Sunday, October 2, 2011

Save Yourself

A memorable moment in my practice was the day that Sophia fell on the floor. Sophia, my client and not her real name, always brought energy into the room and found it difficult not to start talking the minute she entered my office. The day I am recalling was no different. As soon as we were seated she began telling me the latest episode in her complicated, dramatic life. Once again, Sophia had had an argument with her boyfriend, had broken up with him and was now regretting it. Ten minutes into our conversation, she stopped talking. A minute of silence ensued and then Sophia fell on the floor. I say fell but it was more a gentle slide down the couch and then a fetal positioning. I was taken aback but remained seated, aware that this would not be my ordinary response to someone in need. I asked Sophia if she were OK, she said yes, seemed to be breathing fine and not in pain. I waited. A long five minutes later, Sophia got up, sat on the couch and resumed talking as if nothing had happened. But something had. I had not jumped up and gone to her. In that very long five minutes on the floor, Sophia realized I was not going to save her. Help her, yes. Save her, no. In all her difficult relationships, salvation was what Sophia sought. She longed for someone to make life easy, to do the hard things for her; above all, she longed for someone to whom she could turn over the responsibility of her life. We had spent a lot of time looking at this salvation theme in Sofia's life. That afternoon, her graphic demonstration of an inner state of infantile fear and longing was the beginning of change.

As a giver or a receiver, it's important to know the difference between helping and saving. If you are the giver, at a certain point, helping can turn into salvation with you trying to arrange another person's life, make the wise decisions and hold up a guiding light.Of course you will be disappointed and, perhaps, angry...also, tired and fed up. You cannot live another's life nor should you try.

If you are the receiver, you, also, may be disappointed and angry. If so, try asking yourself this question: "Am I looking for help or salvation?" If it's salvation, you are bound to feel let down and you are likely to be into blaming. You often say or think, "If you REALLY loved me, you would ___." However you fill in the blank, the message beneath the complaint is, "arrange things (even things beyond your control) so that I feel happy. It's your job to make me happy." If you are fortunate, the giver will respond, "Sorry, you will have to save yourself.


Laura Stanfill said...

Hi, Liz and Bridget. I awarded you the Versatile Blogger Award! You may choose to accept or not, but the details are here:

Liz said...

wow, laura---thank you SO much....and of course we will accept the honey. (here's a question: may we pass the award back to you?)

Aileen said...

When I first moved away from home, and roomed with a close friend, we had a running story that someone would invent a computer that could tell you at the touch of a button exactly where to look, who to talk to, when to to do what...whenever you needed to make a decision or wanted something. (It was before the internet.)

I'm mostly grateful now such a thing doesn't exist -- except in the moments I really wish someone would tell me the "right" thing to do.

Albert | UrbanMonk.Net said...

Hi Liz and Bridget. This is a great distinction, and I think it takes a lot of courage to do what you did - I'm just starting as an intern in this sort of work and I can appreciate what you did.

Bridget said...

Thanks for your comment Albert. I hadn't thought about courage but I take your point. Silence in a therapy session can be very powerful. When you're first starting out, it can also be very uncomfortable. Best wishes for your career.