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by Lisa Anderson Shaffer, LMFT
March 14th 2021

Hi Friends, I'm Lisa Anderson Shaffer - coach, consultant, psychotherapist, and resident psych enthusiast. And I LOVE psychology! It's the study of human behavior after all and isn't... More

Hi Friends and welcome to Joy is Now the podcast where we take a psychologically minded look at life. I'm your host, Lisa Anderson Shaffer coach, consultant, and resident psych enthusiast. Joy is Now is sponsored by listeners like you visit Lisa Anderson Shaffer dot com to join the community and become a one time or recurring patron of the podcast. Oh and Hey, before we begin, I'm busy working away on the next season of Joy, want to be a guest? Have questions about psychology, therapy modalities? A topic or emotion you'd like to hear me discuss? Email me at Lisa Anderson Shaffer at gmail dot com and be in on the Joy. Why normal is trash, psychology and the stick.
Back to normal. Have you heard that phrase lately? Oh yeah. It seems to be one of the few things that Americans can agree upon these days, a desire to go back to normal.

Really normal. Well, let me set fire to that unifying idea. Why? Because normal is actually horseshit. For one, there is little usefulness returning to something that no longer exists. Yet this idea of holding on to what we thought of as normal with a cold, dead, hand feels necessary for so many, specifically those who are adverse to change and are unwilling to look within to do the work. So what gives? Wow, it remains true that the only person you can really change is yourself. But damn if we don't look like assholes when we refuse to change. With all honesty and empathy, friends, we can only run so long and so far from all this emotional stuff. It catches up with everyone. As we get older and others change and evolve and choose growth, the refusal to work towards change is ultimately limiting. Stifling. We end up working much harder, trying to outrun it,

then we would being curious, looking within and doing the work. Stop being afraid of getting to know yourself. It's for the best. I promise. When I hear the phrase back to normal, I'm reminded of psychologist Esther Perel and her extraordinary work with couples. When a relationship is on the brink of ending due to deception and infidelity. Perel tells the couple that their old marriage is over. They must now make the decision to end the relationship or agree to enter into a second marriage with each other. In order to honor the relationship moving forward from there not to define the relationship on past ideas, needs and understanding but redefining based on moving forward. It has been a revolutionary idea in couples therapy and is extraordinarily successful. Not back but forward. We currently stand in a similar position, not through deception, but through unforeseen circumstances. We had a hard and fast break from normal, whatever that was. For each of us. For some normal was great others suffocating even deadening and for lots of folks, normal was already a dumpster fire.

How well did normal really serve us? Not so well. When I think of this hard and fast break from normal, a story from the show, Billions comes to mind. Which if you don't watch, stop listening to this right now and go watch that show. I'll be here. The scene goes like this. The character Wendy Rhodes approaches Jack Foley with the question, what do you do when there's no play to be made? When no matter what you choose, it will end in disaster? Foley answers by telling her the story of a classic double bind. The story goes something like this. More or less. A zen teacher holds a stick and tells his student, if you think the stick is real, I will break you with it. If you say it is not real, I will break you with it. If you stay silent, I will break you with it. In response, the student reaches out, grabs the stick from her teacher and breaks it. Jack Foley says to Wendy, "if a situation is untenable, Mrs Rhodes, you break that fucking stick." The thread I'm pulling here is that about 12 months ago we were bombarded with a similar untenable situation.

Who among us broke the stick? The circumstances that usually force us into this lesson is grief, loss. It is the absence of love or more appropriately, the next stage of love. It's hard, it hurts and we do absolutely everything we can to avoid it. But this time we couldn't. Grief came in at us with an immovable force and she required everything to take notice and change. And it's been hard and there are many who have pushed up against her as hard as they can. You might be one. And if you were not, you most certainly know someone who has. The script sounds like this... This external thing cannot force me to change even a little. Even if people's lives are at stake, I will not change and fuck you for asking that of me. Oof. Well, that's nice. To which I say, take a deep breath, relax. Do not be afraid. You don't need to put any hours in on the analytic couch to have the sense to wear a mask, just do it. And while fighting the stick instead of being creative enough to see that it can be altogether broken and rearranged seems weird and stubborn and a little shortsighted and yes, it is all those things.

The response of those to push back at the grief, at the immovable force is also expected and therefore normal. But does that make it good? See what I'm getting at with normal here? Is this really a place we want to go back to? So I propose this, instead of going back to normal, we go forward to better. What does that look like? Well, I don't know yet, but I like to think that the stick we were all holding so fast and so hard was broken for us. Whether we saw the play to break it or not. When it all came crashing down, that's why breaking the stick is such a brilliant play. The options go from zero to limitless potential in an instant. The situation is no longer untenable. Now we get to decide what we put back together and what we trash. Forward to better includes trashing a lot. Of course we have loss and that does not change. One in three of us have lost a loved one to this devastating virus. Nothing will replace that loss. We have little locus of control there. But when it comes to other things, decisions, ideas, beliefs and feelings,

we have a lot of authority and a lot of autonomy. Probably more than any of us feel safe recognizing. Because to change like that, break the stick to turn away from normal is scary and that is some big change. I mean if we're holding onto normal and normal is trash, then the idea that better exists must be terrifying. If better does exist and we are not working for it. Well that would mean we might be responsible for maintaining normal and shit. That can be hard to reconcile for many of us. This kind of change can only take place when we are completely knocked from our orbit. When the situation is truly untenable and we are left with no choice but to break that fucking stick. Here's what I know. I'm a stick breaker time and time again. And grief always gets me in that position. Through grief, I've made changes I would not make otherwise. I dig deep inside myself and ask the big questions.

I spend a lot of time hiding from. I re evaluate. Look within. Without. Above and below. I can say with great professional and personal experience here that I am thankful for the times I reached out and broke that fucking stick. The times I turned away from normal, my normal and decided to give better a try. The important lesson to remember here is when you break the stick, you don't end up with nothing. You now have two sticks and you get to decide what to do with them. Here's to a year.
This has been Joy is Now with me Lisa Anderson Shaffer, LMFT. You can find me for hire at Lisa Anderson Shaffer dot com along with patronage support for this podcast and the These Three Things project. You can also follow along with my musings at Lisa Anderson Shaffer on Instagram. See you next time

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