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by Lisa Anderson Shaffer, LMFT
September 20th 2020

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. Why everyone is like a painting, psychology and the continuum. When I began my psychoanalytic study about a million years ago, I didn't understand a thing. I started graduate school with a Bachelor's of Fine arts degree and a handful of college level psych classes I had taken as prerequisites to get into a Masters of Clinical Psychology degree program. I was unaware that I was about to embark on an entirely new way of thinking. Everything from my perception of the world to my use of language would be tested. Sadly enough, I didn't even know how to spell the word attached. My friend, and office mate, Dr Aaron estrada kindly pointed this out to me on a daily basis during our study of attachment.

Nothing like having a colleague reach over your shoulder while quietly taking notes to point out, you cannot spell thanks. Aaron, I hope none of your students at Cal Poly ever give you a hard time. Please tell them, I know how to spell attached now. To say little made sense to me was an understatement. I often felt like I landed on a different planet trying to learn a new language and method of thought and of course forced against my will to improve my spelling because you know, spelling matters. But, luckily I love an adventure and I soon found a point of contact in the study of psychoanalysis that made sense to me. My connection really started with art. I understand color is a continuum opposing forces in colour conflict and spectrum in color positive and negative, dark and light, that the perfect color for the shadow of something is its complement for red is green, orange, blue, yellow, purple, and so on. Two opposing forces carrying equal weight, working together to understand the larger picture. Yes, of course. So when the concept of continuum came into play, I was game.

Yes, yes, yes. Let's talk spectrum, continuum, opposing forces working together. That I can do. And so I did. Through the lens of art. I had found a way in. The idea of our collective psychology as a continuum is not new. Freud played around with it when describing the difference between what he considered to be the normal and pathological and psychopathology. Many since have theorized added to and subtracted from this rough sketch. Like any good theory, it has a strong base that can grow and change as required. On the timeline of this idea, here's where I entered. Hang in there with me. I promise it will blow your mind in the most wonderful of ways. Imagine a straight line, an infinite line pointing out in opposing directions spanning across space and time. On one end is where we are our most awesome. So I called this end the neurotic but that's a bit limited and dated as far as I'm concerned, I like to think of this end of the spectrum or continuum as our most well the other end, that's what Freud would call the psychotic or as I like to say, our less well.

The place where our thinking is not as clear. We cannot organize our thoughts, our bodies and minds are under great stress. Both ends of the continuum look and feel different for all of us. But here's the really cool thing, while we are on our own individual continuum, that continuum is also part of a continuum with every other human on earth. We all get pushed to our less well side of the continuum, both separately and collectively. Separately, a push looks like an argument with a loved one, a physical illness or injury. The loss of a job, sometimes even a stubbed toe. Look, suffering is relative after all. There has never before been a more perfect example of a collective push than COVID 19. Every single human on earth felt that push. Wherever you were on the continuum before COVID-19, you are not there now. If you were at super best, well, awesome self, you got a push more towards less well self. If you were already at less well, then you were pushed even further towards not optimally awesome.

We all got pushed together. And this collective push compounds where we get separately pushed. So if it feels like you were being poked and pushed and shoved all over the place right now. Well, that's because you are. We are all being pushed together. ouch! Now, the really cool thing about this continuum model is that it allows for freedom of rapid change. We all move back and forth along the continuum throughout the day. Our placement depends upon our connections and interactions with others. One moment we are optimally awesome. The next not so much. what I love most about this model of thought is that no one is immune, none of us are immune from the heights of the optimally awesome or the lows of the least well and far from awesome. We walk the line as Johnny Cash says, and we walk it together. Along with walking the line, this model has another strength. It takes into account the pendulum swing, the equal weight of dark and light that they hold each other firmly at either end. That a strong and violent swing towards less well is met by an equal and strong swing of wellness and optimal awesomeness.

There's some physics in there, right? It is said that in psychoanalysis part of the job of the analyst is to hold the opposing pole. That if a patient presents as pleasant and easy, emotionally tidy, the analyst must hold space for the other end of the continuum, the one that is rough bumpy and a total mess. If a patient presents as difficult and challenging, the analyst must hold space for an opposing end of ease in holding the space for both ends of the continuum. We are able to see the whole patient and through shared thought and experience in the treatment room, show the patient that we not only see this other side but accept it. One can imagine that this method of thought has been of great comfort to me these past four years. It seems like emotional trash pops up every two seconds these days. Less like a pop and more like a projectile to the face. Am I right? In either case yes, when I begin to lose hope, the theme of 2020 or I wonder if we can right the ship. I know that we can not only because I find hope and comfort in this way of thinking and believing in this separate and collective movement on a continuum, but because I have seen it, I have seen great change, great change that started with the hope of one single person reaching out, sitting in my office and asking for help.

I've seen kids have psychotic breaks, lose all that they thought was real and be scared to death about their future. I've seen them recover, learn new ways to care for themselves and go on to have lives full of meaningful contributions and wonder. I've seen people at the dark depths of addiction recover, relapse and then recover again. I've seen people doubt everything only to believe that things can get better. It's never an easy road and it doesn't lead to things being easy, but it does lead to things being better. It really does. Psychology after all, is just a painting, One that starts with a single line but includes all of us. And that's always a beautiful thing.
This has been joyous 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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