© Russ Beck, 2009
Mary* came into my office with her sons in tow. “My two boys are having trouble sleeping and they have terrible nightmares.” She looked frazzled. Her malnourished appearance, blood-shot eyes and ill-kempt clothes made her look older than her stated twenty-five years.
I sat in my chair trying to listen as Mary’s four-year-old bounced up and down on his chair and the six-year-old tried to take the heating vent out of the floor. It was eight in the morning and Mary said no one had slept the previous night.
Mary explained she was single and the family had no set routine for meals, bedtime, or anything else. The six-year-old performed poorly in school and teachers stated he either fell asleep or bounced off the walls. Everyone talked about ADHD or bipolar disorder.
She told me they watched a lot of videos at home together—the Halloween series, Friday the 13th, and many other frightening films. In fact, they’d watched three horror movies the night prior to our meeting. They finished watching the last one at four in the morning. She felt it was OK, because the kids couldn’t sleep anyway.
Mary wanted a psychiatrist to see the boys and prescribe medications to help them sleep.
One thing I’ve learned in my many years as a therapist is people don’t always have good insight into their problems. If they did, no one would need a therapist. However, self-reflection is vital to correcting difficulties in life.
In this situation, Mary had no insight into the causes of her children’s behaviors. She sought outside help in correcting what she felt were physiological problems, but were in fact, behavioral problems that could have benefited from self-reflection and introspection.
Real Life Applications
For most people, the challenge in life is to either develop the ability to have good self-reflection or to find someone trustworthy to give reliable feedback. Once problems are identified, there must be strength of character to follow through and make the necessary changes.
There are a few steps, that when applied consistently, bolster the ability for problem solving.
Ø Identify the problem or behavior causing the distress. Be specific. Rather than trying to change a multitude of difficulties at once by saying, “Life stinks,” instead pinpoint what particular part needs changing. Remember how you eat an elephant …one bite at a time. In the case above, Mary narrowed the distressing behaviors to her boys’ nightmares and lack of sleep.
Ø Ponder the difficulty. How long has this been a problem and when did it begin? If the connection between the behavior and the problem is unclear, ask a trusted friend or professional to help point it out. For Mary, that included meeting with a therapist to help her realize when the boys started having sleeping problems, and that horror videos contributed to the troubles.
Ø Write down the steps needed to correct the situation. Again, be specific. Mary’s problem required that she set a bedtime for the boys, with the TV turned off one hour prior. Rituals such as bedtime stories, family prayer, or singing a quiet song needed to be established, which would send the message to the boys that the day’s activities were over, and it was time to rest.
Many problems in life are self-inflicted and repetitive, with patterns that are harmful to happiness. Stopping the cyclical nature requires effort and time. The very first step, however, is insight. Awareness of the problem and a realization of the actions that perpetuate them is necessary in order to begin the process of change.
Pick up the reins of your life and take control. In doing so, you’ll find the power to realize your dreams and experience joy.
Until next time …
* Names have been changed.