The Privilege of Seeing Pain

The Privilege of Seeing Pain

“I started sharing my pain with everyone,” is what one of my teenage clients said to me recently. What an interesting way to say this. Her words hung in the air.

They are simple and poetic. Significant.

Her words gave me a new context for what it means to “act out.”

When the pain inside became too much for her to bear, she started sharing it with others as a way of saying, “I’m here, and I need someone to care. I can’t handle this on my own.” She had a rough childhood, and she started doing all of the harmful things one can imagine a teenage girl doing to herself, including stealing and harming others.

Adults do this as well – share their pain. The person who abuses their spouse, the dad who can’t stop yelling at his children, the woman who drinks excessively and physically abuses.

We all have these moments of sharing our pain, everyone one of us. Our prisons are filled with people who were sharing a pain too great to hold in.

Is there anyone you can think of in your life that has been sharing their pain with you? Is there anyone in your life that you’ve been unconsciously sharing your pain with? Ask yourself if there’s anything that you can do or want to do about this to help. There may not be . . . and there may be.

I’m reminded of this tale that I read a long time ago. I don’t know if it’s true, but I like the essence of it. The piece that sticks out to me: “If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behaviour is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity.”

This teenager in front of me had forgotten who she was. That she had a well of good inside. After years of being given someone else’s misbeliefs and someone else’s pain, her real identity was buried.

What if we took the time to listen, care for, and show kindness to the people in front of us who share their pain instead of shame them, punish them, or incarcerate them? Might we be able to remind them of their goodness and their deep capacity for love?

Not easy, but worth a try.

Healing Doesn’t Happen To Us

Healing Doesn’t Happen To Us

As a therapist, I’ve heard the phrase “Therapy doesn’t work” (or some version of this – it’s ineffective, takes too long) many times.

I wonder if some people go in to see a therapist thinking that the therapist can heal them in some instant, magical way. This was often the case in my work with foster and adopted children when parents and foster parents told me to “just fix” their child.

But healing doesn’t just happen to us. It happens because of us.

Each person needs to be an active participant in their own healing.

I strongly believe that the source of healing – anyone’s source of healing – doesn’t rest with the therapist. (The consciousness of the therapist is important, so please do find a competent one who continually does their own inner work.) But healing is a verb – own it. Healing requires conscious action, commitment, courage, and willingness.

You may be asking, “Then what’s a therapist for?”

A therapist shines a light on blindspots. A therapist is a guide and (hopefully) a loving and safe presence, which is needed when someone’s experiencing pain. A therapist can often symbolize the loving parent we may not have had but wanted.

A therapist holds the space for healing to take place and that healing comes from within the client.

If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, tell them. If it’s not a match, don’t give up on therapy – find a new therapist.

My dear friend and very talented TMJ and sleep specialist Dr. Dave Shirazi encourages his patients to take ownership of their own healing by having them sign a form which states the following:

“We understand you have come to us seeking help in resolution of the issues and problems you have been facing for considerable time now. We want to be clear on how the healing process works for everyone. At all times, and with no exceptions to this rule, you are always in control of your own healing and are even doing your own healing. All healthcare providers, at best, can only facilitate your well being, that is why there are no guarantees in medicine. It is 100% your responsibility to follow the directions, recommendations, referrals, care of appliances, office visits and treatment given by your healthcare provider(s), as well as to give feedback and inform us of any challenges and wins along the way. . . But we cannot heal for you. Please be clear on this point. To that end, and for this process to continue, we ask that you acknowledge your responsibility of your own health and well being. Responsibility is yours to have, and responsibility is your power of healing.

“I, (client name), understand that I am responsible for my own health and well being. I am fully aware that the doctors and staff and referred doctors at the TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre of Conejo Valley are here to facilitate my wellness, but do not heal for me. My healing occurs by me and for me. . .”

This is brilliant. This kind of active healing requires being vulnerable and not just saying what one thinks they want their therapist to hear. It requires being honest with oneself and the therapist when things aren’t going right and giving that therapist feedback – and it requires doing the work.

 

You Have No Reason To Be Depressed

Have you ever heard anyone say, “You have no reason to be depressed”? Unbelievably, some people do.

You have no reason to be depressed because you have:

family
friends
good looks
money
a job
a place to live
food/shelter
[fill in the blank and I’ve heard it]

The thing is, depression doesn’t have anything to with the items listed above. And saying this to someone who is experiencing true pain in the form of depression is shaming and can make things worse.

I wonder if people who say, “You have nothing to be depressed about,” are people who cannot tolerate their own painful emotions and therefore try to push away someone else’s painful emotions because they are intolerable.

My husband and I have been crisis counseling in one form or another for many years and have seen a lot of pain.

If you’ve never experienced the deep pain of mental, emotional, spiritual suffering know that it does exist and is very real to those whom it exists for.

Believe others when they say they are hurting. Believe them and support them as best you can when they reach out for help.

We recently lost a beloved friend and our love goes out to his family.

A Question That Will Change Your Life

I was sitting with a teenage client of mine supporting him through a tough situation at home that will likely not change in the near future.

I find one of the most frustrating things about having teens and children for clients is that as much work we do in the therapy room, their life situation usually doesn’t change much without significant parental involvement. And that doesn’t happen often.

So, I see my job with my teen clients as teaching them skills that they can use to handle their situations now in a way that supports them in healing and growing into caring and self-reflective adults.

In most cases the teen wants his outer situation to change – it won’t. He wants to move out – he can’t right now. He wants things to be different than they are – not going to happen any time soon.

Knowing this, my only leverage is with him. The leverage always exists inside of my client.

I used to ask my clients, “What’s the lesson for you here.” This sometimes leads teens to say things like, “Not to trust anyone” or “That my parents suck.” Not really the direction I’m wanting to guide them in.

So instead, I recently asked one of my teen clients, “How can you use this situation to make you a better person?

(I use the phrase “better person” here intentionally. Some people reading this won’t like the word “better” because it may imply that this teen is not fine the way he is now. I believe we all seek to improve ourselves in some way, and I want him to see clearly that he has choices to lead a life full of positive possibilities if¬† he wants. He has a choice. I want him to know that he can take this really crappy situation and learn something useful from it.

He stared at me and didn’t know what to say. There was no room for him to be dismissive about what I’ve asked, and my question prevents us from going into a negative spiral that isn’t supportive to healing.

I know how I’d answer this question for him. I see all kinds of ways that he can use what he’s going through to learn, grow, and heal himself. But I stay quiet.

He responds after thinking about this for a long while, and we proceed to have a very rich and meaningful conversation about his responsibility for his life and his feelings.

How can you use this situation to make you a better person?

A variation on this question is “What can you learn from this situation to make you a better person?”

Going forward, whatever happens in my life, I’m going to ask this question of myself and move ahead with healing.

This is my challenge for you as well.