Finding the Exceptions

May 4, 2015

When I work with a client, I offer a two-pronged approach to change: while getting curious about what type of repair that needs to happen to heal old emotional wounds we are simultaneously looking for changes that can be made immediately to help solve the client’s issues. Somatic psychotherapy, EMDR Therapy, and Brainspotting are all excellent approaches for the former, but what about the latter? Developing mindfulness is an effective way to catch behaviors that no longer work, creating the possibility for new options and renewed choice.


However, it is not always easy to identify new options for ways of responding to a situation or emotion. Sometimes, if we feel like we’ve never been able to react in a different way than the way we are familiar with, then it’s impossible to even imagine doing so. At these times, we can feel stuck or trapped.


Stuck in the trap

It’s easy to get stuck in the trap. Our brains are designed to look for shortcuts, and one of those shortcuts is to generalize using associated experiences and memories. When we focus on what we expect to find, that’s what we find. If I expect failure, I can clearly remember times that I’ve failed. If I expect to find disappointment, I can remember times I’ve experienced disappointment. This leads to absolute thinking, also referred to as black-and-white thinking, or all-or-nothing thinking. I may conclude, “I always fail” or “I’ll never get what I want.” Or, more generally, I may believe that if things aren’t perfect, then they must be terrible (and perfect is a high bar!).


It’s this type of thinking that gets us stuck in the trap. Things have “always” been this way, and, so, this is how they will always be. This type of thinking can be accompanied with feelings of hopelessness and despair. If nothing can change, why try?


Shades of gray…and all kinds of colors, too! Exceptional!