You know that problematic behavior you do that you’d love not to do, but you do it anyway? That thing that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to change. For some it’s yelling at their kids or spouse, or smoking, or drinking, or overspending…I’m an Atlanta counselor

who helps people unpack what’s going on, and maybe just maybe shift…if they want to. I know that sounds weird. You want me to say I help them change it. And, although I’d love counseling to fix everything we want it to, shifting is a delicate thing.

What I can say, that I wish everyone I see in my Atlanta counselor office knew, and hopefully learns, is that many of these behaviors are much deeper than simply a behavior. 

Often times, when I see someone who shares that they just can’t seem to change this one thing, I end up helping them ‘make space’ and ‘explore’ it. When we do, we often ask questions like: ‘when did you first learn you needed to do this?’, ‘how does this behavior serve you’ (and we usually have to spend time on this because most of the time the initial response is ‘it doesn’t!’ but after we really dig maybe it helps us self-medicate, feel better, achieve something, get people to listen, etc.) ‘what is your fear will happen if you don’t do this?’ and more. 

I ask these questions to help people begin to uncover the part of them that is stepping up very strongly to respond in life or manage situations. And when we explore that, I then find myself helping people to nonjudgmentally begin to explore this response. Because, as with many things that we work with in my Atlanta counseling office, the first step is to develop awareness.

Once we’ve asked those questions, it then gives options to explore IF we want to do it differently sometimes. If we can meet our needs in more effective or healthy ways, and if there are other experiences that need healing before we change (so for example if we learned this in childhood because of a trauma we might want to explore that trauma with a skilled counselor before we try and change the problematic yelling, or smoking, or whatever the behavior is.)

Pain can definitely cause us to learn a behavior, use a mechanism to self-protect, or engage in an ineffective coping strategy. So, behavior is not always just a behavior. Sometimes it has formed as a response to pain. And, instead of simply judging the behavior, we can benefit from exploring the pain and working to heal it. 

As always, these are my observations from my experience as an Atlanta counselor, and if this resonates with you a great step could be to talk to a therapist and work with an expert to explore your situation further. Therapy is not one size fits all, neither is the information I’ve shared.

-Mikela Hallmark, MS, LPC, CPCS – EMDR certified therapist trained in working with anxiety, trauma, couples, and more.