The Invitation

One could say that the primary invitation of therapy is to become your own best friend. Or good parent. To do this you have to be observing yourself as you go through the moments of your day, not constantly but several times a day, enough to be aware of your mood and paying attention to important patterns, themes and emotions that cry out to be noticed.

Most people don’t do this for themselves. They’re too caught up in their goals and desires, hopes and fears, reversing the past and scheduling the future, that they don’t take time to pay attention to where they are now. They are wary of taking the time to slow down and make real connection with others when a moment appears to do so.

This is our society: productive and isolated, electronically connected but viscerally speeded up, moving too fast to take a deep breath, share food and remember to laugh together. The common malady is hustling: a willful forcing of ourselves to keep up with the pace, never reaching the invisible finish line and never able to feel fully rested and catch up with ourselves. Inevitably, we experience resentment about this condition and blame others as well as feeling blamed by them, for getting more appreciation for all our efforts and goodwill.

This cultural spell of hustling and resentment is particularly caustic in marriage where both people desperately need to get some softness, some receptivity, some comfort and some validation. Let alone fun and good times. But it’s a Chinese Finger-cuff dilemma, the harder you hustle, the more stretched and squeezed your innards, and so the harder it is not to have resentment and pull on the other to give you what you need. But, of course, your partner is caught in the same finger-cuff too so they are squeezed and want you to give to them. This can happen in all relationships, workplace, extended family, friends. It can become global and we can become anxious, suffer insomnia, and get depressed.

A therapist mentor of mine from two decades ago, Paul Zipperman, had a variation on The Golden Rule. I think he got it from his mentor, Paul Baum. His version said, “Do for yourself what you would have others do for you.” If it sounds too selfish to you, your not alone. That was definitely my reaction to it at first. But, I came to see the wisdom in it. You have to learn to give to yourself. When you go around under-nourished, hungry and tired because your working so hard to meet deadlines and live up to the expectations of others and yourself, your innards get squeezed. And then you’re not a very pleasant person to be around. You forget how to laugh. And sooner or later, you make up a story that this is somebody else’s fault. And then you break the famous Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

So, the invitation is to stop right now and make a commitment to stop several times a day and become your own best friend. If your sitting and not breathing fully, stand up and take some deep breaths. Breathe with your whole body, lifting your arms to the sky and stretching your spine as you inhale, and lowering your arms and bending your knees towards the ground as you exhale. Go ahead take ten breaths like this. Now take 50. I guarantee you’ll start feeling better, breathing more and loosening up stiff shoulders and back.

When you sit back down, the work will still be there. But it won’t be as central, you’ll see it in perspective with the other parts of your life that bring meaning and satisfaction. And you’ll make time to make a few phone calls to make plans to have fun or let someone know they matter to you. And you’ll remember that you matter to yourself. You won’t have to make yourself think this because your innards will be singing happy thoughts because you nourished them. Your vitality and optimism will return. By being your own best friend, you learn to say yes again to yourself and to life.


Review of The Tao of Trauma by Alaine D. Duncan

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