by Melodie Davis
for release April 28, 2000
What Are You Doing To Help Yourself?
**Amy and Dave were married only a short while when they had their first major disagreement. Amy called her Mom, but her wise mother said, "Why are you telling me? Shouldn't you be talking to Dave about this problem?"
**Linda is frequently frustrated at her job. The office manager's expectations seem to change almost daily. Every night she complains to her husband, but every solution he suggests is met with "That won't work."
Sometimes it is a help just to talk things over with a third party, but how would you try to help in the above situations?
A friend of mine was going through some troubles. She saw a counselor. The counselor began every session with the following question: "So what have you done to help yourself?"
This is a useful question in so many areas. As parents, our children may be too quick to run to us with every little problem. While we certainly want them to know they can and should come to us, there comes a time-at different ages for different kids and different problems-when the very best thing we can say to them is, "Okay, so what are you doing to solve this problem?"
Five-year-old Kate had her blocks in kindergarten knocked over by a rambunctious boy who did it just to spite her. He had done it before to her and other children. This time, instead of whining to the teacher, she put her hands on her hips, glared at the boy and said, "I am very angry with you. You shouldn't have knocked over my blocks. Don't you ever do that again." The boy's eyes got big and he wandered away, at least temporarily.
How does this idea of taking personal responsibility work out at a larger level? In a book, Restorers of Hope, (Crossway Books, 1997) Amy L. Sherman tells stories of how a variety of groups have worked at combating crime and community breakdown in inner cities and impoverished rural areas. She notes that successful programs are all characterized by insisting that clients take some responsibility for their own healing or situation. She writes about Chaplain Leo Barbee, who runs a substance abuse counseling program at Lawndale Community church in Chicago. He says that some addicts he works with are "Just sorry about last night, but they're not really ready to give up." The program cannot help until they get to the point where they desperately want to turn their lives around, to finally change once and for all. Counselors encourage clients to get beyond a victim mentality.
Sabrina Black, director of Rosedale Park Baptist Church's (Detroit) counseling ministries notes that frequently in other programs, persons go into counseling and say, "My mother messed up my life" or "It's the system's fault." Sometimes those are both very true, but she encourages people to go beyond that by saying, "Yes, you have had a hard life, but now what?" She helps them not remain stuck in the past re-analyzing all the bad things that have ever happened. "We definitely deal with those things, but still it's how you respond to them that is the key," she says (p. 60). Other people have called this "empowerment."
So how does it actually work? After getting to the place where one truly wants to change, we need to take some action. For Linda with the difficult boss, it might mean coming up with a list of five concrete actions she will take to improve communication with her boss. She could keep a log of his instructions from day to day in order to document that his differing expectations are impossible to deal with. If her situation doesn't improve, she can decide to quit, go back to school for other training, or ask to be transferred.
For Amy and Dave, after calming down, Amy can express her frustration to her husband, and look for two or three ways they can solve the problem at hand or deal with a disagreement in the future.
While this sounds easy on paper, I know that it is hard to put any of these ideas into action. Even though you probably won't see results as fast as five year old Kate, you may begin to at least feel like you are moving in a new direction instead of being stuck.
For a free booklet, "Taking Charge of Your Own Happiness," write to Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 735 words; end material = 105 words
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