Not too long ago I had the opportunity to brush up on my therapy skills and put them into practice. Like anything, there are certain things you forget when you don’t have to use a certain set of skills consistently. While it’s easy to get back in groove (like riding a bike), the process requires additional preparation and planning. Something that stood out to me was the role of vulnerability in a successful intimate relationship. We have an impact on each other and walls are sometimes necessary because they serve as emotional protection in the face of real or perceived emotional danger. A certain amount of baggage typically comes along with two people entering a relationship. It’s not about finding a “perfect” person but more about choosing someone whose problems and emotional baggage complement yours. Vulnerability requires a certain amount of trust in the other person. The lines of communication have to be open without any topic being off limits. It’s interesting to witness adults in a variety of situations shy away from being assertive and discussing expectations about an uncomfortable topic. When I think about being vulnerable I think about watching dogs play and fight. Typically one dog wins when the other one surrenders by laying on its back and going belly up. It’s literally a position of vulnerability as it exposes vital organs leaving the dog at the mercy of its opponent. But it also signals the end of the fight. I think it’s important to remember that getting to that point of vulnerability takes time with human relationships. But it can be so worth it in the end when both people can communicate on that level without feeling attacked or judged.
During my work career I’ve worked with the elderly and those with terminal illnesses. One common theme is that many of them have regrets. These regrets range from something as significant as getting married to something as trivial as having dessert before their actual meal. Many of my patients would talk for hours about what they wished could have been. They wanted a different life but reality and circumstances interfered with their plans. Even though I’m decades younger I still think about how my life could’ve been different if I had made different decisions. While I’m not extremely disappointed in my decisions up to this point, I could probably be at a different place in my life if I made other decisions. More recently I’ve found myself asking this question once again. It’s not a regret and I would call it a wish of sorts. I wish that although the world is small it was a bit smaller in a way that would allow me to pursue an opportunity. I’m not usually extremely disappointed in missed opportunities because it’s a part of the human experience and I am usually able to put that information in perspective. I guess this opportunity was different because it really felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity without any chance of it reappearing again. It’s almost as if fate has a mind of its own. Circumstances keep us from what we would truly want in an ideal existence. But that’s not the world we live in. Our lives aren’t perfect and we don’t live in a happily ever after movie. Sometimes we won’t be able to capitalize on opportunities regardless of how much we want to. I think those kind of disappointments are the kind that stay with you for years after the actual event. They color your world and you wouldn’t be who you are without them. Fate is fate and sometimes that can’t be changed.
One thing I notice in relationships is the influence of power and control. The misuse of power and control in relationships is what makes them abusive in nature. Someone attempting and even succeeding at violating thee boundaries of their significant other through force or manipulation is an example of an extremely dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship. Power and control can also show up in other ways. I’ve also encountered it in the therapy room when I’ve worked with clients who are resistant. The whole thought behind power and control in this context is that people want to be in control of something. When their values or beliefs are challenged they immediately put up their guard and even subconsciously seek to manipulate the situation so that they remain in control at all times and they never have to change their faulty belief patterns. It’s the avoidance being honest with oneself and being in a vulnerable place. It’s almost like playing a game because as a therapist I’m trying to challenge them in a way that won’t make them defensive but will also be effective in helping them make necessary changes. Recently, I found myself in an unfamiliar environment where power and control dynamics came into play. I’m the type of person who likes to be in control at all times. Not necessarily in charge of what happens to me because I know that’s impossible, but I like being in my right mind (to a reasonable degree) without being impaired by various substances. I want the ability to exercise self control so that I don’t have to face the unpleasant consequences of a stupid and impulsive decision later on. That being said, this environment was very unfamiliar and out of my comfort zone. On paper it was a great opportunity to experience something new. However, it required a level of trust that I did not feel was warranted. So I did what any human who feels threatened in some way would do or would at least attempt–took power and control of the situation. While it was definitely an overreaction, I preferred it (at the time) to giving up power and control. It was a learning experience to be on the other side of a power and control dynamic where I was in a similar position to that of some of my clients and had to take action to remain in control. Interesting.
It’s interesting how many things we do in life to prepare for the unexpected. We buy house insurance, car insurance, wear our seat belts, and sign pre-nups “just in case.” The interesting thing is that this can also happen with our hearts. Sometimes we give ourselves the task of protecting our own hearts from getting broken because we want to avoid pain. It’s like we wrap our hearts in the bubble wrap of our lack of trust and suspicions along with a good measure of IDGAF before presenting it to someone who could possibly break it. The whole idea is that in the event of the relationship going south, we have an insulation and protective system in place to minimize the damage. All this can be a good thing but we miss out on the chance at real love because we’re too busy planning for “what if.” What if we could be a bit more picky about who our heart goes to instead of just giving it to anyone. Maybe then we’d be less likely to be so protective and potentially miss out on something good.