I’m approaching my second year working in the mental health arena. I was always drawn to it due to my own traumas and dysfunctions, so, going in I thought I had vast knowledge and wisdom to share.
What I’m learning is much more valuable, profound, and expansive. AND it encompasses more than working with those who are struggling.
But we can start there, because the issues that I’m thinking of can be seen in a starker contrast than what one may see in their everyday interactions.
When a person seeks help for some issue in their life they already in a “one down” position. You have a problem, and I (supposedly) have an answer.
It is not uncommon to view someone who is suffering as someone who doesn’t have their shit together, who is doing it wrong, or is somehow faulty. And because we are such compassionate and caring people, who obviously have their shit together, we will tell you how to do your life.
Now, I would have never said I view people in the manner above and there are obvious things that lead to a better life. TRUE!
The missing essential is in really seeing the person, and understanding their life, with empathy.
That’s when what is required of those of us who seek to truly help people is to abandon what we think we know and believe.
We can call this our blueprint. It was what we were taught by parents, family and society about how the world worked, how we are to behave, whats makes us good, and what makes others and ourselves bad. It houses our judgments, prejudices and our preferences. It builds the foundation for our choices, our values and therefore our integrity.
I honestly don’t believe that any human or society would be able to make much sense of the world, or have meaning in their life, without having a blueprint either etched out for them by parents and society , or by creating one themselves.
Having foundational beliefs can soothe the human nervous system by creating certainty in a very uncertain world.
They gives us an automatic answer in situations that could be threatening, or at least confusing.
So why I am telling you that in order to help others, we must abandon the thing that makes life functional , safe and meaningful? The thing that is foundational for our lives?
Because our blueprints aren’t reality. They are how we function in reality.
(They are how WE function in reality- and maybe not how your neighbor functions in reality). They are not “the truth”, they are how the truth makes the most sense to us.
And, when we are sitting face to face with someone who has likely been devalued, shamed and has the belief they can’t trust themselves, our blueprints have the very significant consequence of obscuring the person and their experience. It can obscure reality, it can obscure The Truth.
I recently had lunch with one of my oldest friends. I met her 17 years ago, in 2002. At the time I was in the middle of awakening to some very real, and very life changing religious and spiritual calls in my life. I was a newly converted Christian, and found a home in the Baptist church. Anj was part of group of Grad students that did bible study together and socialized alot. She took me under her wing and became a foundational part of my understanding of Christ, the church, and how to be a Christian.
I am still extremely thankful for her friendship, encouragement and examples of what she understood to be the life Jesus wanted for us.
She grew up in a small conservative town, and felt the full impression of Christianity in her life from infancy. Christian is part of who she is, and she models her life after what she was taught about Christianity from the Baptist Church. The problem is, there is a point where all the things she believes in most gets in the way of her being fulfilled in her life. It prevents her from seeing any possibility other than what she was taught. It actually prevents her from growing and experiencing new things.
It keeps her in the same loop of discontent without giving any recourse other than what she has always done.
That is the danger in holding so tightly to our own blueprints.
We hold beliefs as fact, judgement as truth.
Abandoning our blueprints doesnt have to be a permanent thing. Suspending our belief in what we think we know can help us view things in a different light, in a different angle. It can help us make room for expansion, broaden our horizons, experience new things.
This is important for our own mental health, and essential in assisting in the care of other’s mental health.