Attitude of Platitude

Talking with a client the other day, the subject of platitudes came up.  Many of us use them routinely.  Whether opining about inferences made, used polemically, or giving feedback to a friend or loved one, they’re used fairly often in all different kinds of discourse.  These certainly occur in therapy, twelve step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Co-Da, ACA, Overeaters Anonymous, etc).  We hear them at church/synagogue.  They’re used copiously in political speeches and discussions.

Many years ago, a friend began saying to me when discussing platitudes, “Cliche alert!  Cliche alert!” ala the robot from “Lost in Space”.  It was his way of indicating that the user was often either not really saying anything, and/or wasn’t really aware of the content or context of the cliche being used.

One of my favorite quotes is from Gandhi: “It is because we have at this present moment everybody claiming the right of conscience without going through any discipline whatsoever that there is so much untruth being delivered to a bewildered world.”  What I think he was getting at was pretty fundamental, and horror-producing… we all claim a right to truths and perceptions without really going through any real self or “concept” examination, and impose a subsequent template on the world in its wake.

That’s a fantastic way to create and/or perpetuate problems.  Am bringing it up because it seems that platitudes are a common ways this occurs.  Not that many platitudes or cliches aren’t true, just that we often don’t seem to examine if we’re using them, truly understand them, use them in context and the like.  I often see therapists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals use cliches and platitudes simply because they don’t know what else to say.

Going back to twelve step programs, one cliche that is often used is “attitude of gratitude”.  With equal measure, it seems that an “attitude of platitude” is what is often in use.  Ideas like “just do what you’re doing”, “keep it simple”, “I decide for me, you decide for you, we decide for us”, and more are arguably great ideas.  These ideas even have utility for depression, relationships, self esteem, addiction, grief, loss and more.  However, our command of the language doesn’t necessarily indicate a real handle on what they mean or how/when/what context to use them and make them practical.

You can find out more about Petar at: April30th.org

Wanting to Stop

Have had several people in the last week ask me specific questions about wanting to stop (sometimes called “abstaining” or “cessation”) doing some “behavior”. Drinking, smoking, gambling, over/undereating (or not at all), self-harm behaviors (cutting, burning oneself etc), “codependent” behaviors, controlling behaviors, manipulating, even saying or thinking certain things and more. While some of these require more intense interventions (stopping alcohol or drug use for instance would require medical intervention), some other behaviors can be stopped or minimized by other means.

Though we (therapists) are oft charged with the responsibility of helping clients stop these behaviors, we’re not always direct about how to help someone do so. There are real-world, practical means of helping us stop these kinds of behaviors. It should be noted though: in many cases, these are caused by unresolved emotions. It’s really important to note this, because no intervention we might suggest will work if there is a sufficient mental/emotional/”spiritual” and/or physical prompt to do so.  Or more simply and by way of example, if someone is suffering enough emotionally (or otherwise), no intervention will stop the behavior.  The feelings (even if physical) have to be transformed/diminished enough for the intervention to work.

These things in mind, here’s some ideas. Some of them are direct, some of them will take hold over time:

1.  Pay attention to how we feel.


2.  Ask ourselves, “Am I mad, sad, glad, afraid, ashamed, and/or hurt right now?  What ‘possible reality’ does this indicate?”

3.  Putting off the behavior.  For example, “I’ll _________ (smoke, drink, gamble, eat, etc…) an hour/day/week/month from now.” 
 
4.  Context.  This isn’t just a principle.  It can be practical.  Asking, “What am I supposed to be, or supposed to be intending to do right here, right now?”

5.  Service.  Finding a way to be of help to another person.

6.  12 step program attendance/participation.

7.  Saying the “Serenity Prayer“.  Even if not “prayerful” people, this can be a form of self-talk (the word “God” can also be removed).  For things we’re “powerless” over, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things, I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” makes us mindful of principles and behaviors that can also help with abstinence.

8.  Speaking of praying (or doing self-talk)- praying for the obsession to have __________ (smoking, drinking, gambling, eating etc) be removed, helps.  “Please remove from me the obsession to stop _________.”

9.  If that is hard, praying/self-talking for the willingness to stop __________.

10.  Calling someone.  This, to me, is one of the most powerful tools.  Having someone who knows what we are working on that we can call when considering the behavior to: pull our covers (so to speak), have them talk us out of it, and/or “be” with us as we struggle with the feelings of letting go of the behavior can be pretty powerful.

11.  A different item from the above- calling that someone as a pre-emptive strike.  Meaning, calling them when we might be in a situation this will come up, before we go do the thing we have to do.

12.  Make a list of the times these things (smoking, drinking, gambling, etc) occur most frequently.  Take that list, and either apply the things above (and below) to those circumstances if you HAVE to be there for these instances, and or use the list to avoid those times entirely.

13.  Write a list of the negative consequences of the acting out behavior.  
14.  Maybe most important, is simply identifying the issues (even by making a list, which we will also do in a formalized way) that have prompted us to operate this way, and have an organized means of getting through these (which therapists are charged with the responsibility of).

15.  Based on that list of things/people/circumstances that get us in trouble, have a list of replacement behaviors.  For example, I know I shouldn’t be __________ (smoking, drinking, gambling, eating etc), so, I’m going to go to church/support group/call my friend/read this book/exercise/take a walk/write about it and more etc.

16.  Speaking of writing: when “tempted” to do the behavior, write about it.  That’s pretty common information from most therapists.  However, I think it doesn’t go far enough, unless you read this to your therapist and/or a loving friend and/or a sponsor (if one attends a 12-step program), priest, pastor, and etc.  Maybe more than one of these people.
17.  Putting a rubber band around our wrist, and giving it a gentle snap when considering doing the behavior.
18.  Making a “fund” for the behavior- putting a pre-determined amount of money in a jar when we do the behavior (or consider it maybe), and donating it to a charity or some related idea.
19. “Play the record through.” All the way through. Consider every step of what will happen, what it leads to, and its consequences.

Again, I want to reiterate that no amount of ideas to “stop” a behavior (that we do in our heads or outside of them, so to speak) will be sufficient without working through the attendant (and/or consequential) emotions that come with them.  Those are really strong reasons pointing to the idea of having a therapist that can help use these kinds of tools (and more), and walk through the related issues.  It’s important too that many types of concerns will require medical attention by a physician with experience with the specific problem.  Good luck with any of these efforts…

Post Script: It should be noted that the soul of such things is what Carl Jung would have called “illegitimate suffering”- meaning, we do these things as an alternative to simply feeling whatever we feel when we don’t do the behavior.  One of the things we do these over is feeling “bad” (about ourselves), broken, less than, “not enough” and the other variations on that theme.  Often, if we do the behavior we’re trying to stop, we feel those very things (“bad”, broken, etc).  As we often do the behavior to diminish or eradicate feeling those things, then we feel those very things for doing the behavior.  Simplifying: I feel “broken”, less-than, etc, I do a behavior to not feel that way, then feel “broken” (less-than, etc) for doing the behavior.  It sets up a vicious cycle, a repetitive cycle.  

Where I’m going with this is, if you happen to do the thing you’ve been trying to stop, “beating yourself up” for doing the behavior may be the very thing that prompts you to do it again.

Love and Service.

Thanks for dropping by my blog page.  As the introduction notes, I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Psychiatric Technician, and Masters level Addictions Counselor in Pasadena, California.  Though I’ve been doing some private practice for many years in addition to the twenty-six I’ve been doing inpatient work, I’ve now gone out on my own, to do just private practice.
            Providing treatment is my life’s work.  Having not just survived, but also (somewhat) gracefully dealt with some suffering of my own, I have been given not just some answers- but with those answers, also responsibility to others.  Holding on to those responsibilities is not only bad for other people, it would be unhealthy for me too.  So, very early, I started being of service.
            Having worked inpatient for so many years, I’ve been lucky (and saddened) to take care of most every type of human suffering possible.  Most of my work has been with adults and adolescents.  Depression, loss, grief, addiction, trauma, abuse, stress, mental illness (for lack of a more graceful term), relationships, desires (and need) for personal growth or “life coaching”, chronic pain, medical illnesses, family problems, couples problems and more have all been tragically present and have arguably increased over the years I’ve provided service.  There is much work to be done about all of these things and more.  It seems now that the most effective way to care for these problems is for me to see individuals, families, and couples privately.
            It was suggested by someone I consider wise that I find a way to make myself available to people when they are not able to be around me.  Aside from writing a book, providing materials from talks I do in the community, I am starting a blog.  There is much work to be done, and many answers are possible that can improve the quality of all our lives, if we’re willing to live by some principles and do some work.  My hope is that I can take you along with me as I do so, by way of communicating here.
            And so to it.

Radio Interview

Next Thursday (May 6th) at 1130 AM, Judy McGehee MA, MFT (www.mcgeheepartners.org), Tom Aaselund MFT, and myself will be discussing… whatever comes up… about psychology, therapy and etc for what I think is half an hour.  It will be on the “Project Get Well America” show with Dr. Mark.  It’s live streamed and podcasted.  The link for the show is here.  If there’s any more details, will let you know.

Communication With Adolescents? Communication With Everybody.

Got to do a talk with the aforementioned Judy McGehee MA, LMFT (www.mcgeheepartners.org) tonight at the “Parent Summit” organized by the Glendora School District. There were breakout sessions with different professionals and agencies providing talks on different topics. Dr. Mary Suzuki (wife of Dr. Dan Suzuki) began the session with Captain Rob Castro of Glendora PD, who discussed a previous summit focusing on adolescents and use of pharmaceuticals (illicitly).

Judy and I did a talk entitled “How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen, How to Listen so Your Kids Will Talk”. As we discussed in our PowerPoint presentation, it became pretty clear that this was a misnomer- not only because it has more to do with relationships with kids, and further, much of the skills we discussed were relevant for most relationships in general.

During her talk, Judy identified the importance of being interested in your kids, not letting technology like cell phones and iPods get in the way of communication, ideas about developmental stages, roadblocks to communication and more. The parents and professionals who attended asked her a lot of questions about different types of age-appropriate communication, problem-solving specific issues and etc.

My talk endeavored a practical approach that highlighted suggestions to put me out of a job (one of my personal goals), principled ideas for use in communication, and some adolescent/child specific tools. We also discussed problem-solving issues like when/when not to intervene between siblings, children (who were sometimes adults in the examples) “stonewalling”, giving short and/or avoidant responses, even what might be described as resentful feelings prompting one or another to not talk all together. The details of these are of course beyond a blog.

That said though, will copy/paste some of the suggestions I had here. Any questions, ideas, encouragements etc are welcome. Again, would offer that many of these are useful in communicating with all types of people, in all different types of relationships. Here’s the abbreviated list:

• Don’t yell.
• Don’t be critical and/or judgmental.
• Don’t try to change others’ mind or behavior.
• Don’t interrupt.
• Don’t only have feelings of fear or anger, or not have feelings at all.
• Be graceful with the feelings you do have.
• Don’t interrogate. *only be a parent* (meaning, resist the temptation to be a police officer, financial adviser, career counselor, etc)
• Don’t interrupt.
• Don’t say one thing, then do another.
• If someone says something you don’t understand, ask them to explain it.
• If someone starts yelling, speak quietly.
• Avoid power struggles.
(Here is where some of the adolescent specific ideas began)
• It might be a good answer to them.
• Don’t be afraid of technology. Learn to text. Email.
• Ask their opinion.
• Tell them you love them, and what you like about them.
• Learn their language. You don’t have to use it. (www.urbandictionary.com)
• Use the “rule of five”, particularly in crisis. Five words a sentence, five letters a word.
• Find a way to be interested in them- what they think, what they like and care about, and why.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. It also doesn’t address some of the principles that might otherwise be employed, doesn’t give some answers in context, and doesn’t explain why some of these tools might be important. Those ideas, as a rule, have to be discussed, processed. They also don’t address specifics about working through problems or issues. Most of these things are best done with a professional, over time. Hope some of these can be helpful.

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