Tag Archives: rewards

Strangling Stereotypes

Photograph by Chloe Green 2012

Meeting someone at a party or social occasion and revealing to them that you’ve trained to be a psychotherapist, usually evokes a discernible reaction.

Not always a pleasant one.

Scenarios I’ve encountered:

The Escape Artist likely to be thinking, “Oh dear god, get me away from her quickly! She’s definitely  dull, eerily earnest, and will probably spend the whole evening analysing my every move.”

The Dissenter“Isn’t psychotherapy merely a self indulgent pursuit with the sole intent of avoiding accountability and blaming your parents for everything?”

The Macho Man, “I talk sports, stocks, sex and statistics in no apparent order. Feelings are for females.”

The Veteran, “Been there. Done that. Have had sixteen therapists since I was sixteen. I know so much I could be YOUR therapist.  I mean – seriously!”

And finally The Virgin, “Wow! That’s amazing! It must be fate that I ended up meeting you tonight, because I’ve always thought about seeing a therapist and I have like a million stories that I think you’re going to be really interested in…”
One of the first clients I ever treated was a woman about 20 years older than me.  When I entered the waiting room to greet her, she dropped her jaw in disbelief.

“The therapy is with YOU?” 

I’m not sure what she was expecting. Maybe a few more wrinkles. A flowing cardigan and jade beads. I obviously didn’t meet her expectation of what a ‘proper’ therapist was supposed to look like.  She held a stereotype in her head, as we all have the tendancy to do.  Sometimes it is much easier to summarise people in one dimension (like I  have playfully done with my party goers above) than to stay receptive to the complexity of  all human beings, regardless of race, gender, nationality, religion, and even profession.

Stereotypes strangle.

It turned out that despite being in my thirties, with a leaning towards Death Cab for Cutie and a cupboard full of skinny jeans, I was still a good listener. And the client eventually realized that.

Writing and Psychotherapy require similar skills. If you are writing fiction, you owe it to your characters not to sum them up in a sentence (as fun and easy as that can be) Your characters should become your clients.  They need to be the ones at the party, keeping you in the corner, spilling their histories. Stay curious. Keep your ears open. Observe their body language and their gestures. Find out about their parents.  It does matter Mr Dissenter – I promise.

And if you are writing about yourself, then you have the pleasure and the pain of internal investigation. The two endeavours are bursting with benefits. And while each come with a handful of hazards, ultimately they share the same joyful purpose: to artfully activate transformation, leaving the recipient altered and opened, in ways both subtle and sweeping.

Write about stereotypes. Are you stereotyped in your world? Have you encountered obstacles as a result? OR Write about writing. What are your tricks for ‘fleshing’ out your characters? How do you avoid the pitfalls of flat packing and build more dimensional creatures instead? SHARE YOUR FINDINGS HERE! I’m the Good Listener, remember?!
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Risk It

Two days ago I released the website and the blog into the wider world. It’s strange to know that now I’m not the only one reading these posts! I have had a lot of love and encouragement flying my way as a result, and I am extremely grateful.

Attempting anything new is always a risk. We risk being vulnerable. Feeling exposed. We risk getting it ‘wrong’ and feeling uncomfortable, or at worst having to battle the dreaded, loathsome enemy – shame.

Shame is a such a visceral, pervasive emotion.  It can appear in an instant, usually when we find ourselves at the mercy of someone else’s reaction. It gets us in the gut. Coats us in a slimy film. It has the power to diminish us in seconds. In a blink we can transform from a functioning grown-up into a very small person longing to be smaller, or even more effective – invisible.

Shame is often rooted in our ancient histories (early school experiences; mocking reactions from our peer group or adults; in the most serious cases – abuse) but a present day reminder can trigger instant recall, and we end up tangled in a destructive loop.  Some people go to great lengths to avoid ever being in that position again, and their lives shrink considerably as a result.

I have never been a natural risk taker. You won’t find me bungee jumping or balancing on a narrow edge.  As a child, I was even scared to walk down a steep hill. I was afraid of being hurt or looking like a fool. Some of us just are.  But I am learning to find alternate ways to bungee jump. I am risking breaking the loop in order to try things out.  I am dipping my toes into waters I previously judged far too icey. The rewards, as I am discovering, are golden.  I’m becoming more resiliant and that feels like warm relief. It is not a simple process. Many of us are very entrenched in the habits and ways of being that we have constructed to keep us feeling protected and safe. But ironically, many of us also feel imprisoned by those same security measures. It takes time to bend the bars.

Begin here. Think about an experience where you felt overcome with shame. How did you react?  What were you left with after it had all unfolded?  Stay with the feelings. Be specific. Now write a letter to the people or person who you feel contributed to that shame response in you.  Don’t hold back. Write in BIG BOLD LETTERS. Allow your words to SHOUT.  Tell your truth.  When you are finished – rip it up, or better yet – put it in an envelope (if you still have one!)  Write whatever you wish to on the front, and take it to a post/mail box and slip it through the slot.  Or leave it on a table at Starbucks. Or propped in a tree branch. Or on the bus. Or on a bench.

Just let it go…

Notice how you feel as you walk away.

Sometimes we need a grand gesture to make a start.  Risk it…

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