In my family, growing up, there was a value placed on humility.
Also, there was a fear of reprisal for the Sin of bragging.
I heard, around my house, many times, that if one bragged, retribution could be swift — from supernatural sources or from my fellow human beings. And I grew up with some fear about envy directed towards me.
I also felt safe enough to feel “full of myself” as I grew.
I have a particular memory, at age seven, of balancing on a short, wrought-iron railing in my backyard.
That’s not the actual railing from my backyard. Somehow, though, that captures the “feel” of my memory (even though that Google Image shows the winter, not the beautiful spring day of my memory).
In that wonderful memory, when I was seven, I was balancing on the wrought-iron railing in my backyard, and thinking, for the first time, thoughts like these:
“Hey! I can do this!
“I am whole.”
“I am great.”
It’s hard to capture that memory in words, because it’s my first memory of a certain feeling. In retrospect, using my “clinical lens” as a psychotherapist, I would now say those were my first feelings of mastery. My first feelings of self esteem, as a young child.
That moment was so wonderful, that I can remember it, clearly, fifty three years later.
I believe that there were probably many reasons why I had those feelings, that day. Here’s one reason, I’m speculating now: I must have felt loved, by people I also loved.
However, like I mentioned before, there was also fear of reprisal, in my home, for feeling too full of yourself. And I did feel very full of myself, that fine spring day, balancing on a short wrought-iron railing in the backyard.
And, sure enough, there were some “reprisals” from the universe. Before much time had passed, after that wonderful spring day, I was spending a lot of time, ill, in hospital beds, separated from the people who loved me.
But there were a couple of people, in those hospitals, who also loved me (enough), to help me feel safe (enough). That’s what I believe, right now.
As a result, I may have been damaged by those scary hospital experiences, but I didn’t completely lose that wholeness I had felt, while balancing on that wrought-iron fence in the backyard.
I may have lost track of that wholeness and self-esteem, at times. But it was always there, waiting for me to find it again.
i was wounded, but not shattered. And wounds can heal.
A therapist once gave me a poem, which included a line about a vase that had been broken and glued back together again. I can’t remember the poem or the line, but I remember the important “points” of that poem: The vase was whole again, in a new way. And the vase was strongest, at the mended join.
It doesn’t feel that way, sometimes. I can feel most vulnerable, most at risk of shattering, at those scarred and mending places. And when I feel more vulnerable, I can be more afraid of those Old-Time Scary Things: Envy from other people and from the universe at large.
Which can keep me “playing small,” at times. Which can prevent me from bragging. Which can prevent me from climbing up and saying to myself or others:
“Hey! I can do this!”
“I am whole.”
“I am great.”
Despite that fear, I am going to take a risk today, and quote some co-workers who reviewed their experience of working with me, last week. (All quotes are anonymous, of course, and each person stated comfort with these quotes being shared.)
(Taking a deep breath, because this DOES feel scary.)
Okay, here are some quotes:
Working with Ann has been very rewarding.
With her emphasis on forming and maintaining connections, she is highly successful in forging relationships with patients and staff alike, and with the strength of her conviction that everyone has valuable resources to share with others, she inspires hope and bolsters self esteem.
Ann is exceedingly approachable and collaborative. Always upbeat and very devoted to her work and helping other providers and patients alike.
I am very happy to work with Ann. She is a knowledgeable and compassionate therapist.
I love teaming with Ann Koplow and hope we continue our partnership.
Working with Ann has been a great experience for me. She is always open to my questions and eager to help. Her energy and enthusiasm raise the spirits of her colleagues. She is most certainly a trusted partner and collaborator in the care of our patients. My patients who have been able to do therapy with Ann give me only positive feedback.
Yikes, those are good reviews.
So what am I afraid of, now? That perhaps sharing those might be alienating to some people. That perhaps my “bragging” will cause some retribution against me, in some way.
However, while I have witnessed the backlash of envy (from people or the universe), which has fueled those old fears, I have also witnessed something quite different, too:
The mutual power of healing.
That is, when one person feels healed in a group — which often involves accepting positive, authentic feedback from others — the other people seem to heal, a little, too. I have seen smiles on people’s faces when somebody in their midst “brags” about an accomplishment. Or when somebody gets authentic, heart-felt compliments from other people in the group.
Another point: even if envy might scare me sometime, it’s just another human and natural emotion. And as I wrote about yesterday, human emotions are like the weather: passing through, soon to be replaced by something else. And while the weather (and envy) might kill some people, more often than not, it does not.
I want to end this post with another quote: a poem by the Persian poet, Rumi. I love this poem and have used it with many other people, over the years. One reason I want to quote this poem today? Because of something I witnessed yesterday in the waiting room where I work: A previously depressed woman, born in Iran, grinning from ear to ear, “bragging” about some recent accomplishments, and blowing a kiss to her old therapist, who happened to be walking by.
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
My deepest thanks to Rumi, to people I’ve worked with over the years, to the wonderful blog where I found that picture of the vase, and to all the people, out there, who have felt envious of or healed by the “bragging” of others.