Start at the beginning…

You’re not broken, weak, or lazy.

Sometimes our behavior seems irrational or self-defeating. But on some level our brain believes we need that behavior to get what is best for us. This belief is based on our past, and perhaps it worked back then. But the patterns that once helped us adapt are outdated today—in fact they’re getting in the way.

Our brain learned how to respond to tough experiences when it felt threatened. Now it’s using that same knowledge to help us survive from whatever feels similar. It guides our emotional, relational, and physical survival responses. So why do our choices sometimes feel unhealthy?

The bottom-line is this: our brains are incredibly adaptive. Unfortunately what is adaptive during childhood (when our brain is in full-on learning mode), is not necessarily adaptive later in life. This is an incredibly important issue to understand, so we can reflect on and find compassion for our frustrating patterns and attitudes that once helped us endure challenging circumstances.

This is why we at Liebman Psychotherapy devote a great deal of attention to our clients’ childhoods—to those experiences from so long ago that very possibly impact life today. We believe that clients’ “issues or problems” are not actually defects. They are modes of responding or mental maps developed out of necessity, starting at birth.

Our schemas were designed to keep us safe

Our mental maps or schemas were designed to keep us safe. There are two parts to these schemas: first, they are learned expectations, and secondly they are learned protective responses—a means to get what we think we need. Once learned, these mental shortcuts help us quickly make sense of and respond to the abundant information we encounter on a daily basis. Yet these shortcuts can also narrow our thinking and cause rigid behavior patterns and distorted perceptions.The problem is, once our brain has learned and practiced something over and over, it stops questioning its reality. An automated response is more efficient—so it takes over—good or bad, helpful or not. We must honor this as an adaptation, instead of blame it as defect.

Honoring our schemas as adaptations instead of defects

If you’re suffering, it isn’t because something’s wrong with you or even with your brain. Your brain and body have done a great job adapting to life. However, if your adaptations are outdated, you may incur huge costs like diminished self-confidence, lack of self-compassion, nagging impatience with your lifestyle, or another unsatisfying relationship. We invite you to teach your brain and body how to make new adaptations to life as an adult. That’s what healing is all about.

Developing a witnessing presence

Humans have this unique ability to be in two states of consciousness at once. Witnessing yourself is like directing the beam of a flashlight back at itself. In any experience — sensory, emotional, or conceptual — there’s the experience, the sensory or emotional or thought data, and there’s your awareness of it.—Ram Das

Helping our clients to develop a witnessing presence—our capacity for non-judgmental self observation—is an essential component of our therapeutic stance. It is a state of being where a client can “be with” whatever shows up in the moment. An abilty to witness thoughts, self-judgments, sensations in the body, and feelings without being overwhelmed by them.

© 2022 Liebman Psychotherapy PC
Asheville/Weaverville, NC

JoDee Liebman, LCSW

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Bobby Liebman, LCSW

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