Oval Souls on a Round Planet

Darold Treffert MD
Abstract science, circle global network connection in hand on stars at night background, Elements of image are furnished by NASA

Planet in hand

What’s the shape of your soul, psychological soul that is?

When seeing new patients I would always check their vital signs: pulse, blood pressure, respiration, temperature and shape of their psychological soul.

I learned about the different shapes of psychological souls from a patient of mine.  She was a very bright young adult woman who had encountered some difficulties that left her feeling very stranded and alone.   She felt that somehow she just “didn’t fit in” with all the other tellurians—earth dwellers-on this marvelous planet.  She concluded, therefore, that she was an oval soul on a round planet.

I often ask patients about the shape of their soul, psychologically speaking.  One woman said her soul was shaped like a rug “because everyone walks all over it all of the time.”  Another gentleman said his soul was shaped like a mushroom “because people keep me in the dark and keep feeding me B.S. wherever I go.”

But there were also many more positive shapes as well.  One very kind hearted, compassionate woman described her soul as “heart-shaped”.   A very contented and talented young guy said his soul was shaped like a “football.”  When we took a poll at my house about the shape of my soul the vote was unanimous—Dad’s soul was “perfectly square”  I don’t mind the “square” part but adding ‘”perfectly” adds a bit more rigidity and expectation perhaps.   But I don’t mind being square.

Sometimes though the shape of souls clash.  One woman told me her husband’s soul was “rubber” and hers was like “glue” because “everything bounces off him and everything sticks to me.”

Contributing to that conflict, whether at home or at work,  is a tendency to wish everyone else’s soul was shaped like our own.  The four sided square soul husband wants the three sided triangular soul spouse to add a side to her soul and make it square like his—“best way to go on the planet, honey” he says.  And some businesses and corporations have prescribed, Good Housekeeping Seal of approval form and style of soul “at work” and the organization files, scrapes and  sands on all the employees psychological souls to make them all more “uniform”, in keeping with company policy.  In the process they stifle so much individuality, innovation and creativity.

If you have four children I’ll bet you have four differently shaped souls, same parents notwithstanding.  But that’s a good thing and insisting, or requiring, they all be the same shape with the same uniform, prescribed outcome and goals in their lives is what leads some persons, like my patient above, to conclude they are an oval soul on a round planet.

Let’s celebrate all shaped souls on our planet, and in our families, and let’s even embrace and endorse our differently shaped souls everywhere in the world and workplace

Once one embraces and endorses the shape of one’s own soul there arrives a sense of simple security and pleasant contentment.  One patient described it to me as “smiling inside”.   A patient of Rollo May described it ‘like getting the deed to your house” or “like Cinderella searching all over the world for the foot the shoe will fit and then realizing, at last, that one’s own foot is the one that it will fit”.  He describes those realizations in his book Love and Will.

I have seen some delightful outcomes when people come to own their  psychological soul as valid, and valuable.  One woman after wanting desperately to tear up and destroy some earlier chapters in her life came to the conclusion that her soul, instead, was like a book lying half-open, some chapters completed and some still to be written.  No need to dwell on or rip up those earlier chapters; put them to rest and instead relish those still ahead.

Another patient after a very difficult failed marriage and a career disaster, had literally started over with much success and now, instead of berating and undervaluing herself, was “putting the icing and what is fundamentally a really good cake”.

Being content and satisfied with the shape your psychological soul—being the way you are or your spouse or children are—is not selfish, egotistical, narcissistic or boastful bragging.  It is a gentle, privately held conviction that you are OK the way you fundamentally are, warts and all.  That doesn’t mean one isn’t open to any change or improvement, it just means that at your core you feel fundamentally sound and valid.

How does that get expressed?   One evening I was saying good night to one of my kids.   I told him he was neat, special and one of the best kids on the whole planet.   He quietly said “I know”.

To the owner of that soul, and the appreciator of that soul, that’s as good as it gets.   And that’s really very, very good.

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