Let’s get deep. By Paul Krauss MA LPC
Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you. — Carl Jung
What are authentic conversations? So much of mainstream culture focuses on so-called “surface talk”: What do you “do”?, “Where are you going?” “Did you see this television series?” “Have you heard the latest news?” “Have you heard about so-and-so’s new truck?” “Have you tried out this restaurant?” There is absolutely nothing wrong with these types of “surface discussions” in your day to day life—especially when you are at work, going to the store, at school, and other places where you are not around the chosen few people that you have intimate and authentic conversations with. However, a problem arises when family members, close friends, and even romantic partners are not able to meet you in a deep or intimate conversation. Due to various reasons, the people who are supposed to be “closest” to you are, in fact, unable to receive your communication or engage you on topics that are important to you. It could also be that in your family, vulnerable and authentic conversations are avoided in group and even individual settings, while conversations about “the weather”, “facts” and “cultural norms” are encouraged. These types of conversations often do not involve vulnerable relationship risk-taking—as the point of these so-called “surface” talks is not really to get to know someone on a deeper and intimate level, but to predict the flow of conversation, navigate public venues, confirm one’s own biases, or worse— just to pass the time. It has been anecdotally reported that when people do not have deep and meaningful discussions in their lives with people whom they trust—they may feel isolated and depressed—even if they are surrounded by others (in the physical sense).
In the post-modern world, the phrase “chosen-family” and “authentic friends” are now cultural buzzwords. These phrases are reflecting a deep need in people to move beyond the surface and day-to-day trivial conversations, and into honest and vulnerable conversations about what it means to be a human, what trials one is experiencing, the difficulty of making pivotal life choices, the disconnect and breakdown between religion and healthy spiritual practices, the difficulties facing parents, what is happening in the divisive realm of politics, mental health stigmas, the fate of the planet, honest talks about money, the gap between the rich and the poor, and much more. With a trend away from surface discussions, many are discussing intimate details of their romantic relationships, the birth of a child, or death of a relative in a radically open way that is causing much of the archaic cultural trappings of “image is everything” to pushed aide. We have learned, from psychology and philosophy, that having a sense of “meaning” in one’s life is as important to being human as drinking water. Yet, because of a variety of cultural influences including “survival” by “inclusion” in a “tribe” many people have denied their own opinions, stories, and emotions about their lives in order to “fit in.” Thanks to the postmodern ability of our age to have a relatively easy mobility (compared to 100 years ago) to a new state, country, and experience life in a different culture—many people are realizing that they now have the ability to start relationships based on a shared sense of meaning—telling the truth and having deep authentic conversations that are far beyond “surface talk.” Others have even gone further, frustrated with their family’s lack of depth in conversation or lack of emotional support—and have found a “chosen-family” who they live life alongside.
Due to a variety of factors, many people who are seeking deep authentic friendships and a “chosen-family” have not found them. Often times, these people find themselves coming into counseling because they do not feel safe expressing themselves inside of their workplace, friend group, or family of origin. They do not feel safe expressing emotions, opinions, or even telling their story of how they experience life—as the culture of their family, workplace, or friend group may view these honest expressions as a threat against the preservation of the system. Or perhaps there is a dominant figure in these families, workplaces, or friend groups who is attempting to preserve a self-serving narrative for power reasons. Whatever the issue, when people find themselves in some type of aforementioned situation—they often feel lonely and feel “adrift” without a deep sense of meaning. Often times, seeing a counselor or therapist is a way for people to feel deeply heard, help repair their social wounds, and work to gain the confidence to create and integrate in a community that meets their needs. Counseling is a temporary intervention that can help you when you are wanting to ask the big questions, live in the mystery, feel adrift and devoid of meaning, and find yourself incredibly lonely due to a lack of authentic friendships and void of deep and honest communication with those around you.
At a time of transition or seeking, it is important to start with ourselves and begin to journal or write down what we are interested in, what are questions are, what situations bother us, and how do we make sense of our personal history? Once we get a clear view of who we are and what is important to us, we can then bravely venture out of our (now) uncomfortable comfort zone and seek others whose path is similar or complementary to our own. There are so many questions to ask one’s self. I will begin with an example of just a few below.
Here are some questions to ask one’s self:
- What are the things I fear the most?
- What fascinates and inspires me?
- What will sustain me in my darkest hour?
Now, there are many other questions that one can ask oneself, including “What are my top 3 values as a human?” “What do I profess to be important to me, but usually do not live out—in practice?” “If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing about my life—what would it be?” “What is my greatest strength and my greatest weakness?”
Remember that avoidance of the big questions seems easier—but it is not sustainable and denial always has consequences. Since we live with a deep consciousness, whether we acknowledge it or not, we must live with the consequences of not asking the big questions in our lives, not engaging in honest and authentic dialogue, and not venturing outside of our comfort zones. Life is difficult, dangerous, and anxiety provoking on its own—isn’t it time we addressed our fears and found others to support us on our journey? If you do not have people in your life naturally, counseling can be a temporary aide to you. However, make sure that your counselor has “done their own inner-work” and is familiar with existential therapy as well as depth psychology. If a counselor is culturally encapsulated, then you may experience “sanctuary trauma” with the same pat answers that your family of origin or old friend group would give you. As Richard Rohr said “You can only take someone as far as you have gone yourself.” So make sure you interview your future counselor or therapist and feel free to ask them “What have you been reading?” “What counselors have had the largest influence on your practice?” “What types of advanced training do you do?” “What are your religious or spiritual practices, if any?” “What do you think of the concentration of wealth in the United States?” Let’s get deep people! Do not waste your time with a counselor or therapist who is interested in upholding the “status quo” or seeks to label you with a litany of “diagnosis” instead of working with you where you are to go deep and help you face what is necessary for your own journey toward transformation. Also, remember to seek someone who is trauma-informed in their approach as well.
Human beings are meaning making creatures. There are many deep human needs. But a large one is this: To know oneself and to be known by another on a soul level. Before counseling was invented, it was well known that awareness and enlightenment came through honest sharing with another who was willing to listen and engage with you. Notice: In the human psyche, the questions will always be there. It is our task to live the questions out and not expect easy answers to the questions of life, death, and depth. If you are going to change—there will be a difficult period. As they say at the gym: “No pain, no gain.” The road to transformation comes from the narrow cocoon to emerge as a creature that can fly. Yet, this transformation is not a one-time event! It is a continuous growth process, where we must find the balance in our life and live through the difficulties and the pain—to find new areas of conscious awareness and growth. Just like the lobster that grows too large for its shell and has to painfully break open the shell, before growing a new plating of “outer skin” or “armor.” We humans are always in need to break open to the next level of awareness and growth—as painful as that may be. Staying stuck is more painful.
Every individual needs revolution, inner division, overthrow of the existing order, and renewal…
-C.G. Jung, CW 7, p. 5
If you are looking to get deep with a counselor in Grand Rapids, MI, consider the counselors at Health for Life Grand Rapids. Or call now 616-200-4433.