There’s been a great deal of attention lately to the practice of “positive psychology,” which focuses on optimism, gratitude, and creating hopefulness. Some of us are optimists by nature, while some are pessimists. Either can be learned, and there are some advantages to each approach. Personally, I veer toward the optimistic side, which informs my clinical practice.
Quite often, when people seek therapy, they are feeling hopeless, helpless, and not even remotely optimistic. They’re depressed, anxious, and out of sorts. If they’ve got PCOS, there’s a good chance that their moods are more easily affected by stress than those of other folks. They don’t know how to handle what’s going on in their lives effectively. The smallest stressors send them out of synch. If they are, by nature, the pessimistic type, they often feel validated in their suffering. They believe that they deserve to feel bad, that life isn’t fair, and that there’s very little that can be done to improve things. And yet, they show up. I see the act of showing up as an act of bravery, and the indicator that there is some hope to be found, even if it’s hidden away.
What I look for is the tiniest hint – a mere pinprick of light in an otherwise bleak landscape – that indicates a positive potential lies inside my client. It may take some digging, and perhaps some persuading and negotiating, but if we can find just the tiniest thing to be positive or hopeful about, it is encouraging, and it’s something we can build on in their therapy. Sometimes I have to plant a few seeds and it takes a very long time for those seeds to germinate. In the therapy, I keep watering the seeds, fertilizing them, and cultivating the ground until it’s fertile enough to support their growth.
Sometimes, the ground is weak, under-nourished, or even toxic from years of damaging abuse, violence, depression, and unhealthy relationships. That may mean that I need to hold hope for the client until she can hold it for herself. My relentless optimism, a double-edged sword (because sometimes I mainly see the good where there is a great deal of bad) is a tool here. Clients occasionally wonder, given what they present to me, how I could possibly find a bright spot in any of it. I’m not sure precisely how I do it, but I guess that it comes from having an intention of finding hope, and a keen eye for the openings.
Years of practice tells me that it works. When you’re frustrated to the ends of the earth and back, and you really can’t believe that anything will ever change, and you’ve got a list of dark, negative things that you’re focusing on, you’ll continue to identify with the pessimistic aspects of yourself.
But if you can find that one tiny seed, and focus on it every day, it will begin to grow. Your mood and attitude are like the sunshine that every garden plot needs. Remember though that darkness is a necessary part of the germination process. The sun doesn’t have to shine on a seedling all day long to make it do its thing. You don’t either.
If being positive seems impossibly out of reach, call Dr. Gretchen today, (310) 625-6083, to schedule a counseling session.
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