Fragile

It hit home today, the fragility that lies within each and every one of us. I often take for granted the strength and invincible nature that seems to enshroud those I admire and care for most. Somehow despite knowing much of our shared humanity, our insecurities and shortcomings, many of us often default to believing that others are unshakeable, ever present, indestructible constants in our lives.

It is a powerful awakening to be faced with loss. To at the end of the day sit with a reality that much of what we come to lean on, trust in, fall to, can change ever so rapidly. Like cracks in ice, we hold on as long as we can. We have within us the ability to bend, to accommodate, to modify, we can compromise, and we can step toward, we can even carry. The ugly truth however is that regardless of how strong we are, how resilient and buoyant we fight to remain; we all have breaking points.

The nature of relationships has always fascinated me. They are complex and intricate and to many of us they are lifelines and a foundation to stand upon. While they hold within them the power to bolster vitality and create a sense of intimate connection, they simultaneously hold the power to tear us apart, hurt us to the core and leave us feeling desolate if ever lost.

How does one reach out, seek connection, share the intimate details of ones’ life, create laughter and shared stories to support us through the darkest of times… while simultaneously shelter our hearts from the greatest kind of agony known? Friendship is both life sustaining and life obliterating rolled into one. The capacity to elevate and the capacity to destroy, to give and to take away, to uplift and tear down.

It is interesting to me that we do not make vows in friendship like one might in a romantic partnership or marriage. I am not necessarily suggesting that one should exchange friendship vows, but I have to wonder if that would at all change the nature of friendships. Obviously commitment vows do not assure anyone of unfailing love and never ending commitment… people get divorced and separate every day despite the vows they have taken to love and cherish and adventure together through sickness and in health, good times and bad. Perhaps the vows mean little to nothing in our culture today.

Nothing is omniscient or infallible as a human species. We make mistakes, we hurt one another, we neglect to show up when needed, we let one another down, we misspeak, we miscommunicate, and we batter one another from time to time. Yet somehow we continue to make friends, to partner up, to marry, to journey alongside one another, despite the inevitable pain that will come from such a friendship/relationship. Why do we do it? Why do we risk so much of ourselves and our safety in order to share our life with someone?

I suppose it speaks to our inherent, and insatiable need for human contact, that we would risk such pain and offense to our hearts, in order to share who we are with someone else. Because we know that we are capable of hurting and we know all to well how capable we are of being hurt and carrying scars from the wounds. Yet we sign up for this potential all the time. We sign up and we make unspoken vows of commitment and of safety and of a willingness to give a shit… about the little things and the significant things. We allow others into the dark spaces that lie deep within; we open ourselves to another, all with the hope that we will be known. We long to be known and we long to know someone else. Romantically, platonically, we are relational beings in need of connection, in need of understanding, in need to friendship.

We are so desperate for this type of knowing and being known that we are willing to sacrifice anything, everything. When a relationship falls apart, when it falters, when it cracks; its impact is global. We can downplay it, we can shuffle it to the side, we can bury it, but its impact is universally devastating. We do what we can to recover from such loss, such separation, such pain, and many of us do this very well. But everybody bleeds, even if they bleed in solace, quietly.

Accepting my own fragile nature, and acknowledging the fragile nature of those around me, that we can all be standing near a precipice at any given moment… We all have vulnerable places within, which are subject to triggers, subject to hot emotion, subject to pain. Perhaps one would be wise to learn to tread lightly, not in a tiptoeing, shallow nature, but in a way that acknowledges our shared human frailty. None of us, not even one of us is invincible. We all feel. We all are capable of breaking. We all bleed. Yet we all need somebody.

I looked up the definition for friendship and found this “a state of mutual trust and support between allied nations”. It seems that this thing we call friendship does have an unspoken oath… It is a powerful, life changing state of being, a privilege; one not to be taken lightly. Such a delicate balance; to dive in unabashedly sharing ones self, while keeping a keen sense of awareness of the vulnerable nature involved in being human and sharing that with another soul.

Today I am owning my own fragility and I am choosing to honor the fragility of those around me, our shared humanity and our shared need for safe connection.

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Why I listen

I have often filtered blank or confused stares along with comments of either confusion or bewilderment when I share what it is that I have chosen to do as my life’s work. Having wanted to be a therapist since early on in grade school, I never even doubted for a moment that I would find meaning, intrigue and joy in the work.

I have felt for a long time that many do not understand what it is that I do, let alone why it is that I continue to choose each and every week, to engage in the very personal art of talk therapy. Today I sat down at my desk hours before my first client would arrive, after doing some house keeping, finishing a cup of coffee and steeping a cup of tea for warmth and comfort, I wanted to write a little piece about why I choose to listen.

I am fairly certain that in my younger years as I dreamt of becoming a psychologist that I had no clear picture of what that would actually be like. Sure, I had an idea of what it would look like “me in a chair and my client in another or better yet a couch…” But with regards to what it would feel like, what the work would actually entail and the emotion that would be involved, I’m certain I had no clue. I loved to listen to my friends, I loved to hear their life stories and for some reason I cared deeply about their homes, their families, their relationships, their stressors. My heart would ache when there was pain or heartache. My soul would dance when there was success or accomplishment or joy. My mind would swirl when there was confusion or loss or unknown chaos. I was naturally curious. I was naturally right there, in the thick of it. Heart and soul.

By the time I had made it to my undergrad and declared my major in psychology, I was deeply rooted in relationships of all kind and my own study of people and human interaction was alive and well. In all honesty, I felt my degree had very little to do with that, if anything it discouraged me from wanting to follow through with getting the degree. It was heavy. It was dark. It was unpacking the nature of well-being and disintegrating it into sickness and dysfunction and it was disillusioning. It became all too easy for me to focus on the disease and the lack of health and absence of well-being and become consumed by diagnosis and how to treat each and every one and what ones could not be treated (according to the research at that time). I needed something more hope filled. I needed something to hold onto and not let go of, I needed to know that health and wholeness was possible, even for the most dysfunctional and diseased individuals. I had no desire to discuss those who could not get better; I simply did not adhere to this belief.

I could share many years worth of my own data on relationships and communication, both the formal and informal education that I received and I could tell of my own ups and downs along the way as I moved toward my career goal. Sparing the unnecessary details, I will share that I made it through grad-school, not without bruising and scars that still remain, but I survived and lived to tell about it. All I mean to say about that is that becoming a therapist is somewhat akin to participating in therapy. You get to become all too familiar with your own story, where you came from, what you learned, and how you carry all of those experiences and realities along with you today. It is an arduous journey. It is not for the faint of heart. It is emotional, it is taxing, it is messy and it is absolutely beautiful.

I became a talk therapist because I believed that people needed to have someone to share their life’s story with. Someone who was unbiased, unattached and unconditionally accepting of the process which one goes through to find one’s self, one’s purpose, one’s individual journey and the meaning within it.

I want to simply blast the stereotypes out of the water. I want to smother the noxious fumes that remain of misunderstood psychobabble. I want to instill a hope and a strong belief, backed up by scientific research, that people can and do change. Everyday. Through hard and meaningful work. The act of diving into psychotherapy, of being willing to look back in order to understand present and decide about the future, is stunningly beautiful and it is not to be ashamed of.

Each and every one of us, healthy, unhealthy, functional, dysfunctional… we all need to understand where we came from in order to figure out where we’re going. Somehow we need to start having the conversation about psychotherapy as preventative medicine, as holistic balance in a world that is out of balance and confused about priorities and health. There is no shame in doing the work of telling your story and integrating your past, present and future. It is powerful and life altering work and it is a privilege for me to guide in such a journey. I will go on choosing to do this work of listening, this art of living and loving and sharing in the beautiful stories of others. I am proud to participate in such a gifted kind of work.