catEGOries of approaches…
Balancing the human ego can be a tricky task sometimes. Too much ego from one person can be troubling, while too little ego can be – well, troubling. Nothing is more annoying than watching the interview of a sporting superstar whose underlying message is “let me tell you how wonderful I am”. I always want to jump through my television and remind them that they get paid to play a game, not save the world. On the other hand, the person filled with personal doubt and a self effacing attitude can stimulate those same emotions, but from the other direction. Seems equilibrium may be tough for the ego too.
During a long car ride yesterday, I was thinking about how ego is involved in the VT Room. More specifically, the importance of a patient’s perception of their own intelligence and self worth. It’s rare that I have run into a patient with the “superstar” mentality; but pretty common to find them lurking near the “self doubting” crowd. Seems to make sense, considering the nature of the business.
Along with eyeball mechanics and visual perception, it struck me that half the benefit we can offer patients is helping them understand that they can succeed, despite any evidence to the contrary. Before finding Vision Therapy, some 3rd graders will spend the previous two school years consumed in academic failure, which by the way, constitutes 50% of their academic career to that point. No wonder their self image is poor. Any adult interested in spending 50% of their work day hearing about all the mistakes they made, please stand up.
To establish a safety net, my mantra with most kids I work with is pretty simple – “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.” In essence, I want them to hear from an adult that mistakes are OK, and welcomed. It’s always amazing how many kids show a look of disbelief when they hear that. Probably because in most arenas, they are held to an expectation of perfection. The hardest, and yet most rewarding, talk is after a patient breaks down into tears. I always tell them “the people who cry are the people who care”. They want to do well, and they KNOW they are smart, but they just haven’t found a way to make it work; which is where Vision Therapy can help. It never hurts to remind the parents too that learning is not a continuous forward motion, so ebbs and flows are natural, and should be expected. We talk with patients about mistakes being a good way to learn, and how many brave men and women in history have made mistakes. Penicillin is proof positive that mistakes can be a good thing. With that monkey off their back, most patients will become brave enough to take a risk again, opening the door for success.
So at the end of my car ride, I came to a few simple conclusions. Nurturing the ego by helping a patient believe that they can achieve success seems to be half the battle; that, and I need to buy a car with better gas mileage.