Sometimes the universe reminds me why mindfulness is so important. I also get reminded not to take myself so seriously.
One of these reminders came in the form of a client’s mother telling me she didn’t like me. Without giving too many details (confidentiality and all), a mother called me to request a change in clinician. When I asked for a little clarification she stated, “Because I don’t like you,” annunciating each word so there could be no mistaking her reasoning.
Taken aback, I let her know she was within her rights to request a change, but I would love to meet with them again to see if we could work through things.
“You’re just not nice,” she told me. I let her know I understood and that I would be in touch after I transferred her case.
I hung up the phone feeling wonder and confusion. I mean, I consider myself to be generally pretty likable, especially to the kids and parents with whom I work, since I am always on my best professional and most engaging behavior. But as a therapist, I have firm boundaries and set rules in my office with children and their parents. I suppose that could come across as prickly or “not nice” in some cases.
I wasn’t hurt or offended at all, just kind of dazed. I felt good that the mom had the guts to advocate for her child. We don’t all like one another all the time and that’s okay.
A few days later, I was driving home from picking up pizza for my family and the situation came up in my mind again.
I realized that mom gave me a gift. Without even realizing it at first, I started tuning in to how I connect with my clients. Over the days following my conversation with that mother, I found myself much more mindful during my sessions, aware of where I was in relation to the family physically, emotionally, and professionally.
When I tell people what I do for a living they react by saying, “Wow, that must be so rewarding!” or, “Wow, that must be so hard!” While I would love to tell you it is really rewarding, it would be much more honest to tell you it is mostly hard. I work with a really difficult population of families with severe and persistent mental health issues who live in pretty stark poverty.
Progress is measured in millimeters. We don’t have “Eureka!” moments on a couch.
I sit with people who suffered traumas worse than anything Stephen King could dream up, and while I am often humbled by their resilience, there are also many times I am frustrated by limitations– lack of basic needs for the poor, lack of understanding by other systems, lack of funding by insurance companies, and also the limitations that trauma has inflicted on the people with whom I attempt to work.
There are also times when it is really hard to put my own life on the shelf to deal with the crises of others. Times when my own children are sick and I have to leave them at home to go to work. Times when someone in my own family is suffering. Times when I am just plain tired or hungry or have to pee.
So, I’m not always sitting there finding the joy in my craft, and I’m not always 100% mindful. While I consider myself professional, I’m sure there are days when maybe I am less than present.
Those days of mindful awareness during my sessions were nice. I realized that when I can be present in the moment, I am a lot closer to the joy because I am free of the other worries and frustrations. It might not always be attainable, but it is something to reach for.
My gratitude goes out to that mom who doesn’t like me. I thank her for letting me know in such a clear fashion.
Did you ever have a time when what could have been insulting turned out to be a gift?