There is no shortage of people like Bruce Jenner whose thoughts, feelings and actions defy analysis even as they crave understanding.
If I'm like you and you're like me, we both watched Diane Sawyer's interview of Bruce Jenner and you too may have been transfixed by it being poignant, touching and not unfamiliar.
Since the interview I have pondered about the not unfamiliar aspect. Perhaps you didn't have that reaction, while I did, because I have been a psychotherapist for nearly forty years and there was something about Bruce Jenner that was reminiscent of a number of people I have seen over the decades.
Prisoner of Doing
When early in the interview Bruce mentioned that he thought he was about to do something to change the world, it seemed to me he was talking about people with transgender issues and much beyond.
I remember a man, I'll call Paul, I saw several years ago that came in one day quite talkative and hyper. In fact, he spoke faster than I could think. At one point I experienced hearing a message I was supposed to give him that came from him and firmly said, "Shhh! Be quiet!"
Taken aback and even a bit offended he looked at me and said, "What?"
I reiterated even more forcefully, "Shhh! Just shut up and listen!"
"Listen to what!!!??" Paul boomed back.
I calmed a bit but remained firm, "Shut up and listen to the quiet. It's located between the noise in your head and the noise in your life and it is screaming out to me for you to hear it and until you do, I can't listen to a word you are saying."
"Huh?" he replied now confused.
I directed Paul, "Close your eyes, keep breathing in slowly and then exhaling each time, listening for the quiet inside you with each breath."
Within thirty seconds Paul verily fell over on the couch and lay down on his right side, facing me with his eyes closed and within another minute tears began flowing down his cheeks. He continued breathing and crying for five minutes and then began to flicker open his blood shot eyes, slowly sat up, looked at me with a smile of revelation. He looked 10 pounds lighter.
I asked him, "What is that about?"
He looked at me and said, "All my life I've been looking for that (inner peace), and everything I do, and I mean everything takes me away from it. I'm a human being locked inside the body of a human doing and I'm exhausted."
"Well it looks like you have something worth your thinking about," I concluded.
I'm wondering if Bruce was revealing something to us that was much bigger than the issue of transgender identity having to do with the fact that we're all in danger of becoming human doings at the cost of our being human beings.
How many of you can relate to feeling more like a human doing than a human being? And how many of you can relate to Paul by the how exhuasting that can be?
The Marilyn Syndrome
When Bruce talked about his life after winning the Decathlon in 1976 and his subsequent years as a poster child for masculine athleticism and even a sex symbol, I was reminded of a woman, I'll call Jane, I saw some years ago.
Like Bruce, she was rather famous and widely loved by the public. So why was Jane seeing me, when it seemed she had everything?
One day she helped me understand and shared something that I have subsequently referred to as the Marilyn Syndrome.
She came in and asked me, "Do you know what Marilyn Monroe died of?"
I didn't know what she was getting at and responded, "I believe she died of an overdose of medications."
Jane replied adamantly, "No, that's not what she died of."
I asked, "What do you mean?"
Jane replied, "When everyone loves you and nobody knows you, you can die of loneliness especially when you believe you don't have the right to feel bad when you have so much more than other people. That's what Marilyn Monroe died of."
Bruce may not have been dying from loneliness, but it does appear that he has long suffered from not feeling he belonged anywhere.
The Cheshire Cat
Finally there was a patient, I'll call Frank, that Bruce reminded me of especially with Bruce's situation being something that he could no longer tolerate.
This man came in one day to try to explain to me what it felt like to be him. Like Bruce he also felt like he was living his life to please and not upset or worse, burden others.
He said to me, "Do you remember the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland?"
"Yes, I do, wasn't that the character who would smile and his body would disappear and then all you would see is the smile?" I replied.
"Exactly," Frank explained, "well lately I have been feeling like I'm smiling more and more to the world while the rest of me disappears, so that all of me that is left is that smile. Each time I disappear except for the smile a part of the real me dies and the whole process is picking up speed and one day I believe that all of the real me will disappear for good and it is literally killing me."
As I watched the interview with Bruce it seemed that at the beginning when he was nervous, his smile was very much like the Cheshire Cat. Fortunately for Diane Sawyer, us and most importantly Bruce, by the end of the interview we all had more of a feeling of who he was and is as a human being. He actually felt more present than absent.
We all watched a transformation from "joke" to sympathetic human being to someone courageous and heroic.
Prove, Show, Hide, Please Personality
In treating people like the above over the years an exercise that has proven helpful has been asking them to imagine that their personality is a circle and in it are the parts of them that are trying to prove, show, hide something or please someone.
I then ask them to now imagine erasing all of those parts and to then tell me what's left over, because what's left is "them." All the other parts have to do with reacting to others vs. expressing who they truly are.
A surprising number of these people smile at me and reply, "Not very much."
The result of this exercise is that if you can eliminate the prove, show, hide, please parts of your personality, you may discover a calling that has been beckoning to you for years (I did that for myself in the recent past and discovered a mission was calling out to me to "Heal the World, One Conversation at a Time").
Some people become quite anxious when they do this exercise, because even though they understand they need to let go of only identifying themselves as a reaction to other people, they can begin to feel disoriented.
To help them when that happens I suggest they imagine that what is going on is that they are in essence deconfiguring a personality that no longer serves them and is perpetuating their not knowing who they are and they are anxious because they have not yet reconfigured their true personality into who they really are and are meant to be.
If you think of your personality as your thoughts, feelings and impules/actions and how they connect to each other and to the world, merely noting what they are intermittently as you go through this process, without judging any of them can help you make it through the time when you're feeling disconnected until you finally begin to eventually discover and become your real identity and who you're meant to me.
On a final note... and song
Since music has the power to comfort and even heal us during rough times, it wouldn't hurt to imagine someone in your life you cares about and believes in you singing this Billy Joel song to you:
Don't go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don't imagine you're too familiar
And I don't see you anymore
I would not leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I'll take the bad times
I'll take you just the way you are
Don't go trying some new fashion
Don't change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care
I don't want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.
I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take 'till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you.
I said I love you and that's forever
And this I promise from my heart
I couldn't love you any better
I love you just the way you are.