I was recently having a conversation with a young man about his passion in certain sports. As we talked further it became very evident that he would only engage in activities in which he excelled. I inquired why that was so and he seemed taken aback by my question. It was nonsensical to him to play at a sport with which he wasn’t superlative. His protested, “what would be the point?” “To have fun,” was my quick retort. He stated that having fun at something he wasn’t good at would be an anomaly. How could he have fun if he were judging himself on his poor performance, he wondered? And perhaps more to the point, I wondered if he were truly having fun if he had to be so intent on the execution of his skills? His play became as challenging as taking a test at school. He had to be the best.
A young woman in her mid-twenties recently came in for her first visit with me. Three months earlier she had experienced her first bout of anxiety and it had become more acute thereafter. She went on to explain that she had been seeing a psychiatrist who had prescribed four different psychotropic medications, simultaneously. Complaining of a blurred and disconnected feeling, she offered that she was uncertain as to whether the cause was physical, emotional and psychological—or a symptom of the gross invasion of this massive drugging.
Beginning a new year often brings forth a review of our expectations and I thought it might be a good idea to briefly examine this topic. As with many concepts in our culture, we tend to fall well short of fully appreciating what these terms truly suggest and at times, the apparent contradictions that they may evoke. This is certainly the case with the word expectations. Are they to be valued and embraced or do they impede us and distort our life experiences? The answer depends on a host of things.
Looking at Greed as an Addictive Dysfunction
The saga of the Bernard Madoff debacle, AIG bonuses and the host of other repugnant behaviors actually reveal a terrible dysfunction in our culture, which has now come to our screeching attention. We are a society that is addicted and ultimately maddened by our obsession with profligate abundance and extravagance. How inconceivable is it that a man who has attained so much success and wealth and earned the rewards of privilege and prestige, feels compelled to ruin himself and his investors in his vainglorious attempt to have yet more? When is enough yet enough?
Why Psychotherapists Shouldn’t be Shrinks
On occasions when people might inquire as to what type of work I do, I’d typically respond that I practice psychotherapy. I often hear the response, “Oh, so you’re a shrink.” My reaction to the term shrink is that I’d rather expand than shrink. Although my comment might be taken as somewhat glib, it really speaks to my worldview and my intention to practice a psychology that is in coherence with this shift; emergence as opposed to reduction.
Our struggle with growth is very much about the dramas we engage in trying to come out of our comfort zone. In fact, we’d be better advised to call it our familiar zone, since these areas of habitual thinking and experience, may actually not be comfortable, but they are certainly very familiar. Picture the familiar zone as a circle that circumscribes the known boundaries of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
The words, order and chaos, are particularly value laden. We tend to embrace order and avoid chaos at all costs. I’ve come to wonder why that is so. And more to the point, what do we mean by order or chaos? Let’s start by examining what these terms suggest.
The notion of order is equivalent to a sense of predictability. Predictability in this form lets us know what we can expect. It speaks almost of a range of motion. A pendulum, unaffected by friction, will follow its predetermined path. We know just how far it will travel to either point in its arc before beginning its return. Predictability relies upon certainty and measurable outcomes. It has been a major tenet of our culture and our science since Newton introduced the motif of determinism in the 17th century. This range of predictable order is known as equilibrium.
As a psychotherapist, I have worked with many individuals who are high powered, high income Wall Streeters. Even in the best of times, many of them are beset with emotional and psychological challenges in spite of their enormous wealth. Given the literal free fall of the economy that we’re currently experiencing, many are now facing the hugest hurdle of their lives; and I’m not simply speaking financially.
A Recent New York Times science article informed that if concrete is kept vibrating, it won’t become set and retains a liquid form. This concept intrigued me and I considered that perhaps the same might occur with our thinking. Keeping our thinking in the process of vibrating would suggest, metaphorically that we wouldn’t fall prey to dogma or “concretizing” our beliefs. Moreover, our learning would be in a perpetual condition of evolving.
In my work as a psychotherapist I often see individuals who are plagued by a relentless measuring of themselves. These people carry on an internal dialogue whereby their critical voice is enslaving; judging and measuring most aspects of their lives. In such circumstances, these people rarely get to be present. Even when in conversation with others, they are only partly there; for a more private aspect is carrying on a self-critique at the same time.
• Mel Schwartz Psychotherapy & Marriage Counseling • 246 Post Road East, Suite 275 Westport, CT 06880
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