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Jump the Pond
one was raised in a particular pond: Their home, their community. And in that
pond, the fish tend to look alike and swim in schools of similar fish. The pond
becomes familiar; it is what the person knows. It is the sum of their
experience. It is their normal, even if polluted.
parents were snowbirds; retired Canadians who flew to warmer climates for the
winter. They wintered in California. Yearly, for many years I would fly into Los
Angeles, pick up a rental car and drive to Palm Springs to visit. Flying into LA
was like flying into a dirty toilet bowl. There was a brown ring of pollution
that hung around the city. I have a mild allergy and within ten minutes of
disembarking, my eyes would begin to itch and my throat would become scratchy. I
would pick up my luggage and head on over to the car rental counter. By the time
I reached the counter, I would be sneezing and wheezing from the pollution. I
would look the clerk in the eye and pointedly ask, how can you stand that
pollution. The clerk would look at me puzzled and say, what pollution?
growing up in LA have a higher risk of respiratory disease for no other reason
than living there. Most do not realize it. They won’t know it until diagnosed
with a respiratory illness. It is otherwise, their normal. I often
wondered, if you took someone from LA and dropped them off in say, Iowa – corn
country, would they notice the sweet smell of the air? Would it cause them to
look differently at LA if they were to return home?
come to counselling in distress. Their distress may be presented as an
individual issue such as depression or anxiety. Alternately, they may be looking
at sorting out a relationship issue with a difficult family member. As the
history of the problem unveils, the therapist learns of the family dysfunction
related to abuse, domestic violence and/or parental alcoholism. The abuse may
have taken the form of verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual and/or
neglect. The therapist quickly learns that the pond the person has grown up in
was remarkably polluted by these factors. However, like the clerk in LA, the
person is totally unaware that the toxic soup he or she has been exposed to, is
the root cause of his or her distress. The person is seeking counselling to, in
a sense, feel better while continuing to live in a toxic soup.
all the tea in China, there are those folks for whom the toxicity of their pond
will be unremitting. There may be no way to find peace or happiness still being
subject to the ravages of alcoholism, violence, abuse and neglect.
A trip away, may be in order.
presented in this manner to a person affected this way, it may come as quite a
surprise. They may not be ready to accept that their normal was anything
but and contributory to their distress. Further, the person may feel either remarkably dependent upon
the fish in his or her pond, or alternately may feel responsible for the care of
the other fish. Either way, they feel stuck. Certainly he or she has never
really ventured out of their pond. These persons have extrapolated from their
experience and have a belief system that suggests that given their pond is normal,
then life everywhere else on earth is the same.
challenge when living in a polluted pond that contributes to your distress may
not be necessarily changing your self to cope to continue living amongst the
muck. That you are distressed may be a good sign that there is a reasonable
disharmony where your body is signaling you to get out of the pond, beyond your
awareness of the toxins therein.
the therapy in the world may not be able to help this individual live
harmoniously and happily in a polluted pond. The challenge then is not living
within, but living without. The challenge may require cutting the ties that bind
and seeking out other ponds; learning about life with other fish and learning,
that like in Iowa, the air is sweet.
It may be time to jump the pond.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
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