Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Would You Have Done This Too?

We all do it, even though we know (or should know) better. We tell ourselves, our juniors, our peers and dependents not to do it - and we all take heed. But from time to time, we forget ourselves and before we know it - there we go, we've done it again! 

I'm one of these people. I'm guilty of all of the above - and yet I still managed to do it the other day, knowing full well that I really do know better. 

'Did what?' I hear you ask.

I made a judgement about a person based solely on what I saw. I made my assessment within the requisite 10 seconds, and would have based the whole of the rest of the encounter on this scant information had it not have been for this person making the effort (and knowing what I know now, it really was a supreme effort) to reach out to connect with me. And I'm bitterly disappointed in myself because I feel now that it should have been the other way round - I should have reached out to this person, and not with my 'therapist' hat on, but with my 'empathetic, normal human being' hat on.

What I saw was a person who looked rather disheveled, with multi-coloured hair, tattoos, piercings, weird clothes* and frankly in need of a good wash. None of these things were particularly outlandish, but most noticeable was the spaced-out look and lack of eye contact. It was this that led me to make my first wrong assumption - druggie, I thought. How wrong was I.

I could feel myself looking for excuses to cut short our encounter, but through this person's tenacity, our conversation persisted and it eventually came to light that they had suffered a recent, extremely tragic loss - the worst possible kind - the sudden death of an infant. 

And then it all made sense. That's what shock does to us - we retreat into our shell to hide away from further hurt, so that to the outside world we appear to be functioning, but in fact we are really only existing. The expression 'lights on, but no-one at home' says it all. 

If I had met this person in my treatment room, I would have carried out a treatment to counteract this very obvious reaction to shock without hesitation. And I would have persisted in establishing and maintaining a connection, because support, understanding and a listening ear were what they were crying out for. 

And I was too busy formulating my judgement to hear.

*There you go - another judgement. Weird by whose standards?

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