One of the MOST common questions a counselor or therapist will ask, after you share how you are, or are not, coping with a dilemma; is this:
And how is that working for you?
I’ve been to enough counseling that I have picked up this phrase and find I am tempted to use it myself, in my conversations with other people.
And that gives me pause. Because inevitably a little voice in my head is whispering “did you really just say that? Did you really just play therapist with someone instead of just being their friend and listening to them and being ok if they are doing things you wouldn’t do yourself?”
I am someone who overthinks everything, from every possible angle. Thank you: childhood full of trauma. Even if said method of coping is working wonderfully FOR ME; to have it questioned in any sense, even in the most benign way that sentence could be said, causes me to start spinning through ALL of my prior actions in my head. Former confidence that I had (that I was doing the best course of action, or else what needed to be done even though I knew it wasn’t optimal) can quickly give way to thoughts like ‘maybe I am struggling in this area.’ ‘I’m really messed up.’ ‘oh boy, now what am I doing wrong?’
Even though I am often not, and was not, doing anything ‘wrong’ at all. I’d already set proper boundaries. I’d already talked it through with the offender. Sometimes you just run into @$$ hats in life and need to steer another direction around their crap.
I am also aware that when a therapist (or a friend who has picked up vernacular from a therapist) asks the ‘how is it working for you’ question, he or she has already determined that whatever coping mechanism I am using is not the most optimal one, in their thought, and he or she is
subversively subtly letting me know that there are other options…without telling me those options because they ‘want me to come into my own conclusions.’ Because I am five, and cannot handle being plainly told about alternative courses of action.
Which is condescending. Suddenly they are my teacher and I am the student. I would think it would be better to keep things on the level — friend to friend instead of ‘counselor to counsel-ee’ and simply state: well, I am glad ___________ is working for you. Sounds like you have it figured out then. Myself, I would probably do it a bit differently.
Or a simple, ‘have you considered doing __________ instead? I was in a similar situation and finally when I did __________ I had some peace about it.’
To which they might answer, Yes! I tried that for years. Now I have to do what I am doing to stay sane… Nod and accept it and then ensue sipping coffee and sharing about your grown children’s antics or the sweater you just found on sale last week.
Keep friendship exchanges to friendship exchanges. Rather than condescension and playing therapist.*
And if I find myself back in therapy (doubtful at this point), or with a friend who has picked up this phrase; and it therefore gets used on me — remember that the use of the phrase is about them, not me. Consider, very briefly, that I may not be doing the optimal thing. If a brief assessment of the behavior in question results in a ‘I am doing just fine here’ — then answer ‘it is working well for me!’ and change the subject. If their question makes me realize that I am not satisfied with how it is working for me, then don’t do a thousand mental gymnastics biting on that hook and trying to figure out a more suitable plan. Simply answer their question with the following question:
What would you recommend that I do in this situation?
And then take to heart, or completely toss out, whatever they suggest. Because it is safe that way since you have kept the exchange on an even level, adult to adult, instead of submitting to their attempts at schooling you.*
*note to self.