When I was a social worker in a nursing home, family members would often tell me what to do. Sometimes they were right, and I would listen to them because they knew their mother much better than I could ever hope to. But sometimes they would leave my head spinning as they spouted psychobabble to me.
“My mother needs more socialization. She stays in a chair outside her room all day.”
“Before she moved here, did she have friends over?”
“NO. She hates people.”
“Why should she begin liking them now?”
“Because socialization is good for her.”
“You’re right, but to her sitting outside her room is socializing.”
“No, she needs more stimulus; she needs to be doing things.”
“Did she ever ‘do things’ before?”
“No, but it’s important for her well being.”
“She’s 95, not demented, loves to diss all the people who pass. Talks to a few selected people.”
“But she should be doing more. It’s not healthy.”
“Been watching Oprah recently?”
“Yes every day since I retired last year.”
I called that the Oprah effect. When people who had never taken an interest in their parent’s psychosocial well-being began telling me everything that should be done, I knew that they had been delving into self-help usually in the form of Oprah and Dr. Phil who was a guest then.
We all know that we’re supposed to have seven different social circles for optimum well-being; we all know that we’re supposed to do things, stimulate our minds and our bodies. But what about the person who likes to be by herself? Who takes much pleasure in watching people and providing the occasionally snarky remark? Shouldn’t that healthy 95 year old who was only living in a nursing home because she couldn’t keep up her apartment anymore and had run out of money for rent be allowed to sit outside her door all day if that makes her happy?
After working at the nursing home, I came to the belief that people who lived to be old should be allowed to do whatever makes them happy, and if that means sitting outside their room all day, and commenting to me about every person who passed her room all day makes her happy, so be it.
The woman I’m talking about had worked in an assembly line all day until she retired, and never wanted to be around people again. She was exceptionally insightful, and her assessments were generally excellent if sarcastic.
Her daughter came once a month, if that, yet I was supposed to write that her mother had “excellent family support. Daughter’s very involved in mother’s care.” “Needs more socialization. Refuses to go to activities, despite prompting from staff and daughter.” Of course had said daughter taken her to an activity, she might have gone, just for the hell of it. Or if said daughter spent more than five minutes actually talking to her mother, they might have discovered that they actually had somethings in common. Like a mutual dislike of leaving their houses.
I’m not saying that at another stage of their lives they couldn’t have benefited from therapy in many areas, but by 65 and 95, a person’s interests and needs are pretty ingrained.
There’s nothing wrong with being a loner if that’s what makes a person happy. There’s a lot wrong with making a person do something if she truly doesn’t want to do it.
I know many people who chart out every hour of their free time because they can’t be alone with their thoughts. The only self help books I would ever recommend-besides mine–should I actually do would be by Aaron Beck. And rational emotive therapy
Why? Because Cognitive Therapy works, as does Albert Ellis’s rational emotive therapy
Cognitive therapy, and rational emotive therapy are very similar and very easy to practice on yourself. In this link Beck and Ellis have a conversation with each other.
Cognitive therapy teaches you how certain thinking patterns are causing your symptoms â€” by giving you a distorted picture of what’s going on in your life, and making you feel anxious, depressed or angry for no good reason, or provoking you into ill-chosen actions.
Cognitive â€” correcting some of your thoughts, beliefs and assumptions about how others see you, and about the stake you have in their opinions of you.
Combined with behavioral therapy, the two make much sense:
Behavioral â€” entering and remaining in the presence of other people long enough for your fears to subside. (Which they will do all by themselves if you go about it in the right way.)
If you think of cognitive therapy as changing your thought patterns from negative to positive, you’re on the right track.
Me having a conversation with myself at an all woman lunch for something:
“she hates me.”
“look at the way she’s looking at me.”
“she’s having problems with her contact lenses. Go up and talk to her.”
“me, but I’m not in her league.”
“you’re in a better league–or the same, but wait until she fixes her lenses.”
“Hi, I’m Pia.”
“I’m Laura. I was admiring your shoes.”
Okay so this is a hopeless over simplification, but it works. In one 30 second conversation with myself I went from being a hopeless loser to being a rational doer. Changed both my thought patterns and my behavior without working myself into a sweat or to a frenzy.
It works because I’ve done all the exercises in Beck’s work book, consciously change my thoughts from negative to positive, and like meeting people. But I’m shy and it can be hard. Medications help incredibly. When you find the proper medication or medications, you’ll feel like a different person, but you might not know how to act like one. Brief therapy helps tremendously.
But why buy a ton of self-help books when you can go to the source of more than half of all self-help creeds and books?
And if all you really want to do in your small allotted half hour of spare time is sit in your version of the front porch, that’s okay also. It’s your life; you deserve to be happy, and who besides you, knows that in that half hour you’re plotting the great American novel, or revolution, or thinking about a wonderful meal you had last year.
Happiness is not a given, but it can be attainable. Took me a lifetime of making stupid mistakes, and having horrible obsessive thoughts to realize that I could change my thought patterns. I’m not on medication for obsessive compulsion now, and sometimes I back track, but usually…
This post is a gross over simplification; a sort of background to each different technique. I will be discussing each one individually in the future.
And while everybody says that you and you alone own your life, you do however that is truly simplistic, self serving at times, and something I will be talking much more about.