Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Abuse of Therapy

Therapy has come a long way over the last few decades. It used to be that only truly mentally ill people went to the insane asylum, and it was a big, dirty secret. Nowadays, it’s really easy to find a friend or family member who goes to therapy. It’s even easier to find people who are on some kind of mood medication. The stigma is much better than it used to be.

However, there is still a long way to go. I still hear comments about how a divorced woman could possibly be a marriage counselor. They are rare, but they happen. My dad still doesn’t think I have a “real” job and that will probably never change. And now, the therapy world has been around long enough that there have been changes in the verbiage or reversal of ideas. Freud was a genius back in the day, now some of his ideas are discounted. Church/spirituality used to be seen as a psychological crutch for people who needed one. Now there are classes in master’s programs on spirituality and how to use it appropriately in therapy.

I am not sure who thought of this idea, and quite frankly I’m too lazy to look it up. But the idea that “no one can MAKE you feel anything” became a big buzz phrase years ago. Now? I think that it is mostly just psycho-babble.

Of course there is some truth to it. When I discuss this concept with clients who are being asked to travel down a very painful road, I tell them about Viktor Frankl. He wrote a book called “The Meaning of Life.” My understanding is that he was a Holocaust survivor. He lost everything. I mean everything, like Job of the Old Testament. Most of his family were killed. All of his possessions were taken. He lived in a concentration camp and slept in his own urine and feces. It was in those conditions that he arrived at the bulk of his psychology and philosophy. He determined that the one thing that another person can never take away from you, is your freedom to react. He chose to be positive and helped others around him. I’m quite sure he survived long enough to be released because of his disposition. I have the utmost admiration for him.

I don’t know if that is where the idea that no one can MAKE us feel anything comes from or not, but he is the example that comes to mind when I think of the truth of that concept. But like anything else, there is another side.

Where is our common sense? Being human is about having emotions and responses. If other people did not affect us, we would have to be rocks. Brainless. Heartless. I know people like that and I’m sure you do too. And I am convinced without a doubt, that those kinds of people are NOT the epitome of mental health.

There is one time that saying, “I am not responsible for your feelings” may be appropriate. That is when other people try to manipulate us with guilt that is not legitimate. Or when standing up to an abuser causes them to have painful consequences, something like that. But 90% of the time I have heard people say, “I am not responsible for your feelings” or something similar, it is nothing more than an excuse for really bad behavior.

You can be insensitive to others, say hurtful and/or mean things. You can be an asshole and blurt out whatever you feel and then let yourself off the hook by saying how others respond to you isn’t your problem.

And I say that is utterly ridiculous. Of course we are responsible for how we effect other people. We have no right to walk on others or their feelings. No right whatsoever. You don’t get a pass for being a jerk but trying to make it sound like the other person has issues or is overly sensitive. I call bullshit. And it’s a total abuse of what therapy is all about. Therapy (and it’s philosophies) are meant to help people heal. They are meant to help relationships heal, not drive wedges between them. It’s a therapist’s job to help communicate that message clearly to their clients.

I remember once years ago when I had a client come in who couldn’t wait to proudly tell me how she had told her mother off. She thought she was taking my advice and practicing self-care and assertiveness. I had to completely back pedal with her and clarify what I meant. I was horrified that she thought I would have approved of the way she had run another human being over with her words.

So as a therapist, let me be clear. Of course people are responsible for their own reactions. But if you even slightly give a damn about others, you are also responsible to try NOT to hurt other people. There is no legitimate therapy in the world that would support someone being harsh and attacking to others. None. Hope I’ve been clear about that.


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Responses

Here are the responses I asked for. Hope you enjoy them!

A college student shares her struggles which are complicated by angst and other anxieties:

“Well, not only did I fail one difficult science class, I got an incomplete on a second science class. I never did the final research paper. And then I ignored my professor’s emails because I was so shamed of myself for not being able to pull myself together for anything. My professor was a nice enough person to be genuinely worried about me and contacted behavioral medicine at the college. They called me over break basically asking whether I was stable and if they could let my professor know I was ok. I said yes of course.

I am so nervous that I’m going to do just as poorly this semester. While I was studying in the library in between classes the first day back, my hands started shaking. I would like to point out I do just fine with any authority figures I don’t like. It’s those that I have respect for that I am terrified of a little bit. I feel very unintelligent compared to you because I’m incapable of communicating my feelings. I don’t do well when pople are gentle or caring with me because I instinctively assume it will be used against me at some point or another. To summarize, my level of sass correlates to the amount of fear I have.”

(My comment: You just communicated your feelings quite beautifully, my dear. Bravo for being brave enough to put it down on paper!)

A 40 something women’s reflections:

“Meeting and dating someone who’s schedule and general lifestyle is so completely different from what you know. Is it worth it?  I still don’t know.

For the first time in my life, I’m really challenging myself to give something/someone very different a shot. The way I see if, even if it doesn’t work out, it will have been worth it to try. In a very weird way, I am already stronger. I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to let it go and let it be. For a planner, this is the hardest thing to do and goes against all I know.  Ultimately,  it will end up just the way its supposed to. It’s like a line in the poem Desiderata:

‘And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. Max Ehrmann'”

(My comment: Another example of bravery. You go, girl!)


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Complications

I’ve heard a couple of comments lately about how sometimes I make choices that make my life more complicated and stressful. Perhaps my life is “as chaotic as I let it be.”

It’s true. To some extent, I have to admit it’s true.

On the other hand, I defend my choices. I invest in people. It’s the career I chose. I invest in my friends and family. Do I worry too much about other people’s feelings? Sometimes to my own detriment? It’s true. I’m sure I do. But if I’m going to make an error, I would rather it would be to care too much about others rather than not caring enough. Is that my choice? Yes, I guess it is.

The trick then, is to admit my stress and frustration without being a martyr. Women are generally prone to be martyrs. Sorry ladies, that’s just my opinion. So I think it’s ok to admit I’m hurt, or anger, or whatever, but also not be a victim. I make the choices I make and therefore have to live with the good and bad sides of those choices.

There has been lots of normal life stresses around here, just more than usual. The winter kicked my house’s butt. There has been a very long list of projects to do and things to fix. I have lots of people in my life who try to help me out in practical ways. Lots. I’m very lucky. Honestly though, if I had a lot more financial wiggle room, I truly think I would just hire people to do everything. I really would. Then I don’t have to bother anyone else. Life would be simpler. Easier. Less chaotic.

But I haven’t won the lottery yet so here I am. (Yes, I know I have to start playing the lottery in order to win it but I just haven’t got there.) Lots of people to help. Everyone has wicked schedules and their own jobs to do. When can they come? And everyone has a different idea of the best way to solve the problem. Those different solutions all have their own merits and drawbacks.

So my schedule is completely out of whack. People are here on and off all the time. I hurt people’s feelings without meaning to. They hurt mine. I assume they don’t mean to either. Personality differences. Skill differences. Time differences. All adds up to stress.

I guess I will keep making my choices, and I will keep living with the results that are both good and bad. And all those people in my life will have to make their choices too. Can they live with the way I do things? Or is it too crazy? And the people who I’m really close to, know me. They will listen to me, offer me a hug, and put up with my occasional whining. Because anyone that knows me, knows I would never ever hurt or frustrate anyone on purpose. They know I am DEEPLY grateful for all the things people help me with, even if I get frustrated sometimes. And they know that I will never stop investing in people. Nothing else is more important to me. And from my perspective, nothing else should be. Windows and paint and doors will come and go. People are what is eternal. I get it.

Happy Easter everyone!