Tuesday, November 06, 2007

on hammers and feelings

There's an old saying (I think it may have been by Maslow) that goes that when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

I've been thinking about that saying on a couple of fronts lately. The first thing that reminded me of that saying is a book I'm reading on mindfulness and depression. The basic gist of the book is that depression is generated (or at least exacerbated) when our analytical mind tries to "fix" an inner, distressing feeling. Since the feeling might not have an external cause, the analytical mind might say things like "I shouldn't feel this way" or "I should be over this." This line of reasoning fails to soothe the emotion, and the continued presence of the emotion exacerbates the analytical mind's sense that something is "wrong" and has to be "solved." Thus is created the kind of rumination which often plays a key role in perpetuating depression.

The book's proposed solution is to use mindfulness, to accept the presence of a distressing emotion rather than trying to "fix" the emotion. But what it got me thinking about is how our society trains us to be so analytical, so problem/solution focused. And in so doing, we end up with a tool (and a useful one) -- but one that can lead to counter-productive approaches to some problems. Interesting.

The other area that has had me thinking about Maslow's quote has to do with discipline. Day after day in my practice, I see parents who come to me with "out of control" children, who have been using increasingly severe forms of discipline in response to their child's outbursts. And I talk to them about how discipline is great for setting clear limits and providing a motivation to improve a child's behavior. But so often that isn't the problem. The child knows what's expected, what's "right" and "wrong." And they wish they could stop getting into trouble. The problem lies in that their mind becomes rigid and inflexible -- unable to think of others' perspectives or alternative ways to get their needs met. The child's inflexibility is met by their parent's inflexibility and produces...an outburst.

So I work with them on what Ross Greene calls "Plan B" (which is just a fancy term for using collaborative problem solving). And we talk about how to make it work so that it isn't simply "giving in" or "having to have their way," but actually siding with their child and working together to solve the problem.

I'm always struck by the frequency with which parents are resistant to trying this approach. They have so much fear of "losing" in some supposed contest with their child. They seem not to realize that they are already "losing" in the only areas that matter -- in terms of outcome, trust, communication, and relationship. But, again, this way of thinking stems from the fact that they feel they only have this one tool (of discipline) with which to address the child's poor behaviors.

I'm reminded that I, too, surely have my own limitations in this regard, times when I fail to realize, recognize, or use alternative ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. I pray that I may learn to be open to more and more such tools.



more cows than people said...


Wyldth1ng said...

That makes perfect sense to me. Thank you.