You simply cannot ignore an elephant in a room, especially not in a small room. Well, you can for a time. Maybe you take special precautions to sit in the corner of the room, furthest from its large flopping ears and gray trunk. Perhaps you cover your ears when it lets out a shrill trumpet sound, close your eyes, and even hide behind your nearest friend as its large stocky legs draw nearer. However, eventually elephants will make themselves known. They may tear up an entire room doing so, but regardless, you’ll be forced to acknowledge them.
Most of us like real elephants but hate the metaphorical ones. The elephants in our hearts, minds, and lives that disturb us most often enter in uninvited. Psychologically we become experts at denial, pushing these problems and issues to the outskirts of our minds. “Out of sight, out of mind” becomes our philosophy. However, who are we kidding? Certainly not the elephant and probably not ourselves. The truth remains that the concern is still very much present, firmly standing its ground.
I passionately believe that one of the most important features of therapy is to allow a safe space for these elephants to be ‘unearthed’ and better understood. In other words, being vulnerable to the realities in our lives that we tend to dismiss-perhaps because they feel too large or too threatening-is a critical part of the process of personal awareness, growth, and healing.
Allowing clients a safe space to face these emotional elephants at their own pace lies at the heart of my passion for counseling. And why?
Because I know the personal impact it has made in my life.
I am so thankful for my first-ever counselor who challenged me to forge past my meticulously crafted and comfortable ‘topics to discuss’ list each week. I’m so grateful for my therapist’s willingness to sit with me in the discomfort and tension [ and oftentimes uncomfortable silence ] which existed in the shrinking space between my elephant and me. Finally, I am forever thankful for that time when I was allowed to move at my own slow pace towards the large, messy animal on the otherside of the room. And by the time I found myself face-to-face with it, there was a certain inner peace and strength I gained from embracing the tension, crossing the divide, and vocalizing its reality in my life.
“Tension is the great integrity.” –Richard Buckmeister Fuller
I love this quote by R.B. Fuller who was an American architect, author, and inventor. As an architect, surely he understood the importance of literal tension in the building and structures he created. For instance, even those of us with a minimal understanding of architecture recognize that that a bridge will collapse unless tension exists between the two base structures on either end. I similarly view the importance of recognizing and pressing-in to the emotional tension we may experience.
Pressing-in toward the tension requires vulnerability [ if you read my blog, you’ve likely noticed that I strongly believe in this word ] and humility. It can be difficult and even painful-perhaps comparable to taking off a bandaid, which has covered a deep scar for the first time. However, I feel that it is essential in wholly embracing who we are and where we are at.
Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.