It could be almost any work day for me. It happened again today.
A patient wants me to fix his or her wife/husband/boss/mother/father/neighbor/co-worker/child.
I tell them if I could do that, I would win the Nobel Peace prize and retire a gazillionaire!
This phenomenon is so common as to be ubiquitous. As a clinician it makes sense that our perspective on others is so much clearer than our perspective on ourselves. When we think of our significant other or another important person in our lives we do not have to bump up against an emotional defense that protects one from a perceived “weakness.” When looking inward we always have bugs on the lens that obscure our view. If the lens metaphor does not work for you, call them blind spots. When looking at ourselves, the object of our gaze is so close that any emotional interference (bugs on the lens) obscures a significantly large area. It is so much easier to see “clearly” when looking at others!
The paradox of psychotherapy is that many people kvetch about their significant others because it directs the focus away from themselves. People intentionally come into therapy to work through some vexing and persistent issue in their lives, such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, relationship conflict. Yet, it is hard sometimes for these very consumers of psychotherapy to allow the focus to be on themselves.
Why might this be so? One reason: We just don’t know how to talk about our problems without feeling bad about ourselves.
Enter stage right: Guilt. I hear about guilt every, single day. Guilt about doing something poorly, doing something too well, saying something, not saying something, thinking something, ignoring something.
Enter stage left: Anger. I do not hear about anger as directly because many people are afraid of their anger so they avoid it. When I hear, “I’m not mad, but…” I immediately think, s/he’s mad. The “I’m not mad, but” is their guilt or shame for feeling angry.
One of the best ways to avoid one’s anger and guilt is to focus on others and to worry about fixing their issues because you might not feel as conflicted about your partner’s feelings. You’re pretty sure his or her feelings are wrong and you can clearly explain why! 😉