Less is More, or Less.

     “This is an age of cheapness. Get it as cheaply and as quickly as you can, with just as little cost and tiresomeness.” ~T. Austin-Sparks.

     For my sixteenth birthday my parents got me a car. Well, I should use the term “car” pretty loosely. It was a yellow GEO metro LSI, convertible, three cylinder, mobile coffin. Still, free car! It was “fondly” referred to by other high schoolers as a roller skate. It was small. For my wife’s sixteenth birthday she, actually, I don’t know when she got her car. I do know that she had a job at 15 in order to save up for a car. She eventually bought a 1985 Camry and affectionately named it Owen. About a month into her proud ownership, the engine exploded and she put in a new one. She still had her car after we were married. I was on my third or fourth car, none of which had been named. My wife took good care of her car. I did not take good care of mine. I appreciated them, but they were just cars, nothing more. My wife’s car, on the other hand, symbolized independence, freedom, genuine ownership, blood, sweat, and tears! It was more than a car, it was a symbol.
     There was less meaning for me in my cars than for my wife. While I appreciated them as gifts and they were a symbol of my parents love for me and a celebration of my birth, I never had the same attachment to my first car as my wife had to hers. Perhaps that could be better explained in the differences between male and female. In truth, I wasn’t all that attached to my next car for which I did work. Regardless, there is something to be said for the association between sacrifice and appreciation. The word we often use for that association between sacrifice and appreciation is “work”. In Psychology and the Human Dilemma, May (1996, p. 93) makes an incredible point that as therapists, people in relationship, and humans in general, often miss, and it’s this: Not everyone wants to be well.
     Please, let that sink in for a moment and really think about it. Not everyone who is suffering wants to be at ease. Not everyone who is hurting wants to heal. Not everyone who is angry wants to be at peace. This seems, to me, to be unhealthy. It is, inherently, damaging to self and others. It goes against the very nature of my calling. To be clear, this does not refer to people who are suffering and lack the skills, mental capacity, and/or tools to become well. I am referring to people who are in dispose of the necessary and sufficient elements to become well, and then, at some level, make the decision to remain as they are while knowing there are other options.
     May (ibid, p. 95), writes that, “sickness is precisely the method that the individual uses to preserve [their] being”. The neurosis, mental illness, or whichever myriad way the sickness manifests, it is there for a reason and has become a part of the person and they will cling to it like an addict. Yalom urges therapists to avoid the “crooked cure” (Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapist and their Patients, 2001, p. 102 ). In the entire chapter, he never explicitly defines what a crooked cure is, merely how to avoid it. However, what I think it may mean is that “giving” someone the answer to their problems instead of helping them “work” to get their own answer, can merely become substituting one neurosis for another. No genuine or authentic change has happened. Spoon feeding solutions often provides no real solutions at all. My car transported me just as well as my wife’s car transported her, but her car came with a heaping helping of earnest work and pride in accomplishment. Mine should have come with a helmet.
     Now, there is nothing wrong with giving gifts, I am still grateful for their generosity, and we should all be able to accept acts of love from others with appreciation and humility. If you want to buy your child’s first car, go for it! However, make sure, like my parents did, that they have plenty of opportunities to struggle and work for something. Otherwise, they may miss out entirely on understanding what appreciation is, what they are capable of, and what it means to earn something. And in that process of work we often discover that circumstances, our general being, and our world, can be made into something intentional and genuine. If we’re lucky, we may even learn there is nothing wrong with failing.

(c) Nathan D. Croy

3 Replies to “Less is More, or Less.”

  1. I like and agree with your thoughts on this Nathan. I was thinking as well that from a development standpoint there is much to be said for delayed gratification. In my opinion, it makes a world of difference in our approach to self, goals, others, and possessions (I'm not by the way implying that you do not have this skill). What I often see with my clients who beg for a crooked cure is an extreme uncomfortability (for some its an excruciating pain) with sitting with unpleasant emotions and situations long enough to find a long term solution; there is a sense of impending doom rather than a sense of hope that things can get better with "work." Thus there is the unfortunate pattern of my clients wanting me and others to give them an immediate solution so they feel better, and when they don't, they then seek out drugs, sex, you name it. Admittedly, it is hard to not want to provide a crooked cure because there is so much anxiety and intensity coming from the client. I don't however think this pattern is a lack of desire to be well. Nathan, you are great at identifying these patterns with clients and helping them existentially process and move toward the core of the problem. I think in this processing they begin to develop delayed gratification. Basically you help clients to increase their level of differentiation through your existential approach, which makes you something like an existential Bowen therapist.

  2. I wish you would have logged in when leaving this reply, because it's awesome! You are so right! Sitting with our clients anxiety is very difficult. I've made the mistake of giving clients the answer I "know" they need. It's a mistake because even if I'm right! They may not be ready to hear it, they may not have worked enough to get it, or trust me enough to receive it. It's frustrating to wait while we discover why the other has yet to grow. Thank you for the reminder!

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