01 Aug It
No, I’m not talking about the terrifying Stephen King novel about the murdering Pennywise the Clown. The It that I’m thinking of is something completely different yet also very frightening. This It is the It that sometimes needs to be discussed, addressed or challenged in your life or the lives of your loved ones. In therapy, I see it all the time that a person or a couple will finally whittle down their thoughts and get to what It is. He/she/they are right there and the next logical statement is about It and suddenly, very often, something else is thrown out there and It is gone back into the shadows.
Here’s a common example with a fictitious couple. Tom and Mary come to talk about their marriage and certainly their marriage is an issue of concern. But after a few minutes or sessions, Mary refers maybe a second or third time to some bad disagreement or other and in which she uses the word “drinks”. This raises my radar a little and so I say something like, “Mary, I’ve heard you mention a couple of times that some of the fights you and Tom have had include some level of alcohol consumption.” After a little more discussion around the topic, it becomes clear that this is a subject that needs to be addressed regardless of whether or not either of them drinks too much. Drinking is an It. Right about this point, Tom starts the effort to move the shiny light off of It and on to somewhere, anywhere else.
“Well, I wasn’t the only one drinking that night.” “If she would give me five minutes from the time I walk in the door, I might not feel a need to drink.” “Oh, and I suppose my drinking is to blame for all our troubles.” “Oh, and I suppose it’s all my fault we are about to get a divorce.”
Then, as if on cue, Mary joins the “let’s change the subject” efforts by raising her voice or cursing or attacking Tom’s family for being a “bunch of drunks”.
From there, it’s easy to get lost in any of these other subjects and even I have to fight the urge to move to an easier, less pointed, and ultimately less productive topic. And let me say for the record, there is nothing easy about talking about It even if they later discover that it’s not as huge or central as their fear would indicate.
So what’s the take away from all this? First, though I used alcohol as my example, the Itcould be on any topic; alcohol, other substance use, health concerns, boundaries, parenting, money, jobs, extended family, and on and on. Next, to those who need to address a difficult topic with someone important (mostly everyone), be prepared for their attempts to push your buttons or change the subject or get defensive in order to move you away from what you need to address. Stay as calm as you can and do your best to quietly and lovingly return to It. Finally, to those who have issues that need to be discussed but which cause great and even primal fear (mostly everyone), I can only ask you to be courageous. Trust that the person across the table loves you and wants what is best for you and for their relationship with you. Remember that alone in the dark, It can seem really scary but sometimes, when you take the massive step to pull it out into the light, It may not be as menacing or awful as you feared. More over, if It is menacing and awful, I promise you will have more success dealing with It out where it can be clearly seen.