“You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
-Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
I lean forward, resting my elbows on my knees. I look my client in the eye intently. She looks back uncomfortably. This is one of those situations where I am want her to be uncomfortable, because what I am about to say is, I know, as imperative for her to learn as it is outside of her norm to consider.
“I’m sorry?” she says.
I stand up, spread my arms out, breathe in, lift my chin up and proclaim like a madwoman to the room “TAKE SPACE!!!”
Now she’s really uncomfortable. I sit down and resume the intense posturing of a Superbowl coach during halftime.
“The only thing I teach people to do in therapy is to take space. Make room for your needs in your life. Stop living as if your feelings are a liability, your wants are a burden, your boundaries are destructive, don’t live as if what you require for peace of mind is stressful for others, that to ask for nurturing is selfish. Placed in priority above your own well-being is an intense fear of appearing ungrateful, weak, self-centered, gluttonous or narcissistic. This is all based upon the habit of self-constriction, the idea somehow that the world doesn’t have enough space to accommodate your needs, or that for some unstated reason your existence demands that you suppress your desiderata.”
“SO! Remember when I said ‘You are what you need’? If you don’t make room for your needs in your life, then what does that do to the self?” I ask.
“It makes the self smaller.” She says.
“Genius! And if the self is smaller or weakened, then self-worth is what?”
“Weakened,” she answers.
“Brilliant! And if self-worth is weakened then what happens to self-care?” I ask.
“It’s reduced,” she replies.
“Prodigal! So what is an eating disorder?”
“It’s not taking care of myself because I don’t feel like I deserve to,” she says, looking down.
“Yeah…” I whisper. “Hey. What do we need to do about that? Should I give you a lecture on why you should take care of yourself or is that just information you already know?”
“I already know it, I just can’t do it,” she says.
“OK. So instead should we work on helping you take space in the world? Building up your fulfillment of your needs by asking your world to nurture you? This might increase your ability to feel worthy of eating, worthy of taking care of yourself, worthy of taking action on all the healthy things that everyone says you should do for you?” I ask.
Smiling shyly, she nods.
“Where should we start?”
“Well, I could tell my dad that it feels good when he hugs me goodnight, I could take out my jewelry kit and start working on making some bracelets…just for me!” she adds, grinning. “I might even ask mom for help with the jewelry. I could ask my friend to stop teasing me about what I wear…is that taking space?” she asks.
“You got it!”
-P.S. last week I wrote about the poem “desiderata” as striking at the core of my system of Thermodynamic Psychology. I had never looked up the definition of “desiderata” though, until recently.
desiderata: plural noun, singular desideratum: things wanted or needed; the plural of desideratum
In that moment, I was overwhelmed with a feeling that, perhaps the universe really IS unfolding as it should….