We are encumbered by a cultural imperative to value clarity and to have the correct answer. The need to distance ourselves from confusion is mandated by the judgment that confusion, a close relative of uncertainty, is weak and to be shunned. Many people disguise their confusion, as they are embarrassed by it and may even feign certainty. Our educational system is founded upon a learning style that mediates toward certainty and evokes a discomfort with confusion. The confused student is offered after class help or advised to see a tutor. The confused worker may feel ashamed and hide their confusion in fear, limiting the opportunity to resolve their struggle to understand.
I recently broke my foot, a fracture that occurred as I missed a step on my front porch. The break occurred on the outside part of my foot- the fifth metatarsal. My doctor provided some good news in that I wouldn’t need a cast and I proceeded to adjust to my broken foot. Or so I thought. In deference to the pain on the outer perimeter of my foot I shifted my weight toward my other side, compensating for the damage.
How we experience our lives is very much informed by how we see reality operating. The prevailing mindset of most, still believe in a fixed, static and material universe. From that vantage, we construct a reality comprised of objects and see ourselves as things as well, albeit human things. As such we are beings. Human beings, perhaps somewhat stuck in our identity of being. This mindscape sees change as the exception and at times as undesirable; undesired change is something to be controlled if not warded off, yet not surprisingly we become mired in failure in our own attempts to change. Predictability and determinism still reign sovereign.
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. One size doesn’t typically fit all and we need to look at how we employ the word expectations. From the perspective of some spiritual traditions we should be disinclined to attach to expectations as they may block our direct experience of life and impose a bondage of belief upon us. Traditional western values that inculcate and reward achievement honor high expectations, for they drive our culture and our economy.
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.
• Mel Schwartz Psychotherapy & Marriage Counseling • 246 Post Road East, Suite 275 Westport, CT 06880
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