Therapists live in a world of ideas and experience that has become their “common sense,” so familiar to them it constitutes the fabric of their being. Yet counselors hesitate to offer such knowledge at treatment’s start.
Were they to do so they’d not get the opportunity to find out who you are; and which of those considerations must be knit into the garment of treatment the two of you will share.
Beginnings are not managed best by giving you a lecture or assigning you a reading. Creation of a relationship and safety come first.
Here then are a few notions perhaps unfamiliar to you. No psychologist’s list but mine:
- We all edit ourselves, refine our self-presentation to suit conditions. Once we commence crossing out words, erasing opinions, using white-out on our outline, there may soon be nothing left of us. Whomever is the artificial creature created by hiding the ink-stained unsightliness, public applause for the fiction we’ve fashioned will be less satisfying than if we present truth and receive approval, at least from inside.
- The therapist not only discloses little about himself to avoid getting in the way of the transference. He retreats from imparting his own wisdom — an uncontestable opinion on everything. The patient must find his own. Note, I just violated that rule. Doctor/patient obligations don’t apply here. Neither are my opinions all unassailable.
- Counseling can make you worse.
- Your life won’t be ideal when you say goodbye to the clinician. Disappointment, stress, and death find everyone. Gridlock and rain foil your picnic plans. Your heart will break, desires go unfulfilled, the snow cancels your flight. But comes the day when summer marches in and hope may yet find a runway.
- No two will ever establish a perfect bond together, but much is possible between well-matched people who do the winning of their love over and over.
- Those among us who build ramparts against danger reduce the chance of growth and dazzling surprise. Injury is inescapable even in a lifetime of hiding. Homo sapiens learn to manage risk or else resemble ostriches: still vulnerable despite burying a part of their essence before they die.*
- Most of the planet is covered with average people. If, through natural talent or effort you can make something more of yourself, you will stand higher than your peers.
- Accept people whole or reject them whole. The majority change around the edges, inches at a time, if at all. Few (short of a profound course of personality remaking or a transformative life event) will alter more than moderately.
- No man or woman can be an expert surgeon who carves out unlikable parts of others and leaves the rest intact. Imitate the architect instead: one who recognizes a column of support, a load bearing beam essential to a building’s integrity. Remove such a part of a person you otherwise admire leaves sawdust and splinters, wreaking what made him admirable.
- The most heroic clients begin in pursuit of a wise man’s guidance and end by leading the way, overcoming everything.
- Life, not your counselor, demands metamorphosis. Each person develops adaptive styles to fit his early place and time. He comes to therapy older and off balance: like riding upon the tread of once useful tires now worn away, no longer holding the road. Without their replacement he will crash.
- Statis is not achievable or desirable. Each of us must adapt to a transforming world, a changing body, a different moment in history; a new set of relationships, situations, and requirements. Contentment requires “getting used to not getting used to things.” (Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain ).
- People are far more concerned with themselves than with you. Your embarrassing moments pass unnoticed or speed into forgetfulness. Of course, this was more true before everyone bought a camera phone.
- Few of us understand each other well. We peer at neighbors as if through sun glasses in the darkened room of our own experience alone. Most don’t take the time to acquire the psychological expertise to do better. In any case, we must start by understanding ourselves. People tend to believe they do — their first mistake.
- Therapists search for maladaptive behavior patterns patients are repeating. Repetition of your parents’ mistakes also happens. You might follow in their ill-placed footsteps to reach similar goals and befriend similar people. Beware. Their mission is not yours, no matter your genetic likeness.
- With each added excuse you give for your acts or utterances you betray more insecurity. Even if the excuses you give are to yourself.
- Silence is necessary. Quiet is the needed background for the words you wish to place in the foreground. Conversation is not a test of rapid response time. Eye contact serves better than talking too much.
- The more conventional you are, the more difficult to understand someone who is unconventional. The more unconventional you are the more you will be misunderstood.
- Words are limited. Words are also needed. Ludwig Wittgenstein described their limits this way: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” All that most matters in life is beyond verbalization. Thus, analysis of beauty and love take us only so far. Intuition comes nearest to the indescribable.
- The more logical you are, the harder to understand someone who is emotional. The more you believe you approximate complete rationality, the more you are wrong. The more you think humans are skin-covered computers, the more you misunderstand humanity. We often reach our decisions instinctively and emotionally. A heartbeat later reasons appear, but we credit the rationalized motives with authorship of the decisions.**
- Everyone prefers simple explanations. Conduct sometimes has a single cause, but much of what we do is multi-determined or overdetermined. That is, more than one factor influences our actions and attitudes. For example, you want money to live, but use it to impress. Perhaps it makes you more secure, improves your self-worth, and wins companionship, as well.
- Those who realize they (and their fellow-men) are not always rational own an advantage. They question superficial reasoning. This recognition is itself an important piece of knowledge.
- Be wary of intimate disclosure too soon — in or out of session. You might frighten someone away. Or be terrified by the naked feelings and thoughts you released . Reinvention involving affective expression is best done gradually.
- “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” (Friedrich Nietzche).
- On the other hand, ” To see something as a whole one must have two eyes, one of love and one of hate.” (Nietzche again).
- Living in the moment is dangerous, not living in the moment is torturous. Outside of the moment you will be lost too often in self-made agony: swallowed by regret, wrapped with trepidation, or worried what others think. Within a joyous instant, by contrast, self-consciousness disappears, clocks dissolve, and everything else falls away. Ego is abandoned to the eternity of an episode transcending time. The concern here, however, is that your alert system is also discarded, leaving you exposed.
- Master meditators suggest the solution to life distress is not to judge the circumstances (piling pain on pain), but accepting your condition as it is. Yet they spend lots of time meditating as opposed to existing in the arena, don’t they?
- The species to which we belong can rationalize anything. Consider your friends. Eyeball yourself in the mirror. Even if you have been tested and think you passed, remember who scored the exam: you did.
- Be an enemy of routine. Give the now everything you have, lest the slicing second-hand of the clock wastes you and your time.
- Move toward something, not just away. Be for something, not against everything.
One more. Look up. At architectural wonders, at the powder blue sky. Down at all the small creatures and growing things. Watch the passing beauties of a world in motion. Do not allow your sophistication to impede perception. Hold fast to childlike wonder. Accept joy where it is given.
The chestnut by the eaves
In magnificent bloom
By men of the world.***
Moral: do not allow the chestnut “in magnificent bloom” to go “unnoticed.”
The top photo (untitled) is the work of the author, 2018.
*Ostriches have gotten a bad rap. They do not bury their heads in the sand to avoid danger or for any other reason. Asphyxiation would be the result. Rather, they dig underground using their head to fashion a nest for their eggs. Beyond this, they also stick their heads into the nest to turn the eggs.
** See Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.
*** Haiku from Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Bashō, 1694.