I dread errands to the post office. Abnormally long lines of disgruntled people without the time to wait. I assume that once I take my place as #26 in the queue I will realize my iPhone does not contain the correct address, my box doesn’t quite fit that bulky sweater, or mailing my gift is more costly that the gift inside. I’m often that woman relegated to the end of the check out counter to finish re-taping, re-addressing, or re-packaging my parcel. I feel tense just writing this.
So, imagine my surprise as I walked in to my nearly-empty local post office this afternoon. A petite, aproned woman whose nametag read “Sonja” welcomed me with a huge smile and immediately asked if I needed help. 30 seconds later she had saved me $10 and made my baby girl laugh. Which left her 30 more seconds to tell me about how she puts bars of wrapped soap at the end of her bed to rub her toes on at night…? (I still don’t quite get it but she said it is soothing. Hey, whatever works).
But what startled me most was the moment she broke the Cardinal Rule of Post Office Personnel (CRPOP): she reached behind her tall counter and produced a roll of clear packing tape, placing it in my dumbfounded hands so I could “shore up” my parcel.
2 feet of free packing tape! I still can’t believe it.
As I walked to my car, grinning like a kid who was just handed their first Popsicle from the musical ice cream truck, I realized I had enjoyed my visit to the post office! A completely novel experience.
It reminded me of what I am trying to do with my therapy clients every day – provide a new, reparative relational experience. And sometimes it just takes one moment to lead to a lifelong shift.
There’s a concept in psychology called “Rupture & Repair.” It basically means that relationships all have conflict and problems, but the important thing is how we reconstruct the damage together. A good repair can leave the individuals and the dyad more intimate and more resilient. When someone experiences Rupture without Repair, the damage can spread – the wound remains open.
Ideally, of course, the repair would occur with the person who was involved in the initial rupture, but sometimes the Repair happens with someone else.
It’s like the post office for me; rupture has occurred over and over again. Every visit reinforced old learning, learning ingrained in my neural networks - an automatic link between the post office and fear and anger. But this one, quick visit was a Reparative experience. Same stimuli (post office), but different relational experience (joy, connection). And just like that, my brain rewired.
Even recalling that experience now I feel a smile emerge behind my lips. Thank God for neuroplasticity.