The next morning (which was the morning after the election), I went to talk to the staff chaplain who had said there is nothing we can fix, and he reiterated that. He said he sees things the way I do. I said that, ironically, right after thinking about how I don’t believe in herding patients along, I had been extremely directive with the mother of the very sick baby. I described the visit and the chaplain said that he might have done precisely the same thing—if he’s only going to see someone once or twice, and there is an obvious way to relieve suffering, he will do what he thinks is best. I felt affirmed all around.
On Thursday, we had group, and right at the end, I shared that I had been feeling separate from the others because of my different idea of what chaplaincy is. I added that I had talked to one of the staff chaplains at the other campus and that he had said he sees it the way I do, which of course was a not-so-subtle way of saying, “I’m right and the rest of you are wrong (and also stupid).”
Now I must digress to say, briefly, that a few days ago I had an unpleasant interaction with a peer I had formerly felt close to, in which I felt she was needling me relentlessly. (She seemed to be practicing a type of passive-aggressive humor that I myself practice at times. It is charming in myself and perfectly intolerable in others.) I have felt angry at her ever since. We had been riding Muni together after work pretty often, but the last couple of days, I have been avoiding her. On one of those days, I said I needed to go to the bathroom and she said she’d be happy to wait—unless I’d rather be alone. “Yes, I might do some reading on the train,” I mumbled, and she walked off alone.
Thursday evening I was mulling over these two adverse interpersonal events, with my peer and with my entire group. I felt worried that one of my supervisors would scold the staff chaplain for inserting himself into the supervisory process and then he’d be mad at me for my big mouth, and even if that doesn’t happen, the whole session was being videotaped, and the director of Spiritual Care Services will potentially see it.
Furthermore, what is wrong with me? I believe that we co-create our reality because our views and beliefs color everything we perceive. In effect, we never see anything other than the inside of our own heads, and it is not uncommon for me to see people who seem to merit my judgment, my scorn, my disdain, my contempt, my anger. It is also very easy for me to decide to withdraw from a person or a relationship, in the micro or macro sense. I am likely to be the person sitting apart from a group reading a book. I am the person who decides to give up on a 40-year friendship because my friend says she is “colorblind.”
I brooded about this all evening. I called my peer and left a message saying I’d like to talk to her next week about the dynamics between us the past few days, though if she isn’t interested in doing this, then we won’t.
Why, why, why am I like this? I asked myself. I can’t afford to see my own therapist and she might or might not be helpful with this kind of inquiry, anyway, but I can go see TWMC’s therapists for free. I made a note to do this, and then I realized that I was being exceedingly harsh with myself, beating myself for hours. Would it actually be helpful to know why I have these tendencies, if that is a question that can even be answered? Maybe so, maybe not.
I then changed the focus of my ruminations:
Why do I judge others and decide they are wrong and bad? Because it protects me in some way.
What is the result of this behavior? Disconnection from others.
What will it take to change this behavior? I will have to be aware of when it is happening, remember that I don’t like the results, and I will have to tolerate whatever emotional experience it is that I’m trying to flee from. I think if I pay close enough attention, it will become obvious what it is that happens and why.
It is my tendency to identify all the ways I’m different from others, and to think difference equals wrongness, but these are just habits, and I can become more aware of them. I hope my peer will want to talk next week, and as for my group, I plan to have the conscious intention to look for ways we are alike and for what’s good about them, which is so many things. I also will try to remind myself that there are probably a million effective ways to be a chaplain, and that if they’re doing something that really isn’t helpful, they’ll learn that sooner or later.
One of my peers bumped into a CPE student from last year who said that the first unit is easy and that it gets way harder in the second unit. “What happens in unit two?” we asked our supervisors with trepidation. They told us that’s when we dive into interpersonal dynamics and self-awareness, which sounds like fun to me, and it also sounds like, in my case, it might be coming just in the nick of time.