Thursday, January 29, 2015
Eighteen months of individual psychotherapy as well as two forays into a partial hospitalization program at a local hospital have helped me to reach a number of conclusions about myself and my life.
The horror of my early life history
I experienced genuine pain due to the ignorance and negligence of other human beings. My trauma was compounded by institutional corruption. The group therapist I had in the program I just completed today acknowledged that I was ‘treated very, very badly.’
A lot of people have suffered immensely in their lives
And yet my life journey has exposed me to the reality that many, many people have endured plenty of horror of their own. In other words, I am not alone in my experience. Stated another way, I am not unique. Stated still another way, there are plenty of people who can have empathy for my experience.
Hardship is not always a function of having been or being a ‘bad’ person
You can do everything ‘right’ and ‘proper’ in your life and still suffer from hardship. I realized in my most recent plunge into intensive treatment that one persistent form of my own distorted thinking is known as something called heaven’s reward fallacy. In this form of distorted thinking you imagine that your life should be better than it is due to all the sacrifices and efforts you have made. Put more succinctly you believe being good means you should experience good. I have learned this isn’t always the case. You can do everything that is required and expected of you and people will still find reason to complain and whine.
Perception does not always equal reality (even when we think it does)
Just because you feel something to be true doesn’t mean it is actually really happening outside your own skin. For a very long time I have struggled with feeling that I am fighting this immense battle and that I am very much alone in my battle. But this feeling isn’t based in any objective truth. The truth of the matter is that I have a large number of people who care about me and are supportive of me and my dreams. That is the truth.
Sometimes I feel that all I can do is keep showing up for myself again and again and again and again. And sometimes I feel like I am doomed to keep living a life in which I show up and nobody responds to my showing up in the world in the way I need or want them to. I attribute this feeling to the number of resumes I have sent out, the number of phone calls I have made and the general amount of energy I have spent in seeking out a meaningful job. But just because not a single person validates my skill, my kindness, my compassion, my tenacity and so on does not mean I am not skilled, kind, compassionate and tenacious. When people experience really poor parenting it can take a while to stop looking for validation outside of yourself. I know that has been true for me.
Asking for help is not equivalent to being weak
I see this as a fallacy that men in particular are especially prone to. I sense my father has this distorted manner of thinking embedded in his own mind. If you don’t know how to do something you can simply ask someone to help you. That is so shocking, right? Can you imagine what we would become if we never received and accepted help? We would never leave our cribs!
Failure is just something in our minds
I can still vividly recall how one of my past mentors reframed failure in words that I found so compelling and evocative. He described failure as ‘not producing a desired result’. It is the meaning we lay on our perceived failures that gets us into trouble. When we make our failures mean something about who we fundamentally are as human beings we can find ourselves firmly on the path to self-deprecation.
I don’t have to be anything…and neither do you
My dignity and value have nothing to do with what I am, what I do for my work and what my talents are. We are all worthwhile simply because we are.