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90. Humour - The Best Medicine?

Humour is suffering detached. I read that in a book on Zen Buddhism that I spotted while browsing the bookshelves in a friend's flat. It could easily be the title of the excellent and hilarious book I am currently reading, but it isn't, it's called Provocative Coaching, and it is by Jaap Hollander, a Dutch therapist and coach. Something that characterises our most difficult problems is that they are serious, deadly serious. Being made redundant, relationship splitting up, suspicious lump somewhere, these are serious challenges. It would be a brave coach or therapist that would attempt to help you with such challenges by making a big joke of them. But.... longer term, repetitive, habitual patterns that spoil your life are a different matter. Assuming that other people are superior to you, for example, recurrent jealousy, feeling incompetent, easily triggered anger, defensiveness, always being in a hurry or late, chewing over a problem until it is completely macerated, and yet still you keep on, taking responsibility for everyone's problems. If usual methods to tackle these have failed, a large dose of teasing can work wonders, says Jaap Hollander. This is an example of how it works. A woman, a team manager, comes to see him saying that she has lost her confidence since her last team voted her out. She wants to understand why. After suggesting that her lack of confidence is almost certainly due to a chemical used to treat wood in her home town (about which she is unconvinced) he goes on to ask, 'so how do you feel about being a janitor now that your management career is over?' He is so insistent that her lack of confidence is insoluble, perhaps even a good thing, that the woman ends up arguing passionately with him, insisting that she can solve this, that she will continue to be a manager, and a good one! Job done. This is what provocative coaching is based on, those experiences that most of us have had at some point in our lives, when somebody tells you that you can't do something, and it strikes a very indignant and bloody-minded part of you that says, Hell! I will do this! I can do this! Who are you to tell me I can't? You watch me! Originally developed by Frank Farrelly, the essential ingredients of provocative therapy are challenge, served together with warmth and humour. Without those additional two components it can feel like bullying, says Jaap, and the person will crawl out of the consulting room with their tail between their legs, never to return. So, given that we don't all have a provocative therapist to hand, how might we make this work for ourselves? Well I always do the exercises that I suggest, as I have said before, and I can tell you one thing - teasing yourself is very difficult! Although not impossible. A couple more examples might help: Client: I get angry very easily. Therapist: Well good! People need to hear the truth sometimes, don't they? And there's nothing like anger for getting your point across. Client: But no, it's really a problem, I upset people sometimes, and then I feel awful afterwards. Therapist: Fantastic, so you know that you really have made an impact, that's great! And why feel awful afterwards? You've done them a favour. They won't do that annoying thing again, will they? Client: But I worry that people won't like me if I do that, and I'll lose friends. I think I have already lost some people that way. Therapist: But why would you want these annoying people in your life? They've gone, good riddance! Plenty more people in the world. But, but, but..... Or: Client: I split up from my boyfriend six months ago, but I just can't stop thinking about him. Therapist: Well isn't that nice? Your heart is wide open and loving him, isn't that so sweet? Client: Well no, the thing is that it's taking up my life and I can't move on. Therapist: Move on, but why? You love this guy, you've made a full time job of loving him. Love is good, why stop? Client: But I can't be with him, that's why! Therapist: Well, you know, life is so much simpler when you're single. You can breathe a big sigh of relief, no more tricky relationships for you, you can be single for ever! Client: But I don't want to be single!!! Try this: 1. Think of a repetitive behaviour or feeling of yours that you would be happier without. 2. Take a pen and paper and draw yourself on it, and then draw another figure facing you, which will be your coach or therapist. (If you have a friend to hand, you might like to do this exercise with them instead) 3. Take a look at yourself, what is your problem exactly, and what are you thinking and feeling about this problem? 4. Take a look at your therapist. Imagine that they like you very much and that they are in a silly mood. 5. Have yourself tell the therapist your problem. 6. Have the therapist reply. Remember that the therapist is not in the mood to be serious, and they just can't understand what the problem is. They try to convince you that your problem isn't a problem at all, that in fact it's a good thing. 7. Have the conversation. Notice how you are reacting to the therapist. What feelings are coming up? What do you say to the therapist when they are finding your problem so implausible? And so unimportant? Do you agree with them? Do you disagree? If you disagree, make a case! Have a fun week! with love Anita

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