Balcony Views and Shifting Perspectives

Imagine a comfortable seat that overlooks your life as you are living it. What might you notice? Perhaps there are more people on stage than you realized – friends, family, neighbors, CreakyJoints companions, your physician, your favorite nurse, the person at the gym who always smiles at you, there are many many people around.

Diane, a client of mine*, came in with a fist full of problems the other day. She began our session with a description of all the difficulties she was having with her mother. As she continued to describe the intrusiveness of her mother, and the escalating conflict, I gently interrupted her.Diane, you are telling me a “problem saturated story.”  This is language I recently learned, and it sums up how we often tell our stories, or look at our lives.

The problems or negative events fill up the screen. We begin to hear and see what matches our problem, and we disregard what doesn’t fit. 

In Diane’s case, her mother is over- involved.  There is an issue. But she is seeing every aspect of her relationship with her mother through that lens. She doesn’t have a larger perspective.

Some theorists have called this being able to be an “observer” – stepping outside the situation and getting a view that is separate, not enmeshed. Others call it “being on the balcony” where you can imagine yourself looking down on your life as if it was a play that you can look at from a distance.

At first Diane resisted. She didn’t want to let go of her perspective – or her sense of being wronged. But we tried making the shift. She pictured an ornate balcony as if she was at the opera. In her mind’s eye she could see herself looking down at her mother and herself talking and arguing on the stage. She expected to see her mother’s controlling attitude and her resistance. But she was surprised to instead see her mother trying to reach out to her and she was backing away.

From another point of view her mother was not intruding but trying to get close as Diane retreated. 

Having another point of view helped her let go of the problem saturated perspective to a wider view. This also helped Diane think and feel a little differently about her relationship with her mother.

I tell you this story because we can do the same thing with our disease. We see our lives as “saturated’ with the problem of pain or of limitation. It is difficult to get up on the balcony, or step outside our usual point of view. 

But what if you tried it?

Imagine a comfortable seat that overlooks your life as you are living it. What might you notice? Perhaps there are more people on stage than you realized – friends, family, neighbors, CreakyJoints companions, your physician, your favorite nurse, the person at the gym who always smiles at you, there are many many people around.

What else do you see? Maybe your belief is that you are always struggling, but never getting enough done. From the balcony you witness yourself completing remarkable activities – your work, taking care of the daily business at home, managing children, pets, volunteer activities, getting exercise, doing multiple doctors’ appointments, and even having time for dinner with friends. How do I do it all you can wonder with amazement!

Broadening your perspective allows you to loosen your grip on the idea that your interpretation is the only truth. In reality, all of us just “interpret”. We notice what fits our perception, and discount whatever does not. From the balcony we can notice new information that doesn’t “fit” with our set perspective. We can be more flexible and open to different information and novel interpretations.

For any of us with joint problems, flexibility is a good thing, and a two way process. The more flexible you can be in your thinking, the more that helps your joints (and vice versa of course but that’s another column). It isn’t easy to let go of an idea or an interpretation that this is how it should be, or this is what must happen, but when we soften and give ourselves some room, wonderful things can happen.

*Not my client’s real name or problem. A composite identity and issue used to illustrate the article while keeping my clients anonymous.

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