Broken Spaces: Lessons in Healing and Relationship

Robert Cox is a therapist in private practice in Liberty, MO.  He specializes in the treatment of Trauma, Addictions and Autism.  Robert creates a podcast providing psycho-education and mindfulness training called Mindful Recovery which can be found at www.mindfulrecoverypodcast.com or on all major platforms.  In addition he is a guest blogger on the Huffington Post.

 

 
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We all live in fear of the broken spaces - especially the interior broken spaces.  We accept the myth that those spaces keep us from being enough.  I used to fear that if I still had broken spaces it would make me less effective as a therapist.  That it was necessary for me to be perfected before I tried to help others heal.

If my clients knew I sometimes still hear the voice of my father questioning my value and ability, would it make my training and ability as a therapist less valuable?  How would they react if they knew I sometimes question whether I am worth the fees I charge?  Would they question who they were seeing for help if they knew I sometimes feel like an imposter who managed to b.s. his way through a master’s degree, how would it affect their belief in me?

Then one day I came across the term “potshard.”  It is exactly what it sounds like.  Just a broken piece of a pot… A shard.  

Pot·sherd - ˈpätˌSHərd/

noun

• a broken piece of ceramic material, especially one found on an archaeological site.

Most of us would see this as something to simply be discarded.  We wouldn’t give this broken piece of a pot a second glance.  Just a remnant of a failed attempt.

But the potter sees it in a different light.  The potter will take a broken piece with a unique edge and use it to create amazing designs and shapes in new pots.  The very brokenness of that shard gives it value in creating beauty in other pots.

Brokenness can become a tool that creates something new

I don’t make a habit of telling clients about my broken places because clients are not there for my healing.  

But it is my brokenness as a human being that makes me a better therapist. The wounds are useful.

My wounds are the potshards within that allow me to feel my clients’ losses.  They allow me to sit in the room as I listen for the broken places and empathize because I too have been broken.  I know hurt.  I know what it is to be forced to carry someone’s shame when it’s projected through acts of violence and rage.   I know fear and loss.  I know longing.  I know what it is to live with another’s brokenness and feel helpless in that struggle.

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The longing is like the  “whining of a dog for it’s master” Rumi says.  Longing is the connection, in this case. Not bliss. Not passion. Longing.  What a beautiful thought.  It makes my heart ache.

That silent whine is just under the surface.  This need for connection, for depth and realness drives us.  We all have it. And it leaves us longing….constantly.

Mindfulness holds space for longing

What helps me hold those wounded spaces without allowing them to overcome me is mindfulness.  I can sit with the longing and experience it for the gift it can be.  In my mindful practice this means allowing the emotion, the fear, the holes to open and bubble up without needing to push them back down.  To be able to observe them in the quiet spaces of my own soul without needing to fix them so that they can be fully experienced.  To simply acknowledge the ways I have been changed by the the pain of life...to feel the longing, to hear the whine without reacting.  To trust that the master potter will find usefulness in the broken potshards.

This is when the light starts to enter and real healing begins.

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But the wounds - the broken spaces that we all have -  are also the places that light flows out of us.  Healing begins in these illuminated broken spaces and then enables you to connect and be part of other people’s healing.  

Connection is at the root of healing

As human beings, we long for connection.  We were created for relationship with each other and, out of that, with the divine.  When we have experienced trauma and abuse, we fear the very connection we long for.  We so want to take the risk and reach outward, but fear being broken in the ways we have been before.  

Therapists are no different. I am no different.  It is my own broken spaces, the cracks that have healed and the ones that are still healing, that make me a better therapist.  As a psychoanalytic practitioner I make a habit of being very aware of those broken spaces and how they are playing out in that room with my client. I work to recognize how my client’s are pulling at my own values and beliefs that originate in  my own broken spaces.

My own wounds make me a better healer

Both my brokenness and my own healing process allow me to send light and grace out through those wounds and enable me to connect with people on that level of mutual vulnerability.  When two people are vulnerable and honest and trusting of one another, the connection gets real.  Healing begins.

Beautiful things take place in those broken spaces.  Forgiveness, grace, compassion, vulnerability all come out of those wounds.  They pour from you during the healing process and through grace enter into you when those close to you begin healing themselves.  Over time, they form connections that can be stronger than any nuclear bonds.

We share tears in the office as the light leaves and enters because they are opening the wound.  I know that opening.  Both the pain and the joy.

Relationship with each other and relationship with the divine are found in these spaces through which the light enters and leaves.  They are the fertile grounds where growth begins.

It is out of our errors, our mistakes, our blunders and our ability to hurt others that the opportunity for grace and forgiveness arises.  Without these places of hurt and darkness light would have no worth, no value.  A potshard would just be a broken piece of pottery.

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Editors' note: Did Robert's perspective help illuminate the ways your own broken places actually help you heal and connect? Tell us about it in the comments and please share this post with your family, friends, and community.