How can you be okay (and stay okay) RIGHT NOW?
by Olatunde Howard, MA, LMFT
The answer is actually simple… I would even say the execution of the answer is simple.
Typically, the truth is not complicated–especially when we’re talking about relationships. In fact, I believe my job is to remind clients about the simplicity of being mentally healthy. Mental health issues, in my view, are typically a complication of things that are simple, whether we’re dealing with the mind, emotion, will, words, actions, or relations. Therapeutic terminologies are fancy ways to say what we know intuitively. So here’s the answer that I’m sure you already know.
The way to be okay and stay okay right now is to
have and continue having complete encounters.
The late Dr. Walter Kempler, an Experiential Marriage and Family Therapist, coined the term, but it’s something you know and knew before you heard the concept. A complete encounter means you get everything you want and need from every conversation and interaction. You don’t leave until you get it. Take the couples that I used as examples in the previous blog. The happy couple came to the lobby with no incomplete encounters. Whatever their issues were, for whatever reason, they left home without anything left unsaid or undone–or they accepted that nothing else could be said or done, that every problem doesn’t need to be resolved. The angry couple in my example came to the lobby with incomplete encounters, whether those incomplete encounters began on the way to the session in the car, or a week before the session.
So in the session, all I’m doing is getting couples (or individuals) to complete their
encounters–to determine what they need or want right now in their lives or relationships. And I’m guiding them to this realization: each of us, you and I, are responsible for completing our own encounters. We are each responsible for getting our needs and wants met in every interaction or situation. We can do that no matter what others do or don’t do in our lives.
For example, say I just went out on a date after meeting someone on a dating app. I had a really good time, so I text my date and let her know this:
Me: Hey, I just want you to know how much I enjoyed connecting with you, and I want to continue to connect. I want to take you out on another date. What do you say?
My date: No response–for a day/week/month.
Now I can leave the encounter incomplete and feel anxious, depressed, hopeless, or whatever negative emotion I feel from being ghosted. Or I can complete the encounter like this:
Me: Hey. I’m sorry I haven’t heard from you because I really enjoyed connecting with you. I wish you well. Thank you very much for our time together.
With that text, I completed my own encounter–and can move on to a new (complete) encounter with someone else.
Even if we think beyond relationships about our own individual emotional issues, completing encounters for our individual selves still applies. Dr. Neil T. Anderson says we can think about our emotions as they relate to the goals we strive to achieve:
Anger tends to come from blocked goals.
Anxiety tends to come from uncertain goals.
Depression tends to come from impossible goals.
Blocked, uncertain, or impossible goals are all by definition incomplete encounters. This is why effective therapy goals are internal instead of external.
A healthy goal is one that can’t be externally blocked, and thus made uncertain or impossible.
A healthy goal results in a complete encounter.
Remember again, each of us is responsible for creating complete encounters in our own lives. We are responsible for the goals we choose to strive for, and we can make these goals unblockable, certain, and possible when these goals only depend on what we can and will do, vs what others cannot or will not do.
This means we have the power to be okay and stay okay right now because we have the power to complete our encounters right now–by choosing goals that no one can block.
Think about that. Think about any unresolved issue you have in your life, individually or relationally–right now. A problem you have right now, as you read this blog. Think about the goal you have that is not being met, and thus causing the problem. Think about the encounter you want to have that you are not having, the unmet need or want that lingers.
The first step in completing your encounter is to explicitly state what you need or want, using an I-statement.
Right now I need or want_____.
Just the I-statement has the power of a complete encounter.
Now think about who you need to say this to, or who you choose not to say this to. Because even in choosing not to say this to someone, you are choosing a complete encounter. You are choosing to accept that this need or want will not be met by this person. This acceptance alone is a complete encounter–if you will allow it to be.
And you can allow it to be.
You can be okay and stay okay right now if you focus on what you need and want right now, and express that need–at least to yourself.
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