Presence Encourages Self-Care

The Forgetful Professor

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I am writing a series of blog-posts outlining self-care in which we examine the tenets of self-care:

Self-Care Tip – Sit back and listen to the emotion to be present in your own life.

There are two terms we’ve used in psychotherapy since before Freud and Jung were around:

  • Transference – putting our feelings on the clinician.  For example, my clinician looks like my father.  I will transfer onto him my feelings about my father and subconsciously think he is like my father.
  • Countertransference is the opposite.  The clinician thrusts her own memories and associations on her patient.

These can be positive or negative.  Of course they do not stay in the clinic.  Transference and countertransference happen between all of us all the time.  Often it is healthy.  It helps us grow, model others, fantasize and move towards fantasies long enough to make them true.

Remember PattyAnne from yesterday?  …In PattyAnne’s and my case, PattyAnne could be said to have transferred her fear of being treated as a lesser person.  But what was my reaction and what is yours in similar situations?  What is our countertransference?

I have often been guilty of negative countertransference in situations like this.  I remember feeling dirtied by people’s prejudices and fears.  Almost like I needed to bathe afterwards.  The truth is, though, we don’t have to feel this way.

When people are afraid of us, we do not have to be afraid of them.  We do not have to anger, agitate, or feel “soiled.”   We can just be with them.  Let it be about them and not run away.  Be present.

Clinicians can be open to hearing this song.  When any patient starts in again, this time, sit back and listen to her fear rather than worry about what words carried it.  Patients will be better for it.  Maybe clinicians will be, too.  And that is key.  The gift we give first is to ourselves.  By just being with someone in her fear, we can just be with ourselves too, and vice versa.  Quite friendly to us both.

Presence encourages self-care.  It helps guard us against the temptation to see ourselves as victims.  When we do not realize that our emotions and behaviors come from us, were not imposed upon us from external sources or realize more specifically the transference or countertransference that we are responsible for – we can feel like victims.

Any time we do not own our emotions and behaviors, this is a quick path to losing our connection to our personal journey and become “absent” rather than present with ourselves.

Still, many wonder: at what point does “too much self-care” become part of the symptomatology?  This concern will resolve when we see how emotions are not moral implications.  “See” you tomorrow!

Questions:  How has feeling like a victim disconnected you from others and yourself?  How have you collected your absent self and come together again?  Please tell me your story.

 

Self-Knowledge as a Step Toward Self-Care

Yesterday, we introduced self-care and today we continue with self-knowledge.

Knowledge, mural by Robert Lewis Reid. Second ...

PattyAnne came in knowing what she wanted.  She was sure she was struggling with ADHD.  She could not focus, she had difficulty connecting with others, and she was impulsive.  This was limiting her intimacy with the people she wanted in her life.  PattyAnne had read about ADHD and was relieved thinking that taking a stimulant would improve her that much.

PattyAnne is rich inside, dark chocolate, not white, aromatic and effectively affecting.  Being with her means being touched.  When PattyAnne is good, her fresh aura in our shared space is healing.  Many baffled by this wonder why, when she passes through, they feel so much better.

Consistent with this intensity, when PattyAnne is not good, whatever comes from her is chemical warfare, and we are not safe.  You can leave, but you will always leave touched. Any time with PattyAnne feels like either too much time or too little.  We are wanting: wanting more or wanting less, somehow with PattyAnne, we will never feel satisfied.

This is part of why PattyAnne projected confidence while self-diagnosing.  Her temperament and coping skills predisposed her to do it.  Self-diagnosis in her and others also happen because of fear, lack of trust in their medical provider or defensiveness per their feelings of inequality.

There are good things that come with self-diagnosis to consider.

  1. Self-diagnosis is always informative.  Always.
  2. Clinicians may use it as a tool to build trust.  When not put off by self-diagnosis, clinicians might recognize these opportunities.

The self-knowledge each of us has on either side of the patient-doctor relationship is not inherently dangerous, and consider the inverse.  Clinicians come to the room with their own self-diagnoses as designed by biases and countertransference.  And which clinician is not also a patient?  There is good with bad and we have a choice, as always, within stories within stories….

Patients and clinicians perceive self-knowledge, at least in part, as self-care, and we are right.  Like Dad says, “Knowledge is never wasted.”  How many times have clinicians asked why patients do not try to educate themselves about their disease?  To begrudge them for it is to deny the value of that process and what clinicians also do under the guise of a license to practice.

Any of us can imagine that for both parties, these types of encounters cost emotional and physical energy.  For PattyAnne, we have mentioned already that she came defensive.

For me, I regret the times when I did not own responsibility for my feelings.  When a patient self-diagnosed, I too quickly assumed mal-intent, personalized behaviors and missed my opportunity to benefit from the connection inherent in the patient-doctor relationship.  This is what I wanted to avoid with PattyAnne.

I celebrate, however, these past many months our work on FriendtoYourself.com.  I experience much more pleasure in my profession.  I am even more clinically effective by taking care of myself first; by being present with myself.  My self-care professionally mirrors my personal self-care in that when I am first able to be present with my own self, such as through writing and interacting with you, my online community, I can then be present with my patients.

…I thank you for teaching me and hope we share this exchange for a long time.

When I can be present, I do not have to moralize my perceptions of patients’ behaviors and feelings.  Self-care is not a moral issue.

In the following posts we will discuss more about these terms: presence, moralizing self-care, trust, and the patient-doctor relationship.

Self-Care Tip – Grow your self-knowledge and find what it offers you, in turn, when observing it in others.

Questions:  What has your experience been when you have gone to your clinician with self-knowledge?  How has gaining self-knowledge been a friendly thing to yourself?  Please tell me your story.

 

Know What You Are Fighting For – Your Right To Journey.

You Should Be Living

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Self-Care Tip #162 – Know what you are fighting for.  Be a friend to yourself.

Bridget told me,

I felt free to do something creative without having to feel guilty about it.

She had read the blog post, “Self-Care is Freedom, is Democracy, is Because We Are Accountable.”  I was just starting to think about other good places to go with that but before I got too far she hit me with,

I just hate myself!

Hearing those words is like watching squishy and partly moldy tomatoes hit the wall.  It’s messy.  It’s dirty.  No one’s excited about dealing with it.  And, there is something negative that brought it on.  Readers, you’ll remember this countertransference when you’re the counsellor in some other situation and think, “Darn that Quijada!”

My thoughts bumped and piled up.  Stopped, until they started pulling themselves off of each other.  I tried to put these disparate bits of Bridget’s narrative together.  And I wasn’t alone.

I don’t get it!  Why do I feel this way?

Who doesn’t have conflicting feelings about themselves?  Bridget perceived and celebrated her freedom to self-care, yet was betrayed by her own, just when she was reaching for it.  Is that ok?

What strikes me about Bridget is her journey.  She has struggled with anxiety and depression for many years.  I know with me, she’s been in treatment for five of them.  During that time, she has been lovely although not perfect.  She does her hair, glossy blond in large waves, trim body frame and polite like no one I’ve met.  Many medications have failed her and she has taken those failures and claimed her future over again.  The intense forward movement of her inner self has never been muted, even when she has had thoughts of wanting to die.

I have learned what she values, what she’s willing to let go of and what she isn’t.  Her appearances matter.  She is artsy and gets energy from being alone.  She loves people.  Her marriage is rocky.  She struggles with parenting.  She loves her husband and her children.  Bridget’s journey is a journey of imperfection, beauty and courage.

And here she is again.  Conflicted self, ill, hopeful and claiming her future.  Bridget is right on her course.  I wish I could help more.  I wish she wasn’t still ill.  But I can at least be as courageous as she is.  I can hope with her.  I can stand with her or walk.  I know that put to the question, Bridget prefers this journey than losing the right, the privilege, to journey at all.  Bridget is free.  Many of us are not as free as she is, who knows what she is fighting for.

Question:  What are you fighting for?  If nothing were to ever change for the better in your life, what makes your journey worth it?  Please tell me your story.

When Someone Is Afraid Of You, You Don’t Have To Be Afraid Of Them. Just Be.

Self-Care Tip #131 – When someone transfers negativity on you, just be.  Be a friend to yourself.

Reading up on the woe’s of Harry Potter, Sam did not let his children near those books.  He’d read “what they say” which shows that when kids read books like Harry Potter, it was the same as inviting the devil into their minds.  “Kids can’t tell the difference between fantasy and truth,” he said.

Sam had a friend.  A best friend named Matthew.  Sam was very afraid for Matthew who didn’t guard against this kind of attack.  Sam said, “Did you know…?”

What was Matthew’s response?

There are 2 terms we’ve used in psychotherapy since before Freud and Jung were around –

  • transference – putting our feelings on the therapist.  For example, say my therapist is a man who looks like my father.  I will transfer on him my feelings about my father and subconsciously think my therapist is like my father.
  • countertransference is the opposite.  The therapist thrusts her own memories and associations on her patient.

These can be positive or negative.  Of course they don’t stay on the couch.  Transference and Countertransference happen between all of us all the time.  Often it is healthy.  It helps us grow, model others, fantasize and move towards fantasy’s long enough to make them true.

In Sam and Matthew’s case, Sam was transferring his fears of immorality on Matthew.  But what was Matthew’s reaction?  What was Matthew’s countertransference?

I have often been guilty of negative countertransference in situations like this.  I remember feeling dirtied by people’s prejudices and fears.  Almost like I needed to bathe afterwards.  The truth is though, we don’t have to.  When people are afraid of us, we don’t have to be afraid of them.  We don’t have to despise them.  We don’t have to be angry, irritated, or feel “soiled.”   We can just be with them.  Let it be about them and not run away.  Just be present.

Matthew, wonderful best friend Matthew had heard this song from Sam before.  When Sam started in on it again this time, Matthew was able to sit back, listen to his fear rather than worry about what words shuttled it.  And Matthew was better for it.  Maybe Sam was too.  But the gift Matthew gave was first to himself.  By just being with Sam in his fear, he was able to just be with himself too.  Quite friendly.

Question:  How has transference and countertransference played out in your life?  How do you, “just be,” when you are inclined to “countertransfer” instead?  Please tell me your story.