Counselling & Personal Development

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The exercise of discipline is demanding and complex. It requires both flexibility and judgement. Balancing is the discipline that gives us flexibility.

We are all inadequate in our flexible response systems. However, mature mental health requires an extraordinary capacity to flexibly strike and restrike a delicate balance between conflicting needs, goals, duties, responsibilities, directions, etc.

The essence of discipline is the ability to give something up. Giving something up is painful, but the only alternative is not to travel along the road of life. Most people choose this alternative. They don't continue with their life's journey - stopping short in order to avoid the pain of giving up some parts of themselves.

To travel far on the journey of life, we must be able to give up personality traits, well-established patterns of behaviour, ideologies and even whole life styles.

Depression can be healthy

A period of psychotherapy is a period of intensive personal growth during which a person may undergo more changes than some people experience in a lifetime. For this growth spurt to occur, a proportionate amount of the "old-self" must be given up.

There is a feeling of depression associated with giving up something loved, or something that is part of us and familiar. Human beings must grow mentally, and since the giving up or loss of the old self is an integral part of the process of mental and spiritual growth, depression is a normal and basically healthy phenomenon. It only becomes abnormal or unhealthy when something interferes with the giving up process, with the result that the depression is prolonged and cannot be resolved by the completion of the process.

A main reason for people to seek psychotherapy is depression. In other words, they are already involved in a giving-up, or growth, and it is the symptoms of this process that propels them to seek help. The therapist or counsellor's job, therefore, is to help them complete a process that they have already begun.

This is not to say that a person coming to psychotherapy is often aware of what is happening to them. To the contrary, they frequently desire only relief from the symptoms of their depression "so that things can be as they used to be". They do not know that things cannot "be the way they used to be". But the unconscious knows. It is precisely because the unconscious in its wisdom knows that "the way things used to be" is no longer tenable or constructive that the process of growing and giving up is begun on an unconscious level and depression is experienced. The fact of the unconscious being one step ahead of the conscious may seem strange, but it is a fact that applies generally to mental functioning.

Putting one's self aside

In giving up self we can find the most ecstatic, lasting, solid and durable joy of human life. Putting one's self aside to make room for the incorporation of new material into the self is a form of balancing - balancing the need for stability and assertion of the self with the need for new knowledge and greater understanding. It is a form of temporary giving up which is an essential requirement for significant learning and significant personal growth during adulthood.

This discipline illustrates the most consequential fact of giving up and of discipline in general: namely, that for all that is given up even more is gained. Self discipline is a self-enlarging process. There is a pain in giving up which is the pain of death. For us to develop a new and better idea, concept, theory or understanding means that the old idea, concept, theory or understanding must die.

Life is therefore a series of simultaneous deaths and births, of pain and joy. The further we travel on the journey of life, the more births and deaths we will experience. We will never evolve to a level of personal growth where it is possible to become free from emotional pain. However, we can reach a level of consciousness where the pain is diminished, because once suffering is accepted, it ceases to be, in a sense, suffering.

Mastering life

The unceasing practise of discipline leads to mastery in life. One who has grown personally is masterful as the adult is masterful in relation to the child. Things that present problems and pain to the child are of no consequence to the adult.

To evolve to a higher level of personal growth also brings responsibilities. There is a vacuum of competence in the world crying out to be filled. Extraordinarily competent and loving people cannot withhold their competence, any more than adults would deny food to hungry children. Through their discipline and love, they will answer the call to serve the world.

People who have mastered life will be extraordinarily loving and from their ability to love will come extraordinary joy.

They are, therefore, people of considerable power, although the world may see them as quite ordinary people, since more often than not they will exercise their power quietly and unassumingly. This exercise of power will bring suffering because exercising power involves making decisions which will affect the lives of others. To make such decisions with total awareness is often more painful than making them with incomplete awareness. The best decision makers are those who are willing to suffer over the decisions they have to make, yet still retain the ability to be decisive.

Exploration and Discussion

1. Striking a balance in the three areas of discipline brings tensions, e.g.:

Delaying Gratification
Delay v. Spontaneity

Accepting Responsibility
Assuming too much v. Not accepting

Dedication to the Truth
Total honesty v. Withholding

List some of the tensions that you feel.

2. Failure to develop successfully from one stage leaves "unfinished business" that can complicate dealing with the next stage. Moving to the next stage means letting go of the security of the present stage. There is risk in growth.

Stages of personal growth.

adulthood 31+
Individual Intimacy
early adulthood 23-30
later adolescence 18-22
Group Identity
early adolescence 13-17
Initiative and Industry
school 5-12
toddler 2-4
infancy 0-2

(a) What stage are you at?

(b) What have you attained?

(c) What have you had to give up to grow up?

(d) How did you feel at the time? Did you allow yourself time to mourn your losses?

(e) What are the tasks facing you before you move to the next stage? What help do you need? What are you willing to do?

3. Take the time to temporarily put your self aside, give up the familiar and leave yourself open to the strange and the new. What did you learn?

4. Now:

(a) In what area of your life do you need to gain a new perspective?

(b) How can you?

(c) What do you allow to stand in your way?

5. It has been said that once we leave home, we can never go home again, and yet, we can always go home. We can lose home and we can choose home. Where and with whom/what do you feel "at home"?