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Doctor, Love?

The gift of a broken heart

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For all I have learned about my heart, and those of the clients with whom I am honored to work, I sometimes think what I am practicing is the art of emotional cardiology. So, to be sure I didn’t just invent a term that is already a thing, I googled it. Turns out, cardiac psychology IS a thing . Cardiac psychology focuses on…”emotional and behavioral barriers to lifestyle changes that seek to enhance recovery in cardiac patients…”. Think smoking cessation and stress management. 

Who knew? 

As for me, it is the broken hearted, the grieving and grief stricken who have helped me to heal my own heart. As a therapist, I look for common denominators and try hard to help my clients build on their strengths.  What poet Maya Angelou says is so true that Apple turned it into an iPhone ad…”we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” 

I am a thinker and a feeler. In graduate school, the joke was that therapists are the only people in the world who actually need 30 hours of therapy a week.  For me, 20 is plenty, but still, I crave connection and love hearing people’s stories, feel humbled by the bravery and honesty I am privileged to witness. People ask me if I get dragged down, and I say mostly, no, although I’d be lying if I didn’t say I sometimes feel frustrated with clients whose inability to dig deeper isn’t punctuated by my brilliant interventions. 

When I am rendered powerless, I am reminded of my own broken heart. Of those who I cannot help, those to whom I gave love and it just wasn’t enough.  Adopted into a wildly dysfunctional family, I understand l-o-n-g-i-n-g. Wanting to be enough, believing I wasn’t, and killing myself for love and approval, especially (oddly) from those who would not or could not give it. 

 I’ve had to let go. Some people, I love so fiercely that nothing will ever separate them from the love held in my heart, although the way in which I handle myself in those relationships has had to change in order for me to a) function well and have some self -respect and b) accept them for who and where they are.  Enter powerlessness, grief and the journey of love and forgiveness. For myself, for them. Enter: freedom. 

It seems to me that emotional cardiology is shifting the internal, relational branches and vessels of the heart in such a way as to create different boundaries that enable healthy flow. I don’t want to block my love for those I care deeply by clogging my relational arteries with resentment. And since I have learned that I can change no one but myself, no matter who they are or how much I love them, I am always the patient. Always.

I have worked with parents grieving children lost to addiction. Spouses left broken hearted over “failed” marriages. (I take issue with the word failed. My own marriage ended in divorce. The failure would have been not being transformed by the grief of a loss that was inevitable, as fractured and ill prepared were we to embark on our marriage).  

If we are lucky, we have had the gift of a broken heart. I had so carefully guarded mine that it didn’t break until so many of my dreams, the things I truly believed held me together, shattered. 

In medicine, it’s said that the healing can be more painful than the wound or surgery itself. Sure, one can load up on meds and bypass the inner strengthening, the re-working of the muscles and medicate rather than rehabilitate. As for me, my heart is stronger having broken to absolute bits. I have found vessels that led me to connections with myself and others I could never have imagined. 

My vulnerability is what’s made me strong. The relationships that I watch transform in my practice are those that embrace vulnerability, the gateway to real intimacy, connection and growth. You cannot imagine how beautiful this is to witness.

Emotional cardiology. Clear hearts, full hearts. Love heals.

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