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Monday, July 18, 2011

From the Heart of A Sierra Summer

Somehow I can’t seem to force myself back to the personality disorders, so I’m giving up—at least for now. I’m sure this all has something to do with my imminent retirement from a job that I’ve had, in one iteration or another, for the past thirty years or so. Hmmmm…if I do a better job of counting, it’s more like thirty-five, or even (gasp) thirty-seven. Oh, there were a few years when I worked in the private sector, and not for the government, but my professional focus has always been on some aspect of Psychology.

So who will I be next? I suppose I’ll always be a psychologist. But, does it count if I’m not using those skills to earn a living? Hell, do I count once I’m retired? There’s a niggling little voice telling me that I have to do something, to keep on giving back to the community. And then there’s another voice that just comes up with a heart-rending sigh and says I’ve done enough. That it’s time to focus on myself for a change. I suppose I’ll keep on having that inner dialogue until I come up with some answers. That’s how Psyche works. She keeps on sending us material until we can decide on a course of action we can live with.

I did a lot of group facilitation back in the nineteen-eighties (when it was more popular than it is today). One activity was to describe yourself without saying a thing about your family or your career. Go ahead. Try it. It’s harder than it seems it should be. What you end up with is a list of attributes. And, if you were really squeakily honest, there are some traits on that list that make you cringe. Oh, you missed your shadow side? Well, go back and try again. After all, this list is only for you. You can shred it later on. The point isn’t to annihilate your shadow, but to draw at least part of it out towards the light of day. It actually looks better there than it does stuffed in a closet.

I suppose this is relevant because we all have a shadow side. The parts that are a bit less, shall we say, socially acceptable. We all get angry and we all say things we shouldn’t and apologize later on—or not. Most of us gossip and all of us have done things we wish no one would ever find out about. Thank god for the sanctity of our thoughts!

Crikey, as one of my story characters would say in his impeccable British accent. I just read over what I wrote and started to laugh sitting here at my keyboard. Guess I’ll never not be a psychologist. It seems to be imbued right past the marrow of my bones. I see it in how I look at myself and in how I interpret what others bring to me. And it’s embossed all over my world view and part and parcel of my combination of liberal and conservative politics.

So, thanks Psyche. Didn’t have to wait long for that answer to pop up out of the ether. I’m certain other professions view the world through their own particular set of tinted glasses. I worked closely with M.D.s for years at a residency training program. They have a definite set of perceptual filters that morph over time.

Bear with me as I generalize. Most newly minted M.D.s have hopes and dreams about helping to improve people’s lives. Over the years of residency and subsequent practice, too many non-compliant patients, coupled with droves of the drug-seeking, are enough to sour any doctor’s idealism. Yet some remain buoyant and optimistic.  What is it about them that sets them apart from their fellow practitioners who drift into less patient-intensive specialties as a shield against their unhappiness?

You guessed right. It’s basic personality structure. Some of us have more resilience than others and an almost magical ability to look at something that’s gone wrong and not label it a personal failure. Some of that comes from genetics and some from family. It’s a fortunate child whose family matches up well with his/her needs. And recognizes that they’re special just like they are. (Shades of Sesame Street!) None of that, “Why can’t you be more like your sibling? Or, Timmy next door?”

Once upon a time someone said that in order to get any good ideas, you had to get a lot of ideas. Well, to keep coming up with possibilities in the face of ones that didn’t work out requires ego strength. Which is a fancy way of saying that someone believes in themselves. That the self and the ego are not at odds with one another.  That we’ve seen our shadow side and can coexist with it.

I think that’s about enough. But, I’m humbled and gratified that the next several blog posts are already taking shape in my head from this one.

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