Friends and Self
Our life has many ups and downs,
We question why we’re here,
But deep inside we know ourselves,
Loss of friends is what we fear.
Is it our expectations?
Or the way that others act,
That makes us really doubt ourselves,
Over how our friends react.
We put our faith in people,
And trust in all our friends,
So when our world does crumble,
We justify the ends.
But friendships can be fragile,
And often not so true,
True friends are more accepting,
Of all the things we do.
We do not need a preacher,
Or friends that leave us high,
The truest friends are those,
That stay when the others fly.
So recognize what’s in you,
You are the only one,
You truly can depend on,
When all is said and done.
Terry Wiens – Feb 2005
I wrote this in a very black period of my life, a time when I was surrounded by negativity and toxic people. I have since moved on but was reminded after reading an article by a Dr. Perry that focused on toxic relationships. It captured most of the components that went into the creation of this poem. This was my experience and a strong example of what can happen when you wrap yourself in a blanket of love made up of toxic materials.
I have over twenty years experience as a mental health therapist both in a hospital environment and community agencies. My sense of empathy was always my strength. I even had it tested by participating in an 80’s study measuring empathy and I scored very high. I attribute my empathy to having spend most of my formidable years in a hospital.
By the time I was sixteen I had spend eight years in a hospital full of polio survivors. That has an effect on various developmental milestones and one of those was the affect on the anterior insular cortex, that section of the brain that enhances, among other things, empathy. When you are 8, 9 or 10 years old verbal communication is as limited as the vocabulary you have developed and as a kids there are limitations.
Many of us developed better skills at body language and, believe it or not, the emanations rising from ones body, often referred to as “body auras“. This is an issue that many people just write off as “new age metaphysical crap” but as a ten year old entering puberty our minds were not littered with the filters of adulthood. I became very good at reading the mood of a room full of people early in life. I am convinced this contributed to my effectiveness as a therapist. It also helped with my ability to study neurolinguistic programming (NLP). A skill I formally studied in the early 80’s and use to this day.
For an abstract thinker spoken language is only about 25% of the communication process and the other 75% is based on a wide variety of cues. Just a quick simple example, if someone is spinning you an untruth look at the hairs on their arms. If they are standing up, you’re being spun. It’s an anatomical reaction. If the hair is smooth against the skin there is truth. Anyway I’m explaining empathy, not teaching NLP.
These are concepts that don’t sit well into rigid cognitive beliefs systems, a natural trait of “concrete” thinkers. I only raise this part because when I left the counselling professions I entered the world of policy analysts surrounding myself by concrete thinkers. To most policy analyst’s the world is pretty black and white. It’s difficult to write a “grey” policy. The very nature of government policies is to eliminate those grey areas. Transitioning into that kind of groupthink proved to be more difficult than I had initially given it credit for. It caught up with me later. I was a better therapist than policy analyst.
A good therapist is there to give direction, not solve issues. The client needs to solve the issue. A good therapist uses empathy to point out avenues or help identify cause. A good therapist is a problem identifier, not a solution giver. Good counsellors use their natural empathetic ability to make the determination regarding client motivation. Is the client motivated to change? Or are they just shopping for reinforcements, someone to agree with them, someone to feed their need for therapy? It is a very important distinction. To me, the best therapists out there are those dedicated to working themselves out of a job.
For year I would tell clients all I can do is show them some “doors”. Opening and walking through that door was their choice. That would be where their peace would be. Ultimately the choice to open a door had to be theirs and theirs alone. This often meant leaving toxic people, no matter how close they were, behind. You had to discover your door, you had to decide to go through that door on your own and leave the toxicity of what was creating your strife behind.
I let my empathy get the best of me and trapped myself in a toxic world. I became desperate to hold onto what I had and ignored my own advice. I wasn’t even prepared to acknowledge the need to look for a door. I had convinced myself that those around me needed me. I had become so use to toxicity that I started normalizing it. That process trapped me in a very black place, a silo of concrete.
The poem, Friends and Self, was my wake up call. I have now moved back to a world of self-awareness and, more importantly, self-responsibility. Thanks to those friends that were patient with me. I finally found my door and walked through it but I had to be my own best friend to do it.
I hope you find your door, have a good one…