Taking it home
June 15, 2012 by
Categories: Acceptance, Emotions

I get asked a lot by my friends, students interested in becoming a therapist, and even people I just met how I keep my work as a therapist separate from my home life. They wonder how I can hear so many problems and pain all day and not have it affect me afterward. Well, first of all, not all of what I hear is negative: I also hear a lot of positive things in the lives of my clients. Second, I do take it home with me.

Image by beancounter

I’m not sure if it’s possible or desirable when I hear tragic stories to not have them affect me. Why shouldn’t hearing someone else’s pain cause me to resonate with that pain? What would that mean if I were able to suddenly turn my emotions off? At the end of the 50 minutes to live like I just didn’t walk with someone through their pain or joy? Why shouldn’t it affect me? Why shouldn’t I be able to allow the experience to impact my life experience?

Think about your experience when a close friend shares their pain with you. If you are in the right spot, and don’t try to rescue them by pointing out the positives in their life, what is it like for you to share in their pain? To really listen and feel with them as they talk about their experience? For me, there is a closeness with them that I experience. I have also developed, over time, an appreciation for the painful parts of life. Don’t get me wrong, pain is still uncomfortable. My instincts direct me to avoid it as much as possible. But it always catches up. And that’s ok because I have more of an appreciation for it.

One of my favorite books is The Giver by Louis Lowery. SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT AHEAD! The book talks about one young man, Jonas, who takes on the pain of his entire village so that they can be happy. Jonas realizes that the people of the village really aren’t happy because, in part, they don’t experience pain. In fact, they don’t experience emotions in general, including love and happiness. They are unaware of what is going on in the world around them.

I don’t want to be unaware of the pain in the world because it would make me unaware of the joy in the world. Being unaware of my own pain would also make me unaware of my joy. Pain and joy are two sides of the same coin. To limit one is to limit the other. I think the trick is to appreciate both aspects and not focus too much on one over the other.

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