My first roommate, freshman year, was a huge eye opener. Through her, I had my first external gauge of how I relate to the world. My shyness and intellectual pursuits suddenly stood out, and the hard edges of my need for privacy crashed into her constant social engagements in our room. Our forced partnership ended at semester’s end. I inherited another displaced roommate who shared my love of solitude, and we rode out the rest of the year in peace.
A dear, insightful friend says all relationships are instruments of personal growth. We learn about who we are largely by interacting with people, and the friction that occurs shapes and defines us. Either we move away from the source of friction — setting a different course — or we stay where we are and allow the relationship to mold us. Who we are is revealed in how we respond to and treat other people.
The process of learning who we are can be painful; from being rejected to pushing away people we like, we discover our most tender spots and our most pointy, the locations of old wounds and of our personal weapons cache. It can be joyous, as when I encountered the person whose interests and rapid thinking mimicked my own so startlingly that my own family said “wow, it’s like there are two of you!” But far more often, the growing pains occur when we are faced with an individual whose presence creates tension, disgust, friction, the nails on the chalkboard of our minds.
It’s easy enough to avoid the unpleasantness in a social setting, but when the source of this unbearable unpleasantness is family, there’s no good way to escape the chafing. Suddenly we are forced to deal with the tender spots and emotional munitions dumps, and the results of that self exam are often not pretty. We discover the truth in the phrase “nobody’s perfect.”
A few days ago, I posted a blog in which I stated that I am in therapy. I am happy I have the ability finally to access mental healthcare (thanks, Obamacare!), but the fact is that I could have used therapy many years ago, when adulthood was frightening and overwhelming, when the habits I formed in childhood became untenable outside my family of origin. I have been lucky to have friends and a sibling with whom I could discuss the more frustrating and mystifying facets of adulthood, of parenting, of married life, but sometimes the issues were outside the scope of my friends’ skills. A good therapist has years of training, experience and skills to help people navigate the difficult waters of finding out and, in some cases, refining and improving who you are.
I am always baffled by people who consider therapy a sign of weakness. If we truly believe no one is perfect, then why would we consider a person weak when they try to improve on their imperfections? Since when is it weakness to get advice on how to deal with a controlling boss? To understand why you keep choosing the same kind of damaging friends? To talk about the anger you feel whenever you talk to your alcoholic parents? To get perspective on dealing with your psycho mother-in-law?
To me, the therapist is a mechanic. In the same way I would never expect my car to run forever without a single mechanical issue, I can’t expect my brain and heart to run forever without needing a single tune-up or a belt replaced. To expect constant, endless, unerring performance is illogical and ignores our flawed humanity.
Nobody is perfect. We all bring our personal histories to every interpersonal ineraction we have. I want to take a look at my moments of imperfection, my tender spots, my nocked arrows and understand how they work, clean out the past that’s cluttering my daily life, and make my day-to-day experiences more peaceful and enjoyable. The less chafing I experience, the less stabby I am.
Why anyone would see that as a sign of weakness is a mystery to me. We’re all imperfect, but it’s only when we recognize those imperfections and work to minimize them that we can make things better.
If you think I should be ashamed of doing that work, well, that sounds like one of *your* imperfections.