Universality: Strength in Numbers

love-in-any-language-is-the-same…Often it’s the smallest little detail shared that makes me realize I’m not alone in my struggles, nor can I overcome or move through them single-handedly. In this post from nearly a year ago, I wrote about stories – everyone has one, and all should be heard before instead of passing judgment. Stories are a significant part of keeping us connected with other human beings, reminding us that lessons can be learned from everything experienced in life. But relating to others’ stories is not the end-all for learning life lessons and feeling supported.

I provide my clients with a worksheet about the benefits and concepts of group work, because that is primarily the venue that is used in my position as a counselor. (It seems like group work was originally promoted for it’s financial benefit of serving more clients by using fewer resources. However, the more I facilitate groups, the more I see the other benefits as the most critical.) The worksheet lists various terms that are familiar to the average person, such as hope, tolerance, feedback, and imitation, and explains their meaning related to group work. Other words are not as familiar – insight, cohesiveness, altruism, catharsis, and universality. Universality is a big word, and some struggle to even say it, but it has a very down-to-earth meaning. The worksheet’s definition – “others have my problem.” There it is. That simple. Others have my problem.

One of the reasons we struggle with a problem so much is that our thoughts lead us to believe we’re alone. Isn’t that special? I’m so unique that I’m the only one with this problem? I could be famous, maybe, because no one else in the history of mankind has ever experienced this problem? Maybe they’ll make a movie about me? But then no one would understand it and no one could play my part, except for me. Why do we struggle and isolate, thinking that we will somehow gain kudos for handling a problem all by ourselves? Will someone really believe we’re less of a person, whiny, or weak because we share our challenges? I drill this concept into my clients, having them share their stories, and watching as walls of pain and judgment come down. When a friend or a client shares their situation with me, I don’t judge them. And yet, I hold back and feel alone because someone would think I’m crazy for the feelings I have about a challenging situation.

This week, I had a conversation with a forever-friend, and realized there are similarities in a specific struggle going on in our lives. As I felt comfortable to share and relate, my friend was free to share as well. I saw so clearly this lesson I work to help my clients understand. Others have my problem. The details are different, but the underlying issue is significantly similar and warrants the emotional stress it causes. And sharing it, getting it out, gave relief and a very personal understanding of what universality means. Someone else in my world understands from experience what this is like. (What a relief that I’m not crazy.) I would never wish similar problems on an enemy, much less a friend, but discovering that this is the case gave me a boost that I needed, as I hope it did to my friend.

I am not alone. I have friends all over the world and coworkers close by who lift me up and understand when issues are overwhelming. I am fortunate. I am blessed. I can get through the tough times, because I know someone understands what this feels like.

And knowing that helps me believe that others also have faith and hope and respect and kindness . . . and LOVE.


These are a few of my favorite things …

Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote here about accepting the discrepancy between my reality and my expectations of end-of-the-year holidays. As it turned out, Thanksgiving and Christmas this year were nothing spectacular. However, there were some events and realizations that moved and inspired me, helping me value what is. Here are a few of my favorite things over the last couple of weeks:

1. A giving daughter. I believe it is in my child’s nature to give. But I also know that I nurtured those characteristics in her from the beginning. I love watching her get excited about the gifts she has carefully and thoughtfully chosen for friends and family members, knowing what each will love. And she glows with delight when they do.

2. A grateful daughter.  No matter the monetary value of a gift, new or repurposed, she receives, she is grateful for the thought, time, and effort put in to presenting it to her. I never need to ask or remind her to offer a word of thanks. I know it’s already done.

The Nutcracker

3. Enjoying the ballet with my daughter. My favorite gift, from said daughter, was attending The Nutcracker. I was raised in a music family by a musician father who made sure that I learned to appreciate classical music, so I’ve heard the musical score all my life. Sitting next to my daughter, engaged in the elegant strains from the symphony, watching the talent of ballet dancers, and feeling my toes automatically tapping to the rhythm inside my shoes filled me with joy and peace, and made me feel like my father was right beside me.

4. The lights of a Christmas tree softly illuminating a dark room. There is just something relaxing about sitting and allowing the warm light to calm the busyness of the season.

5. Encouraging words of colleagues and friends. When doubts try to hinder the progress of doing something I feel passionate about, hearing that someone relates to my challenges fuels continued motivation to pursue a dream.

6. Word that clients are doing well. I don’t take any credit for the hard work they put in to make changes in their lives, but hearing of their success is equal to a Christmas bonus. I appreciate the opportunity to have been a small piece of their puzzle picture.

7. Good health. I don’t feel fabulous every single minute of the day, but I can’t take good health for granted. Having sick time available to use if I need it and paid vacation days for “preventative” health . . . that is a huge blessing.

8. Granddogs who are always excited to see me. No matter if I’ve been gone five days or five minutes, Maxine and Russell have butt and tail wags, respectively, and slobbery kisses to welcome me home.

I’m sure if I spent a few more hours, I could name many more things that fill my life with joy. I’ll stop here for now, because sleep is a favorite thing, as well. How many favorite things can you name to remind yourself that your dreams and passions are worthy of every effort you can give them?