Archives for July, 2010
Serendipity’s a mysterious thing. A couple of years ago, I was walking alone along a coastal track, climbing sandstone headlands and weaving through the bushes with a problem on my mind. I’d come out here to think it over, to find a solution. But it seemed intractable. Just at the point where I could see no way through, I happened to look up, and saw the view in the photo above: ‘hope’… the sky was filled with it.
In the last blog post (Part 1) on grieving, we looked at how western grief theory is gradually evolving to allow for the idea of ‘continuing bonds’. Instead of insisting that you must simply ‘learn to let go’ of the person you love after their death (as many of the earlier theories suggested), this idea of continuing bonds allows you to forge an ongoing relationship with them – even despite their death. (Notice I didn’t write ‘the person you loved’, in the past tense? For this theory recognizes that even though that person’s life may be over, your love for them, and your relationship to them, are not).
Death is making its presence felt around me at the moment; in my work, in my family, in my circle of friends. So I’m thinking a lot about grieving, and the challenges of doing it in a society that would rather forget about death altogether. Not so long ago, we generally did our dying at home, surrounded by the people we loved and the places we knew. Now, more often than not, in the western world our dying is ‘outsourced’ in some way. Many of us will die in hospital and then be washed and dressed for our funeral by strangers. Handled 'discretely' behind closed doors. All of this makes it easy for the whole business of dying, and therefore the business of grieving, to become taboo. Consequently, many people feel uncomfortable about grief (‘What should I say to the bereaved?’) and, collectively, it seems we’d rather that any grieving was kept quiet and ‘respectable’. So, in light of this, how might we grieve when it comes time for us to do so?
Driving around the city the other day, I saw this stick figure being cornered in a doorway by a gang of question marks. It was an unfair match – the figure was outnumbered, and the questions were life-sized. They were headed-up by their favourite ringleader: ‘Why?’ What’s a person to do when surrounded like this?
The other day, I passed a woman on the street who was gingerly walking along with a bit of a limp and only one crutch. It seemed unusual, as crutches so often tend to travel in pairs. And it made me think about our emotional crutches. So often, these emotional kinds of crutches get a bad rap. I can’t count the times I’ve heard or read about how we ‘should’ be giving them up, throwing them away, or that it’s somehow a sign of moral weakness to even have them in the first place. Whatever form they take – emotional eating, over-working, drinking more alcohol than we might like, perfectionism – the dominant idea out there seems to be that we ‘should’ just be able to cast these crutches off and walk unhindered into a better life. But the thing about crutches is that you usually use them when you’re hurt.
A couple of years ago, the house I live in was broken into, and some personal things were stolen. The person (or people) who did this got in through the back door. And the thing that made it that much easier for them was that the back gate to the property didn't quite shut properly. I’d known about this for some time, but somehow the fencing never seemed a priority to fix – until it was too late. There are parallels here for our personal lives, too. You’ve probably heard about the idea of ‘boundaries’ between yourself and other people – the place where you ‘draw the line’ with them. Where you might let certain people in so far, but no further. Part of the function of boundaries is to keep us emotionally safe. To draw some protection around our innermost selves and secrets, and to reduce our vulnerability. Another function is to help us protect our identity and individuality, so that we can be connected, yet still separate, from the other people in our life. Boundaries stop us getting ‘enmeshed’ with another person, so we don’t lose our sense of self in the relationship. Sometimes it can be tricky to keep some space between yourself and another person, especially if they’re your family or friend or partner. Sometimes their expectation is that you ‘should’ be closer, or that ‘that’s what love is all about.’ (Sometimes, you might have those expectations yourself). Yet might there be such thing as too much togetherness? And if so, what might such a thing cost you?
Strand by strand, my hair is going grey. And, strand by strand, I am trying to let it. Trying to resist the social pressure to pretend to be younger than I am, and to stop injecting more colour, where colour naturally wants to recede. (Strange that ‘dying’ our hair aims to make us look younger, as though we’re keeping our age, and therefore perhaps our own dying, at bay…). If you believe the ads for face creams and facelifts, injections and suctions, ageing is something to be avoided. But what else might we be losing in the exchange? I wonder what colour Wisdom would dye its hair…
Sometimes it seems there are things to ponder everywhere – interesting messages and metaphors just waiting to be seen in the right light (or to be seen at all). This notice, for instance – ‘Mind your step’ – is one I’ve walked past hundreds of times in various train stations without a second glance. But the other day, for some reason, it ‘spoke’ to me. For the first time, I realised that with a spot (or two) of punctuation, this sign reveals a whole new layer of meaning: 'Mind: your step' (as in, your mind is your step). So, which steps might your mind be taking lately? (And, therefore, where might it be taking you?)
Where to begin? It’s a question that crops up at the start of many therapy sessions, at many phases of life, and it’s here, too, at the start of this blog. In therapy, it can sometimes feel like you have to bring the ‘big stuff’ first, and set-off from there. To have a set plan or a problem to present to the therapist. Every single time. But, intriguingly, it often turns out that no matter where the session starts, all roads seem to lead to the core of things anyway. So just starting anywhere, with anything, means already starting to walk that road to the core. It seems the beginning (of both the session and the solution) can often be hidden in the everyday moments, the small noticings, the tangents. So what are you like with beginnings in your life?
I'm pleased to welcome you to The Therapist Within, a blog about psychotherapy by Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar. Gabrielle comes to us from Sydney, Australia, and I'm hoping her perspective from a different country and culture on psychotherapy will bring us new insights into the therapy...