by Monica A. Ross, LPC
People come to therapy for different reasons. Some want a safe place to express their thoughts. Some want feedback. Some want advice. Some want to process all the crappy things that happened in their childhood, in their marriage, at their place of work.
Most just want someone, anyone to listen. And these things that deserve an ear, they’re very important. They’re important because if we don’t take the time to stop and self-reflect and to receive feedback, then what adjustments do we know to make going forward in life?
If we’re not looking at our own negative core beliefs and how they impact our view of ourselves, of others, of the world around us—then we could go through life with a misconstrued idea of what life is or was all about.
There are some who never step foot inside a therapist’s office. They do their own self-reflection. Or they do very little self-reflection at all. To each his own. There’s room for variety and difference in the world.
I’ve always been more of the philosophy of “the unexamined life is not worth living.” If a person can do all that examining without the assistance of a therapist, fine.
The more I do this work though, the more I feel that we as therapists need the room and space to go through life and make our own mistakes without the imperative that we live up to some idealistic standard.
Another saying, “If you put someone on a pedestal, you give them no choice but to fall.”
In the article I wrote for the Elephant Journal I tried to lay this out from the beginning, a few months before I received my license. I will not be put on a pedestal of perfection. It’s not healthy. In other words, from the beginning I’m saying I have made mistakes in life and I will continue to make mistakes both personally and professionally.
And it’s not like I’m looking to make mistakes or that is my focus or desire or intent even. I’m simply stating fact.
And when I make a mistake, I apologize for it.
I’ve had a few friendship shake-ups in my life. I call them friendship shake-ups, a phrase I thought maybe I invented but come to find out is ubiquitous, because to me it’s what it feels like. A shake-up like an earthquake. The ground itself on which the friendship stands seems to shift and the friendship loses its balance.
It’s that moment when you have a friend or circle of friends and something in the dynamic of the friendship changes. Someone, for instance, does something that another finds offensive or disrespectful.
Or someone makes a change in their political choices due to a change in ideals and values, and it affects their relationship with the friend who still thinks the way they used to think about things.
Maybe a friend who formally was never religious becomes hyper religious and finds it hard to maintain a friendship with their atheist friend. Or maybe a person changes their sexual orientation, and it causes ripples in a friendship network as the other friends find it hard to adapt to this friend they have known for years who is going through a change in gender identity, for example.
I don’t know, any number of things could happen to disrupt a connection between another friend or network of friends. Another saying, “People enter our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”
But I bring all this up to point out that these things happen in life. They’ve happened to me. And what I’ve learned from these experiences is that while we want to hold on to our friendships, to these people, it’s also totally okay if they decide for whatever reason to exit our lives.
People change. Energies shift. Some lose interest in friendship altogether. Some walk away feeling hurt. Some simply walk away. I feel fairly neutral about it all and maintain the attitude that loss in life is a constant. It’s a part of life.
I’ve made the personal decision that if for any reason anyone in my life decides that they can no longer be a friend, can no longer be present, can no longer be supportive in any capacity then I’m completely okay with that person leaving.
If I start to feel that way towards someone, that I cannot be supportive or present, then I give myself the same permission to leave. I would encourage my clients to come to a place of being okay with loss as well. And in saying that I put absolutely no value judgment on the choice to leave.
I think we all are doing the best we can in life. I think we all are essentially good and try to do what’s right. I feel that for myself and I witness that in others. But we’re also fallible. Despite our fallibility, I watch people time and again do their best with what they have.
And if we operate from that premise—that everyone is just trying to do their best—then how can we walk away feeling hurt, really, by something someone says or does or if they offend us even? A lot of what we perceive in life as personal attacks in fact are not personal at all.
I feel good about the place that I’m at in life, remarkably well, better I can say than at any other time I have felt in my life and despite the challenges I myself currently face. Those challenges at the moment are largely financial. Ask any beginning private practitioner and they would likely be hard-pressed to say they don’t have financial challenges.
And do financial challenges cause stress? Absolutely. And does stress impact all areas of life? Yes, it does. Can stress itself throw us off our moorings? Absolutely.
Yet somehow at the end of the day, I am able to balance it all. I reach out to those who are present and supportive and when my clients go through stressful situations, I encourage them to do the same.
It’s a sign of health to be able to reach out—not to everyone. To those for whom we make the choice to reach out. So, I know am doing something right and by my measure of what is right for me.