Gifts in Disguise


I made the mistake of looking at my email last night, when Sunday is already quite a pressured experience anyway, preparing for the week. Glancing through, I found that I’d been fired by a client.

The pain of it inhabited the space before I went to bed, as well as my dreams and in between as I lie awake. The pain being multifold, inflicted partly by my internal critic quickly identifying my errors with this client, partly worry about harm I might have caused, and partly due to my own personal traumatic material.

My more recent work has enabled me to turn toward grief and difficult feelings. The resulting introspection and discovery leads me to wanting to share here.

The essential “error” was too many misattunements in too short a period of time. My dear colleague Twig Wheeler talks of this in relation to SE, saying that as a practitioner, you get 2, possibly 3 strikes, and then you’re outta there.

I can see how due to some stress in my personal life, I had instances of being less than perfectly attuned. As I replay things, I can identify moments where I might have been able to seize upon the moment and name what was happening in those moments. This may or may not have made a difference.

The thing I would have named is the pattern of conflating disagreement with threat and otherness.

This experience was necessary because I am human and need reminders. And because I am still growing and will continue to grow. And because I am human. Because I do the same thing, we ALL do the same thing that this person was doing. I needed to see my own pull to identify fault or cause and otherize my client in response to being otherized.

As I allow my grief, it is impossible to not be aware of the ways in which I have “othered”, continue to “other”, on a daily basis. I am usually aware of it, and interested in and capable of inquiry about it. In this way, there’s possiblity, room for change and expansion of my perspective. I’m also acutely aware of my own trauma patterns that have made me, and still drive me, from time to time, to move away from another person because their disagreement feels threatening to me.

This is a cause for further grieving, because I can see this everywhere, in a new way, due to the gift from my client. I wish there had been an opportunity to have a conversation, to repair, but alas, I don’t get to choose, nor to know whether it would have made a difference, or whether the best thing for both of us has already occurred in this case. I grieve not getting the chance for a closing (a hazard of this job no one ever talks about in the training period).

I’m sharing so you can think about the distortions we are seeing in society at large, where we have a really low tolerance for discomfort, which makes it even harder to examine the othering that happens as a result of being driven by our trauma states and baser drives for safety and tribalism. It feels incredibly sad and isolating. I see it in my family, and the families of others, at the grocery store, on the road, on the bike path.

We all have the right to distance ourselves from whatever feels threatening to us. If our insides are creating the thing that feels threatening, rather than the outside (I am not talking about -isms and true environmental threats), then we may be continually actually be trying to move away from ourselves. The more we try to move away from ourselves, the more conflicted we become. I think you can see the dilemma.

I do the work I do, no matter how painful it may be at times, as an expression of trying to take responsibility for my othering, and help others be able to do the same.

I want to express my deep gratitude to all of you for your assistance in my becoming more and more awake, adult, and compassionate in this life I’m gifted with.

About Cynthia M Clingan

Cynthia Clingan is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Columbus, Ohio who offers somatic psychotherapy, spiritual coaching, and meditation and mindfulness instruction.
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