Macbeth: If we should fail?
Lady Macbeth: We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking place, And we’ll not fail.
Macbeth, Act 1, scene 7, 59-61
Committing psychotherapeutic acts takes extraordinary courage.
Facing down anxieties, digging down underneath painful symptoms, revealing vulnerabilities, casting out demons, seeking salvation, asking forgiveness, challenging abuse, severing damaging relationships, examining your failures, flaws, weaknesses, revealing your shames, contending with guilt, grieving, preparing to die, coming out, fighting for intimacy, encountering emptiness, apprehending your own murderousness, and the depths of your hungers and desires, setting limits and boundaries, saying “no”, tolerating exposure, baring your soul, withstanding the pain, changing your life, telling the truth…
Telling the truth.
These are terrifying acts.
I can think of no psychotherapeutic action that does not require courage.
I cannot think of a single split second of the 30 years I have spent engaged in the psychotherapeutic process, as a client or as a therapist – that did not require extraordinary bravery – and sticking to it week after week after week.
There are thousands of moments when one or both of us in the room wants to run, in the presence of awful, awe-filled, awe-some realities and potentialities.
Choosing to face reality – really looking at yourself, and your life, at the world around you, at those you love, at those you hate – should scare the shit out of you.
Of course Mr. and Ms. Macbeth were preparing to murder for status and power …which we would obviously, never condone.
But be warned that telling your truth to another person in a confidential office can kill off quite a few comforting illusions.
If it doesn’t, you may be missing something essential.
Some people suggest that anxiety is an entrenched, immutable biological response and that courage has nothing to do with it.
I could debate that idea in a million ways – but I don’t want to feed that notion, because it negates the flabbergasting acts of courage I watch take place in my office every single day.
My therapist would sometimes ask: “Do you want to talk about __________?”
“No.” I would say. “Of course I do not want to talk about that. I don’t want to talk about that at all.”
Screw your courage.
“Do you think we should talk about it?”
“Yes. Of course we should. But if you ask me if I want to I’m going to have tell you ‘No fucking way’.”
I’d leave therapy drenched in sweat. As if I’d fought a dragon barehanded. Or wrestled with an angel all night long. I never understood why I’d leave so damp from exertion until I sat in the therapists chair and watched my clients, one after another, search for their sticking place and screw their courage there committing staggering acts of bravery. Of will, of strength.
For some the sticking place is the therapeutic relationship itself, the trust built, brick by brick, between therapeutic partners.
Other’s find their solid ground by imagining the parents their child deserves, or the partner that they hope to be.
Some are able to summon their bravery when they think of what others have sacrificed for them.
Some find their line in the sand through religious promises or moral mandates.
And still others will locate their courage by honoring a relationship lost.
Or by wanting to protect others from the horrors they have survived.
And sometimes, it is simply the commitment to authenticity, the wish for wholeness that lets us stick and stand strong in the face of challenge, conflict, distress, sorrow, pain, fear.
Sometimes bravery sounds like this:
“I just couldn’t any more”
“It just came out of my mouth before I realized”
“I didn’t feel like I even had a choice. I just had to.”
Sometimes it is even more elemental than that.
Bravery can sound like this:
“I hate you.”
“I love you.”
I am afraid too. We can at least be terrified together, and maybe find our sticking place there.
And if we should fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail.