You can’t shine a light in one corner with out the other three corners becoming darker.
Who said that? Jung maybe? Or some Jungian? I have no idea – but we’ll go with that… it sounds Jungian enough.
And nothing makes this clearer to me than when I am pressed into large groups of psychotherapists, social workers and psychologists. Nothing makes me want to leave my profession more than listening to other members of my profession.
And being terrified that I am hearing myself.
I am usually either lured in by the wish to hear a specific author speak on their area of expertise, or forced (grousing the entire time) by professional mandate to maintain licensure or certification.
And if I can just sit quietly and read a book, or listen to music or embroider before the presentation begins – if I can close out the chit chat, and the jockeying for status and position, if I can just ignore all the narcissistic injuries and the needs and the hungers that seem to be pouring out of all these well-scrubbed people in glasses, with their expensive sweaters and sensible shoes, if I can just get to the part where there is a teacher who is going to talk – and who might even say a lot that is useless for me- but who will hopefully leave me with one or two gems – just a single lovely, good, and useful idea, one new thought, one interesting insight into one case – I will be good. It will all be worth it. If I can just toss up my filter to screen out everyone around me except the person far away on the podium…
But sometimes I can’t. Sometimes my filter is down, or I forgot my knitting bag, or my phone battery is on 12 percent. Sometimes the presenter wants us to break into small groups, or introduce ourselves to our neighbors on either side, or worse: wants to lead us in an exercise.
Then it is inescapable and I see the marks that this profession has left on all of us, the starvation to share our perceptions, to have our work acknowledged. I hear how needy and hungry it makes all of us. How all our profound insight can leave us blinded to each other and ourselves outside of the consultation room. Used to hiding behind our professional persona we are too accustomed to our utterings being treated as the Words of the Gods and are annoyed and agitated when they are not greeted as sacred pearls of wisdom by our peers. In love with our clients, enthralled with their growth, and drunk with the fantasy that we have done something “right” to facilitate their transformation, we overshare uninteresting self-congratulatory details of our client’s therapeutic successes – like way too many baby pictures – patting ourselves loudly on the back because as private practitioners it is unlikely that anyone else will. We forget to seek out what may be actually useful or universal in the story we are telling. We forget that those around us are contending with the exact same starvation we are and may not want to feed us. At all.
Spending our days on the wrong side of our client’s projections – we cannot bear to be mis-perceived, or understood in inexact ways. Or invisible.
Heads nod. Tongues click. Brows are empathically furrowed as case material is laid out. Hands shoot up in the comments and questions portion of the presentation. Points are made. Exceptions are taken. Opinions are expressed. Expertise is demonstrated.
And disagreed with.
“In my experience…”
“But don’t you think….”
“I’ve found that when….”
“I worked with a similar population and one of the things I found to be very effective was…”
Yet somehow nothing at all is being said.
No one says:
“This work is lonely sometimes, do you find that too?”
“This client scared the shit out of me for a long time and I didn’t know what to do- I felt really lost – but then one day they started opening up, started trusting me, started feeling better and I was so relieved…”
“Sometimes I want to be an expert and I feel frustrated when my clients don’t respond to my years of professional experience and training – and then I remember that I am a broken fallible human being too – and it is so much more reliving when I quit thinking of myself as my ‘role’.”
“I don’t know what the fuck I am doing half the time – that is what intuitive work feels like – like wandering in the dark together until we stumble onto something that feels helpful – but it is hard to feel so lost so much of the time with clients who feel lost too.”
“I worry that my world view, or my methodologies are becoming outdated – in the face of new realities how much are my perspectives as a professional at mid-life or beyond really worth? I want to stay open to this world that is moving so fast, but I worry that I am falling behind…”
“I want to be seen as smart and perceptive. I want to say things that my peers and clients will value. I want my career to keep building – I’ve been feeling stuck lately, like I may have hit the top of my capacities”
“I want to appear to be healthier and more appreciative than the rest of the people in this room, so I want to personally thank you for a wonderful presentation that I’m sure spoke to every single person here.”
“What have you accomplished? Is it more than I have accomplished? Should I walk away from this brief interaction feeling superior or inadequate?”
No one says anything like this at all. But I can’t stop hearing it.
No one speaks from their own wound. It isn’t safe enough and we don’t know each other. We speak only from inside our suit of armor and the noise we emit echoes and clangs and deafens.
Our profession casts a dark and reaching shadow, one that can wreak havoc with other’s lives, often claims to accomplish more than it can and regularly appropriates the healing processes of others as our own property.
We are all so aggressively empathetic and such competitively good listeners.
But, I hope, more of us are in touch with our own woundedness when we are safe in the confines of our own workspace, in brokered relationships with clients that feel safe with us, and with whom we have earned some degree of safety for ourselves.
However we talk, or fail to talk about the work in public, in enforced mandatory community – I hope we are able to tell ourselves more humbling and humiliating truths about our work and our professions in private, and in the safe supervisory and peer relationships that we have built as way stations for ourselves on this lonely path.
And as much as I hate it when my filter is down and I am surrounded by darkeness on at least three sides: Later I will gather myself and hope that somewhere, it may mean that others are shining a very bright light in their own small corner of the universe.