Sunday, May 15, 2011

More than one thing

“People just see the anger in me. I know it. They back up. I can see them keep a safe distance. It’s kind of like they are driving by a car accident, looking through the window at the damage and watching for injuries. Not too close, not close enough to really know the details. So, people really don’t know me at all.“

Lynette has walked into this office at least eight times. She said to me at the start that she wanted to feel less angry. That was her goal for therapy. We have welcomed anger in our sessions. That door has been open. Sometimes after my meeting with Lynette, the therapist in the office next to mine expresses concern. Through the walls, she can feel the vibrations of a raised voice. It has strength to travel. 

But I am steadfast in allowing space for it.  Experience has taught me that if it is safe to feel one emotion in this room, it will become safe to feel others as well. Anger will take its time testing me, us, and the space between us.

I ask Lynette what she would like people to see in her.

She looks away, staring into the plant on the table. It is silent. I can hear her shoe move against the carpet, a steady rub. Then she says that she doesn’t know. I feel her retreat. There is a movement in therapy between clinician and client. It is a flow of connection contained in moments and then the ebb that is part of disconnection. This is a dynamic process. It has a life force. Knowing this, I try again. I draw a circle on notepaper with a smaller circle inside. I offer a gentle voice and say to her, that sometimes anger protects something more fragile, more precious inside. So, if the anger is here, on the surface in the larger circle where other people can see and feel it, what else exists in the inner circle that most people don’t know at all because it is safely hidden away?

Lynette doesn’t pause. She knows without hesitation. She looks right at me, our eyes lock, and says, “my sweetness.“ She points to the sketch. “There is sweetness in the center. “ I am silenced with her response.  A tear runs down the side of her nose. She doesn’t move to wipe it away. I watch it drop. She smiles and then looks down, letting more tears fall.

After a few moments, I ask her what she is thinking. Lynette tells me that when she was young, she would spend most weekends with her grandmother. She was kind and soft and smelled like peaches. Lynette says that her grandmother used to call her “sweet like pie.”

“That is how I know I’m sweet,” Lynette tells me. “I think I forgot that I was that girl.  I mean, I am still that same girl. The girl who was loved by someone who called her ‘sweet like pie.’” Her smile welcomes more tears. 

Therapists learn this fundamental lesson from their clients time and time again. We are all much more than one thing. Feelings that hold roots both in our histories and in our present lives share space in our selves. They exist within each of us layered one on top of another and sometimes tangled in between each other. We move through the world like suitcases packed full of unique and sacred belongings.  It is our own task to unpack from time to time, sorting through the contents and making sense of the weight we carry around.

Copyright 2011 Sara Marley, LCSW. All rights reserved. No copying or distribution of this work allowed without written permission.

*Please note: This essay contains true moments from the therapeutic process. All names and identifying characteristics have been changed. 

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