The Reckoning

Most clients come to my office because they want to be happier. They might be struggling with a relationship, had a recent loss, or are just tired of feeling discouraged and defeated all the time. More often than not shortly after someone starts therapy with me, they have what I call a reckoning. A time when many things they thought were true about their lives get turned on its head. A time when they start to wrestle with all the ‘rules’ and definitions of success by which they have structured their lives. This is a complicated time. As an observer and counselor, it is an excellent time because I know things are shifting. They are bringing a new curiosity to their lives. And learning to live in that place of curiosity is so powerful.

And I know as a person who has gone through this reckoning multiple times, it is exhausting and tiresome. They are torn. On the one hand, they know that they are ready to do life differently, ready to stop suffering and on the other hand because it is so hard, they wish they could close Pandora’s box and go back to the way it was.

During the reckoning period, defense mechanisms step in to ‘protect’ them. They might fall back into denial or numbing. They might resort to old behaviors of being passive aggressive or overly aggressive. As they move forward with breaking down personal barriers they also might take a few steps back and revert to the old patterns that have served them so well. And as a result, they are more judgmental of themselves. Reckoning isn’t a straight line it is a spiral that goes up and down and around and around.  The only way to move through this reckoning is by having patience, perseverance, curiosity, wisdom, discernment, and kindness. It isn’t so much about getting THROUGH the reckoning period to get to the other side. It is about learning how to navigate the reckoning despite the inevitable anger, discouragement, and disappointment that will occur. It is about embracing the mess of the reckoning with patience, perseverance, curiosity, wisdom, discernment, and kindness.

This same process is happening in our larger society.  We are experiencing a reckoning of our larger culture.  All the old rules and definitions of success are getting turned on their head. And just like my clients, it is WAY uncomfortable. We as a society see that the old ways of doing things aren’t working and the new way hasn’t quite been established yet. We blew up the old rules and haven’t established the new ones yet. We are in the reckoning limbo. And this limbo is so freakin’ hard. We are so deeply in the mess of it that rather than pull back and practice patience, perseverance, curiosity, wisdom, discernment, and kindness we get wrapped up in the old patterns and old defense mechanisms of, blame, judgment, shame and anger. And that’s ok. It is all part of the process.

This process on a cultural scale and a personal scale matter because it is hard and messy and necessary for growth.  I have heard so many people this week debating who was telling the truth, Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh. Debating what cultural norms made them act in certain ways. Debating which senator was right and which senator was wrong. In reality, it doesn’t matter. We probably won’t agree on these larger debates. But as with my clients, I encourage us to dig deeper. Look beneath the surface. Not get caught up on the rules and the absolutes. Look for the grays. Acknowledge what comes up, the anger, the fear the doubt and insecurity.  See the humanity in yourself and the people around you who don’t see the world the same way you do. Ask questions, listen for the answers, speak your needs and be curious about others needs too. Most of all give yourself a break. Trust yourself and allow yourself to do what is best for you. There are days when you will be filled with understanding for those who hold different opinions than you and there will be days when you want to scream at the top of your lungs at them.  That’s ok. Just notice when you get stuck in blame, denial, and shame because at that moment you aren’t helping anyone.

When these debates turn into shouting matches or opportunities to shame and belittle each other we aren’t moving through the reckoning. We are relying on old patterns and old behaviors. We are hurling absolutes. Right now we are in the middle of the reckoning. Right now everything has been turned on its head. Right now it is messy.  Right now we need to practice patience, perseverance, curiosity, wisdom, discernment, and kindness.

We as a country are going through a reckoning. A moment where we see ourselves and each other differently. As when clients in my office go through a reckoning, it is a time to tread lightly. A time to be kind and wise. It is a time to ask questions and pause to hear the answers. A time to fight and a time to be curious.  It is a reckoning. It is messy. Be kind to yourself.