Among the most important of the tools I use in my psychotherapy practice are self-care contracts. They were developed over the years by several generations of therapists, starting with Jacqui Schiff (1971). The therapists use them both in their personal lives and with their clients. The contracts are:
- I will not hurt myself or others nor provoke/allow others to harm me. I will stay safe and honor the safety of others
- I will not run away. I will stay and work through my problems.
- I will not be sneaky or lie. I will be honest with myself and others.
- I will not make myself sick or go crazy. I will stay sane and healthy.
- I will not be passive. I will be proactive.
- I am responsible for my feelings, thoughts, actions and attitudes.
The self-care contracts are not about becoming perfect. No one could keep them at all times no matter how much therapy they do. It is more about developing intention and awareness. When we realize we have broken one of the contracts, we look at how and why we broke it, and what we will do to prevent ourselves from breaking it again.
These contracts are meant to be lifelong contracts both for the clients and therapists. While I do a pretty good job of keeping them, there will always be more for me to learn as I break them. The one I will focus on in this post is “I will not be passive. I will be proactive.”
To me passivity occurs when we do not focus on solving problems that need to be solved. Instead we 1) do nothing and hope the problem goes away, 2) over-adapt and do what others want us to do, 3) get agitated (e.g. physical agitation such as playing with our hair, picking nails, washing the kitchen floor at 3 a.m., or any kind of addictive behaviors), or 4) escalate (i.e.escalate outwardly by screaming and throwing things or escalate inwardly by becoming depressed or by having headaches and stomach aches.)
In general, I am anything but passive. If I have an idea, I work to manifest it NOW. If I know there is a problem, I want to solve it NOW. I don’t have much tolerance for waiting around when there is a problem to be solved. However, when the problem involves conflict, it can be a different matter.
Generally speaking, I am good about handling conflict in my professional life. By and large, I do fine with this in my personal life as well, but if I’m going to go back into old unhealthy ways of being, this will more than likely be the arena. At those times I may get passive by 1) not saying something because I don’t want to “rock the boat” 2) feeling anxious about confronting or being confronted, 3) obsessing about being treated unfairly, 4) obsessing about something I said or didn’t say, 5) obsessing about something that was said to me. (You can no doubt see the pattern. If I am in my “stuff”, I over-think!)
A good example of this happened many years ago. An acquaintance blasted me for doing something that she disapproved of. She screamed and criticized me relentlessly. I felt attacked, misjudged, and not respected. We stayed away from each other for some time, but since we are both part of the same organization, we still run into each other regularly, and probably always will.
My daughter made an astute observation about it one day. She said “Mom, the difference between the two of you is that she let it out and was done with it. Soon she won’t even remember it happened, and you will still be nursing the feelings five years from now.” She’s right. It has been more than five years and while we do fine with each other in general, I still have the sense that I need to walk on eggshells around her.
I am human. I am in this life to learn. It is okay for me to take all the time I need to learn life’s lessons. I have a feeling this particular lesson will be one I will be working on throughout my lifetime.