THE BLOG

Psychotherapy in (and of) Everyday Life

09/11/2015 03:46pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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We don't often stop to realize that our daily interactions with other people -- to whom we might feel love, hate or indifference -- can help us become better people. It's free psychotherapy -- if we take advantage of it!

You can learn more about yourself (and others) without extra effort beyond reflecting or meditating on conversations and exchanges you have with others throughout the day.

Many years ago my brother confronted me at a family dinner. He had overheard my conversation with my sister-in-law and observed, "You have a knack for finding a person's Achilles' Heel." Without delving into specifics, I admit that I wasn't aware of this nasty habit. And I realized that in this instant, he had functioned as my psychotherapist!

By contrast, Ms. Y. blocked out information provided by those around her. When a friend tried to advise her, Ms. Y. refused to listen. Instead she became angry at her friend. A year later, Ms. Y. was devastated to learn that her friend had tried to warn her of her boyfriend's infidelity.

You ask, how, where and when can we benefit/take advantage of such free lessons? We simply need to open our minds -- to allow ourselves to review or question, to replay conversations in our minds. Most often, no pen or paper or computer is needed. We can reflect as we simultaneously move through the day, as we walk, ride, eat, or even sleep and dream.

(The task can be more immediate than exercise, which requires pushing our reluctant/recalcitrant bodies to the gym and changing our clothes.)

Communication is like a two-way highway; that is, our words and actions impact others and ours have affect them. But because time is short, and a lot happens in a day, we don't often take the time to think about this bidirectional process.

We're more aware of this exchange if we allow our minds to be open to new information. I refer to this advantage as the cultivation of a semipermeable mind. Instead of blocking out unpleasant data, we try to consider its validity and possible helpfulness. Deepak Chopra conveys this idea in his words, "You must find the place inside yourself where nothing is impossible."

A recent film Grandma exemplifies the premise that life can indeed smooth rough edges. The great actress Lily Tomlin stars as Elle, a lesbian grandmother, poet, and impoverished retired college professor, the plot involves granddaughter Sage who seeks her grandmother's help to procure the money for an abortion. In the journey, we meet Elle's ex-lover Karl and learn that Elle has treated him abominably. Many years after the fact, he asks for the overdue apology. Elle finally seems to grasp the reality of her propensity to wound people and apologizes to Karl as well as to a young paramour, Olivia, whom she recently hurt.

Conclusion: We benefit from keeping an open mind about our impact on others, reflecting on our daily conversations to improve our understanding of ourselves and others.