“Nice Jacket!”

by on January 8th, 2012
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I ran into a friend at the open air Eastern Market yesterday.  Because it was a Spring like day in early January we stood outside awhile and had a meandering conversation.  Somehow we got talking about cognitive/behavioral psychology and how, though it is a fruitful theory for creating effective therapy, it is somehow lacking in capturing the beauty of irrational thinking which is part of why we are so lovable and able to love.  In other words, the same irrational thinking that can cause us so much suffering (for example, painful self-consciousness that leads one to automatically assume that others are being critical) can also create the kind of quirkiness that engenders affection.

I must say, first of all, that I realize the trouble that faulty thinking can cause.  A benign example of the kind of thinking that can lead to trouble happened today when my daughter, Hannah, and I were walking our dog, Oliver, downtown.  A guy stepped out of House of Pizza, smiled at us and asked us how we were.  As we walked on Hannah heard him say, “I like your jacket”, followed by a laugh.  She looked at me and asked if I thought he was laughing about my jacket or hers.  You see she was wearing her  pilly and oversized granny-sweater. I, for my part, was, wearing my wife’s jacket since mine was in the laundry.  Hannah boasted that she didn’t care since she loved the sweater and it wasn’t first time someone insulted it.   I figured he was laughing at me, since it’s the kind of thing a guy might laugh at, (though I must admit Hannah’s sweater was pretty ratty).

Hannah did admit surprise, however, since he had seemed so authentically friendly at first.  I pointed out that since I left middle school it’s been pretty rare that some one randomly makes fun of me.  With that we went on our way.

When we arrived at my office Hannah happened to look down at Oliver and suddenly realized the man had been talking to him.  Oliver was, as we knew, wearing a jaunty red jacket.  Some how, though,  we each managed to leave that little piece of information out of our analysis.  In addition, the fact that the man had been friendly and that we were not in middle school did not sufficiently sway us from the  distorted perception of what he was saying. Our pre-conceived ideas about how someone might judge our jackets led to our mistakes.  In this  case the preconception was a negative self-reference.  Not much harm done here, but imagine if such things  won the day—if, for example, one’s low self-esteem multiplied itself by seeing negative comments everywhere.   This is where  cognitive therapy is extremely helpful—to help people learn to recognize, and to scrutinize negative thoughts as opposed to swallowing them whole.

It is humbling to find, as Hannah and I did, that even a reasonable analysis leads to the wrong conclusion when important information is ignored.  But back to the idea I introduced at the beginning,  that this faulty thinking is often what endears us to one another.

To illustrate this point ,I have created a link to a story I heard this week on the public radio program This American Life.  It is about a woman who comes up with an ill-advised scheme out of love for her adult son who has Asperger’s Syndrome and out of a simplistic belief in the goodness of people.  She advertises to find people to volunteer to companion her son for the long haul. The scheme fails after the woman devoted a huge amount of time and energy to it.  It is easy to see the misconceptions on which her plan was based, but it is even easier to see the love for her son, and the seriousness with which she accepted the responsibility that comes with  that love.  It is this sort of crazy love that defines us, in the end, more than our cognitive functioning or, as in the case of Hannah and I,  the lack thereof.

To listen to the story  click:  http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/420/neighborhood-watch and then choose Act 1: Wary Home Companion.

 

 


Categories: counseling, Hazeltine, lancaster, Pennsylvania, Perry, Perry Hazeltine, psychologist, Therapist, Therapists in Lancaster, Therapy

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