When Friction is a Good Thing

Milton Woolley, MS, MFT

What courage it takes to be willing to go where authentic life takes us! As human beings, we often find ourselves suspended between two poles of "survival" (being safe) and "aliveness" (the adventure of making an authentic contribution to the world and humanity). 


How do we decide what is security and what is the path of authenticity? Borrowing from the new physics, according to the theory of "dissipative structures"* and "autopoietic systems"** that make life, friction is required to grow. Without friction there is "no" growth or life. 


Some questions that reflect that friction are:


"Do I let my child make her own mistakes or do I make life safe for him/her by intervening?" Certainly, as a parent there are those times in development when it is the parent's responsibility to intervene; however, as a child develops into his/her own person it is a parent's responsibility to yield to a child's self direction.


When helping a friend having serious difficulty, the question can arise: "Is my compassion a genuine gift or a codependent urge?"


Many people unhappy at work might ask "Do I stay with a steady job (with good income and benefits) that has grown unchallenging and boring or do I risk this security to express myself in a truer form?"


On the relationship front: "Do I reveal to my partner that I am having trouble with the lack of sexual energy in our relationship or keep from hurting or possibly losing him by keeping quiet?"

There is no doubt that when we decide to follow our "authentic callings," we must weigh whether we are willing to deal with the friction that breeds life and the sacrifices necessary to carry out vital change. Gregg Levoy in his book Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, says: "Sacrifice is a kind of healthy denial, denying ourselves something we want for the sake of something we want even more." 


People often chose to come to therapy because of a chaotic crisis in their lives. As it has been said, "crisis is also an opportunity". It is through the friction caused by sudden chaos that we can embrace change and life itself. In a very real sense, those who seek help from a therapist are not "ill" but "courageous enough" to embrace the friction necessary to change and grow. 


* Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine's, theory, part of which contends that friction is a fundamental property of nature and nothing grows without it. 


** Living systems that occur by way of positive feedback, amplifying instabilities into bifurcations.