Californication, or things I say to clients
Better than sunshine
I may be the only person I know who didn’t enjoy “Little Miss Sunshine.” The same movie studio produced a new film this summer, “The Way Way Back.” Naturally the film is being compared to LMS, but I like the characters in WWB much better. In LMS every character had some kind of goofy personality defect, but in WWB there were some characters whom are just believably struggling—and those are the ones who carry the story. Some reasons this film is worth seeing:
1. Don’t believe the people who try to convince you that you’re lesser than you think, even if couched as constructive criticism. Also, that the best revenge for these types of negative, critical people is to succeed despite them. Don’t cave in on yourself and let their judgements contribute to one’s low self-esteem. What happens when one can fuel frustration into action as opposed to self-defeating behavior?
2. No matter how dismaying or confusing your personal situation is, you can still contribute positively to another person’s life. Often times having a disappointing outcome in one’s own life opens a door into being able to feel empathy with others. Not that misery loves company, but because difficult life experiences allow us to authentically relate to and recognize another person’s struggles. And sometimes being there for another person can put our own troubles in perspective, or bring an unexpected joy to one’s life.
3. Being afraid that you can’t succeed on your own merits can trap a person in an untenable situation. Fear of being unlovable is one of the most common human fears. Fear of not being able to financially support one’s self is another. People often compromise their beliefs and/or values in order to stay in the “safe zone.” While it’s fully understandable why people do this, it often comes at a great cost to the individual. It take much bravery to risk facing these kinds of fears.
SPOILER ALERT: I’m guessing most people will leave this movie cheering for the kid. However, I’m cheering for the adults. Specifically the fun park manager and the mom. Both of these character exemplified the above points in different ways. The kid was great, don’t get me wrong. But as kids it’s part of the job to push the limits and explore new territory, but for adults to realize their issues and to take risks and grow in spite of that—that behavior deserves extra commendation.
“This psychiatry shit. Apparently what you’re feelin’ is not what you’re feelin’ and what you’re not feelin’ is your real agenda.” – Tony Soprano. RIP
I feel that I owe a small debt to the Sopranos for career marketing, because a common question strangers ask each other is, “What do you do?” When I respond, “I’m a therapist.” The next question is usually, “What kind?” To which I often find myself saying, “A talk therapist, you know, like on the Sopranos.” And, almost everyone I meet has watched the Sopranos and knows that Tony went to therapy.
Television mimics real life, making some things appear easier or harder than most of our actual experiences. Tony’s television therapy experience was polished to include brilliant interpretations in every session, which actually doesn’t always happen. But Tony’s resistance to therapy: his disagreements with Dr. Melfi, his anger at her interpretations, his threatening to leave therapy, and his unwillingness to give credit to the therapy vs the medications—those are all normal challenges people can have in response to therapy.
The remarkable, laudable trait about Tony is that he stayed in therapy, even when he was unhappy with it. Or, at least he returned to Dr. Melfi during his difficult periods to try and understand himself and his confusing world. Perhaps it’s the fact that he tried to wrestle some with his interior life that allowed me to have a soft spot for Tony, who otherwise would be just another sociopathic, power-hungry mafia boss/murderer.
As far as the above quote, and what’s obvious or not in therapy, part of the therapists job is to track content, patterns and signs/symbols. Often times all the content in the therapy session is related, even if it feels like it’s not. At the end of a session, perhaps the patient disagrees with the therapist’s interpretations. But also, perhaps it will register in the patient’s subconscious, spawning later discussion or different thinking. Therapy is generally not an immediate gratification process, another concept with which Tony struggled.
The world will miss James Gandolfini, by all accounts an intense, multi-faceted, challenging, surprising human being.
* I am not a psychiatrist—I am a psychotherapist.
** One of my former neighbors claims Gandolfini rushed him and his dog to the ER after witnessing a doggie hit and run. Animal lovers get lots of credit at our house.
Each time you meet an old emotional pattern with presence, your awakening to truth can deepen. There’s less identification with the self in the story and more ability to rest in the awareness that is witnessing what’s happening. You become more able to abide in compassion, to remember and trust your true home. Rather than cycling repetitively through old conditioning, you are actually spiraling toward freedom. – from Tara Brach, “Finding True Refuge”
This quote is referring to meditation practice, but it can also apply to therapy. “Each time you meet an old emotional pattern with presence” could also be interpreted as “every time you notice your self repeating an unwanted behavior.” This behavior could be anything from having road rage on a regular basis to finding yourself dating the same type of undesirable personality multiple times. The key is to finally recognize the pattern, to learn to witness one’s own behavior.
In meditation one can learn to witness one’s thoughts as they go by, without getting caught up in all the different stories that run through our heads when we are doing so-called nothing. In a similar vein, with therapy it is possible to begin to see how one might be choosing unwisely and acting accordingly, again and again. (You don’t have to learn meditation unless you want to…) Therapy can help to slow things down, to begin to examine behaviors in a different way, to attribute a new meaning to old habits, and to help one find love toward the self despite the same missteps taken (again.)
Re-patterning one’s habits/known choices can be a long spiraling journey. But every time one can face the same negative behavior and know it, then each encounter can begin to be from different parts of the path instead of the same spot. Hopefully, eventually, the demon might even become your familiar friend—a part of self that is recognizable, understandable, know-able— and life can become more about choices/freedom, and less about reactions.
Two Views of Notre Dame
In 1914 Henri Matisse had a Paris studio overlooking Notre Dame cathedral. He painted the scene above left from his window view. Later in the year he painted the blue painting to the right. Can you tell they are both paintings of the same scene? If you look carefully you can see the two bell towers, prominently shaded in the blue painting. Then, look below the towers and notice the heavy black lines. It is there you can see the arch of the bridge, mirroring the same degree of curvature as the first painting — and also the street that runs above the bridge, as well as the outline of the street and walkway that run along the river.
Remarkable that two paintings can look so different, yet be of the same scene and by the same artist? These paintings remind me of the therapeutic theory of object relations. Object relations is when a person relates to others and situations in his/her adult life based in many ways, unconsciously, by their own infant/childhood family experiences.
It is not unusual to discover that one’s life has patterns. Some patterns repeat and we don’t know how to change them. We don’t know how we got stuck choosing the same job, or the same date, or having the same fight with our friend / family. In therapy there are opportunities to examine these patterns, to notice when the hidden structure becomes more obvious, to begin to relate what might have been disparate patterns into one larger cohesive structure.
Matisse was working on the nature of perception with these two paintings — also something we do in therapy, albeit differently. How do we perceive our own lives, what would we like to change? how would we like to move our lives forward to begin to resemble the vision we can see for ourselves in our minds eye? While we cannot alter the basic foundational structure of our early experiences, one does have choices in how to move forward with the overlaying art(work) that becomes one’s adult life.
These paintings are currently on view together at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC until March 17, 2013. http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2012/matisse/introduction
Friday night I saw Zero Dark Thirty. Warning: spoiler alert–I am going to talk about end the film. The last scene is Maya boarding an empty hanger plane as the only passenger—the pilot even comments that she must be an important person because she has the whole plane to herself. He then asks her where does she want to go (leaving Afghanistan)? The scene cuts to a closer view, and there are tears streaming down her face. The film ends with her crying in the plane. We don’t know where she is going.
I found myself wondering why might she be crying? Mostly I assumed it was because she had just completed an insurmountable task that had consumed her entire being and was horrifically difficult. Along the way to achieving her goal she appeared to have sacrificed any kind of normal civilian life, put herself in unimaginable inhumane situations, worked 100 hours a week for the majority of 12 years, and lost some of the few friends she had to terrorism. And then at the end of it, she had to identify a bloody corpse that had died a violent death. Who wouldn’t cry?
After the movie, at dinner I was eavesdropping (a horrible habit most of us who study humans and behavior can’t seem to stop ourselves from doing) on the table behind us. They had also been at the same movie. The woman of the couple was saying that Maya was crying because she had no where to go.
The narrative of the character implies Maya had no intimate relationship, in fact she barely had interpersonal relating of any sort. Her personality was on the crispier side of intense. She was even referred to within her agency as “a killer.”
Being single definitely has it’s pluses and minuses. It would have been much harder to be laser-focused on her career had she been maintaining outside relationships. Maya achieved massive professional success. There are definitely periods in life where it’s a bonus to be able to be selfish with one’s time. However, the woman at the other dinner table seemingly thought the cost was too high, because she had no “nest” to welcome her home at the end of a (metaphorical) long day.
Of course balance is generally the desired solution, but sometimes there are periods in life where it’s impossible—whether we’re in too much relationship(s) or not enough—how can we know we’re making conscious choices? Or at least the right choices for ourselves? One person’s right choice often looks different than someone else’s. And sometimes we need help to regain one’s footing.