‘You were lucky to live in the bottom of a lake! There were 150 of us living in a shoebox in the middle of the road…we dreamed of living in a lake!’
…Monty Python ‘Four Yorkshiremen’
This famed Monty Python skit shows four men having a discussion about their childhoods, culminating in what amounts to a contest about who had the direst conditions growing up. After each increasingly outlandish assertion, such as ‘eating gravel off road for breakfast’, the refrain from the others was, ‘You were lucky!’
This skit always cracks me up because, as with all good comedy, it takes a basic quirk of human nature and blows it up larger than life. The underlying theme shows our tendency to want to our difficulties to be acknowledged, not topped by another. It also demonstrates our propensity to magnify our suffering, at times beyond all proportion, if others minimise our troubles. Not a helpful dynamic!
I had a great reminder of this during the week when I was privileged to see in therapy a very staunch man who had been wiped out by a careless driver. He was doing all that he could to get better and still his suffering was unavoidably immense. At the end of our session, he somewhat shame-facedly admitted there was once thing that was driving him a bit crazy in the responses of those around him.
Yep: ‘You were lucky!’ He wondered what was so lucky about the pain and disability he was enduring. About missing work, his beloved sports, isolation from his mates, inability to help his family, and so on the list went. Yes, he knew that it was great to be alive. Don’t worry; he had thanked his God numerous times! But he wondered why people felt the need to continually reinforce this whilst almost willfully ignoring his many new troubles.
Is it too broad a generalisation to say that we in the Western world are uncomfortable with the dark emotions? Probably. And yet, I think ‘You were lucky’ is partly a function of that. People shuffle their feet before speaking to the widow at the funeral, and say such sage things as ‘Ah well he is in a better place now’. Great.
This is why people present for therapy: to tell the WHOLE story of how they feel. Not just the sanitised version of emotions found to be acceptable by the general public. Lifting the veil of ‘positive thinking’ we can get to the real stuff underneath, the emotions that make up all of our lives. Not that a therapist is the only person who can do this; any human can. It’s about being brave enough to visit the dark places with a person as well as the light places for which we are all grateful.
There is compelling research to show that gratitude is one strand of happiness. However, in my experience, telling people how lucky they are often just makes them focus on what feels bad or even worse, guilts them up with feelings of being ungrateful. See what happens the next time you are with someone who is having a hard time of it, and you acknowledge both sides of their story. Perhaps the connection this brings will really bless all involved.
Soon, I will start running groups for people with pain, injuries and illness. The groups will assist with having a better life whilst living with these difficult situations. One thing I will NOT be telling participants is how lucky they are. I hope that people might come to this conclusion themselves after we have explored the grief and used our mindfulness and other skills to learn more about living with these conditions.
Groups will start in August and run weekly (1.5 hours per week) for four weeks. There will be a maximum of 10 participants in each group. I have regularly noticed in the past how powerful the group situation is for people with physical suffering, as there are others present who do understand the difficulties experienced, and the group can share strategies in addition to those presented by myself.
Please call (07) 5473 5238 for further information or visit the pain management tab of www.sunshinepsychology.com.au