Matthew Cuddeback LCSW

Something I always talk to clients about early on in our sessions in the importance of paying attention, and specifically something I say probably every session is recognizing that our actions, thoughts, and feelings are all information and it is useful to recognize without judgment that they are telling us something important, so are you paying attention?

As mentioned above inherent in this is the need for non-judgment. Sometimes when we think about something we did and don’t feel good about we will say to ourselves some variation of, “Ugh, I was such an idiot for saying that!” We want to understand and be mindful of the fact that us telling ourselves this, and with such strong language is also information. We also need to step back from such judgments. There are always reasons for why we do what we do, and we just need to pay attention to understand what’s behind our actions. Of course, this is much easier said than done. For example, if a client tells me their boss made them really upset when they gave them constructive feedback. This is information. What were some thoughts that went through your mind when they told this to you? What were you feeling? Let’s register this information, and also be mindful that thoughts and feelings are not facts. Then we keep moving and see if we have enough information to create a summary and possible interpretation of what happened. This can present as something along the lines of the client saying, “I was thinking, great another example of how bad I am at everything, just one more person telling me I suck. My boss just doesn’t understand why I struggled with that project; nobody ever understands me. I feel frustrated, embarrassed, belittled, pathetic,” and so on. So, to interpret, that sounds like the client has a history of feeling belittled and either feeling or being told they are bad at what they do. This is information, so I reiterate it’s important to be paying attention and hold up these things you are actively doing in that moment for inspection.

We think and feel so fast and these thoughts and feelings are often informed by past experiences and other thoughts and feelings without even realize we are doing this. Are we really upset with our friend because they weren’t supportive, or was it affected by the fact that we were a bit drunk, or we just got into a fight with our parents because we felt they weren’t supportive? Am I just projecting these feelings onto something else? Maybe, its all of the above, but if we are paying attention, we can get our hands on the situation and our reaction and do something about it.

One last key reason paying attention is important is because we know avoiding and stuffing down our thoughts and feelings doesn’t work; they will come up and it will likely be unpleasant when they do.  So, if we are paying attention, we can understand our thoughts and feelings and actions better. Even if there is nothing that we need or can do about the situation, better understanding ourselves in these situations increases healthy coping mechanisms and cognitive restructuring that we can keep building on. So, when you have a strong reaction, good or bad, take time to pay attention to it, this is crucial to being able to decode what is happening and be able to get your hands on something that may not be working well for you. We are experiencing and thinking so much all the time it is easy to miss what is really going on. Are you paying attention?

Reach out to Symmetry Counseling to meet with one of our dedicated counselors in Chicago to talk more about self-care for self-growth. We offer individual counseling, family counseling, and other mental health services to support you.