Maintaining a Healthy Perspective
“Sleep faster…we need the pillows!”
Posted August 21, 2018
The above Yiddish proverb certainly describes what many of us feel today. The unrealistic expectations and raw emotions of others in need confront not only helping and healing professionals but touch almost all of us who wish to be compassionate. Still, as I travel and speak on resilience, self-care, and maintaining a healthy perspective to professionals and the general public, two things strike me again and again.
First, the overwhelming needs of others arise in ways and at times that often surprise us. When I was at Dover Air Force Base I heard that one of the volunteers working with families of the fallen was confronted by a little boy whose father in the military had lost his life in the Middle East. The little boy looked up at the volunteer as the death finally was becoming more of a reality to him and asked, “Who will play ball with me now?”
When speaking at the 92nd Street Y on my book Perspective, a woman of about 50 years of age came up to me after my talk and said, “I was just diagnosed with Level Four cancer, I see my surgeon this week, and am very afraid of what I will hear? Can you help me with how I feel?” Two weeks later, when I was at Notre Dame speaking to health care executives, one of the persons attending my presentations on maintain a healthy perspective said to me, “You and your book have come at just the right time for me. Two months ago my 26 year-old son suddenly died.”
The pressing needs, and unanswerable questions of others, surround all of us in different ways today. Yet, there is another thing that strikes me as being worth noting: That the listening space we offer others, in and of itself, is a major help. A woman who had suffered a major sexual trauma when she was little and was seeing me as an adult showed this to me in a very simple, yet powerful, way. I asked her at the end of her therapy with me, “How did you get to this point? You weren’t this way when you first came in to see me.” In asking this, I knew that once she left therapy, she would enter darkness again at times since it comes and goes for all of us who care. I hoped my question would provoke her bringing to mind an array of techniques she could use to face such future tough times more gently and effectively. Yet, she surprised me when she replied, “Oh, it was simple. The first time I came into see you I simply watched how you sat with me and then I began sitting with myself in the same way.” She had borrowed and learned from the respectful space she received from me.
The problem is that we can’t share what we don’t have. Unless we have an inner sense of peace, a healthy perspective, and become freer from our own sometimes exaggerated self-involvement, how can we offer space to others? And so, I have spent my whole professional life developing a list of helps with this question in mind. I enjoy presenting them in person as well as in my writings, especially my three books Night Call, Riding the Dragon, and Bounce. But the key list of some of what I think we need to remember can save a reading of these works or attending one of my presentations. They include:
- Having a balanced Circle of Friends who challenge, humor, and support us. Too often we settle for having friends and family who can’t do this because they are unable to for some reason. A good interpersonal network can make all the difference.
- Be Faithful to being compassionate because only being concerned about yourself will make you unhappy. When you are overly self-involved your life will becomes too small. It is like putting a spoon of salt in a small glass, you will taste the bitterness of life. Whereas, when you reach out to others, it is like putting a spoon of salt in a lake—the bitterness dissolves amidst a wider appreciation of others’ gifts and needs.
- Healthy Self-Compassion needs to sit alongside compassion for others so instead of burning out, you can enjoy keeping the flame lit for both yourself and others. Developing your own “self-care protocol/program” helps in this regard—it should be both ambitious and realistic.
- Lean Back when you feel the negative behavior, attitude or emotions of others are seeking to pull you in. You don’t want to be callous but the opposite of detachment is not caring involvement, it is seduction by others sad or angry behavior as well as their unrealistic expectations. They may not intentionally mean to behave this way but if I drop a rock on your head on purpose or by mistake, you still get a bump. Learn to “move your head” by leaning back from the emotions of others.
There is a lot more, of course, but I try to keep the above in mind—especially when dealing with difficult situations and people so I thought I would share them. It helps me learn about my own large ego, have better insight into what is causing others to inflict pain on themselves, and be better able to be persevere with those who have been victimized or are having difficulty opening themselves up to other views of life. But more important, it helps me to benefit as I continue my work with educators, physicians and nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, social workers, members of the military, and persons in full time ministry. Because in reaching out to them with the right space within me, I get to see something wonderful again and again: Good people doing great things. It really makes my day and inspires me to not just see the darkness but also all the good that is going on in this world. What a blessing they are to me and my continual need to maintain a healthy perspective.