How to Become Your Own Best Friend

Who is the person closest to you?

You see him every day, talk to him and about him, sleep with him, clean him up, applaud his successes and analyze his defeats. This individual knows more about you than you will ever know.

Maybe it’s time to make yourself into your own best friend, given all that intimacy.

I’ve listed 30 suggestions to get you started.

  1. Be entertaining company on your own. Inspect your personality and how you view the world compared to others. Seek new ideas, and pass the unaccompanied time with enjoyment. Go places and do things beyond your usual comfort zone, including solo explorations. Perhaps concerts, movies, parks, museums, and tours.  Don’t sit alone in quiet desperation.
  2. Be kind to who you are. Your life emerged without a display case from which to choose the attributes you wanted. You began with raw and imperfect materials of external creation. Improve them as you can, but don’t diminish what you have accomplished. In the words of Epictetus, “...as the (working) material of the carpenter is wood, and that of (a sculptor is) bronze, so the subject matter of the art of living is each person’s own life.
  3. Mistakes are inevitable. Master them. Please take steps to skip over their repetition.
  4. Putting others first must have limits. Decency doesn’t require one to be a human sacrifice. Self-compassion is not selfishness but the foremost necessity of life. You can only be helpful to others if you maintain the strength to do good. Generosity and kindness are not identical to placing yourself last in line. As a Christian colleague told more than one of her clients, “Get off the cross, we need the wood.”
  5. Become independent, assertive, and the best available defender of your ground. If another must serve as the guardian of your well-being, safety, and security, your dependency will be like an Achilles heel awaiting its fatal arrow. Be the advocate on your behalf.
  6. Pursue advice, so long as you don’t overdo it. Make sure of your advisors and how much to follow their suggestions.
  7. Look for excellent models. Those you admire might be appropriate, but celebrity should not be a necessary criterion.
  8. Read fine authors, the better to write with clarity and engage with all the great minds of civilization’s past. Recognize a book as a chance to uncover the author’s observations before you dispute them.
  9. Don’t overthink. Delay and avoidance offer no guarantee of improved decision-making. If you wait until you feel right and ready, don’t be surprised when speeding time stares down at you from a passing train, with your opportunity aboard. The next locomotive to the same destination could be canceled. Is there knowledge you must first acquire? Begin then to obtain it instead of waiting for divine intervention.
  10. Do not explain, excuse, or apologize because you believe someone else expects this. Such efforts betray insecurity. Discover when to wait and how to say no.
  11. Do not worry much about what others will say about you privately. They tend to be preoccupied with their foibles, not yours. As Marcus Aurelius wrote, “I have wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others...”
  12. Hold yourself to account. Look into the mirror. Do not turn away; instead, make sure to praise strengths and admit flaws.
  13. Allow love and kindness to emanate from your being. Live with both intelligence and an open heart. Those different from you also find existence challenging.
  14. Consider friendship with people unlike you as an opportunity. Hesitate before condemning the unfamiliar ones, those outside of your understanding.
  15. Learn, always learn. You will relearn the same lessons under new conditions with different solutions many times in any life. If you stay unchanged, you will be like a man watching history race by, missing the chance to be enlarged by time, thought, and experience.
  16. Pick your battles. When you swim in a pool of anger, you will drink its pollution, distressed when you could be joyful.
  17. Hold on to old friends. They share knowledge of your youth and lived through the trials and joys of growing up in the same place, at the same time, with the same teachers, and the same challenges. They alone have a personal recall of your parents and “the old neighborhood.”
  18. Misfortune and unhappiness will be overwhelming at times. Most of us eventually return to our usual level of well-being — to our set point.
  19. Contemplate whether you received more pleasure from experiences or things. Material objects tend to lose the boost they give us soon after receiving them. The new car smell fades, and the Christmas toy gets put away. 
  20. When hardship comes, remember how you survived earlier losses and what properties within you enabled you to bounce back.
  21. “But those who forget the past, ignore the present, and fear for the future have a life that is very brief and filled with anxiety...Their very pleasures are fearful and troubled by alarms of different kinds; at the very moment of rejoicing, the anxious thought occurs to them:How long will this last?‘” (Seneca, On the Shortness of Life).
  22. You will gain more from those who are learning more. Prioritize people who do not always insist on certainty but approach the world with many questions and are unafraid of complex answers.
  23. Disappointments needn’t always be someone’s fault. Expect ups and downs. Sometimes your frustrations are due to your mistakes. Often they are a function of a world where competition, another person’s trouble, the search for love, and simultaneous demands will pull you and the rest of humanity in directions no one expected, with collisions of your interests and theirs.
  24. Not everyone will love you, nor even like you. Accept that. Living means your heart will break, and you might bruise others’ hearts like a game of dominoes.
  25. You will not accomplish everything, travel everywhere, or “have it all.Practice gratitude for what you possess, displaying generosity to those you care about and even strangers. Make the best choices on matters of importance.
  26. Remember, you are not a “thinking machine,” but your emotions will try to persuade you that you are. As Antonio Damasio reminds us, “We are feeling machines that think.”* Make an effort to recognize this and enlarge the scope of your rationality.
  27. Laugh at the absurdity of the world and yourself.
  28. The world will test you. Then and only then will you know who you are. Fate is a hard teacher. Before your turn comes, be careful who you judge. Knowing yourself has value, not despite but because of the high price of its instruction.
  29. Empty your being of all your power, imagination, and grit. Use it up. To live a full life is to leave it with nothing undone or held back. In so doing, you can look back with satisfaction and a smile.
  30. Finally, Seth Stephens-Davidowtz offers this “data-driven answer to life,” only half-jokingly:Be with your love, on an 80-degree sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex.You can do much worse.

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The photo is A Warm Winter Pool, 2020, by Laura Hedien, with her permission: Laura Hedien Official Website.

*Thanks also go to Brewdun for pointing out the Antonio Damasio quotation in No. 26.

What is Your Legacy? The Simple Answer is Within Your Reach

The future is like a taxi driver awaiting our direction. “Where to?”

What we leave behind at the end of our trip — our legacy — attempts to answer the question, “When I pass the baton, what will the next runner receive?”

Does emphasizing personal success, outsized ambition, and individual prosperity leave something worth a lifetime?

Will a career of stature make the best life and legacy?

Here are two alternatives routes worth considering. The first is the path one woman pursued searching for “the good life.” The second adds you to the picture.

Really.

To begin, please read this eloquent description of the female I mentioned:

Legacies are hard things. As a teacher, you have no idea, usually, what’s going on on the other side of the table, and you won’t know for 20 years, 30 years, 50 years — you probably will never know what the lasting effects are, so I wouldn’t claim much. But I’ll say that Amy was an absolutely masterful teacher.

I was pretty good, but she was fabulous. And she was fabulous because if a student asked her a question, she turned it back on them. She didn’t feel obliged to give answers. She was there to make them think and think harder.

A student would say something, and if it was halfway good, she would say, “Another sentence …,” and it was flattering to the student to think they had another sentence in them, besides the best that they’d give you.

They searched for it, and they found it.

The other thing to say about her is that the women students, especially, saw and treasured in Amy the fact that she integrated naturally and easily a beloved life of teaching and learning, and a beloved life of marriage and family.

She wasn’t proving a point. She just did it. The students were invited into our home. They saw all aspects of her, and a lot of the students gravitated to her for this reason.

I am sure you realize the last sentence identifies the speaker as the husband of this remarkable educator. Amy Kass died in 2015, and the quotation comes from her mate, Leon Kass. If I listed all their combined achievements, you would be humbled, but they include books, civil rights activism, medicine, and much more. Concerning what her husband highlights, she was an instructor in the humanities at the University of Chicago.

What else do the words from the man tell us about his wife, the direction of her life, and the possibility of one’s own legacy?

He underlines a grace in her interactions with the young people who wished to learn from her. She lifted them by evoking their best — thoughts unexpressed but for her attempt to provoke their self-questioning, careful reading, and rejection of easy answers.

Amy Kass must have been the type of instructor you encounter once or twice in a lifetime — if you are lucky.

The kind you never forget.

Her partner mentions more than her professional attainments. He highlights how she lived, emphasizing her love for him and their family. She opened herself to other relationships out of her love of people.

As a professor of classics, she not only talked with her students about how thinkers in antiquity valued nobility of character, but she provided an effortless illustration in her everyday actions by being generous, eager, honorable, devoted, strong, and considerate in the classroom and beyond.

Now, the second answer I promised follows from the first. To leave a fine legacy, you needn’t become famous, make tons of money, or raise heroic children.

Attempt to match the guidance Marcus Aurelius, the ancient Roman emperor, gave himself:

No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be good. Like gold or emerald or purple repeating to itself, ‘No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be emerald, my color undiminished.’

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.15

This much — to be good — we all control. There is no need to listen to all the bullying or tempting voices which diminish or entice you.

The word legacy might sound too grand for such a modest approach to each day, but it is also brave. You will touch many lives and leave behind invisible traces of yourself by taking the advice of this statesman and Stoic philosopher.

Virtue is possible now, this instant, and all the time ahead of you. It is yours if you make it so. I’ll bet Amy Kass would have agreed.

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The painting is called School Teacher by Jan Steen. It is followed by Holger Ellgaard’s photo of the Carl Milles sculpture, Guds Hand (The Hand of God). They are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Recapturing the Joy of Childhood

Do you remember back when you were nine years old? How the prospect of turning 10 stood like a skyscraper, a monumental achievement, a towering number in two digits? You — yes, you — transformed into something larger, more important, closer to grown-upness?

For small children, imagination and reality exist on the same level. When you play a soldier, you turn into one. When you put on your Superman outfit, the fake muscles become real, and your thoughts take flight. A princess costume creates enchantment and elegance.

The magic mirror confirms, “You are the fairest of them all.

Playing these parts is unselfconscious, the pleasure joyous, the movements spontaneous. Summers seem endless, and the friends of every day never imagine a future without you.

Mom and dad demonstrate how to do things, read stories leading you to master the skill yourself, and are lovelier, brighter, and stronger than others who use the same pronouns.

The idea of illness never enters. The body housing you heals minor injuries in the time it takes for mom to give you a hug. Chicken soup and kisses serve as unfailing elixirs.

Limitless destiny carries the belief everything is achievable. Life (with the help of parents) offers gifts, birthday celebrations, prepared meals, and treats you like royalty. The guarantee of your guardians’ immortality and your own is never in doubt.


Gradually something happens. Imagination loses some of its footing while reality claims more of the ground. Spontaneity and uninhibited joy no longer arrive with the sunshine. Yet, the far side of childhood needn’t be as challenging as this sounds.

Yes, the magical healing power of mom’s touch has passed into yesterday, but other affections offer compensation.

Once middle-aged, long-standing friends don’t expect you to prove yourself. If you’ve done moderately well in pursuing your goals, achievements don’t insist on so much attention. Aches and pains may not be fun but are just the cost of living, companions reminding you to relish each instant.

Without childrearing responsibilities, more time exists to admire the sky and salute the moonlight. Meanwhile, experience has taught you the value of nature’s poetry and human kindness, evoking your gratitude. If you’ve largely escaped harm’s way, you recognize the life-enhancing necessity of giving something back, as well.

The delight of early life grows out of parental love, the dazzle of “first times,” and mastering the new world. In a sense, it also depends on the ignorance of life’s demanding adult future.

For those on the far side of youth, reclaiming joy requires something different. It asks for knowledge, not naivete: awareness of the inevitable end of things.

Recognizing that truth, all our remaining abilities and opportunities can grow in importance. We have the chance to learn and laugh, treasure precious friends and those we love even more, and savor nature’s beauty anew. They enlarge gratitude in what remains, so much of which was taken for granted before.

Life will never be perfect, but its imperfections provide perspective on what is essential at the day’s end. Chicagoans who remember Studs Terkel’s name will recall his gift of eliciting the best from the thousands he interviewed, the qualities we must seek for ourselves with age.

And, as if to remind us how to live, Studs always signed off his radio program with the words, “Take it easy, but take it.

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I am sure many of you have been moved by the human tragedies unfolding in Ukraine. Read more on how you can help Ukraine here.

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The sculpture is called Joy by Bruce Garner, located in Ottawa, Canada, as photographed by Jeangagnon. Beneath it is The Joy of Playing Together by Rasheedhrasheed. Both were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Of Clocks, Weddings, and Getting Cold Feet

It could have happened to you but probably didn’t.

The young man was 28 years old and in love with a 21-year-old beauty. His prospects were not great, but he finally landed a steady job at the Post Office near the end of an economic downturn.

Marriage was now possible; his intended said “yes,” and her parents gave their permission.

The next step was getting a marriage license.

The betrothed pair agreed to meet in downtown Chicago at Marshall Field and Co., now known as Macy’s. That block-long edifice faces State Street on the west, Randolph on the north, and Washington on the south.

The time was set. From “Field’s,” they would make the short walk to City Hall to obtain the legal document.

“We’ll meet under the store clock,” he’d said off-handedly. She quickly agreed.

The day came, and he arrived at the appointed time, right below the clock at Randolph and State as promised.

Only she wasn’t.

What happened? Why the delay? Was she injured?

Perhaps, she got cold feet.

Meanwhile, a lovely woman aged 21 stood at the corner of Washington and State.

She thought to herself, “What became of Milton? He’s so punctual. Where might he be? I’m standing under the clock as we agreed!

You see, a slight misunderstanding occurred. Marshall Field’s had two clocks, one at each State Street corner.

It wasn’t long before one or the other figured things out and walked toward the corner opposite. There was an embrace, a kiss, much relief, and the lovers proceeded a little late. The marriage license in hand, the wedding followed later that year.

Nineteen Forty, in case you’re wondering.

Both the bride and the groom showed up on time and in the right place.

My parents’ wedding.

How easily it could have gone wrong, in which case, you wouldn’t be reading this because I wouldn’t have written it. I’d not have been the product of “a twinkle” in my father’s eye, as he sometimes referred to me.

And my wife couldn’t have married a man who didn’t exist. Our kids and grandkids:poof,” along with my brothers, their children, grandchildren, etc.

Casio W-86 digital watch electroluminescent backlight (i)

Standing alone is hardly unheard of, whether at landmarks, dates, or the alter.

Take the 2005 media circus surrounding Jennifer Carol Wilbanks, who disappeared to avoid wedding bells, later falsely stating (to explain her absence) she had been abducted and sexually assaulted.

The worst tale I ever heard from one of the people involved concerned a “high society” ceremony. Big money, a glorious setting, gifts galore, newspaper photographers, and tons of people.

Everyone came other than the groom, who didn’t call ahead to cancel or apologize. Not by letter, e-mail, phone, or text, and certainly not face-to-face. Not ever.

And then I encountered an internet story of a young man who went through the wedding ceremony, only to startle the assembled crowd of well-wishers upon completion of the union.

He informed them of his intention to get an annulment the next day because of his new wife’s recent sexual escapade with the best man.

Moreover, the groom then whipped out photos to verify his report.

Now some would say, “everything happens for a reason,” and everything turns out well in the end.

I am not one of those people. I believe in accidents, lucky and unlucky, which seem to be randomly distributed despite our effort to avoid adverse events.

As far as happy endings are concerned, they happen, although not everything ends happily.

Still, we must make the best of things.

The humiliated young woman of the “high society” wedding did marry a man who loved her to pieces and showed up on the right day to prove it. They’ve been married forever, glued together in love. Sticky, I guess.

And, it’s hard to argue the fellow who promised annulment would have been better off attached to his temporary spouse.

Let’s hope they both learned something and went on to find happiness elsewhere.

In the end, when you are young, most setbacks are relatively brief, no matter how long the endless time seems.

Of course, whatever children might have emerged from the last two ill-starred matches never came to be.

A good thing? Not a good thing?

Did we miss the next baby Beethoven (who was born of a miserable marriage)?

I can’t say.

All I know for sure is that I’m glad my folks had enough confidence in their love to stick around and that one of them walked down the block in search of the other.

If not for that — well, you know.

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At the top, one of the two State Street clocks of the old Marshall Field and Co. store in Chicago, now known as Macy’s. The Macy’s photo is by DDima.

The second image is a Casio W-86 wristwatch photographed by Multicherry. Both of the pictures were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Finding the Balance between Effort and Surrender

Wisdom turns up in unexpected places. Who said, “Life exists somewhere between effort and surrender”?

The legendary and still active 44-year-old quarterback in the National Football League, Tom Brady, might be the most recent.

Many discovered this before him, including Danielle Orner:

Life is a balance between what we can control and what we cannot. I am learning to live between effort and surrender.
I imagine the Buddhists came up with something similar long ago.

How does this apply to therapy?
 


The most distressed of my patients — the joyless ones — inhabited one end or the other. Those who took the effort to an extreme sometimes achieved material or professional success but almost always encountered repeated frustration to obtain it.

Their singular focus also entailed costs for marriage and family.

A number of these, usually men, tackled life as if on the playing field where the domination of the opposition demanded mastery. They viewed problems as a series of obstacles to be overcome to the point of relentlessness. Such individuals were formidable but not easy to live with.

Openness, they believed, revealed weakness.
 
Serenity lay beyond their reach, leading to treatment.
The ones who specialized in surrender gave in to fear out of a lack of confidence and a punishing history. The human beings they encountered fell into the category of potential deliverers of harm, a kind of enemy army. Intimacy and emotional risk lived in the same category.

The safest way of surviving, as they believed, was to trust no one. Pets frequently provided warmth people didn’t.
 
In each of these cases, the counselor’s job is to ask the patient the cost of their favored strategy. If they identify the price, treatment goes forward. A bumpier path lies ahead if the individual has not reflected on the downside.

More than a few continue to defend their preferred choice. They will, perhaps, encounter more emotional pain or disappointment before choosing to make necessary alterations in their style of living. They might require reflection upon why they decided to be the person they are. However, a clear decision might not have occurred since none of us know our motives in every detail.

Many of my clients found their approach to life as children or teens. The solution appeared as the best available choice for the circumstances of the time, place, and people who surrounded them. I’m speaking of parents, relatives, schoolmates, and teachers. Keeping your head down and avoiding attention developed into a necessity for survival.

Time and experience reveal less satisfaction in the course of their lives. To the extent they become aware of the limitations growing out of their existing style, a search begins to remedy their discontent.

The world had changed around them, and the behavioral choices of decades past came to provide less profit and more loss. It was as if the new tires they put on their human vehicle years ago became threadbare.

With enough pain, the motivation to seek a better way ahead emerges.
 
 
But what of the balance between effort and surrender? That idyllic place is a moving target. Always.

I once asked Rick Taft, who managed investments for a living, whether he believed the stock market would rise or fall. “It will fluctuate,” he said.
 
This is true for stocks and most everything else. Just as the weather changes, we retain no promise of health, happiness, wealth, or much else. But if we can stop depending on a smooth life course, we have taken the first step toward emotional balance.
 
Without a single, permanent, satisfying spot between effort and surrender, what then? Here are ten suggestions:
  • Take opportunities where and when they arise. Doors open, but not always more than once.
  • Recognize the only unchanging experience in life is change. You cannot freeze the planet or our bodies in place, as the climate reminds us. Learn to become a tightrope walker on a windy day.
  • You do not have to take every opportunity, but take more than are comfortable if your nature is hesitant. Pull back instead if those instincts tend to push you to jump without looking.
  • Life will unsettle you, as it does to all of us. Resolve to reach for joy in small things, lest the inevitable unfairness of some days wrecks your disposition.
  • No one thinks about you as much as you believe. Others spend too much time with a miniature version of themselves buzzing around their brains. The focus outside of themselves emerges less often, except in moments of outsized feelings like love, hate, and fear. Therefore, don’t worry endlessly about looking foolish and making mistakes, lest you recall embarrassment long after the crowd has moved on.
  • You’ll grow more if you do more and find some exhilaration in daunting moments, balanced or not.
  • Learn to meditate, beginning in a calm and quiet circumstance when possible. Daily practice centered on your breath (as the top video suggests) reduces your chance of being swept away by a stiff breeze or worse.
  • No one figures out their life. Few of us fully display our pain and confusion. Do not be fooled by appearances.
  • If you can find a tender and consoling hand, reach for it. If you see a needy soul, extend your own to them.
  • Smile and laugh. Most of our worries don’t become a reality, and among those that turn out as we feared, a remedy might be found with time and effort.

We live in transit — in a perpetual transition, no matter its static appearance. A man in a train moving at a steady pace has no sense of forward motion except when he looks out the window. An observer outside the train, however, wouldn’t be in doubt about the fellow’s progress.

With the above in mind, think of life as a series of alternatives. The midpoint between them should not always be your target:

    • Sleeping — waking.
    • Seriousness — laughter.
    • Learning — teaching.
    • Following — leading.
    • Being for yourself — being for others.
    • Head — heart.
    • Action — contemplation.
    • With people — alone.
    • Reading — writing.
    • Contemplation — spontaneity.
    • Being in the moment — being conscious of yourself.
    • Looking back — looking forward.
    • Listening — speaking.
    • Getting — spending.
    • Indoors — outdoors.
    • Accumulation of material things — reaching for experiences.
    • Assertion — passivity.
    • Diving in — waiting.

Are you disappointed I have not offered you a simple answer to this puzzle?

Sorry, I am too busy working it out for myself, searching for each day’s new balance!

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Beneath the top video are the following images, in order:

  1. An 1891 poster from Wikimedia Commons of Félicia Mallet by Jules Chéret.
  2. Tears of Blood  by Oswaldo Guayasami.
  3. An incredible view of Lake Misurina, Italy, from History Daily.
  4. The Example of One Choice Question, a screenshot simulation from the TV show Are You Smarter Than the Primary School Students? Taiwanese version. The picture’s author is 竹筍弟弟 (talk) from Wikimedia Commons.

    On Adult Attachment to Children

    There is nothing like the wordless sadness of a beautiful face dear to you. I’m referring to the small, huggable, wide-eyed ones when overtaken by uncertain illness.

    “Mine!” is one of his favorite words, claiming property his bigger brother shows an interest in. The malady, however, offered nothing he wanted to keep.

    The upbeat mood of the smiling, sweet-as-chocolate cherub melts in a few minutes. Energy departs, spirit evaporates, words transmute into inexpressable discomfort. The flush of heat rises, but the body descends.

    The sick two-year-old loses his chatter.

    My youngest grandson does not reach for a hand — doesn’t lead you to a toy, or a place, or try to have you for himself instead of sharing you with his six-year-old brother.

    It must be tough to be a little fellow, hard to make your imperfect utterances understood.

    Now he wants the hugs only a mom and dad can supply — seeks their comfort and embrace, the safety he can’t describe.

    You watch this happen. COVID fertilizes your fear, growing like Jack’s speedy beanstalk. The concern is new, though other epochs had their own dangers — smallpox, polio, plague …

    The moppet slumps into slumber. You depart, but the precious person grips your heart, now shadowed by a cloud.

    The day passes. Your wife’s sleep is fitful.

    The golden boy holds the sorrowful power to instill worry.

    Daughter #2, his mother, sends a message early the next day.

    A long nap, his parents’ knowing, double-duty attention, food, and more sleep sweep the danger away. The tentative all-clear sounds.

    The news makes the sun shine brighter today. The superpowers of small children extend to the stars.

    Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.”

    What the writer didn’t say might have also been spoken about love. We are held fast by our loves, the closest friends, our offspring, and our grandkids, too.

    Those attachments can do far worse to us than the bit of concern we had that day. Much, much worse. Many near misses and joys await. Best not to borrow trouble.

    But this two-year-old deserves credit. His bounce-back brought the sky’s warmest blue. Only the dearest hearts inside you do this. He sprinkles fairy dust and doesn’t even know it.

    ==============

    The first photo dates from 1934 and was published in Modern Screen magazine in 1950. The two-year-old girl is Elizabeth Taylor, with her mother Sara Sothern and brother Howard.

    The second image was taken by Rita Martin and shows an unnamed child in 1912. Both of the photographs were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

    Love and Where We Find It, Including the Therapist’s Office

    Our feelings are attached to places and dates, dates in both senses of the term. People with a good memory can even tell you the room or moment when particular words were spoken — when the mood or lighting altered because a relationship changed.

    First meetings, last meetings, and relational drama become almost like a portion of the architecture and appearance of the place where they happened. The spot takes on an emotional resonance out of proportion to what a stranger would notice.

    No wonder the counselor’s office becomes part of your alliance with him. Even your time slot in his schedule organizes your life and attaches to the experience of therapy. His consulting room is not just a place where memories are uncovered but where they are made.

    If you’ve ever owned a home or lived anywhere for a long while, you may have returned soon after you left. Maybe your route from work put you on the old path without thinking.

    Others go back consciously, though not sure what draws them. Some want to revisit an unforgotten ineffable quality associated with this material segment of their history. Or perhaps they still search for the events that happened there or the one or ones with whom they occurred.

    The evoked sentiments loom larger than the manufactured creation. They make the edifice small by comparison.

    —–

    An older woman I know, someone I am close to, visited Chicago decades after leaving for the suburbs, then California, and finally Nebraska. When arriving her first time back, she wanted to see the old neighborhood we both inhabited and the “other house” where her teenage years transpired.

    This charming lady’s youth and home life were troubled, but not so for the earliest years near my family. Her parents wished to rise in the world, motivating their departure from the north side of the “Windy City.”

    The dad, in particular, had been marked by poverty. Adult ambition took them all to a posh Chicago suburb, where parental conflict, poor parenting, debt, and the father’s illness and early death damaged everyone. The best part of her life remained back in the old dwelling on Talman Avenue, the street where I knew her.

    The status-driven designer house was supposed to make all their lives better, but when our tour stopped in front of it, the recollections embedded in the place bubbled up. A flood of tears followed. Once she caught her breath, she said, “For this.”

    For this?

    They’d moved from a location where she had friends and felt accepted and acceptable, where her parents got along with each other: a place where the idea of home meant safety.

    The exit from West Rogers Park leading to the family’s new chapter became a loss, not the betterment expected. The ensuing unhappiness tied itself to the new site.

    The finer set of walls, rooms, and a circular driveway brought no satisfaction, no lofty place in the world. This was the graveyard of hope, not its fulfillment.

    The therapist sometimes enables people to feel they are worthy of love after a lifetime of believing they are broken, ugly, or stupid — “too sensitive,” disturbed, or weak. The fact of being valued can cause outsized affection, transference, perhaps love of the one who assisted in the process.

    When the treatment ends, it isn’t uncommon for the client to wish to take something physical — a small piece of its contents, a “thing,” but one containing personal meaning.

    This desire is similar to small children holding on to their blanket or a stuffed animal to calm them when the parent isn’t available. But saying goodbye to the counselor is different.

    The article given by the clinician is a transitional object and also something more, intended to preserve indescribable emotions indefinitely. Mom and dad return, but from the healer, there is a parting.

    Momentos needn’t be beautiful to carry the significance of the people and moments we retrieve from those inanimate creations, the sentiment they offer. We also remember places, sometimes unremarkable, because of those beside us when we were there — the beloved parents, partners, and pals of our lives.

    —–

    When the Madison and Wabash elevated train platform underwent deconstruction and remodeling, I could not look at it without recalling my dad. He and I stood on the now-discarded wooden planks many times and at many different ages.

    I doubt I will ever see that station without thoughts of him, though the boards on which we trod have disappeared.

    I imagine there are such locations in your life. They become part of us.

    Are the things intended to catch lightning in a bottle — the electric charge of human contact?

    The best possible “bottle” evokes emotion in touch with the heart. Perhaps, too, “sessions of sweet silent thought,” as Shakespeare would say.

    When you are old and ridding yourself of worn-out objects and stuff of no value, I suspect you will keep those beyond price because they carry this special kind of magic.

    ====================

    The photo of the old Madison and Wabash “L” (Elevated Train) Station is the work of David Wilson. The image was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

    For those who don’t know the Chicago “Loop,” the term first referred to the area within the “L” train’s loop-like route around the city’s downtown center.

    Erotic Transference and the Fantasy Lives of Therapists

    My father, a man of uncommon decency, kept an issue of Playboy Magazine in the closet he used for his overcoats. I discovered this item while snooping around the house, not expecting that. The featured model was Jayne Mansfield.

    This happened in the late 1950s, long before the unending pornographic video flood undercut the thrill of “dirty photos.US citizens of the time lived in a post-Victorian, white man’s dream world, just prior to birth control pills and the sexual revolution. Then they continued in a non-Victorian, more sexualized version of the same thing.

    I was old enough to fathom why a man might be interested in perusing color pictures of the famous blond beauty in all her air-brushed nakedness. I put the magazine back as dad left it, never confessed my discovery, and didn’t try to interrogate.

    If my sire had fantasies despite sleeping next to the woman of his dreams every night, I imagined everyone did.

    Therapists do, too.

    I notice beautiful women still and didn’t close my eyes when they entered the office for psychotherapy. Another psychologist mentioned such beauties energized him, helped him focus his attention on “the person” behind the attractive face and form.

    Hmm.

    This man maintained an active sex life, by the way. To my knowledge, he didn’t engage in affairs with his patients but acquired a reputation for more than a few of the extramarital variety at one of the hospitals where we both practiced.

    Counselors are not eunuchs. Acquiring a license to practice doesn’t require neutering.

    We “notice,” and some few do more than take in the visual, feminine glories of the natural world despite ethical codes forbidding the mix of romantic engagement with those who come with personal problems.

    Intimacy with a therapist is never the solution to those problems, though some professionals persuade themselves it is a different manner of “helping.In case you haven’t realized it yet, we homo sapiens can convince ourselves of anything, justifying murder, robbing our kids of their credit cards, and more.

    I can’t tell you I never fantasized about the women I treated. I don’t recall doing so, however. But then, we don’t remember every dark night dream of body and soul, do we?

    Did I have those fantasies or not? I still can’t be certain. Most of the time, I compartmentalized or separated home from work. What fantasies I do recollect didn’t derive from doctor-patient interaction.

    I never overstepped professional limits, despite invitations offered in straightforward confessions of love from female clients. These included one lovely who brought a kit of sex toys and a variety of condoms to a session and proceeded to unload them on my desk.

    The topic of sexual transference continues to pull in readers to my blog, as well as the writing of others. The humans alive today, every one of us, are here because the drive to procreate remains in the DNA passed to us and through us.

    I heard females, a limited number, mention our sessions stimulated their lubrication.

    I recall another dear person I referred to a different psychologist because we couldn’t resolve and move beyond her transference, aka, her obsessive wish to be my lover.

    In our final meeting, she asked for a parting hug. Weeks before, she presented a pencil drawing of me holding her. Since I couldn’t predict how far she might take an embrace, I refused. Anger followed.

    Another woman, paradoxically, could not have been further from capturing my interest. She did refer to her satisfying sex life with her husband, but this wasn’t what prompted her to consult me. Nor was the brief report remarkable.

    I found nothing stimulating in her intellect, personality, appearance, or her way of walking or moving, speaking or smiling. She didn’t flirt and didn’t wear revealing clothing. I guess the lady was in her 40s or early 50s.

    And yet, I felt drawn to her. By the process of elimination, I can only conclude she produced an oversupply of pheromones.

    My boundaries and respect for those who requested guidance stopped me from considering the pursuit of touch outside those limitations, as did my love for my wife and a set of clear principles. I never needed to think about potential public humiliation, financial ruin, and vocational catastrophe.

    None of this makes me a saint, in case you wondered. If you can find one, let me know.

    But, I heard a few stories from men who did destroy their lives and those of their victims.

    Two of my patients, defrocked former ministers, sought my services because they’d taken advantage of their religious authority and charismatic charm with multiple members of their separate congregations. One still retained an imposing presence and a powerful voice, a capacity he’d used to deliver stirring sermons. His shame was almost palpable.

    Another man I’m thinking of, a doctor, employed several ex-patients in his office of female employees. Those with whom I spoke all admired him, but people in authority who provide treatment to a person in distress often receive this kind of attachment and appreciation.

    This is what erotic transference tends to involve. The transferential object needn’t be Brad Pitt or whoever is the latest heartthrob.

    Well, the odd man I’m describing owned lots of “presence,” an indefinable quality of strength or self-assertion, self-confidence, or magnetism setting an individual apart from others. One might describe it as an aura of sorts.

    Most of humanity becomes invisible in a crowd, while those with “presence” stand out no matter their size.

    Thus, perhaps it should be without surprise to discover the physician I’m describing took one of his employees, a former patient of course, into his office about once a week.

    The couch doubled as a foldout bed. If you entered his “castle” after she exited, the scent of sex remained.

    Back to me. I confess I sometimes could be a bit too attentive to the faces and bodies seeking psychological assistance. At least my eyes were. As a psychologist, you need to remind yourself of what you are doing, what your duty is and return your attention to the patient’s needs.

    This isn’t difficult if your role remains well-defined internally. Most get this right, I suspect. Otherwise, malpractice insurance costs would be closer to those of medical specialists.

    Patients test therapists. Not all, but some of those whose life histories included soul-breaking physical and emotional violations.

    A few push their new doctor with displays of anger or intimate provocation. They come to the consulting room with memories of people who appeared kind and turned cruel, the ones who offered comfort as an avenue to their own carnal and controlling advantage.

    These injured folks don’t want to be hurt again. They plan attire and enticement to assure themselves the kindly and wise Dr. Jekyll won’t become Mr. Hyde. I also encountered a couple of traumatized women who brought small knives into the office in an attempt to menace me.

    Safety and testing take many shapes. It can also serve to control the practitioner, rather than submitting to control by him.

    I’ve read nothing about erotic transference and countertransference (when the counselor experiences a desire to pursue a client) specific to the new virtual, computer-mediated age of treatment.

    It will be interesting if research informs us whether the power of transference can jump over and through the Zoom screen. I imagine it sometimes can.

    From a distance of 10 years since retirement, my take on all this is that we psychologists and other helping professionals cannot but bring the whole of our humanity and personality into our vocation. Knowing yourself well as a healer means you should keep your focus and actions in check.

    Of course, we are human, and humans do many things they shouldn’t. Be grateful, then, to find those talented professional souls who don’t, no matter their line of work.

    ======================

    The first photo is of Ingrid Bergman and Mathias Wieman in a promotional shot from the 1954 movie Fear. The following image is a screenshot of Eva Marie Saint from On the Waterfront, also of the same year. Finally, a screenshot of Audrey Hepburn in War and Peace, a 1956 movie. All are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

    Why I (Still) Write Blog Posts

    I began this blog in 2009. The driving reason was to leave my thoughts to my children for whatever they might find worthwhile, especially after taking off for the great beyond if such a place exists. This was not my sole motive to scribble, however.

    As they all recognize, writers write out of inner necessity, an activity so essential to their being they cannot do otherwise for long. Some hope for fame, but few outlast the memory of their name if that. I never embraced their goal.

    Offering your written words to the reading world takes a small bit of courage since not everyone will agree with what you say. With few, if any, ideas not thought or said by the best minds of our past, one needs ego to believe your new material will stand out with anything new.

    Part of what justifies the idea of presenting personal observations despite all the brilliant writers of yesterday is the time in which we live. Every human life exists within a unique moment and place, no matter the similarities to all the history preceding us.

    A few decades ago, a Ford Foundation study concluded the daily New York Times contained more information to process than the average sixteenth-century man had to consume in his lifetime. Wow!

    The thought is astonishing until one recognizes who the gentleman was: a creature who couldn’t read or write, never got far from home, lived and died in the blink of an eye, and performed the same repetitive tasks without end.

    No TV, computer, Internet, either, not even choices of toothpaste. Just flowers at weddings to make sure the new pair didn’t overpower each other with an unpleasant odor.

    We live in a moment when the speed of change leaves us dazzled, dazed, delighted, or distressed, depending. Thus, I can rationalize my words as fitting for the time you and I share.

    I also write for other reasons. The first of these would be the help or enjoyment the posts give to some readers. The second is praise, though I’m pretty self-sustaining without it.

    Another, and this is significant, the act of composing keeps my brain active and focused away from occasional dystopian reflections I can’t escape about the world’s current state. Furthermore, the task of assembling sentences gets my mind off the usual worries and personal concerns none of us can avoid without something else to do.

    Many use drugs as a distraction to help with this. Lots of folks get comfort from prayer. In addition to writing, I employ meditation and study, conversation, human companionship, love, comedies, and helping those I can when I can.

    An unexpected bonus has been the correspondence I’ve had with a handful of individuals. I took joy from meetings with four of them I didn’t already know. Homo sapiens fall in love online; why shouldn’t they fall into friendship, too?

    Another reward was a surprise gift from a person I did know, who made a book for me out of my writings up to the moment she presented it. She is a dear heart, as I’m certain are many of those whose comments in response to my work reveal their humanity.

    I now have two young grandchildren, boys. Like most of you who reproduced, the children’s health, not gender, was all I cared about. Yet, I’m glad I have the chance to watch these spirited souls grow up and to aid a bit in the process. Thus, I set down words for them, as well.

    I am aware I repeat myself — duplicating points I made among the over 600 published titles you can find here in the Archives. Inevitable, I suppose.

    I also change my mind or discover research findings not available when I started the compelling hobby. I’d argue the fellow who began 12 years ago has been altered by moving into a new version of body and brain as we all do as we age, aware or not.

    Those changes of heart, soul, additional experience, and reflection will take you places you never imagined going. Therefore, my posts have also changed.

    For those who continue to read me, I’m forever amazed and grateful to the people who’ve consumed about everything in these electrified white and black pseudo-pages. I’m pleased, too, new arrivals find their way here, despite my lack of presence on conventional social media.

    So, my thanks to each of you for hanging out with me. I hope to be doing this for a while yet.

    ——

    Another person I met online: Laura Hedien, Storm Cloud Photography. With her permission, the two works used above are Supercell in Nebraska, 2021, and Sunflare, sunset in N.D, 2021. As always, I’m grateful to have made the connection with her and appreciate her generosity.