How often do people tell us to think and be positive when we tell them that we are feeling low about something? Not that there is anything wrong with being positive; it would be wonderful if we were all able to always count our blessings and ignore that gnawing feeling inside, hoping it will go away!
I truly believe in the power of positivity. However, I know from experience and training that to achieve a positive mindset, one has to first feel understood. We all need our feelings to be acknowledged by someone who cares for us. Thus, if I tell someone close to me that I feel sad, all I really want is for them to hear me out and maybe comfort me. It took me a long time to realize this and be able to verbalize this.
In my work, I frequently come across individuals who have lived their lives being told they are "overreacting", "too emotional" or of course to "THINK POSITIVELY". I believe that though well-intentioned, most people do not know how to help when someone close to them expresses sadness or any negativity. Therefore, in their attempt to "fix" the problem, they come up with solutions such as "be positive" or "don't cry". Really, all they need to do is sit down, calmly listen and try to understand. We are not meant to be anyone's "fixers", just companions through the good and not-so-good times.
I find that when I feel understood (and not told what to do), I am able to come up with my own solutions to problems at my own time and pace. Being validated and valued makes me feel more confident in my own ability to problem-solve rather than be dependent on others to do so for me!
I urge all of us to practice JUST listening, both with adults and children. Tears and sadness are not harmful; harm is caused by the feelings that fester unresolved, sometimes for years.
Since Marriage (couple) & Family therapy is a relatively new field in the mental health services, people sometimes mistakenly think marriage & family therapists (MFTs) only work with couples and families. However, MFTs do commonly work with individuals, just as a Social worker or a counselor would do. One difference is that we approach individual/couple/family issues from a "family systems" lens. This means that when I meet with an individual, I keep in mind that he or she functions within the context of the family and various other relationships (school, work, peers etc.). Thus, there is a bidirectional influence between the individual and those he/she interacts with, which cannot be ignored in therapy.
For example, if I present to a therapist with depressive symptoms, a MFT would ask about my upbringing and the various relationships in my family. This is not to place blame on the family, but to tap into this highly influential system for its strengths and to identify existing patterns that I may be "reliving". Some of these existing patterns of interaction are thought to be transmitted from generation to generation (ex-my grandfather to my father to me) and may have either a positive or negative impact on an individual and his/her current relationships. For instance, I may be interacting the same way with my husband/partner that my mother did with my father (sometimes without recognizing it). As a therapist, my role would be to help uncover some of these dynamics in order to increase insight into how these may be impacting a client's individual symptoms (anxiety, depression etc.).
Sujata V, Ph.D, MFT
Always Learning..through the good AND not-so-good times!