you came home from texas a new person, trailing out of town leaving whispers of that, you know, the great undefinable word. you were happy to be with me, you said. today everything is different. you’ve made decisions that will effect on me and have not taken me into consideration, or if i’m wrong and you have considered me, it’s only been as an afterthought. suddenly the world has changed. you might say i knew when we came together that the road was not yet paved for us, but this all has arrived as a shock. it doesn’t do people any good to warn each other. you say you’re going through a divorce, i say i can’t be with someone who’ll use me. so we both say whatever it takes to keep the peace. then one day, maybe the rebound’s lost its bounce and you’ve got to get out before you miss another chance to score. something tells me you’ve done this before. well, you do it every day, every time you polish off a bottle of beer. and you keep drinking until your frames of reference have dissolved, so you don’t have to make a decision about what to do or where to go, you just wait for someone else to tell you. and when you’re bored, you crack open a new bottle. i see it because i know it.
and now you’re sleeping at ease in my bed as i wrestle the night demons that come when i’m most alone. in the morning i will be expected to explain my behavior, why i left the bed, as if it would be abnormal to feel anything human in a moment of sadness. because i didn’t want you to see me cry, that’s why.
The sport of boxing provides many insights into social behavior, power, and love. As a political scientist and a woman, I am sharing my observations.
Rule 1: Control distance. Someone can’t just get up in your space and get away with it. Use your jab to keep them where you want them and establish your range. When you see their weakness while they’re trying to come in and get too close to you, strike hard and fast.
Rule 2: Every time you move, you expose a weakness. The same is true for your opponent. Observe how they move and time your reactions to catch them off guard. Make adjustments when they become accustomed to your responses, and try to be very strategic about the areas you leave yourself vulnerabe vs. the areas you leave exposed. Sometimes, sacrificing one area will open them up to be more vulnerable to a counter attack.
Rule 3: If you find yourself on the ropes, trapped in a corner, or in an otherwise hopeless situation, adjust your angle. Shift your feet to the left or the right and try to outflank them with a surprise attack from the side that they also won’t see coming. Change your stance from orthodox to southpaw. Make adjustments that make you harder to hit. The key to this is remembering that they are always, always, always more vantage points and all you need is one punch to end the fight no matter how desperate the situation may look. Just find that angle.
Rule 4: In the event of a knock-out, or if you find yourself unconscious on the floor slobbering or otherwise seeing stars, get your ass up. I repeat, get your ass up. Force your legs and body to carry you to face your opponent again. Go back to step 1 to keep your distance long enough to regain your strength and confidence, and continue the fight. Never give up. Keep moving because the moment you give up is the moment you’ve lost. It can be strategic to *pretend* to be defeated “aka rope-a-dope” in order to elicit a certain response or vulnerability from your opponent, but this is tactical rather than mental. Sometimes pretending to be weaker than your opponent can give them false confidence, which you can use to your advantage because it will make them careless and sloppy, causing them to underestimate you. This can work extremely well for you in setting up a counter-attack.
Rule 5: Study your opponent. Take the time to watch their shoulders and their feet. Assess the rhythm of their movement. Looking in their eyes is a distraction because everyone has a beautiful soul, but its the punches and footwork that will end up knocking you out. Watch out for the clear signs of danger. Learn to anticipate red flags so you can play good defense and stay out of harms way. When you see someone’s right shoulder drop, move left. When their feet switch, throw up your knee and crouch to block a left shin or body kick. Reading the eyes for emotions will only distract you from the brutal reality of the bloodsport you signed up for when you agreed to participate in a game of love and war.
Rule 6: Stay focused in the present moment. When you start to become distracted by the spectacle, expectations for your future, scars from the past, or anything other than what is right in front of you, you have disengaged from the challenge and are at your weakest. By focusing on your breathing and discipline, you will establish your own rhythm of the moment in which it is crucial that you stay. Turn off the part of your brain that is thinking about anything else except how to get out of this game alive.
Rule 7: Every encounter is not with an opponent. There are times when you find allies, and these are people with whom your are tasked with creating power. They are your teammates, your partners, your friends, your coaches. In loving engagements, power is created. In martial engagements, power is destroyed. Love and power, the two uncontrollable forces in the universe, are negotiated through careful attention to time and distance. Be smart, pick your battles wisely, and always try to know with whom you’re confronted. If you are engaging with an ally, relax a bit and open up. Smile, and enjoy the time you spend together as you teach each other how to become better game players. Many times, battles between people begin in opposition, but end in intimacy. This is the true object of any game, a win-win. Winner-take-all games (in which one person wins at the expense of the other) have no place in the world of love, and also don’t necessarily have to end in a lose-lose. Learn to evaluate the true possibilities of your engagements before you plan your power strategy, realizing that while there are both winners and losers in all games, careful communication, openness, and trust built over repeated iterations of the game can yield cooperative, mutually beneficial outcomes.
Rule 8: To achieve the optimal outcome (a win-win), there are no hard and fast rules. The more conflict can be diffused and as information between the parties increases, the likelihood for mutual benefit also increases. This is the art of war: changing a game from a win-lose or lose-lose into a win-win. There are critical junctures in which opportunities for game-changing decisions present themselves and your response will determine whether or not you can change behavior from destructive to creative.
I don’t know what it would take to convince particularly stubborn people that therapy would be good for them, but assuming they’re ready, starting a new therapeutic relationship is a big deal.
You have to do your research and ask around, getting recommendations from friends or professionals. Conversely, you can flip a coin and see who the yellow pages decide for you, or who your insurance company accepts. Then you’ll have to meet with them, maybe something is off about this person like they’re wearing a purple shirt or maybe they have cliche books on their shelves. Or even worse, there are no books on their shelves, only God posters or something. The point is, they strike you as a particularly vapid human being incapable of accompanying you on your tortuous journey of personal growth and discomfort. If this is the case, read on.
If you get a bad vibe, its ok to check out other therapists before committing to treatment. Finding a good fit is important, but be careful that you’re not secretly just afraid to sit across from someone and start talking about yourself. You’re not doing any favors by avoiding the process, because it will get intense sooner or later. Once i stopped seeing a shrink because she fell asleep during one of my sessions… you can probably imagine how great that felt, as I was working through my existential depression… “yeah yeah yeah you love your job, I totally trust you’re in this with me lady, but just give me my meds and let me go.” She apologized and explained she was taking allergy meds or something, whatever, I didn’t care. Students will have this problem, and other people who receive “free therapy” from over-worked mental health counselors. Their jobs suck, its true. They don’t get paid enough and they don’t have enough control over their practice. You have to decide if its interfering with your treatment or if its something the two of you can work through. I’ve also had fantastic “free therapy” that ended, unfortunately, because of Hurricane Katrina.
Which brings up another point- don’t feel guilty about “firing” someone who is obviously not a good fit. Your job is not to worry about THEIR feelings. What you need to be doing is looking inside yourself; if your therapist is not maintaining proper boundaries, is not present in the session, or is otherwise unprofessional, they deserve to know.
When you do find that special someone, give yourself a few months to chat and get a sense of the structure of your time together. Maybe you take a long time to open up and start trusting. Or maybe you start defining the rules and setting expectations immediately. Testing the relationship will be an important part of the process, and it is a pretty important part of therapy to bring up the way you feel about what’s actually happening during your sessions as you continue talking.
Starting fresh can be its own reward. In that spirit, I’ll be throwing out some lessons I learn along the way as I gently encourage people I know to start engaging their inner selves while letting go of the traps that prevent them from experiencing the world more fully. We have this tendency to work against ourselves in being who we are and getting what we want. I say, fuck that. I want to be actively constructing who I am, deciding what I want and taking charge of it.
It’s hard to find a good shrink.
That being said, if you’re not getting as much out of therapy as you want, it might not be the fault of your therapist. I’ve wasted a lot of time in uncomfortable chairs, feeling like the purple-shirted person across the room from me just didn’t give a shit about my goddamn problems. Yeah yeah yeah, my mother didn’t love me enough and I’m angry with my father, so what now. What now is that there’s actually work to be done between you and the other person, and there’s a lot of stuff that nobody actually tells you about what’s going on in that room between you and your shrink.
The first thing that you have to do is talk about the fact that you don’t trust your therapist, or you think they don’t understand you, or that you can’t imagine how some sick wacko paid by the state/college/your parents/your insurance to sit around and listen to people gripe all day can make a living doing this weird voyeuristic sort of stuff, and what’s with the creepy picture hanging on the wall anyway.
Yes, you have to talk about these things. Why? Precisely because you don’t want to. You have to start by realizing that its ok to be uncomfortable with this person across the room from you, because if you’re going to face the things about yourself that you really don’t like, or are having problems with, then its probably going to be hard and nasty and beyond uncomfortable. So if you can’t tell this person you barely know that you are having a hard time trusting them, how the fuck are you going to tell them about that time your kindergarden teacher caught you masturbating during naptime? I mean, this is the person who IS BEING PAID to help you explore your subsequent humiliation and how its still effecting the way you feel about yourself, your sexuality, and all your relationships, including your view of society as a whole. Its your therapists JOB to help you connect your past to the present so that you have more control over decisions that affect your future. S/he can’t do this if you don’t give him or her anything to work with.
So, if you’re feeling stuck in therapy, the first thing to do is say so—not to your friends, but to your shrink. If you don’t know how to say it, write it down and then read it during your session. The therapeutic relationship isn’t all about the patient; it requires an interaction between both the practitioner and the client if there’s going to be any healing.
From there, you can start building trust. Yeah, sure your shrink sees other patients and listens to everyone bitch and moan about their problems, but they have a reason they do this and some sort of commitment to helping people’s lives become better. Sooner or later you’ll believe this or you won’t, you’ll rely on them or you won’t. But the choice is yours. If you want to get better and fix yourself, you have to start telling the truth, starting with the fact that you’re feeling stuck. You won’t hurt their feelings, I promise. Once that becomes clear, you can move on to uglier truths, more painful truths, and then one day you might find how liberating self-disclosure can be in healing old wounds.