If I say to my therapist, “I think you are going to judge me.”
And if she just looks at me and doesn’t say anything.
I might go a bit crazy.
Now it’s good to sit with the feeling that she is going to judge – to really let it land and wonder for myself, perhaps out loud, if I am right or if this is an old story.
That can go on for a period of time but then I need a response.
I need to find out who my therapist is.
If she judges me – an obvious judgement – we will go from there. Hopefully, usually, this is not the case.
If she shows me or tells me that she is not judging me I have an unexpected experience – the experience of being wrong. I am no longer just imagining judgement coming towards me in all its ugliness. I am actually faced with the reality that something else is going on – perhaps interest or encouragement or… whatever it is that is going on for her.
Here’s a third possibility – she is unreachable. She doesn’t answer, doesn’t show herself. I say, “the set of your chin makes me feel judged. I am reading judgement and disapproval. I feel shame. I want to know that you hear me. That you hear my feeling of being judged.” I feel overwhelmed – history is repeating myself and I know it is real. Everything I was taught to believe about myself at a cellular level is true.
This is the great danger of being a leader. Of being a therapist. A teacher. Any type of “authority.”
When we shut down we hurt people. When people find our wounds – inadvertently or otherwise – we repeat the hurt they seek to heal with us.
This is an obvious and coarse example.
But we do this all the time.
With a turn of the head, an inflection in our voice, a change of topic. We communicate where we are closed.
The people we work with notice us. They feel us.
We have to own it.
We’re not perfect. We’re full of bloodstains. And we have to say so. To admit – yes something is happening for me around this and I can see how you are picking it up and feeling worse because of it.
We have to say, “You are right. You’re not imagining things. I closed up there. I have to think about this. And this is not entirely about you. I care about you. What you are saying is important.”
I don’t mean we should be disingenuous. We should find words that are true for us.
And I don’t mean that this is simple or straightforward. Relationships are messy. We can never know with certainty the fulness of why we feel what we feel – what is ours? What is history? What belongs to another?
The one thing we do not get to stop doing is trying. Trying to understand and trying to open.
If we choose to stop we need to step away from the practice of facilitating growth in others.
Because without the practice of healing ourselves we will hurt people. We won’t heal them.
Our closed places will be seen as facts and damn it that hurts on the receiving end.
Going to therapy is so so vulnerable. It’s terrifying sometimes.
Us therapists have a huge responsibility in response to this vulnerability. Huge.
Healing happens between two people. Relationship repair involves both of us.
We are all, quite literally, in this together.