I was on the phone tonight with one of those friends you can fall apart with and they are not even tempted to back away or judge.
I called her because I had all the documentation and data to prove “something about me makes people not like me.” I was falling down the rabbit hole and fast and I needed help. How did I get here? Should I have known better?
Blindsided and hurt by a benign set of circumstances in a social group I am in that I cooked up in my brain to look a lot like my past, I was caught. All the unrequited longings of my childhood and the beliefs about myself that go along with them were a re-awakened monster that I could not see.
To make matters worse, I was convinced I shouldn’t be feeling what I was feeling. Do you think that personal disavowal cleared my head?
“You are a psychotherapist and have been working on yourself for 20 years and you still are getting hurt by this same thing? Something for sure is wrong with you. Let’s go on Facebook and sleuth out some proof.”
(I highly recommend using Facebook as an accurate indication of real life and your place in it. Not!)
As I matter-of-factly talked with my friend she asked me, “Why do you think you should never be tripped up and tender around this theme in your life? It seems to me feeling like you should be over your sensitivity is what is tripping you up. Wouldn’t it be easier to fully accept and prepare for your sensitivities? Even if you find yourself far down the path of blindly reacting for the umpteenth time you can adjust course at every moment with few, if any, of the consequences you are imagining. Changing your life happens in every moment not some grand final feat.”
Thud. Did you hear my chin hit the floor or was that yours?
Our current cultural Kool-Aid says change is, or, should be, final. Most therapists are looking for that alchemical magic that would or could make change be a program reboot and old hurts from the past would be completely eradicated by one course of therapy.
Clients come in with a really strong “fix it” mentality that I find totally stifling and devoid of the self-compassion required to see oneself clearly. This Kool-Aid harms us all if believed as fact. What psychotherapy offers us is the ability to know what we are sensitive to, catch ourselves in the act of turning a benign event into something that repeats the old pain or reacting to painful events in outgrown ways, instead of choosing a thoughtful response in this moment.
Reacting and defending against our sensitivities usually creates the very shit show we are trying to avoid. But even far down the path of very “un-cute” reacting we can choose something new—we can shift course in a moment and radically change our life over and over again.
Feel sensitive to being criticized? Then interpret everything as a criticism and guess what? Pretty soon people will start criticizing you. Alternatively, learn about this tendency, catch yourself in the act and change course.
Tonight getting out of the rabbit hole required me to accept my hurt about all the social change happening around me and what old longing and hurt it brought forward from the past. Presence and connection were the ingredients that helped me to wake up to this moment—a moment that is providing me with a choice to feel, see, behave and think in a new way.
Change is a choice in every moment. Yet unless we are self-aware and have learned where our tender spots are—either from an experience in therapy or the school of life—we wouldn’t know any better but slide on down the rabbit hole again and again, creating the thing we most want to avoid.
Changing your life happens in every moment.
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Editor: Travis May