I talk and write a lot about how beneficial therapy is/was for me. I wanted to give an overview of the changes that happened for me during my course of Mentalisation Based Therapy. This will act as a record for me of my progress and will hopefully allow others an insight into what can potentially be achieved through therapy. The focus of this post will be on what MBT taught me about relationships.
Relationships do not work if there is not good communication there. This sounds obvious but so many people like to think that they communicate well when they actually don’t. Communication is about honesty, acceptance and being open. It’s not just about talking to someone, it’s about how you talk to someone and having an awareness of the impact of what you are trying to communicate.
Example – your friend hasn’t text you back for 3 days, this isn’t usual behaviour for them. You assume that you’ve upset them, they must be mad at you. But, you ignore it and they eventually text back and this happens in the future and you always jump to the same conclusion and feel crappy about it.
Even if there is no way to ‘solve’ a situation in a relationship, you should still talk about it. The other person might not realise how stressed it makes you waiting for a response, they might be more reassuring if they knew. It never hurts to talk about these things as long as you do it in a productive way. Ignoring the other person for a few days to show them how it feels for you is not helpful. Sending them another message along the lines of ‘fine, you obviously don’t like me’ is not helpful. However, asking to see them in person and chatting about how the situation has made you feel and what the other person might be able to do in the future is helpful. It’s good for everyone to have that level of dialogue open.
Early on in therapy, I realised that I’d grown up having to take a back seat in group situations. I stay quiet, my thoughts do not get heard and it leaves me feeling awful. It’s something that has happened throughout my life and it was emulated in my group therapy sessions. It took a long time and is something I still need to work on but I had to make an effort to be heard. Everyone deserves a space to talk, we are all entitled to be listened to. But some situations make that more difficult than others. So practicing being assertive and getting my voice into the conversation has been important for me. I no longer put the responsibility fully onto others for not listening, I take some of it on and that has resulted in me feeling heard more. This has been particularly helpful in work.
Therapy taught me alternative ways to look at everything and everyone around me. I can accept that I do not know what is going on in someone else’s mind. We all like to think that we know what people mean by things they say. We’re all guilty of thinking ‘I know that they don’t like me’ or ‘I know that they meant this when they said that.’ But the truth is, we don’t know. It’s a really important skill to learn – looking at possible alternatives for what someone might have in their mind or why we feel or act a certain way.
Someone being snappy or short with you does not have to be an indication about how they feel about you. That someone could be having a bad day, tired, thinking about something else or they might be upset about something you have said. There are lots of possibilities and none of them should rationally lead to you thinking the world hates you and you’re a bad person. Jumping to conclusions, which usually reflect negatively on ourselves, can be really damaging. This can mean questioning thinking habits that we have had for a really long time so it’s difficult but the only way to change the level of control our thoughts have over us.
Relationships are a two way thing that should enrich the lives of the people in the relationship. There are some people we have to have relationships with such as our family or colleagues. However, there are relationships that we choose to have. Our friendships, for example, should make us feel happier in some way and if they do not then it’s important to question why we are staying in that relationship. Do we feel a sense of obligation? Where does this come from? Has the relationship always been bad or has something changed?
One key point for me with friendships in particular is that I now set out my needs in terms of a friendship. There are people who think my standards for a friendship are too high, others do not – both are okay, you just have to find the right people and be honest with each other. Therapy taught me that I am allowed to have needs met without feeling like a burden on others. It also taught me that everyone’s needs are different and changeable which is why there needs to be openness in relationships with communicating this. There will be times when we need extra support from friends or times when we are too busy to hang out – this is all okay, communicating it reduces the chance of people getting upset about changes.
Overall, relationships are so complicated and have such a big impact on our emotions because they require an awareness of yourself and of other people – neither of which are easy. The awareness of others can be made easier by a willingness to talk things through and asking questions if you’re unsure about something. The awareness of yourself is a learning curve and an ongoing process.
Did therapy improve relationships for you? In what way? Leave a comment!