I got into the therapy track because I believed I could help. This need to help was fueled by two things. My own father’s significant history of abuse and lack of support and my own role as “helper” and “competent one” in my family. When I began engaging in the training to become a therapist, and later, the profession itself, I marked my progress by that of my clients. I followed if we were on track to meeting the goals we had set to mark whether therapy was effective. I offered advice, solutions and ideas. I took trainings to help me be a better problem solver. I worked to understand the problems so I could offer the right solutions.
I look at this past version of myself and feel grief. I wish she could have known she didn’t have to work so damn hard. I wish she knew she didn’t have to always be shiny or helpful. I wish she could see what she really needed before she ever tried to help anyone else. I don’t mean to suggest we cannot help others unless we are perfect. I merely wish she would have even considered her needs before addressing the needs of others. Her worth was based on how much she helped everyone else. I wish she had seen her worth just was. Being with this grief, creating space for her, has allowed me to show up differently in the room with people.
Transitioning to a different way of being in a room with others challenges a lot of my training, a lot of the social norms around well…everything, and my own decade long units of measurement of what it means to be “good at my job”. I’m realizing it all has a lot less to do with the great solutions I have or the wicked way I can creatively solve a problem, which is pretty wicked to be honest. The efficacy of my job is actually based on how well I can sit with anyone through something. This is the work. The learning to sit with the unsolvable, unrelenting, exhausting experience of what hurts. The pain, grief, despair, fear, loneliness, abandonment, trauma, and bone chilling hurt. I show up and hope to convey the following: “See. We can do this together. We can sit here and feel this. I don’t know what to do and neither do you. We won’t run from this. We won’t hide. We won’t freeze or collapse. I know you can be in this with me. I trust you, and you can trust me.”
I used to believe it was in the solutions that I found meaning in my life. I now understand that meaning is found in the space between problem and solution. The middle ground of the unknown where the work is done. Few of us were given the support we needed to traverse this very necessary and normal part of humanity. Few of us were held while we struggled, often pushed to solve it, make it better and feel better much faster than we were ready. We were asked to push past our pace and in that rush, we held on to the solutions offered by others. This ran the risk of robbing us of our ability to listen to ourselves. Discover what we needed and make sense of the experience from our inside out. Most importantly, we learned not to trust that we could tolerate feelings for too long, they were to be solved, not embraced.
I want something different for humanity. I want us to learn the value of being in the unknown, together. I want us to smile at one another while we struggle, knowing that is where we will grow. I see this as elemental to our liberation.