Welcome to the middle path
- Jana Svoboda, LCSW
- Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
A Troublesome Trifecta
Being an oldtimer in the field, I've picked up patterns in clients over the years that are interesting and often predictive. I noticed the kids I saw that struggled in English and more theoretical classes but were good at kinesthetic learning tended to have cross-dominance handedness as well as temper or opposition issues. Anecdotal, but interesting, and there's probably a good neurological basis.
A very common feature I see in clients with anxiety and depression issues is what I call the troublesome trifecta. These folks have a combination of traits: Big Radar (they take in everything), Big Sensitivity (they feel it bigger) and Big Brains (they want to analyze everything). As a result they have a high signal to noise ratio and spend lots of energy trying to figure out the data they are receiving. Since much of it is noise, life can be pretty exhausting.
As stated in a recent blog, I'm a firm believer in the great benefits of the natural variation of human experience. In other words, let's not pathologize everything. But I can tell you, folks with the troublesome trifecta are both burdened and blessed. Maybe they were bathed too long in the Oxytocin waters, and now that's what runs through their veins. They see everything through the excruciating lens of Love's Potential. They tend towards the ruminating spirit, as actor/director Jodie Foster called it in a recent interview with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The blessings come in the form of increased empathy and higher highs, creativity and a deep curiosity. The burdens, unfortunately, come from the same place: the capacity for deep wounding, heaviness, and feelings of not being up for the Call.
Some people intentionally choose not to love and feel deeply. Deep connection can result in deep loss when the connection closes, through choice or circumstance. Highly empathic folk don't have a real choice about their capacity to experience life deeply. But they may try to to run interference with the effects by dimming input with drugs and other distractions.
Half the battle is learning to know and love ourselves for who we are. The other half is taking responsibility, even if we don't have the choice, for our limitations/strengths. We can find ways to tone down the noise, to sort out the signal. It requires attention and intention. It is easier in the short run to be self-aversive or try and become comfortably numb. That's back to losing the baby when we throw out the bathwater. As Tom Waits sings, "If I exorcise my devils, my angels may flee too" (and he stole that line from Oscar Wilde, I think, though I can't find it now). But it is our job--our calling-- to be aware of our impact with its gifts and limitations and take responsibility that it doesn't harm others.
Yes, I wrangle with the troublesome three-- well, at least the big radar/big sensitivity part. I notice a lot and I don't naturally have a big filter. This works well in my profession, especially if I apply the analysis to the data. As always, I'm going for door number two in addressing the effects of this predisposition. I want to wrestle with my demons and see what they have to teach, and trust my angels to keep me in line. I want to keep enough shadow to know both light and dark when I see it and to pay attention to what I can learn there. I don't want to trade knowledge with its discomfort and connection and wind up with blissful ignorance, at least over the long haul.
But I know there are tasks for me if I chose the less traveled road. I need to practice mindfulness, gentle curiosity, and deep compassion as emotions and thoughts spontaneously arrive, sometimes unwelcome. I can stay in wise mind of not-knowing the outcome. I can decide when I've worried enough about some difficult matter and see that indulgence is of benefit to no one. I can engage in acts of kindness and bravery despite lack of motivation or surpluses of fear. I can practice self-soothing, not relying on others to have been hit in the same way I might be by a recent experience, I know there is enough suffering in the daily that I won't look for entertainment in the nightly news or latest tearjearking Oscar winner. I can sing not in spite of suffering but because there is suffering, and hope that like me, others may need my song more than my tears. I can cry, too, when I need to, but not take residence in my tears. I want to be available, and that means respecting my ability to deeply feel and connect, and knowing when to go quiet and replenish.
It may be that my childhood led to my family role as a caretaker. It may be that some sensory integration deficits led to my enormous sponge for interloping sensory information, It could be I became awash in excess oxtocyin in the womb and am forever reacting to its urgings or chasing its replacements. For me , I am less interested in the why of how we end up who we are. I want to learn how to best swim this ocean I am in, with respect for myself and the paths and people I cross and impact.
It ain't easy. And it's important, beautiful, essential we don't give it up learning how to navigate these beautiful, dangerous waters.
How so? Come back soon for tools I have gathered on the way.