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Touch that Works

For a few years I had a job where I was basically teaching people to use their hands. (Sometimes again, sometimes at all.). So, like, imagine you are going to carry two glasses in one hand — you know, or you can — I’m not sure if it’s “knowledge” exactly — to put a finger on the inside of each glass and push both against your thumb, and keep up the pressure hard enough that you can carry the glasses where you want to take them. But my clients didn’t know that or couldn’t do that. We’d have to do practice drills with two pieces of paper between thumb and forefinger and they’d have to learn what the pressure should be, how to use those three meat sticks so they stopped being meat sticks and became a hand, that could apply pressure in the right way so they could — I’m not sure the word here. Live? Be a person? Get through life?

I’m a very impatient person. Or I can be. Or I was in this instance. And I would start to have an edge in my voice when the piece of red construction paper would come fluttering down for the umpteenth time! I never scolded them but these were people who were already up against it pretty hard. They already felt failures, losers, and freaks. They felt shame, which is basically the fear that you are so unlovable your Mom will let you die. Or whoever is judging you in your culture. The tribe maybe.

I said something I shouldn’t have, the client yelled at me and I yelled back.

I thought about it later. I think what happened was the following. For me the failure to help effectively brings shame, because it reminds me of not being able to take care of my mother. It brings back a feeling that I am not good enough for her. Specifically it brings back a feeling that my mother needs my help to feel happy and if I fail to touch her — meaning touch in the most general sense — if I fail to use my self in a way that makes her happier — I have failed, and I’m not worthy. Not worthy in a deep, primal unconscious sense. Life unworthy of life.

My own pain made me less effective at touching my client and helping my client to touch.

Little by little, with lots of failures, including holding the glasses so tightly my thumb mound cramped and letting them fall to shatter in pieces on the floor, I learned to use my hands.

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