Problems serious enough to warrant psychotherapy are unlikely to have appeared out of nowhere, but rather be part of a larger pattern. There is a history there, and understanding that it’s a pattern and understanding where it starts – that first step that leads to hell – that is vital.
An avoidance of that first step (once recognized) is helped along by the development and cultivation of affiliative emotions – of the rest and digest system which is often hijacked by an overactive threat system which is typically defended against (or coped with) by overactivating the excitement system. This can all be avoided or overcome by developing a sense of trust, of relatedness, of generosity and compassion towards oneself and others, which leads to a greater sense of relaxation and contentment. These feelings, if cultivated, will inevitably lead to better relationships and hence to a greater ability to cope with stress and delay instant gratification. Further, this will lead to a greater sense of positive social obligation, which will detract from impulses which are contrary to that – to drives which are focused on self-gratification to the exclusion of the other.
The focus on the importance of relationships through the development of affiliative emotions is uniquely empowering because so often relationships are seen as a form of weakness or something one is relatively helpfless at – in other words that the formation of relationships requires the reciprocating desire of the other. That relative sense of helplessness can lead to the development of a fixation on control and methods of manipulation. This however is a dark road that leads nowhere good. The better and more functional response is to realize that how one approaches others determines to a large degree their response. A lot of that has to do with one’s state of being and one’s emotional disposition. Change that, and people’s reaction changes in turn (feeling and being generous with those around you makes you like them more).
Our relationship with others and that sense of connection offer a protection and buffer against distress and disease of all types. Fortified with a sense of purpose, and one is nearly unstoppable. This sense of purpose comes out best in a state of relaxation, unharried and unbidden it emerges, and leads one to the promised land. Exercises aimed at drawing out one’s values can help this process along, a mindful focus on what is most important to one, and then ultimately at aligning one’s life with those values.