• Peter Golder

Orientating a confused mind

Confusion diminishes and dulls the clarity of our minds. As a result our mental health can suffer, which affects the relationship we have with ourselves and others. We can feel confused by all kinds of things that we can clearly see are a problem, but are confused about what to do or how to resolve them.

Dealing with confusion is often a very important part of any counselling work. This is because people often want some aspect of their life that’s affecting them to be different, but anxiously can’t work out how to change it or are frustrated about why their efforts to change don’t stick.

Photo of a map with green pins stuck in the map to mark places
Exploring where you've been

Often exploration is needed to find out where the source of the confusion lies. We bury so much from everything we go through in life, that it can feel like looking for something in the dark. Yet counselling is like using a torch or turning on a light that makes seeing the picture in your mind a lot clearer. This allows a person to develop greater self awareness and understanding, allowing them to move through their life more authentically and with agency.


A child in grown up shoes

One example of confusion is the way some people still feel frustratingly young, even though they are an adult. A person may choose to do something they think will be fun, yet once they start it, they have a feeling that what they are doing is wrong and they shouldn’t be doing it. This is really unpleasant. But why would this be happening?


To make more sense of this, imagine a young person living in a household where their parents had certain strict rules about what they should do. They were often told to work hard and focus their attention on the tasks they were given, yet they would often watch their friends playing and having fun and they longed to join in. Yet, when they nervously asked their parents if they could go out with their friends, they were met with a reply of, ‘you won’t get anywhere if you don’t work hard.’ They knew from what they’d often been told, that their parents had it tough when they were younger so they wanted their child’s life to be better.


Over time they slowly were conditioned by their parents beliefs and they adapted their focus and attention on following the rules and working hard. After all, they were living under their parent’s roof, relying on them for food and protection. They needed to follow the rules in order to survive.


The part of them that wanted to be free and rebel against the rules lay quiet. That was until they became older, left home and became independent. Now an adult they could decide what they wanted to do. They were still working hard, yet with more freedom and with less restrictions, that part of them that wanted to have fun came alive more and more.


They started spending an increased amount of time seeing friends, going out and partying. Their friends would tell them they were great fun to be around and at times they felt good, yet inside their head, something didn’t feel right. They saw how relaxed their friends appeared to be, yet they were confused, because they felt at odds with themselves. They felt like they were doing something wrong and this was taking away any joy they were having. Instead of having fun, they were feeling stressed and it didn’t make any sense to them.


Breaking down the confusion

The above scenario is just one example, that shows how our thinking, feeling and behaviour is affected by how our minds process the life we are living, how others affect our mental health and how the immediate context of the world we live in shapes our minds.


Exploring the above example in counselling would involve looking at where the individuals need to work hard came from. There would be some analysis of their parents' view on work and why they said what they did to them. Time would be spent looking at how the individual felt when they were younger and taking a look at what decisions they made in the past. Highlighting these decisions are important because it’s possible the individual is still living their life based on decisions made years ago or based on someone else's view of the world.


White board with mathmatical calculatons on, with a hand holding a black marker pen near the board
Searching for a solution

Moving from being our own enemy - to our own champion

Sometimes the critical voice in our head is not just that of our parents. It can be our own critical voice, assembled over the years of our development to keep us in check with the world around us. We can punish ourselves far more than others do, so gaining awareness of this part of ourselves can also be important in helping us to deal with any internal confusion.


Bearing this in mind, counselling allows the individual to begin seeing the conflict between what they learnt as a child and what they want to do as an adult. They would have the opportunity to update their view of the world and importantly, their view of themselves and how they want to live their life. They can work hard, but also allow themselves the necessary time and space to have fun and play. Letting go of the anxiety and stress involved because they are not doing as they were told or what is expected of them. This kind of counselling work helps to deconfuse what someone has been experiencing for many years, allowing them to live life with a greater feeling of being in control.


Snowy peaked mountains set against a cloudless blue sky
Change is not always obvious and can be gradual

Slow change, brings change that remains

Sounds easy to rectify, but it’s not. It takes time. Your brain has learnt to think, feel and do things every day, over many years. Changing learnt behaviour is a slow process, yet people often want quick solutions. It’s always very important that people are nurturing and compassionate to themselves when they begin the process of changing aspects of themselves or their lives. This is because the brain loves familiarity and predictability. Doing things differently can lead to uncertainty, so it can be useful to tell yourself you’ll be ok, you want to change and you have support. Take your time.


People often think the way our minds work are very fixed, yet that is not the case. Our brains have a lot of plasticity, meaning they can adapt and change to what they are being asked to do. With conscious focus and practice you can alter what goes on in your head. So if you learnt something at a young age, it doesn’t mean you have to hold onto that belief now. Any decision can be changed.

We don’t get given a manual on how to work with the supercomputer in our head, our brain. At times, what goes on in there can make no sense. Yet people so often get to work through the issues and problems they are experiencing, which helps bring them a lot more clarity and certainty, in what can feel like a very confused mind.

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