I got a package in the mail the other day. It was a box with some gifts from my sister. She often tosses some fun little “extras” in with her main gift. She did that this time, too. In the box along with a beautiful labyrinth was a pair of Chinese finger handcuffs.
You may have seen them. They are woven tubes. When you stick a finger or thumb in each end and try to pull them out, the tube tightens and your fingers get stuck. The harder you pull the tighter the tube becomes and the less able you are to get your fingers out.
The solution? Push your fingers together. As counter-intuitive as this is, it loosens the tube and allows you to gently pull your fingers out.
As I played with one it struck me what an amazing analogy this is for relationships. How often had I seen it? People come to therapy unhappy with the way they are getting along with other people. Often it is a romantic partner but sometimes it is a sibling or a friend. It can be a parent and child or even a boss!
When those relationships start going badly, what do people often do? They pull away from one another. But that pulling away, just like in this toy, doesn’t get them what they want. But they continue to pull and pull.
You’ve probably guessed what’s coming next. The solution is so often about coming together, not pulling away. It seems counter-intuitive to move closer to the person that is frustrating or irritating or hurting you…but that is often what it takes – easing the tension that exists to make room to achieve what you want.
And then it struck me how much this feels like therapy at times. I’ll be working with a client and it is perfectly clear to me the changes they need to make, the direction they need to go. But they will resist me. What do I often do? I pull.
Sometimes a little pull works. But there are times I feel myself locked in a battle, unable to get them to move in the direction I want. So I pull and pull and pull. Usually to no avail. But the finger cuffs show me what I should be doing. If I move in their direction then the tension eases…and they move towards me..in the direction I originally wanted them to move! I can achieve what I want by doing the exact opposite.
Taking this approach in a personal relationship can be scary because it means being vulnerable. It means potentially subjecting yourself to more of what it is you don’t want. The other person might not respond well and you’ll suffer more.
But if you know me or have read my other posts, you know how important I believe vulnerability is. I believe it is the core of all connection with others. And while it is true you may get hurt, deeper connection requires greater vulnerability. Don’t believe me? I’ve sent you to this video before but I think it is worth repeating – Brene Brown on Vulnerability.
Relationships are important. Isn’t it worth the risk?