We did not go very deep on Wednesday. Not the way Nietzsche meant it. We reached outwards instead; out toward each other. In our metaphorical hand-holding, we heard each other and were heard ourselves. We empathized, we compared our "samenesses," and we remembered.
And together, we felt "normal" sharing these memories, these fears, these feelings. We were with people who understand. Some of live and work with people who don't understand. These people, some of whom we have grown close to, some of whom are even loved ones, think we should buck up. They are on our side and show it by telling us to "just get over it" or to "look on the bright side." They try and encourage us by believing we can "just do it." They give us a lot of credit. Some of them are ready to give up on us, thinking we have given up ourselves. Some of them are mystified at the pervasive, debilitating symptoms we long to shed.
Our "down-going" was about the depths we have experienced in our darker times; the demoralization, the despair, the desperation. We shared about the times (some of us very recently) when we couldn't get out of bed, the times we saw an acquaintance in a grocery story and quickly ducked out, the times we felt our stomachs churn at the thought of facing people—or even life itself. When we look back, we look down.
Looking forward, our "over-going" is made possible because we do it together. The abyss we know we must cross, between the old us and the us we hope we can become, does make us tremble, does make us halt, but we do not cross alone. Our lovable nature brings us together for this solitary task.
I hope you are familiar with this book. If not, please consider reading it. Recognizing our positive and negative habits is essential to personal growth, inside or outside of a therapy group. Habits and what to do about them comes up a lot in our discussions. Covey's 5th Habit is a doozy:
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
How often do we skip over this first part in our relationships? In our relationships with friends and acquaintances, with coworkers and strangers, with family members and fellow travelers? How we long to be understood, to be given the benefit of the doubt, to be heard, and felt! It's not pity we want, not help or even that most alien of all notions in the West: compassion. We only want a little understanding. And we want it to last. Unconditional understanding requires a curious mind and an open heart. It requires a suspension of judgment.
Understanding takes effort. Covey explained why seeking understanding does not come naturally to us in this argumentative, analytical, fix-it culture: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” This is something you will notice in our group. There are often long spaces of time after someone speaks, as we digest what has been revealed. It's such a simple thing. To listen and react by deeply hearing.
He also observed something quite beautiful about personal truth. “Two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right. It's not logical; it's psychological.” Again, he was not a psychologist or a philosopher (or was he). As a leadership and religion educator he created an example that is virtually unknown in business or religion. How different our relationships would be if we all abided by that construct! What if parents taught their children this platinum rule? What a different world we would create!
Next week, our topic will be "Judgment." Social anxiety is all about our perception of the judgment of others, and we have several experts in our group on social anxiety. Judgments from others can't help but resonate back to how we were judged when we were small; and self-judgment, the natural fallout of early experiences with unfair criticism, is a keystone of depression. Our members who know well how depression works know this critical habit well. So we will have a lot to explore next week. And the stakes will be high, because either changing our perceptions or changing our reactions to those perceptions are essential to reducing our harmful symptoms.
On this same subject, I'll close with one last quote from the late, great Stephen R. Covey. It sums up my own path away from pathology and toward my involvement in facilitating healing through group work: “As you care less about what people think of you, you will care more about what others think of themselves.” As I have worked with this group, as members have come and gone, I have seen so much caring for others, it gives me great hope, week after week, that we are all moving in the right direction.