is gone. Rather than lamenting those things left unfinished (or not even started), it’s more helpful for me to think of goals I did achieve - even those self-indulgent ones like taking a holiday with my partner, and making more time for my friends. Living with what is is something I work with a lot in my own therapy. I am here, at the end of the summer, and things are as they are through a mixture of the things I did and didn’t do, along with a huge helping of the stuff that was completely out of my control. Instead of focusing on the unchangeable past, even the immediate past, I want to get better at allowing myself to appreciate what I have now; and if I can’t appreciate it, then accept it. It’s a skill, rather than simple switch we can pull. I know it’s not always as simple as going ‘Ah well, the spare room’s a mess, but at least we had a nice holiday’. Taking a moment, and sitting with the things that you can’t change, and trying to put them in a context that helps you move on is always a good place to start.
Dismissing those dreaded shoulds...
I find that a lot of my anxieties stem not from what my priorities and personality traits actually are, but what I feel they should be. This actually fits in very well with my first point. If I’m telling myself off for not doing something, is it because I have not done it or because I feel like I should have done it. In these situations, it’s really important to ask yourself where that should is coming from. ‘Shoulds’ or ‘Introjects’ as they are called in Gestalt, are things we have internalised through our upbringing and through society. Very often, we won’t initially be conscious of the ‘should’ we are expressing, because we have swallowed this introject down so early and so completely that we cannot separate the introject from fact. As a result, those deep-seated introjects can make life very hard for us. Gestalt therapy can really support you to start picking apart your introjects in order to more clearly see where they are coming from, and if you really want to hang on to them. Introjects to do with personal relationships can be very hard to deal with on your own. For example, when a friendship becomes difficult for me, perhaps I am being leaned on too much, or I feel like I am only contacted by that person if they need something from me, I have a habit of taking on the ‘should’. I should try harder to meet this person’s needs. I have done some work on this particular should, and in a lot of cases I’m now able to remind myself that it’s not my responsibility to always undertake to try harder, and that my self-worth is not contingent on how useful I am to somebody. Perhaps it’s not the end of the world if I have a few less friends.
Recognising my patterns...
When I first started therapy, I think I was expecting to see marked change quite quickly. What I’ve come to realise after nearly a year of seeing my own therapist, and a year of studying is that very often the first step to dealing with any unhelpful behaviours or coping strategies is acknowledgement. One behaviour I have noticed in myself is that when I start feeling overburdened by work or other commitments, I am unable to say no. As a result, I am prone to continually working in the same overburdened state until I make myself ill or get injured. If I were to outright lie to you, I would say ‘Since studying Gestalt and beginning my own therapy I absolutely never ever allow myself to be overburdened’. What I can say to you truthfully, is that since studying Gestalt and having my own therapy, I am more able to recognise this as a tendency, and anticipate situations in which I might become overburdened. I now consciously put boundaries and personal safeguards in place to avoid taking on too much, and support myself to see the saying of ‘no’, as something I sometimes have to do to protect myself, rather than to inconvenience others. Of course I still get caught out. I’ve still spent a few Monday mornings wishing I had planned more recovery time into my weekend. But, I’m now completely comfortable with the idea of being busy doing nothing.
This is just a snapshot of the personal growth and support I have gained through my work at the Albany Centre, and my personal therapy. Whatever your pattern, the counsellors at Mosaic Counselling Services are available to support you.