Being a therapist, I witness—often hourly—the constant duality of our human experiences. As a privileged observer into the lives of others, I see our best and most challenging traits exposed: our humility and our arrogance; our self-critic and our self-promoter; our need for attachment and our need for individuation; our cravings and desires to be validated by others versus our self-reliant, go-it-alone attitudes.
Part of the process of therapy is exploring our conditioned [often negative] ways of thinking and our habitual thought processes, and then working hard to replace them with more responsive and thoughtful new patterns—creating a more self-enhancing narrative. Often, we explore the strangeness of accepting our difficult feelings in an effort to bring them to the surface and intentionally process and express them, so that we may let them go; and yet, we also talk about the importance of detaching from so many of our instinctive emotions and reminding ourselves that “even though I feel something, it doesn’t necessarily make it true”—this is called Emotional Reasoning. We explore our unique coping mechanisms and our ingrained behavioral strategies that have helped us to survive up to this point in our lives, and then we turn around and discuss behavioral modifications that will help us to shed our outdated defense strategies and implement new behavioral responses to boost self-esteem and to build steps toward success and self-confidence. The list of dualities can go on and on….
For me, the ultimate duality as a therapist is being privileged enough to play the role of psychotherapist, counselor, educator, life-coach, (or, my personal favorite—”Shrink”); and, in return, having my clients move me in such profound ways. If I am open, present and mindful, I am educated daily on so many new perspectives in life; I am taught by my participants about novel and unique ways of coping and dealing with our challenges and struggles; and, I am reminded always how I too can be a more well-rounded, flexible, healthier person—both personally and professionally. How fortunate am I?
Moreover, I am consistently intrigued how I/we can be transformed through the power of our relationships. We can be accepting and welcoming of others and their opinions, and influenced by them; or, we can be closed-off to their insights and to their experiences, learning nothing new. In my line of work, it is the unique duality of the client/therapist relationship that can be magical. My clients have opportunities to be heard, understood, and accepted unconditionally. If they are open to me and to new ideas, they may learn new strategies and solutions. More importantly, they may learn how to see themselves with more forgiving and loving eyes, so that they can begin a personal and relational transformation to achieve their goals and to live a more relaxed, untroubled, and accepting existence. And, if I can do my job and enmesh myself into their worlds—losing myself, listening well and absorbing their perspectives, I find that I have at my disposal a treasure chest of new knowledge and reminders of how connected we all are through our universal struggles and humanness. This relationship (like all relationships) can produce feelings of heavy-heartedness and distress. It can also produce wondrous feelings of connectedness, gratitude, satisfaction and opportunities for me to step outside myself for awhile and to feel the warmth of the universal “oneness.” We are unique yet bonded through or human challenges and triumphs. This is the duality of the client/therapist partnership.
Ironically, it is the unconditional acceptance of our human duality that can be the most liberating of all, as we are reminded that we really do have the freedom to choose. We can resist change and stay stuck, or we can embrace it and challenge ourselves to be more humble, accepting, grateful and curious beings—overjoyed by our ever-changing experiences. We must understand that we have a conscious choice [once we learn to disconnect from our instinctive, habitual, reptilian brains], as to how we navigate around our human dualities.
Each day, each month, every year, we may be overwhelmed, confused, defeated and judgmental of and by our humanness and by our experiences. We will be frustrated that we have both a self-critic and self-promoter living within; annoyed that we must both connect and “feel” our difficult emotions in order to finally detach from them and to let them flow freely through us; and, exhausted that we must modify our outdated behaviors that have protected us in the past, yet now weight us down in the present. But, I encourage myself and everyone to continue to see the duality of our relationships and of our humanness not as an overwhelming task or cruel joke from the universe or a Supreme-Being, but rather as a gift. We are the only living species that has a choice between being tied to our limited bodies and conditioned brains or transcending our physical and psychological limitations. It is through our conscious, mindful and effort-filled curiosity that we will see our personal and relational responsibilities to both identify and accept our internal “stuckness” and relationally-closed habits. Once aware and accepted, we will be on the path to setting ourselves and others free through our shared connectedness and a personal commitment to evolve beyond the habitual and conditioned brain. How fortunate are we to have opportunities to navigate through such choices?