The process of exposure involves pain, confusion, reflection, distress, growth – learning. My intention in writing this blog is to share my learning process and in doing that I hope to grow even more!
I’ve learned that accepting reality is one of my biggest challenges. Not a Buddhist yet… When I walk into an ice cream shop, I want chocolate. The ice cream shops I visit only serve strawberry and rocky road. So this is what happens:
“Hi, I want chocolate please”
“Sorry but we only have strawberry and rocky road.”
“Are you sure you don’t have some chocolate back there you can get for me?”
“Sorry but no. We only have strawberry and rocky road.”
“Will you please go back and check in all your freezers and inventory? What kind of ice cream shop doesn’t have chocolate?”
“I’ve worked here for 10 years and we’ve never had chocolate. We specialize in strawberry and rocky road.”
“That just can’t be! I’m sure you have chocolate. Now come on. Don’t be so lazy. Go back there and find the chocolate for me. Thanks so much!”
(ice cream shop employee walks in the back to roll eyes and make faces about me and then returns with impatient smile)
“Like I said, I’m so sorry but we don’t have chocolate.”
“Tell your manager I’d like to talk with him!” I storm out.
…. The next day I walk into the same ice cream shop. Simply take your eyes upward and read that exchange again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
My shrink, let’s call him Joel (because that’s his name) talks in metaphors all the time. It used to drive me nuts! “Don’t talk to me about fucking ice cream! I’m pouring my heart out to you!” But Joel and his damn metaphors prove to be critical tools in my exposure journey. Now, rather than rolling my eyes when he gives me another “if I were your golf pro…” metaphor, I concentrate and then we talk about it.
Blaming my parents for not teaching me to accept reality hasn’t worked. After all, golf pros don’t care about why your swing sucks; instead you’re paying them to improve your swing. Imagine whining to your golf pro about how bummed you are that your swing blows?
One step in accepting reality is accepting that I have this type of temperament – this idealized neurotic belief that I can will something to be what I want. With reality being just that – reality – I’ve had lots of disappointments! Husbands, boyfriends, jobs, etc – have been strawberry and rocky road, and I’m convinced I’ll get chocolate. If I just work harder, please them more, demand more…
It’s not as simple as going to a different ice cream shop that always serves chocolate. And it’s also not as straightforward as learning to like strawberry and rocky road. If it were that easy, I wouldn’t openly use the term “neurotic” to describe this dynamic that I’m conquering.
Last week I wrote about being quiet in an auto rickshaw in the streets of Delhi. When I tried to control my situation in Delhi – to manage my stress and anxiety – by getting angry with the rickshaw driver, or picking a fight with my friend, I was seeking chocolate in the midst of only rocky road. “Demanding chocolate” was an ego defense – trying to resolve tension between what I want and what IS.
Carl Jung’s work heavily influenced my path in grad school. He considered the process of individuation necessary for a person to become whole. This is a psychological process of integrating the opposites including the conscious with the unconscious while still maintaining their relative autonomy.
Jung‘s theory of neurosis is based on the premise of a self-regulating psyche composed of tensions between opposing attitudes of the ego and the unconscious. A neurosis is a significant unresolved tension between these contending attitudes. Resolution of the tension causing this type of neurosis involves a careful constructive study of the fantasies. The seriousness with which the individual (ego) must take the mythological aspects of the fantasies may compare with the regard that devoted believers have toward their religion. It is not merely an intellectual exercise, but requires the commitment of the whole person and realization that the unconscious has a connection to life-giving spiritual forces. Only a belief founded on direct experience with this process is sufficient to oppose, balance, and otherwise adjust the attitude of the ego.
I believe that when this process works, this type of neurosis may be considered a life-guiding gift from the unconscious.
So, get this! I was on a first date with this guy last week and at the end of dinner this occurred right in front of my face!
Waiter – “May I interest you in dessert?”
Date – “Do you have any chocolate ice cream?”
Waiter – “we have amazing coffee gelato and vanilla. How about one of those?”
Date – “I really love chocolate. Are you sure you don’t have chocolate?”
(I’m NOT making this UP!!!)
Waiter – “Sorry but we don’t have chocolate. (pause) um…uh… I could put a lot of chocolate sauce on the vanilla for you. How about that?”
Date – “sure! That sounds great!”