Wednesday, April 30, 2014

To See and Be Seen

Last week I had a strange dream. I won't go into details (since stock prices are more interesting to read than other people's dreams) but basically at one point in the dream, someone asked me what I want the most. After careful consideration, I replied that I want the ability to see others and to be seen.

This dream  followed an experience I had with a good friend who I used to confide in on a fairly regular basis. Last week, I sat across from him at his desk and shared one of the major changes I have made over the past few months. I knew he would not agree with my decision but I wanted him to try and understand my experience and the WHY behind my decision.

Unfortunately, he dismissed me quickly with eye rolling and a tangent that reflected a lack of empathy for others with different experiences than his. As I sat across from him, I began to feel invisible. He was looking at me but he couldn't see me. I fought the urge to stand on his desk and shout "I'm right here! LOOK at me!"

This week, I had another experience of telling a different friend about the same decision. With sensitivity, she asked thoughtful questions. She LISTENED and tried to UNDERSTAND my perspective. And although she, too, may not ultimately agree with my decision, she assured me that it doesn't change her good opinion of me. After our conversation, she thanked me and told me that she had gained a much broader perspective from hearing my thoughts. She could see me.

I know that I, too, have dismissed others at times. I have chosen not to see them, either to spare myself pain and discomfort or simply because their experiences were vastly different than mine and I did not care to try and understand. I not only missed out the opportunity to connect with these people; I also prevented myself from gaining new insights and broadening my vision.

One of my favorite parts from Lucy Grealy's brilliant "Autobiography of a Face" discusses how people were drawn to Grealy because she loved them for who they were rather than who she wanted them to be. She could see them. Acknowledge them. Accept them. Love them.

Seeing is suspending judgment while we patiently listen to another's story. Seeing is asking questions, and showing interest, care and concern. Seeing is allowing the person to be vulnerable in front of us and inviting him or her to be authentic. Seeing is trying to understand where they are coming from -- what experiences have shaped them? Why do they make the decisions they do? What do they want and what are their struggles?

Even if we're frustrated, hurt or angry, can we acknowledge them? Can we see them?

And do we seek after relationships where we, too, are seen? What makes you feel seen or dismissed?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Down with Positive Psychology?

Yesterday while perusing the Psychology Today website (it's a daily habit, I confess), I came across an article that perfectly summed up something I have been feeling. The article is called "Into the Dark: A Psychology of Soul, Shadow and Diversity" by David Bedrick. 

Bedrick writes, "I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand to see one more article or book saying there are '5 Keys to Success,' ' Elements for Being Happy,' or '6 Steps to Healing.' Not that these writings are without merit, but let’s face it, they often dumb us down. Of course it’s seductive to be given The Answer, especially when it’s the answer to everything we’ve ever wanted. But at what cost? What gets left behind?

To me, these teachings seem to leave out our depth and soul; they fail to account for most of the human beings on the planet who have few options, many of whom are women, children, and people of color; they also leave out our authentic lives and the crosses we must bear to follow our callings, our shadows, our death, our decay, and all that goes with it, and perhaps most urgently, our humanity—that which we share and which often brings us to the heart of the matter: the need for love."

YES!! THIS!!! Bedrick goes on to talk about how embracing the shadow side of life can teach us things. I'll try not to post the whole article here but I particularly loved this part:

"If we promote a psychology that equates health with light, happiness, lack of physical symptoms, and relationships without conflict, we dismiss and deny the truths and the important growth that can be found in the blues, in sickness, in conflict, in the dark. For example, while anger is often considered a symptom to be remedied, in anger is often a great source of power. Sometimes people need to stand up for themselves, resist inner-criticism, speak out against injustice, start a revolution, and make sustainable change by being able to use righteous anger to right wrongs. Or, while depression is often considered a symptom to be fixed through medication, deeper truths can often be unearthed in these low times. People often find values they have left behind or difficulties that have been heretofore unidentified. Depression can be a powerful invitation to look deeper into the self, a space free of the ambitions and activities of daily life to ask the underlying questions that have been ignored for so long."

Last week I attended a presentation on positive psychology. And while it was good and some of the information has merit, I felt something wanting. The reality is that yes, sometimes we have to act better than we feel and put on the happy face. But emotions are not good or bad; they are information. So when (not if) we find ourselves anxious, depressed, angry, hurt, etc., and we dismiss them or bury them because we find them unpleasant, we might be dismissing beautiful opportunities to connect with our deepest selves. The willingness to explore these emotions without judgment can lead to unimaginable growth as we come to know ourselves and value our individuality, our needs and our deepest desires and hopes. I also believe that this exploration can open the doors to true change - if we're willing to face the pain.