Oct 23 2013

Robert Levithan,


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The Right Stuff, Understanding




I have spent a lifetime creating an image of relative ease.  I’m seen as happy, fun-loving and it looks like I have risen above struggle.  All of this is true, and all of it is an exaggeration if not a lie.

A partner once pointed out to me that my perfectionism was not only driving me crazy but it was hard on him.  He felt pressured to live up to my standards and always felt like he was failing.  Welcome to my mind.

After a certain amount of work on ourselves, we come to understand that comparing ourselves to others is a waste of time as we are comparing our insides to their outsides.

Some of us compare ourselves to a idealized younger self, and although I’d love to have my twentysomething year old knees, I don’t want his angst and pain.

Another level of comparison is what I call the Sitcom Comparison:  I grew up watching sitcoms such as Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it To Beaver and later The Dick Van Dyke Show where happiness was endemic and all problems were resolved in twenty-two minutes.  We were or are under the illusion that that’s the norm and that we are failing as individuals and families since our happiness is more fleeting and our problems longer lasting

Perhaps, the most insidious comparison is the one that’s related to perfectionism: I’m comparing my self to a perfect Robert who is always graceful, can handle every situation with aplomb, doesn’t cause pain and is universally admired.  No such person ever existed, obviously, so I will always come up short.

I want people to buy my façade and I want to be seen as I truly am—a mixture of strength and vulnerability.  When I met Peter Hujar, my photographer lover he told me that “I’m looking for someone strong enough to be vulnerable…”  He changed my life that day.  I was twenty-six. To be strong enough to be vulnerable is true beauty.

Writing allows me to reveal some of the struggle below the surface.  The calm is authentic to many of the roles I play in life.  When leading a group or workshop and in session with a client, I am truly present and listening.  However, in my intimate relationships with lovers and friends, I need to be able to be authentically a mess when that’s my truth.  My goal is get through the messy stretches as quickly as I can, but  not to avoid them.

Stella Adler, the great acting teacher, taught me to bring  relevant authentic parts of my being to the part I am playing.  This is a way of living as well as a way of acting on stage.  I don’t fully succeed at times, but as Martha Graham said “we practice living” the way we practice  for dance, by a willingness to reach and stumble so that we might soar when it matters.  I am constantly practicing.


Featured Image  by Peter Hujar

Robert Levithan is a psychotherapist, workshop leader and writer, practicing in New York City. His book, THE NEW 60: Outliving Yourself and Reinventing a Future is available on AMAZON. He is currently working on a memoir and is a regular contributor to the HUFFINGTON POST. Previously, Robert has been a columnist for Oprah’s O AT HOME as The Design Shrink and for OUT.com. and TheAdvocate.com. He has appeared on CHARLIE ROSE and FRESH AIR and is cited in numerous books and articles as a n expert on living with illness and aging. He is also a specialist on Internalized Prejudice. Robert was born on the island of Manhattan and has degrees from The University of Pennsylvania, and Southwestern College of Santa Fe, NM.

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Website: robertlevithan.com

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