Let's not become
the armor we put on
when we are afraid.
Defenses or armor are an important part of who we are. Our intuition and our brain chemistry tell us when we are in a dangerous situation and need to protect ourselves either through our "fright or flight" response or by emotionally shutting down. This is an evolutionary and biological imperative for physical survival.
However, many of us have been in situations that were not necessarily threatening physically (though in some cases were that as well) but were devastating emotionally. We learned, often at a very early age, to protect ourselves with a variety of armor- being tough, spacing out, distracting ourselves, addictions or compulsions, lashing out, pushing others away, to name simply a few. This often means we end up lonely and disconnected from others. Our fear ends up isolating us from the healthy connections that would be life-affirming and healing..
I like to think of the ideal defenses and armor as being light enough to put on quickly when needed and easy enough to take off when no longer needed. Or made of a material so permeable that it can keep out what is harmful and let in what is helpful. What images come to mind for you, both of your defenses as they exist now and what a lighter, less permanent armor might look and feel like? How might your life be different if your armor wasn't permanent or too heavy to remove easily? How would life feel if you weren't identified with your armor?
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~ Rumi ~
This Rumi poem is such an evocative reminder that ALL of our feelings have value, even the ones we think of as "negative" or "bad." Rumi encourages us to be open to whatever feeling we meet when we wake up in the morning ( and throughout the day). Can we trust that there is something to learn from each and every feeling we experience: from the depression or meanness as well as from the joy? Can we "meet them at the door laughing and invite them in?" This implies a willingness to relate to each and every "guest" equally, knowing that they are all teachers and guides on our inner journey. Can we be more lighthearted, more engaged with all that emerges, instead of judging, criticizing and avoiding the "unexpected visitor?" What might we learn from these visitors if we opened the door rather than double-locking it and throwing away the key?
It is astonishing
how elements that seem insoluble
become soluble when someone listens.
How confusions that seem irremediable
become relatively clear flowing streams
when one is heard.
~ Carl Rogers
Psychotherapy is many things and works in many ways. However, perhaps the most basic, the most primordial way therapy works is by providing a space to speak, to be heard, to be received, to be witnessed.
How often are we truly listened to? How often do we feel free to say whatever is on our mind or in our heart? How often can we speak fully about what troubles us, about our fears, our confusions, our dreams, our hopes? How often is the listener truly present?
Psychotherapy provides a container, a sacred space to speak the unspeakable, to allow the "unthought known" to take shape.
By allowing thoughts to flow into the shared therapy space and be received by the therapist-listener, "ah-has" and epiphanies frequently occur; the edges soften on previously rigid beliefs, and confusing ideas or feelings may become "clear flowing streams." All this from the simple yet profound experience of being heard!
Welcome to my psychotherapy blog! Every week I will post a quote or a poem; I will then share my thoughts and musings about it, as they relate to the process of therapy, inner awareness, change and growth. I welcome any comments and feedback and am interested in how the quote or my musings have touched or impacted you.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley