In my early days of counseling, I stumbled across a rather “seasoned” psychiatrist, kind of a Dr. Dix (William Devane) from the Jesse Stone movies if you will. It was my first attempt at counseling. I eyed him suspiciously, as he calmly sat cross legged, glasses perched on the tip of his nose, patiently waiting for me to begin. As I sat in his rather drab underground office, dim lamps reflecting mounds of paper, the smell of old books, wet leaves, and vanilla pipe smoke, enveloping me like an old, but not altogether unpleasant blanket, I wondered how I could blame everything on my ex, and avoid any responsibility whatsoever, thus ending my counseling experience before it actually began. Feeling a bit awkward, we began to delve into the depths of my 19 year marriage, well actually at this point, my 19 year failed marriage. I sat there, trying to examine how I may have contributed to its demise, “we” somehow arrived at a piece of the puzzle; the Martyr/Enabler/Save the world syndrome that seemed to be an inherent part of my personality. Moi,? Well what the heck was wrong with that? Aren’t those admirable traits? I fight for the underdog! I rescue! My second name is Crusader Rabbit! It’s what I do!!! I will never, ever, forget the words of this man, and the great respect those words earned him…..this is what he said…..
“You are the kind of person who goes to the pet store and thoughtfully scans the surroundings. In one corner you spot the mangy mutt. He is dirty, his teeth are stained, you can smell him from across the room and the odor is kind of akin to dirty socks, the bow that was around his neck is now a ratty piece of unrecognizable cloth at the bottom of his cage; he is in full growl mode. On the other side of the store is the purebred. He is simply beautiful!! He is white as the driven snow, his eyes are bright, nails trimmed, he smells like, wait is that baby shampoo, and his coat is utterly perfect. He has the sweetest little bow tie around his neck, and he is already prancing around trying to reach through his crate to lick your hand. Hmmmm you think to yourself, that purebred sure is beautiful, look at his disposition, he would be so easy to love and he clearly wants me to take him home, he would be so simple, I wouldn’t change a thing about him! But ohhh the mutt, look at him, he’s the one that actually needs me! Even though he’s growling, surely he wants to come home with me! Wait I know… I am going to take that mutt; I am going to take that mutt and make him into the purebred! After all I know what’s best for him! He may not recognize it himself, he may be perfectly happy with his “mutt” self, but no, I can transform him into the purebred and well as they say “we will live happily ever after”! Herein lies your problem, you really want the purebred, you deserve the purebred, you know you should buy the purebred, but instead of just purchasing the purebred, you are determined to get the mutt and turn him into the purebred. So you bring the mutt home, muzzled, I might add, and for awhile he somewhat conforms, you try to bend him to your will, you cry, cajole, bribe, promise, plead with him, and he tries, he really does. He doesn’t necessarily want to disappoint you! But alas in the end, he simply cannot change who he is.” Moral……
- You cannot change others.
- You can only change yourself.
- It is unfair to expect someone to be who you want them to be.
- You cannot save the world, nor should you.
- People save themselves.
- Never enter into any relationship with the thought you can make someone into someone else.
- Accept people for who they are, or let them go.
I have had amazing counselors since, however I will never forget the words of “my first”. I often retell this story because it was so incredibly powerful, and had such a profound impact on my life…..Lessons learned.