My blogs this week are dedicated to self-care.
When you think of the word grit, the term ‘true grit’ comes to mind. More intriguing than the word ‘grit’ is the confusion created by having the word ‘true’ associated with it. Is it possible to have ‘false grit’ or ‘fake grit.’? Whereas such a prospect might seem absurd, my clinical work showed otherwise.
I worked for 15 years with veterans who’s lives were affected by trauma. I was fortunate, beyond measure, to have paid witness to the quiet heroism my clients displayed everyday of their lives, moving forward despite nightmares, sleepless nights, throbbing despair, and intra-psychic pain. I consider it to have been a sacred privilege that some of the finest people on earth, those who served country, entrusted their care to me.
I had long seen PTSD as a disorder of detachment and worked hard to help my clients foster healthy attachments with others. Withdrawal from others, isolation, and avoidance are coping strategies often used by people with PTSD to help manage the internal turmoil that comes with the syndrome. Unfortunately, there’s a tremendous cost that comes from a tendency to pull back or pull away from others. Loved ones of people with PTSD pay an awful cost. Much of my clinical work was spent helping veterans with PTSD establish ways to counteract avoidance.
I truly believe that my veterans lived their lives with true grit; moving forward despite the awful price war wages on the soul.
It wasn’t until a former boss of mine retired that I saw something more clearly than I had ever seen before. Over a two day seminar of insights from a career dedicated to helping others with PTSD, Charlie, my former supervisor, made an interesting observation. He noted that people with PTSD not only have conflicted relations with others, but they also have conflicted dealings with their selves.
I had worked with clients with PTSD for more than ten years at that point in my career. Also, I had long seen deep-seated feelings of guilt and shame underneath my client’s struggles. I just never saw so clearly the conflicted sense of self that underlies the syndrome. Moreover, it shined a light on difficult processes that underlie all our relationships with our respective selves.
We all have a relationship with ourselves. We all sense self. In fact, My Writer’s Voice is a blog dedicated to the a part of my self (a writer’s voice) which offers commentary, perspective, and, at times, criticism to the circumstances that are part of my life. My self just so happens to stumble upon more off-beat things than most other people I know. From the things I have stumbled upon and bumbled into, I know what it’s like to experience conflict between a part of myself (that shown in my writer’s voice) and the reality of the actual circumstances that surround my self.
Object Relations was a theoretical viewpoint that was popular in Psychology in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Central to it’s teachings were the notion of ‘Ideal Self’, ‘False Self’, and ‘True Self’. The word grit is particularly helpful to plainly show the difference between these abstract concepts. True grit is the ability to accept the circumstances that surround our lives without over-idealizing our importance (Ideal Self) or beating ourselves up over our performances (False Self).
St. Thomas Acquinas had another way of looking at this process. He defined humility as the capacity to accepts ourselves in terms of who and what God always intended of us. When we accept the limits and shortcomings of our self in the face of our life circumstances, we show the kind of True Grit that allows our True Self to shine through our life circumstances.
Unfortunately, mywriter’s voice, the internal commentator by which my blog is based, comes from a perspective which continues to struggle with the whole notion of humility. Thus, do what I say and not what I do.
Foremost, all of this points to why I felt such a deep sense of admiration for the veteran’s I once worked with in my clinical work. All of us struggle to come to terms with the circumstances that surround our lives and selves. We all have to find a way to be kind to self when we fail to live up to our expectations or when an internal critic dog’s us. If you then add on the kinds of things and experiences that wound the soul in war, everyday struggles are taken to a whole new level. I am forever grateful to the privlege I had to work with the finest men and women on earth who had the true grit to face these struggles day-in and day-out.
Good self-care begins with the true grit to face self and enjoy the company you keep when nobody else is around.
© Gregory Masiello, 2017