Bob Barkley frequently told us that most dentists leave dental school with a bizarre psychological combination of superiority and paranoia. The superiority complex comes from the educational process as well as from being inadvertently sheltered from the experience of seeing their own clinical dentistry fail. The paranoia evolves out of the distorted world view a dentist acquires in dental school due to their freedom from the economic, staffing, leadership, and the other psychological stressors of private practice.
Dentistry can be very frustrating, as well as financially and emotionally threatening to dentists. When we add to this the truth that many patients experience dentistry in similar ways, then you can easily see how a ‘perfect storm’ can develop.
At times, the ‘perfect storm’ requires an adaptive response, and different dentists will develop different coping strategies while attempting to manage it. Some experience the pain associated with these frustrations, and check it at the door. Some retreat into self-protective cacoons full of rationalizations and blaming, while others leave the profession entirely. Others bury their pain in substance abuse or tragically take their own lives during periods of deep dispair.
Finding the balance between the pain of growth and the pleasure of accomplishment through a growing self-regard is key. And that was why L.D. Pankey led a small revolution in dentistry.
Living with the constant anxiety the practice of dentistry can produce, is to be constantly followed around by a little voice in our head. And that little voice knows all about our weaknesses, it knows all about our mistakes, and it knows just how to play with our insecurities and how to masterfully mobilize ourself against ourself.
One of the most common adaptations we make is to become a chronic people-pleaser because we need to make payroll. We need to service the debt. We need to make financial adjustments due to the new baby at home.
We smile and try to look our best at all times by putting on the facade that everything is just fine. We say, “I am doing great, how are you?” twenty times a day, while we think, “If I can just get through today, tomorrow might be better.”
We pretend that we know more than we know, while acting more successful than we really are. We build up these walls, and then we very cleverly learn how to function behind them.
But intuitive team members and patients know something is amiss, because they can see it in our eyes and face, they can hear it in our tone of voice, and observe it in our inability to sit and truly listen to them.
At some point we need to find a way back to ourselves because our patients need it, our team members need it, and we need it, along with our spouses, children and communities.
Developing a truly Relaionship-based / Health-centered practice is the best way to square the circle between who we are and what we repeatedly do. And that feels good, because it promotes our growth as well as the growth of others.
And truly serving others with our whole heart is the place where happiness and fulfillment is found – even in this frustrating and imperfect world.
Aristotle said so.
L.D. Pankey said so.
Bob Barkley said so.
Each of us has more wisdom inside of us than we can possibly know. And the trick to gaining access to that wisdom lies in our to ability quiet that anxious, disempowering voice in our heads, while pushing though our current challenges and toward our more authentic selves.
Paul A. Henny, DDS