Demigods on Eggshells

“Without in the least wishing it he (the therapist) draws upon himself an over-valuation that is almost incredible to the outsider, for to the patient, he seems like a savior or a god. This way of speaking is not altogether so laughable as it sounds…Nobody could stand up to it in the long run, precisely because it is too much of a good thing. One would have to be a demigod at least to sustain such a role without a break, for all the time one would have to be the giver….”
(C.G. Jung from The Personal and Collective Unconscious
)

To be a therapist, is to spend a significant amount of time each work day being actively idealized, attempting to sustain a certain type of idealizability, and tolerating the responsibility and anxiety of the role you have been assigned: carrying the idealizing projections of others.

It is tricky and delicate business, to accept, and even enjoy the over-valuation of people who may need to see you, at least for a time, as Conscious, Wise and fully Self-actualized.

And it is essential never to actually believe a word of it.

In life, this is not so very difficult to imagine. We all know what it is to be looked up to by a young child, or through the eyes of a junior adult like a younger sibling or a new friend, a mentee, a student, or a protege.

We also know that with time, practice and age that they will end up essentially where we are. The road from there to here is not so mysterious or magical once you have walked it. Once you have developed some sufficient mastery in one area of your life, if you are healthy enough, you don’t think it gives you any magical powers or special qualities in any other area of your life, no matter how astounding it seems to others.

When my son was around five, he pulled up a stool to watch me, wide-eyed, as I made breakfast. As I whisked up some eggs in a glass bowl, turned the heat on under the pan, and poured in the scrambled goo he exclaimed:

“Mommy, you amaze me. You are amazing.”

(It was a delicious moment, one that I hang onto now that I have an eye-rolling 9 year old, who is just trying on his new shiny self-protective shell of snark-snot-and-sarcasm.)

Mommy, you amaze me.

I never for a moment believed that I had scrambled miraculous eggs. I never considered for a second that I actually had unique, magical cooking powers or that I was the most amazing cook in the world, in NYC, in my borough or even on my block.

But it was deeply pleasurable nonetheless. To see a simple act of minimal mastery through a child’s eyes: using my my mature fine and gross motor skills to crack open a perfectly packaged egg, directing its contents without spilling a drop, moving a whisk faster than the eye could see, watching the mixture whirlpool around at my command, summoning fire and flame without fear or hesitancy, prodding the spitting, sizzling eggy-glob with nothing to protect me other than a mere wooden spoon, transforming it all into comforting meal using a dangerously hot piece of metal.

Now that is something.
Maybe even the stuff of demigoddesses…

The pleasure grows from remembering when I thought it was a miracle too. From recalling my own mother’s miraculous ability to make the most delicious grilled american cheese on white bread sandwiches in the world while domesticating the threats and terrors of the wild and unpredictable electric skillet.

It is joyful to be reminded that the skills I take for granted were hard won over many over-cooked meals, burned fingers and inedible food tossed in the garbage – as I traveled from not knowing how to cook at all to competently scrambling an egg.

It was also absolutely lovely to recognize that my divine ability to scramble eggs out of thin air, made my son feel safe, and confident too – through his identification with me. If I can make eggs, tame fire, if I am able to use sharp knives safely -what can’t I do? I could certainly take down any lurking “bad guys” or monsters, with a flick of my magic whisk. He felt stronger, braver, special more capable through his secure alliance with me in all my egg-scrambling glory.

And another pleasure: knowing that very soon, all these amazing powers would be his. The pleasure comes from knowing how I developed this skill, that it can be conveyed over time and through maturity, that he would soon catch up, and probably quickly surpass me.

In fact, today I woke up, four short years later, to find him making a garlic scape (I had no idea what those were until this morning), sweet orange pepper, and cream cheese omelette for breakfast.

He amazes me. He is amazing.

Healthy idealization is ultimately, a mutually admiring experience.

In the early stages of therapy – when we are vulnerable and the healing crisis is fresh and disorienting – we often need to see therapists as intact, healthy, knowledgeable, experienced authorities. Competence, confidence, mastery are essential in making us feel safe, held, well-guided and incubated through the aftermath of the events that drove us into therapy to begin with.

Sometimes an idealized therapist serves us as a protective shell, guarding and concealing vulnerable, unformed and embryonic aspects of the Self as it consolidates.

“A successful phase-appropriate chip-off-the-old-block type merger with … the idealized father (parent/therapist) and the subsequent gradual or phase-appropriate disappointment in him might… enhance self-esteem. (Heinz Kohut, The Restoration of the Self)

Phase-appropriate disappointment.
If only it were as easy as it sounds.

Kohut spends a great deal of time discussing the importance of manageable empathic failures, tolerable mishaps, humanizing mistakes. These unavoidable errors and revelations disrupt our idealizing transferences, and remind us that the person who is holding all our eggs in a single basket, is human, flesh and blood, not a demi-god.

Idealizing transferences have a function and a cost. The gain is the sense of hope we get from feeling connected to someone bigger and more powerful than we. The shadow is that as clients we are smaller, diminished, and fearful that we will have to stay “smaller than” in order to stay connected.

For therapists, the danger is that we can become inflated, burst our shells, accept medals and approbations that we have not earned.

Other times sitting in the therapists chair can feel stiff, brittle, and anxiety provoking as we try to keep our disruptive, broken and wounded, aspects hidden from view, our humanity banished by the necessary admiring distortion.

There is often little room for failure, for error, for the therapist to be an equal partner or a fellow traveler, or even fallible in the early phases of engagement and therapeutic relationship building.

I walk on egg-shells, waiting: its just a matter of time before I stumble, show up late, misunderstand, forget a necessary detail, repeat myself, challenge a defense at the wrong moment, bump into a painful bruise. How bad will it be? The suspense is excruciating. How long until it cracks? How deep or disruptive or painful? Will I injure, trigger, re-activate an old wound too profoundly? Will it break open before we have developed the necessary language and trust to negotiate it? Will we survive it together? Will it evoke destructive rage? The timer ticks away. Will I be the one to shatter a self-protective but illusory hope? Will the client be contemptuous if I prove to be less than perfect? Will the trust we have worked so hard to earn together fall to pieces?

I squirm imperceptibly in my seat, releasing pressure with self-deprecating wise-cracks. Fear mounts – the more the client inflates me, the more steep the drop. The more that I represent the perfectly satisfying feed, the more likely I will be eaten up. Or spit out in pieces.

I try to inoculate everyone who comes in at the initial consultation:
“It is not a matter of if I disappoint you, but when and how I will. However it happens, however small the error or annoyance – you may not even notice it until you leave the session and some comment I made, or something I did or didn’t do suddenly rises up hours later and sticks in your craw – it is extremely important that we talk about it, find language around it, and make it a part of our work together.”

Probably few remember when the time comes and I do lay a big old egg. But I have at least told the truth. I have made no false promises and did not commit myself to a perfected stance I cannot sustain. The caveat gives me the space to sit in my seat, carrying the loneliness and responsibilities of the idealizing gaze, for as long as necessary, knowing that it will not last forever.

In the folklore of most of Europe, the strength or the life of supernatural beings could be destroyed only if an egg, usually hidden in some… inaccessible place, was broken.
(see Eggs: Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend)

Ultimately, it is extremely relieving when the illusion, the facade cracks at last, and it is time to descend inch by inch, climb, fall, or be squarely knocked down off the pedestal that I had to sit upon for a time.

This is true: A healthy therapist will not ever need you to stay small. They will be increasingly relieved by their incremental over-throw, happy to rescind the authority temporarily granted to them while old wounds healed. They will step down with dignity and acceptance of their own humanity and rejoice to see you claim your own authority when you are ready.

A profound moment in my treatment, more than twenty years ago: I was waiting tables and, along with the entire wait staff, had to attend some mandatory-bull-shit-motivational-team-building-brain-washing-success-cult seminar. At my next session I spoke of how enraged, disgusted and toxic I felt. I assumed I’d behaved badly in the forced forum: I’d folded my arms, stared at the floor, sat surly and glowering as I refused to let them force their simplistic cult-speak into my mouth. I was sure, that my pouty, sour behavior was an insufficient and immature way to express my opposition to this coerced programming and that my therapist would have had some much more effective way to maturely express his disagreement and set a healthy boundary that I, in my undeveloped state, couldn’t yet conceive of.

He said: “Me? Really? I probably would have gotten totally pissed off, and screamed at them stormed out and lost my job. That’s what I probably would have done.”

Fresh air.

His admission of humanity, his discomfort with my defensive, self-negating uses of idealization, disrupted at the right moment made room for me to hatch further, aknowledge my growing powers of discernment, judgement, and impulse control.

The therapists I trust find ways to enjoy the inflating gaze of their clients and what it represents, accept it as developmental and transitional, without needing it, believing it, attaching to it, or feeding off of it. And they will release it with pleasure as you are ready and your own strength mounts.

One day, strengths will equalize, and a new relationship, one that makes room for two whole people with differentiated and individualized strengths and weaknesses will emerge.

And a new kind of intimate collaboration, between participants of equal powers, can begin.

It is sweet connection to be amazed and amazing.
It is a lovely thing to be surpassed.

It is sweeter still to work together, side by side, and to make a meal, more beautiful and inspired, than either of you could have cooked alone.

copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford

Unspoken

I curse in session too regularly, and should probably be more ashamed of my potty mouth than I am.

I can talk frankly about anything from money to masturbation without blinking an eye.

I can discuss the darkest sins, the deepest shames, give words to feeling states that are subtle, terrifying, violent, kinky, mystical and murderous. I can use and parse my counter-transferential, intersubjective, empathic and projectively identified responses through some pretty tricky co-created therapeutic enactments.

But there is a word that I have almost never used
Even, (actually, especially) when I am near bursting with it.

I’ll speak all around it. I will, when the time is right and the relational necessity emerges, talk about feeling protective, allude to our connection our history, our alliance and hard work together, admit that I am touched, or deeply moved. I will share about the ways that I trust our relationship, or have confidence in our partnership. I will on occasion, admit to feeling proud or impressed. I will offer up my experiences of admiration, and perhaps, in specific circumstances, confess to the obvious affection or highlight experiences of closeness my therapeutic partners have evoked in me.

I know as a patient, my attachment to my own therapist took many forms. Just twenty-one, lost in a huge city with an overwhelming and toxic emotional inheritance to sort through, he, (25 years old and just out of grad school) was the first still, consistent and stable entity I had stumbled upon. For the first several years, I needed him like I needed gravity to keep me oriented, like I needed oxygen to breathe (god bless him and his supervisors).

I didn’t need to think much about how he felt about me – because he was kind and patient, He was honest. He displayed consistent interest in understanding me. He didn’t recoil as my barely restrained mess poured out all over his office.

I didn’t think much about his subjective experience of connection to me, because I assumed that his behavior revealed how he felt for me. I could see that sometimes I annoyed the shit out of him, or could make him laugh, or unsettle him, or corner him into a tight spot when I demanded that he understand me exactly, leaving him little room for error. But, for me, the proof was in the pudding – I assumed that anyone putting up with all my crap must have some basic positive regard for me.

I had no need for him to say it or feel it.

He behaved it. He gave it.

To call further attention to it would detract from the giving of the gift.

In my own practice I know that big, silly, burps of affection rise in my heart at the most ridiculous and inopportune times. Right when some one is in the middle of an animated flip-out about their abrasive roommate, or while some complicated exposition about details at work unfurls. A turn of the head, their hands moving in the air, a creative, emphatic choice of words, a moment of courage, the track of a tear down their cheek, a scar, a freckle, a gesture I had never noticed before – some small bittersweet detail of a soul and a life completely unique, unlike any other human on the planet – fills me with awe, and adoration.

If I’m not careful, my appreciation can be disruptive:

“What? What did I say? Why are you smiling?”
“Hmm? I was just listening… I guess something about the way you said that just made me very glad you found my office – just made me feel happy to know you, – I didn’t mean to smile or interrupt, please go on…”

I sit, sometimes for years at a time, hiding unrequited affections, holding myself as still as possible. Any behavioral indication of the softer-spots in my heart could terrorize and
flood those who have been wounded in the minefield of distorted attachments.

For some, interpersonal emotional connection is completely entangled with abuse or abandonment. Closeness is only an opportunity for pain.

Some have used adoring words as a ruse to establish a claim to another’s soul and to take ownership of the beloved. Other times, heart-talk has disguised an empty belly: The beloved as a perfect meal about to be devoured.

Sexual arousal, attraction, infatuation, and lust are often and easily confused with emotional intimacy. All the more so when bodily and sexual boundaries have been violated in the client’s past.

No matter the form, charitable, universal empathic agape, friendly and familiar philia, or emotionally intimate eros, such powerful energies are not only the source of All that is Good: in the wrong hands, at the wrong time for the wrong reasons they can be a powerfully destructive force.

A force that can damage and burn.

For the most wounded, it take years to metabolize even the most generalized good-will.
The vaguest impersonalized empathy is sometimes all that can be withstood. Anything more personal would be too much to bear.

In my home life I don’t stop yammering about it. My family and my kids groan “I know, I know…” when I feel the impulse, to tell them, yet again, what I feel for them. It’s been ten whole minutes since I last said it, and my heart is near to bursting again.

We all mean something specific, something unique to ourselves when we speak of it.

This is what the word, when I use it in my personal life, means to me:

It means thank you. For putting up with me. For accepting me anyway. For forgiving and seeing more in me than my most incompetent, limited, wounded, hysterical, annoying, fallible bits. Thank you for surviving me.

It means I promise to do the same for you no matter what. It means I think you are amazing. It means you make me feel better. It means my life would feel shattered without you. It means I know you need me, and I need you too. It means we are connected to each other in such primal ways that we owe each other the truth and can demand very hard things from each other for the relationship’s sake. It means that I know that you see as deeply into and through me, as I can see into you. It means being in your presence feeds and sustains me, and I will do my best to feed and sustain you as well.

It means there is room in our relationship to be my whole self – sometimes powerful, sometimes smart, sometimes nurturing, sometimes hungry, sometimes broken, sometimes failed, sometimes sick, sometimes distractible, sometimes selfish, sometimes generous. And there is room for your whole self as well.

It means whatever shit hits the fan – we are safe with each other whether it feels safe or not.

But those are my hungers, my dependencies, my personal life. No one else on the planet may have the same definition.

Which is another reason why, even when I feel a giant pink wave swelling in my heart, that I don’t say it in the office.

For me, the personal use of the word invites all of my deepest needs into the room.

And the therapy office is simply not the place for a therapist to do that.

Theologian Thomas Jay Oord has defined agape as “an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being.” I certainly carry at least that, and usually much more on my heart with every client every single day.

But who on earth says “I feel agape for you?”
Eeww.

(“The Love Racket: Defining Love and Agape for the Love-And-Science Research Program” http://www.calvin.edu/~jks4/city/Oord~Defining%20Love.pdf)

That doesn’t mean that deep affection, empathy, attachment, appreciation, fondness, caring, closeness, connection, heart-break, pride, intimacy, adoration, attraction, gratitude, familiarity, warmth, tenderness, admiration, philia, and even eros are not part of the work.

Even these are words too diffuse, subjective and imprecise to cure, transform, or change anything at all, in and of themselves, no matter how we may yearn to hear or say them.

Althought It may not be enough, its presence is essential.

For me, it is usually (but not always) pointless, ineffective, selfish and unnecessary to speak of it.

Yet, without it, everything grinds to a halt.

Love, in all its forms, ineffable and undefinable, is the oil that suspends the wheels and surrounds the entire mechanism so that therapeutic work can take place at all.

copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford

Laughing Matters

I laughed my ass off at work this week by the way.

At a few points, I was even doubled over, gasping for breath, wiping tears from my eyes – as my therapeutic partner sat rocking back and forth on the couch – shaking their head, flapping their hands and cackling like a loon.

In the face of death, despair, depression, divorce, dread, disruption, disability, (there are an awful lot of bad “D” words aren’t there?) we find space, on the edges of the pain, to roll our eyes, to shake our heads and goggle at the nonsense of who we are, and what we do, what has been done to us, how the hell we have gotten here, and the sheer ridiculousness of the whole kit and caboodle.

Often enough, my clients just enjoy making fun of me.
I’ll paint a pretty wide target, and happily and repeatedly climb the ladder to the dunk tank to await their best shot.

(I’ll get my own gentle jabs in here and there to keep things in balance as well mind you)

Therapeutic horseplay, testing the strength of our alliance, enjoying our trust in each other, playing with the parameters of our shared perspectives and friendly teasing about the divergences in our world views shores up and sustains the work.

“Okay, I’m going to do that thing right now, that always totally annoys you, where I start to act like I’m your therapist or something – but please be patient with me, it will be over in just a second….”

“Hmm? Did I give you any really good advice about that last week? No? My advice about it this week would probably suck too – so why don’t you just tell me more about your thoughts on the subject…”

“I hear you, I know you ‘don’t know’ what you are thinking or feeling – but haven’t I told you ‘I don’t know’ is the only entirely unacceptable answer in therapy? Do me a favor right now, and lets just make something up – or make a wild guess and we’ll just go from there?”

Shared laughter distracts us, lowers our defenses, undermines resistances, mitigates embarrassment and helps me to sometimes get around a psychic barricade that might otherwise be insurmountable.

“Im sure you are going to say I’m full of shit right now but-”
“You are full of shit.”
“Oh, yes. Well, thank you. And I just gave you that free shot so perhaps you should thank me as well – but can we please get back to talking about the thing that I aways think you are avoiding and you think has nothing to do with it? Indulge your old grey haired therapist for a minute? Pretty please?”

Laughter can set limits gently, effectively, and sets us back to the work at hand.

And there are relieving pleasures that come from envisioning our conflicts from the most absurd and novel perspectives.

When we really isolate and dissect the inner commentary issued by the Persecutory Judge – the inhibiting, Shaming Editor – the Huckster Fortuneteller that always, and only predicts doom – and all the other archetypal entities that reside in our brains and undermine our joy in life – and follow their premises all the way out to their absurd conclusions – we can at last see how asinine, how divorced from reality, how rigid, archaic and daft the motley chorus of domineering introjects can be.

We can snicker at them together undermining their power in our lives, as defiant laughter casts off the years of blind obedience to internal and external oppressors now dethroned.

A private, confidential laugh in the consultation room directed at those we fear or distrust or are battling with takes them down a peg in our overestimation, lays bare their vulnerabilities, drawing off our excessive aggression and draining rage out of our healthy anger.

The psychiatrist who works on the other side of the wall from me (a very nice man, by the way, who thoughtfully put a white noise machine on top of his book case next to our shared vent) was initially flabbergasted at the extent to which we had to go to sufficiently sound proof our offices. “What on earth are you all doing in there?” He asked. “What is so funny anyway that gales of laughter are pouring into my office?”

Life is.
Relationships are.
Healing makes us laugh. Laughing helps us heal.

When you finally find enough distance it is flat out hilarious.

The more awake we become, the more we can compassionately, roundly laugh at our our own antics while sleep walking.

Laughter loudly lets the gas out of states of narcissistic inflation – our own and others. A laugh at our own expense reminds us to cherish our limitations and enjoy our own finite-ness.

Laughter elevates us from states of deflation, empowers us, summons our armor and strengthens our confidence in our ability to win the match if not the entire tournament.

Touché!

Laughter is a mechanism by which shame can be reduced or eliminated. Laughter allows more of one’s selves to get into the act. ~ Philip Bromberg, Awakening the Dreamer: Clinical Journeys

Early in my own treatment, I particularly enjoyed shaking my therapist out of the mirroring, kind, empathic “boo-boo face” that he used, consciously or not, to help me feel my own sorrows and losses. Being able to make even just the corner of his mouth crack into an unwilling half-grin bought me enough space from my own pain to metabolize it a bite at a time, with out taking in more than I could chew.

It made me feel that I had connected to him, reached him, effected him through his training, his stance, and the so serious wall of empathy that sometimes left me feeling alone. It let me give to him, offering a small tip of mild amusement for all the crap I was making him sit through with me. It was where mutuality first lived between us.

When laughter is a reparative gift it must be accepted.

A mommy puts a shoe on her head. Her infant laughs.
This is a shoe on the wrong end! This is an aspect of mommy I have never seen! Mommy feels silly too -and she is laughing at herself, and laughing at her child’s laughter. The little one takes the other shoe – and puts it on his own head, or hands it to his mother to make another joke with. This passing back and forth of joy, this Winnicottian play is where the heart of relationship takes place. Without it we will will not know that our happiness has an effect on the loved object. Without it we will feel impotent, hopeless, lost, and search, maybe for the rest of our lives, for a way to know we are real, to feel our impact, to know we exist.

Humor is often called a high level defense – and certainly it can attempt to cover up, distract, and diffuse emotional experience and intimacy. Yet, humor used for regressive, avoidant or destructive purposes isn’t actually funny somehow. It stings, or it bites, annoys or enrages – but when its not used in the service of health growth or connection, it undermines itself. It doesn’t make us laugh. It makes us flinch.

“Yes, very funny, – but listen, I think we are talking about something important here”

Over the years, several clients have commented on hearing laughter just before the door opens at the end of the session prior to theirs. They wonder if the other is happier or “more fun” to treat.

Each time I’ve said: “You often leave here laughing, even after a very hard session, or you say something to me over your shoulder to make me laugh – you just don’t notice. Pay attention and you’ll see.”

Its one of the ways that we put our skin back on, after exposing all of our raw nerves – as we leave session to head back out into the world.

Our own Unconscious and Life itself will make Fools of us all, and as we begin to take pleasure in that, we know healing has begun.

copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford

The Long Run

The mudang are the fortune tellers, the shamanistic diagnosticians, healers and prognosticators of Korea. They are usually women, powerful, wealthy, feared, and living in taboo fringes of society. Many, many people visit the mudang, but secretly. Everyone does it now and then at major life crossroads, but no one really admits to it.

A few mudang inherit their position. But others are first brought to the mudang to be cured from a state of nervous collapse, confusion, soul-sickness, or dysfunction. The treatment, the cure for what ails them is to undergo initiation, and to become a mudang themselves.

(Drawn from an amazing, terrifying documentary film I saw many years ago: Mudang: The Reconciliation Between the Living and the Dead)

The archetype of the Wounded Healer, reminds us that there is a scent, a whiff of shamanistic tradition in psychotherapeutic treatment and practice as well.

Many clients come for quick consultations 5 to 10 sessions to negotiate a milestone or a crisis. Others come regularly for a year or two. Some stay longer than they expected, 5, 7 years speed by before they realize (although I have never asked anyone to to stay and will gladly help anyone leave who wants to go). Some of us climb the mountain, seeking relief for our most obvious symptoms and never leave.

The cure, it turns out, was to stay.

I’ve been in therapy since I was 19 perhaps. I am 48 now, with plenty of work still ahead.

Perhaps because I have many patients who are therapists themselves, about half of my caseload consists of people I have seen for 10, 12 years or more. I still see several of the first clients I ever met in my first months as a private practitioner. Still others see me as part of a chain of therapists who have partnered with them sequentially through their entire adult lives.

My closest colleagues and peers have engaged in similar process investing as much time and commitment. They have worked, and will work, as hard and long I have, through out their lives.

That’s long term.
Entire lives devoted to depth work.

There are unique and chronically resurfacing challenges and dissappointments that emerge when you take up residence on the mountain.

Several juicy well-articulated tantrums over the years, pitched by my own patients, by close friends (and me too!) occasionally prod me to organize my own answer to the immortal question:

Sixteen years and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt?

You spend years and years, and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on your personal and training analysis, graduate school, post-grad training, professional development, books, supervision in all its various forms – perhaps some couples therapy and group therapy as well to round it out.

You assume most of the time, that there are things about yourself that you do not and cannot know – that you have an UN-conscious. Not a just a “pre-” or a “sub”-conscious, an unknowable, mysterious Core, filled with conditioning memories, preverbal, nonverbal and unnoticed perceptions and powerfully symbolic images. You try to constantly bear in mind that this deeper layer of yourself, is functioning with some real autonomy, under and outside of your awareness. You accept that, no matter how vigilant you are, this unconscious self will drive at least some of your actions, conscript your intentions, cause you to rationalize, minimize and blind you to over, under, mis-placed and missed reactions to events going on around you in the present.

You assume you have a shadow that you cannot see easily or completely on your own that you wish to integrate as much of as possible. What you cannot integrate, you hope, at least, to be able to take some responsibility for when someone else points it out to you. You deeply consider, when those you love and those you work with tell you some crappy, painful, or embarrassing things about yourself, whether it might just be true, a manifestation of something you might not know about yourself yet. Perhaps you will ultimately decide that it is only partially true, understandable but unfair, or a distortion caused by their history, their wounds, their unconscious. But, you try to do this in a way that preserves compassion toward yourself, and the distress you may have activated in the other.

You lay in wait, hoping to catch yourself in the act of repeating your own archaic and archetypal patterns and do something new, something inspired, rather than just replicate a gesture pulled out of your character flaws, your history, or the brittle aspects of your personality.

You are suspicious of your own bullshit. You try not to buy into it or believe it, protect it or ride its self-righteous momentum.

You also hope, that out of your daily awareness exists a larger Self, a dreaming Psyche, an intuitive Seed perhaps even a Soul of some sort. You pay attention to and write down your dreams, notice meaninful coincidences, stories and myths and symbols that speak to you – searching for clues and guidance to deepen your connections to others, to know yourself better. Sometimes its gobbledygook. Sometimes its pay-dirt.

You want to face and effectively confront what is worst in yourself and those around you, and to acknowledge what is best and most beautiful as well. To have compassion for what is most vulnerable, to appreciate strengths, gifts, and talents – and you also try to remember, that these contradictions are facets the self-same thing.

You work hard, for years and years, to grieve your losses, to sort through your inheritance, to acknowledge the past, to notice when you are possessed by impulse, raw instinct, old wounds, or archetypal energies.

You try to hold your perceptions of others lightly, to discover what is accurate about who they are, and what are your own projected hopes, and fears about who they are.

You learn to fight fairly, to work through conflict effectively, to communicate in ways that attempt to lower your own and others defenses, to help each other feel heard and mirrored.

You attempt to own your healthy aggression and use it honestly, and with precision in service of balance and respect and relatedness. When unacknowledged hostility or anger spills out passively, inappropriately, indirectly you take responsibility, make reparation, and try think about what its original source might be.

And you don’t just do this at work.

And you fail at all of these things all the time. And you accept your failures, and you breath clean sweet relief when you have momentarily found the flow.

Here is the tricky part:

No one is required to do any of this. Not even you.

And most people don’t think its at all necessary, and perhaps they are right.

A particular form of unfairness that taunts the psychological initiate involves run-ins with people mindlessly and guiltlessly enjoying bad traits one desperately is trying to overcome. It is absolutely galling to be confronted with someone freely displaying behavior one is working so hard to subdue and transcend….

Why should he grow if people around him stayed the same or got worse? Why should he become less destructive if he had to deal with those who indulged their destructiveness? ~ Michael Eigen, Toxic Nourishment

Many people never feel the need to visit the mountain in the first place.

And of those who do visit, most come once or twice, returning home with some reassurance or relief and forget about the episode entirely.

The majority of people in your family, your circle, and your neighborhoods and communities may explicitly doubt that this level of hyper-consciousness, self-awareness, reflection, impulse-control, self-examination, perception, compassion, discernment, empathy and identification with others is useful, meaningful, or or even valuable. Many think that what you have spent your lifetime doing is foolish, ridiculous, mumbo-jumbo.

Try sharing some of your real thoughts and perceptions about the latent content at a school parents committee or a coop board meeting and see how well that goes over if you doubt me.

A lifetime ago you traveled to the mountain to seek healing for some utterly transforming loss, trauma, chaos, confusion, or pain that burdened you and set you apart, publicly or privately , from the “normal” others who were not (yet) traumatized, and those who passively succumbed to the trauma or who found it easer to fall in with their aggressors and perpetrate it.

So in the long long run?

Here is what it will never do:
Make you normal. Make life easier.
Make you less lonely (or more precisely, less alone).

Here is what it gets you:
Pain transformed into service.
Meaning and purpose extracted from senselessness.
An opportunity to be creative in the face of destruction.
A chance to be well-used.

That’s all there is to show for it.
Nothing more, nothing less.

copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford

Tattoo – Therapy Tales #300

Very honored to have been the inspiration for Therapy Tales 300th, and final (for now) cartoon, based on my post entitled “Marked” about managing the transferences and counter transferences generated by my tattoo…. Mine doesn’t shower off though ;-) Be sure to check out the Therapy Tales archives – it an impressive, and hilarious collection of work. Enjoy.

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