What I Can Do from What I Cannot Do

What I can do from what I cannot do: When I focus on what I cannot do anything about (distal), I feel powerless and hopeless. When I focus on what I can do (proximal), I discover how immensely powerful I really am.

Joe cannot make Jane answer her phone. He cannot make her drive safely or arrive home when he expects her. As long as the focus of his attention is on Jane making these changes, he will be disappointed. When we try to change the things we cannot change, the natural consequence is that we feel helpless and hopeless. When, however, Joe decides that what he needs is a caring and attentive and intimate relationship with Jane, he can create that by listening to what happened with her today and see what she says kept her later than Joe expected. When we focus on what we can do to create what we need, we discover just how immensely powerful we really are.

There are things we can change and things we can't. When we focus our attention on the things we cannot change we create for ourselves feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and we come to the conviction that there is nothing we can do. This is clearly a cognitive distortion. There are a theoretically infinite number of things we can do. But there are outcomes we cannot control. We cannot make things be as we want them to be. That is certainly true. But we can move things toward conditions which nurture the qualities we need. And in that regard we are immensely powerful.

Joe can pick up his clothes. He can offer his support to Jane. Jane can frame her requests to Joe at a time when he is most available. Jane can ask to speak to Joe when he is ready to connect with her. These are all things which are easily in their power to do and which construct what they need. These are choices which lead to addressing the issues which arise as they build a healthy relationship for which they are both responsible... one in which they are each supported in naming, addressing, and resolving the issues they bring to the relationship which arise for them as a consequence of unresolved past trauma.

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