Living on impulse (Part 3)
For those of us invested in helping clients strive toward health and happiness, the tragedy in this story is that Maryanne’s health problems are not simply age related; in fact, they are largely preventable.
Imagine that Maryann is like a fish in a bowl of water. She cannot see the water in which she is swimming. Now let’s say that a toxic substance is introduced to the water in a minute quantity; a quantity so small that, as a one-time application, it would do no harm. But that same quantity is added day after day, gradually changing the quality of the water. Maryanne, the fish, adapts a little, perhaps so imperceptibly that she doesn’t even notice…at first. She continues to adapt a little more each day, unaware that it is the toxic water she is swimming in that is causing her condition to worsen by the day. Rather, she takes pride in her coping skills; right up until the day she can adapt no further and is found floating belly-up.
Survival depends on how well we adapt to our environment; or so we are taught to believe. I consider that model of behavior to simply perpetuate suffering in our lives. Consider the incidence of people who find themselves in a fishbowl contaminated by toxins. The majority choose to remain and cope or adapt, believing there to be no way out. But humans are not fish! If you have a functional brain, and you open your senses to the possibility of a toxic environment, you can find a way out.
I did not always know this. I am thankful that I discovered it. Much of my current practice today is built on helping clients to see the water they are swimming in.
I know for a fact that Chinese women can endure much suffering. As I grew up in that culture, it was a sign of weakness to ask for help. A neighbor of mine in Ohio, a counseling professor at the local university, asked me to give a talk on cultural counseling to her class. She thought it would be beneficial for her students to learn about how Chinese women respond to psychological counseling. I laughed and told her it would be a very short talk! Chinese people do not air their dirty laundry. We do not tell other people our secrets, let alone pay someone to listen to our woes! Nevertheless I went. We had a good discussion of what prevents Chinese women from telling others about their problems.
That phenomenon is not limited to Chinese women. Most folks do not like to share their problems with others. For one thing, like Maryann they do not realize they have a problem. For another, if they are aware, it comes as a revelation that they are not alone and that help is available. So, even in American culture, people suffer silently, or somehow interpret their suffering (i.e., unhappiness, sadness, depression) as normal, believing it to simply be their lot in life.
Knowing and doing nothing is easily rationalized by the belief that they no power to change. Others take pride in suffering, as their destiny, qualifying them to enter heaven. Whatever the rational, suffering is universal, cross-cultural and trans-generational. For Maryanne tomorrow’s change never comes. The fish continues to accept and endure the toxic water in which it swims; coping, adjusting, adapting and accepting until one day it dies and knows not why.