As if I Know

I have the great honor of working in a field that I hold so dear. A few years ago, I went back to become a psychotherapist, and I truly love it. I find it incredibly rewarding to help people uncover hidden truths within themselves- to explore with them their struggles and pain, and to also uncover and cultivate their strengths, talents and desires. This career path of mine has taken years to be born, and yet, as I see it, it is the most natural culmination of my life’s journey up to this point. It truly feels like a coming together of so many factors that have organically led me to be exactly where I am at present. I feel very grateful. Thank G-d.

What is interesting is that I’ve noticed that lately a lot of people turn to me for advice and guidance. I’ve always been the type of person who somehow ends up in the deep and heavy conversation- Small talk has never been my thing. I’ll leave that to my husband and the dentist. But now there seems to be an added dimension- as if as a therapist, I have the answers. I should be able to weigh in, after a few minutes of facts and background, and tell someone what they should do. As if I know.

Don’t get me wrong. I love these conversations. I love the depth, the delving, the searching, the problem-solving. I love the very active exchange of emotions and feelings and thoughts. I love trying to figure out where these thoughts and feelings come from, and I love trying to connect the dots. Others may want to solve world peace, which I know would be an amazing accomplishment- but I find it just as rewarding (ok, I hear how presumptuous that sounds, but I’m just being honest) to help a person work through their stuff.

The other day I met a good friend for coffee. She started sharing with me a dilemma her newly married daughter was experiencing- about how much she should be accommodating her husband versus asserting herself more. We talked, as friends do, about this common relationship issue, both of us identifying how this is something we all struggle with- and in that moment, it seemed confusing- Should her daughter be making waves or trying to work towards the greater good of shalom bayit and relationship harmony? When is it ok or even noble to ignore and overlook things for the sake of the relationship, and when is that a sublimation of the individual that is counterproductive and unhealthy?

As I thought about it more and more, I realized that without talking to her daughter, there was no way to answer that critical question. Only through very personal exploration could an answer to what is healthy and what is unhealthy be determined. It’s not a one size fit all kind of thing. It really depends on the people involved, and for each one, that answer will be different. It even varies from situation to situation- We don’t always arrive at the same conclusion about ourselves in every situation, and that’s appropriate and the way it should be.

The key is figuring out who we really are. It’s about understanding, in a very deep way, what we’re feeling and thinking, what our values and priorities are, what we’d like to do, how we’d like to show up. It’s about taking a step back and trying to look at our situation with some objectivity and honesty. Is there flexibility and real choice involved when figuring out how to be, or am I rigidly fixed into certain behaviors and decisions? Once we are clear about these things, then we can take the next step and make decisions, situation by situation, about how we want to be. Sometimes it makes sense to look at the bigger picture and let grievances and differences go, in the work towards building and preserving a relationship. And sometimes that letting go is a reflection of an unhealthy accommodation and sublimation of one’s self.

It’s not easy work. But it’s the work of being true to oneself. It’s also the key to a truly fulfilling relationship- one that honors the uniqueness of each partner, as well as the beauty of the couple. And the answer to all these questions lies within each and every person. And that is what I know.

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