portland-stairsI learned a lot from my residency as a therapist, but very little came from the books I read. It was the personal realizations that moved me to insight more than any training skills. Specifically, I learned that the judgments and criticisms of others that I was so quick to make in the privacy of my own mind were destructive and misplaced, saying more about my lack of development than anything else. 

I ran therapy groups at Clackamas County Mental Health Center with Rich Panzer, the resident psychiatrist. Our evening group was attended by a very angry, immensely overweight woman, whom I disliked immediately. She triggered me because she was the dark side of the compliant physically fit girl I had learned to be. Her manner was caustic and fiercely good at pushing people away. I secretly wished she would leave the group, and take her attitude with her. I felt she was standing in the way of real healing for others, but mostly she evidenced an uncomfortable place of judgment in myself that I had no skill to deal with. As months went by and her shell began to weaken and crack, I was able to glimpse the magnificence of the spirit within.  When she felt safe enough to tell her story, give up her secrets and release her pain, I felt shamed by my earlier thinking.

I saw the same thing repeated daily in my practice at the clinic, clients hiding their beauty and wisdom behind years of walled off pain, desperately needing to find a way out, and just as desperately determined to create a kind of safety that prevented them from doing so.

The spoken message was, please help me, my life is a mess and I can’t go on.

The unspoken message was, I’ve been hurt so much that I can’t let you close enough to know me.  I have to constantly guard from danger.

It took time to understand how to separate people’s defenses from their deeper essence, but I count it as one of the most valuable lessons of my life.

Debbie Ford wrote a book called, “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers,” which helps us understand how we project what we can not accept in ourselves onto others. If you haven’t read it and feel ready to look at your own shadow side, I’d give it a try.

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