Last week, I was reflecting on how empathy is a powerful re-iteration of the paradoxical theory of change. Instead of saying, “Don’t be like that”, to ourselves or others, we sit with compassion with what is. And I discussed how we change when we stop trying so hard.
I don’t wish to confuse effortlessness with irresponsibility or with inaction.
Responsibility and choice are exciting and challenging concepts in Gestalt therapy. It is one of the paradoxes of being adult that we are responsible for our choices and our behaviours, and yet we have to make choices and decisions all the time, without ever fully knowing the consequences. At best, our choices are educated guesses, often based on past experience. It’s not always easy to distinguish between the familiar old pattern and the intuitive gut instinct, for example.
We cannot move forward without making some mistakes. We will continue to make the same mistakes if we do not learn from them.
My personal belief is that we cannot help what we feel, but that we can choose what we do about it. I might feel angry, but I choose whether I gesticulate rudely at the driver who just cut me up. I may feel afraid, but I choose whether I wish to retreat or move forward, I may desire that chocolate bar, but I choose whether I eat it or not.
I prefer not to label feelings as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, simply comfortable or uncomfortable.
Some believe that simply the anger or the desire are in themselves wrong and immoral – I do hope this is not the case or I am certainly doomed, as I have a wide range of feelings, urges, responses to life! I also think that if we find it easy to resist the chocolate or the bad behaviour it’s hardly a great feat or success to have taken the appropriate action, if it was so easy in the first place! Where is the virtue if we don’t have to struggle a bit?
So do I label behaviours as ‘good’ or ‘bad’? This is usually over simplistic, maybe behaviours are ‘wise’ or ‘unwise’, ‘helpful’ or ‘less helpful’, with positive consequences and negative consequences? So while I like to withhold judgement regarding my feelings or other people’s feelings (I certainly never think – “Oh he shouldn’t feel that!”) I find it important to judge my behaviours, or to evaluate the consequences of my behaviours and to use my judgement to modify or change my behaviours in accordance with feedback or results.
How easy it can be to be, oh so righteous – “I would never do that”!
I am cautious of judging others’ behaviours in this self righteous, self protective way (how do we know what we would do in certain situations until we are in them?). It’s usually an avoidance of facing our own shadow when we do this. They say ‘pride comes before a fall’, or as I prefer to see it, humility saves humiliation.
When it comes to difficulties in life, and we all have to experience the results of our unwise choices and decisions and to learn from them, we usually beat up on ourselves and compassion for ourselves may be very hard to find. It is interesting that as I judge others so much less I find I have more compassion for myself.
Given my own capacity for beating up on myself, I believe that others who feel they have messed up are unlikely to need my judgment as much as my compassion.
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