I ended a new patient’s first session by saying, “Hopefully in the days, weeks, and months ahead, I can help you come to peace with you. That means to be happy, enjoy life and appreciate the goodness that life has to offer.”
Her answer was, “I feel I am at peace with me, at least sometimes. It’s strange, I can go for several days and everything seems fine, and then all of a sudden, the world turns black. I feel angry about what’s going on or not going on, what I have or haven’t gotten, or how I’m treated or not treated. That’s when everything goes to hell in a handbasket. On those days, I just want to go out and kill something. I’m furious and it’s almost as if I’m looking for someone to get mad at, or something to be upset about. My emotions go up and down like a yo-yo, but most of the time I don’t know what causes it.
I understood exactly what she was saying, and I wanted to jump in and say, “That means that you’re not really at peace with you,” but I refrained and continued to listen to her talk about how dissatisfied she was with her life and what she envisioned a good life to be, i.e., a world filled with constant goodness, security, stability and contentment. All the while, she and all of us know that will never be. The world doesn’t operate that way.
For a moment, think how much better your life and hers might be if you viewed it as consisting of high tides, low tides and all the tides in between. Sometimes, the water recedes leaving the sand pristine, revealing exotic seashells and other collectible treasures. Other times it washes in slimy seaweed and trash that people have discarded, without ever realizing that the water would eventually return what they thought they
If you only could perceive it that way, you would not only appreciate the blessings life bestows upon you, you would be far better able to weather any adversity that befalls you. Adopting that orientation also would enable you to recognize that what life dishes out differs from one day to another, as does the person inside you, who deals with these differences.
For simplistic purposes, I frequently talk about the fact that each of us is at least two people, both of whom reside in the same body. One is the adult, the intellect, the sensible, the logical; the one that knows right from wrong, good from bad, constructive from nonconstructive and appropriate from inappropriate. The other is the child; the emotionally governed little person who still operates as though he or she is 4, 5 or 6 years old. He or she rarely thinks about consequences. He typically behaves impulsively and seemingly without any rhyme or reason.
Many of his reactions, however, are coping techniques designed to overcome feelings of insufficiency, dependency, helplessness or neediness. All of which are appropriate in a 4- or 5-year-old, but when demonstrated by a 30-, 40- or 50-year-old, rightly can be perceived as unfit, unacceptable and very immature.
At this point you may be thinking, “You’re right, Dr. Ed; 40-, 50-, 60-year-old men or women shouldn’t have feelings like that.” But, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that you have to come to peace with these feelings, because they never will change. The old adage, that a tiger doesn’t change his stripes, is right. Similarly, people who go to therapy never change who they are.
What they hopefully do is learn that you can’t change the world or others, so your only alternative is to learn to live comfortably with who you are. The result is you stop trying to change, fix or control others. You only have to deal with you, by recognizing, accepting and forgiving your childish feelings and behaving in accordance with what you know instead of how you feel.
For example, years ago, if you had mentioned in some manner that I was short, I would have been hurt. I might not have shown it, but I would’ve felt it. I might have left our interaction prematurely or stayed, saying far less and feeling increasingly defensive. I would’ve had the same reaction, had you suggested I was fat, overweight, balding or Jewish. I would have gone into a highly defensive role, because, I didn’t know how to lose weight or grow taller, and was unable to grow more hair or deny my Jewish heritage. When I finally was at peace with these facts, I no longer needed to react, and if I did, my reaction was quite different. I don’t need to be hostile, angry or defensive.
Pure and simple, I could say, “You’re right, I’m a short, fat, balding Jew and you know what, I’m OK with that because I’m OK with me. Of course not 100 percent of the time, nothing’s perfect, but 80 percent of the time, I can live with me. Let me admit, however, that if you were to say that this ADD kid, who never went to high school, is lacking in intellect, or not as smart as he should be, you might get a different reaction, because that’s an area that I haven’t yet fully come to peace with.
The truth be known, we are all imperfect human beings. Although most of you can say those words and think you believe them, there is a part of you that was taught, early in life, that you should strive for perfection, never fail, feel weak or insufficient. So, when I say going to therapy can help you to come to peace with you, what I’m really saying is come to peace with the little guy inside you. That means to honestly see him or her and to accept and forgive his shortcomings.
Surprisingly, doing so will not distract from your sense of worth. It will, instead, help you to better accept the person inside you, who will on occasion still make his or her presence be known. On those occasions you won’t need to punish, hide or defend him. Instead, you’ll be able to comfort him and share him with others.
The extra bonus is that when you finally get to that point, you will find that you also will be far less judgmental; more forgiving and accepting of the insufficiencies in others. As a result your relationships with others will be as filled with peace and love as your relationship is with yourself.