What Does It Mean When “The Shrink Next Door” Feels A Bit Familiar

Photo by Mark Williams on Unsplash

I’ve been watching The Shrink Next Door on Apple TV. It’s based on a true story about a New York psychiatrist who manipulates and then steals from his patients. What makes the telling of this story even more bizarre is that the horrible shrink is portrayed by Paul Rudd and the pushover he manipulates is portrayed by Will Ferrell. It’s a testament to Paul Rudd’s acting skills that he manages to lose all his charisma as People Magazine‘s Sexiest Man Alive to play a first class, narcissistic, social climbing asshole. And Will Ferrell shrivels his 6’3″ frame to become a meek and mousy shell of a man who is easy prey for his gold-digging shrink. Don’t expect any of the usual upbeat and hysterical nonsense from Rudd or Ferrell in this show. It’s serious as a heart attack.

When I started watching, I was drawn in by the train wreck, watching a poor schmuck fall deeper and deeper into the traps the “doctor” set for him. He loses everything as the doctor gaslights him into ditching family members, breaking up with girlfriends, renovating his family home, cutting down a cherished tree, and even creating a foundation that the doctor steals from. As I continued watching I became fascinated by the pathos of it all. For some people, the show might feel like schadenfreude. But I related to Marty, so his misfortune and missteps felt personal. I spent years of my life letting other people tell me what was best for me, going against my own wishes and intuition to make choices others presented as the right ones for me. So I have empathy for Marty. I don’t see him as a loser who was too stupid to see what was happening to him. I see him as a sweet (if naive) person who needed some confidence and help and was bamboozled by the person he trusted.

In the end, Marty does break free from Dr. Ike. Eventually he even manages to have Ike stripped of his license. We learn in the last episode of the show that Marty paid the doctor 3.2 million dollars for his services over their nearly 30 year relationship. It’s mind blowing. But at the end of it all, though, what I wanted more for Marty than punishment for the jerk who bilked him was peace. I just wanted Marty to figure it out and take his life back, and he did. I think that is the best ending any of us can ask for in this life. That one day we are able to see ourselves for who we are, treasure our best, and be willing to work on our worst so we can leave this world knowing we were awake. And that is why I am still in weekly therapy.

It’s okay, though. My therapist is way more professional and ethical than Dr. Ike.

Diffusing The Power Of Shenpa

Indeed

Yesterday I wrote about learning to deflect when something or someone triggers me to act in ways that run counter to what is healthy for me. And then, in a wonderful act of serendipity as I was doing homework for the Midlife Mindfulness class I attend, I discovered that our topic completely ties in with the work I did yesterday in therapy and then in my blog post from last night. Talk about the Universe wanting me to succeed! Everything is lining right up.

This meeting’s focus was on the concept of shenpa, which Pema Chodron, world-renowned Buddhist nun, describes as “the hook.” The hook is what I would call a trigger; it’s the sound, the person, the scent, the comment, the situation, the whatever, that sets you off into a negative pattern of self-censure, jealousy, blame, anger, or frustration, which leads you to actions or words that may seem to comfort you in the moment but that ultimately lead you away from peace rather than towards it. I feel this is my life in a nutshell. I grew up in a highly reactive household, so I learned to be reactive to everything. Because of this, I have long admired people who seem to roll with things, who accept the reality of the situation without an emotional meltdown. I have not known many people like this, though, so I am certain that reacting to shenpa is common for most of us.

The experience of shenpa immediately removes us from the present moment and sends us into a spiral of destructive thoughts and behaviors. The way I most often experience shenpa in my life is through my verbal outbursts or my desire to escape a situation that troubles me. Both are an overreaction, usually as a result of a comment or action taken by another person. Instead of quietly sitting for a moment with the thing that has hooked me and deciding how or even if it requires reaction from me, I am off and running and the hook sets. So, this is my next big challenge: I need to recognize the hook before taking the bait. Pema Chodron says the best way to stop this cycle is through meditation because it is only by observing our thoughts that we are able to change them and our actions around them. Through meditation, we slowly gain control of the monkey mind that will make off with us if we don’t see its little game.

I am setting my alarm for 6:20 tomorrow morning so I can get in ten minutes of meditation before I begin my day. Ten minutes doesn’t sound like much until you have to make sitting still with yourself and chasing away distractions a priority. It’s more difficult than you might imagine. I was thinking I can still use the Wonder Woman golden wrist cuffs, which I wrote about yesterday, to deflect what triggers me. I can still cross my arms in defiance of the shenpa that appear. And then I can use my meditation skills to stay present, experience my discomfort, and then either let it go or react calmly from a place of peace in the present moment. I am already better at putting distance between myself and many of the people and stimuli that trigger me. I am also better at seeing where things are going, even if I can’t always find the brakes. I’m heading in the right direction.

I’m grateful for the small things in life that line up for me when I am on the right path. I suspect, though, that it is less about messages lining up than about my openness to seeing them as they fall in my lap.