Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Middle Ground… Well, Almost

As I continue to think about what I blogged about last week – i.e. how much do I invest? – I read an interesting article by Marilyn Washburn, who was writing about the work she does with people who are in grief. “The more ‘involved’ I became, the more deeply I loved the people I served, the more I came to know them and advocate for them, the more deeply I mourned their deaths, the healthier I became, emotionally and certainly spiritually.” (italics mine.)

I was trying to explain something similar to a client this week. We were discussing what possible good purpose there might be in looking back at your history/childhood. I was trying (feebly) to describe how as humans we have a spectrum of emotions. Some have a very narrow margin, others have a large rainbow. But the key is, you can’t develop one end without developing the other. In other words, you can only experience as much joy as you are willing to experience sadness or pain as well. However you choose to expand or constrict your emotions on either end is going to change the opposite side.

Boundaries is one of my least favorite concepts. I understand the necessity of them, but for some reason with my personality and belief system, my boundaries are often a bit blurry. That works well for some people, not so well for others. The same author said later in her article, “…I became convinced that the boundaries meant to insulate me from pain and hurt only obstructed my care for others as well as my being healed by others’ care.” Boy, can I completely identify with that.

So I want to shout, “To hell with it all! I’m just going to love and care deeply and bear the pain it brings!” But like I said last week, I’m not sure that is quite the answer. I will never change the core of my being. It is possible though, to tweak things. And maybe even tweak them significantly. I won’t ignore the tough stuff, and I will never be a loner. But I am slowly seeing that I am handling things a bit differently. I’m learning not to accommodate everyone else and their issues to my own detriment as much. I probably go overboard sometimes as I’m learning something “new,” but I hope the people in my life grant me a little grace as we go through some growing pains. Quite honestly, at the risk of sounding like a big jerk, I think I’ve earned that. I’ve spent most of my life giving a thousand percent. I should be allowed to blunder like everyone else does without it being catastrophic to the relationship (whatever type of relationship it is).

Kind of describing finding a middle ground, being more moderate. But I also know deep down, who am I kidding? I will never be truly in the middle. I will always err on the side of loving and caring a bit too much, trying a bit too hard. But that is the way my heart beats. I will keep tweaking (so look out!) and strive for balance, but I don’t want to lose what makes me me.


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The Extra Mile- Is It Worth It?

Henri Nouwen said the following:

“Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause. When those you love deeply reject you, leave you, or die, your heart will be broken. But that should not hold you back from loving deeply. The pain that comes from deep love makes your love ever more fruitful. It is like a plow that breaks the ground to allow the seed to take root and grow into a strong plant… Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.”

This has always been my philosophy. I may not have been able to articulate it as such, but I think it is the way I have usually lived and conducted my life. Several years ago when I was introduced to the Eneagram and discovered I was personality type number four, I was given another layer of understanding. Fours will take agony over nothing because it makes you feel alive and not invisible. I had more words to articulate my personality and philosophy.

The last couple of years though, I find myself questioning whether or not I want to continue to make decisions based on the “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” theory. I’m not talking only about romantic relationships, but the way I have approached every aspect of my life. Give with all my heart because that is who I am. That is how I am wired.

Truth is, I love living my life that way. I’m actually proud of it. I got the extra proverbial mile. Okay, let’s face it, I go thousands of extra miles, as a mom, step-mom, therapist, family member, friend. When I was very young, I remember my mom saying that I give so much of myself, which is fine until I expect others to give back the same. When they don’t I get crushed. She understood me from the very beginning. And it’s the line in Henri Nouwen’s quote about being rejected, abandoned, or left by death that gets to me. I love giving passionately. That is, until it hurts. Then I question the whole way I conduct my life.

In my practice, I have often gone beyond the normal expectations. I will do a home visit if someone has lost their license, has a bad back, or suffered a particularly difficult trauma. I have given several free sessions for different circumstances. I have attended weddings, funerals and other meaningful events when requested to do so. I don’t charge for those extra phone calls between sessions or for letters to be written. And I do it because I want to. I do it because it is how my heart beats. Then I do something- less than perfect, or not what is anticipated, or whatever it may be, and the client gets angry or upset, and drops out of therapy. It may or may not be accompanied by a torrent of harsh words. I know professionally that this happens. But regardless of any intellectual knowledge I have, it still knocks the wind out of me. Years of going out of my way and doing all the extras are forgotten because one ounce of upset negates several tons of love and compassion.

Or perhaps it is my family. As a step-mom, I vowed on my wedding day to seek to love my non-biological children as much as any biological children I had. I know there is a difference, but my goal was to minimize that difference as much as was in my power to do so. And anyone that knows me, knows I have kept that vow. Of course I’ve made mistakes and I’m far from perfect. But I have been there. I have sacrificed and interrupted my life innumerable times. I have given on some occasions, far more than any biological family members have given them. I have opened up my home dozens and dozens of times to my husband’s FORMER wife and her family over and over again in order to make things comfortable for the kids. And I don’t mind… that is, until I get hurt or attacked or whatever. Then I wonder if I should make different choices.

I could go on and on but you get the point. I am challenged all the time by my professional peers, counselors that care about me, friends that love me- that perhaps I need to not always go that extra mile. Disappointment and hurt are part of the human condition and are inevitable. But is it possible that it might hurt a little less if I haven’t gone so far beyond the call of duty when it happens?

I don’t have any answers. I just keep wondering and thinking and wondering and thinking about it. But part of me also wonders if it is a futile exercise. The bottom line is, I don’t know if I am capable of living any other way. Sure, we can tweak things a bit, but overall? I’m not sure I know how to relate to the world in any other way but the intense way in which I do. I can provide evidence of ways that I have been a bit more self-protective and held back a bit so as to learn from the lessons I have encountered in my life. But overall? I will probably always love deeply like Henri Nouwen says.

I have met a few people who have chosen NOT to allow themselves to love deeply. They will not risk it. They just won’t. I adore them, but know I will be kept at a certain distance. It makes me sad, but then I have to admit, they seem happier than I am on a consistent basis. They are more alone, but they also don’t experience the aggravation and hurt as often. If I am totally honest, part of me is even envious of them. I wish I could distance myself and protect myself more.

Again, I’ve made some progress. I’m slowly, slowly learning how to be slightly more judicious in how I put myself out there. But the bottom line is, you never know when you invest how it is going to end. Just like with being an advocate, you don’t know when you will be successful so you just have to keep trying. And I will keep trying to take better care of myself, but in the big picture, I will probably keep loving deeply and keep praying for that fruit to show itself. Sometimes I just need a different perspective to see the fruit that is there, but sometimes there just isn’t any there to see. Somehow, I will seek to love deeply, but maybe more smartly too.