Families & Fishbowls

The “fishbowl effect” dictates that people have a hard time gaining an objective or healthier perspective when they’re surrounded by what they’ve always known. For those outside the fishbowl, it’s much easier to spot what the real issues and solutions are. This is often why people seek counseling and therapy. They need an objective viewpoint. Sometimes they need to get out of the fishbowl altogether.

For years there was a fish tank in the lobby of our counseling center. It was put there with good intentions. It started out beautifully but over time it became a bit neglected. We were focused on far more important things. Folks started to mention that it wasn’t as nice as it used to be. Our administrative assistant came to hate the fish tank because it was she who gradually became accosted for the state it was in. Funny how people are – the folks who have the least ability to change things get to hear the most about it.

Folks who came to us with the fishbowl effect stared at the fishbowl and saw what it needed. They advocated that there ought to be more time and attention given. They saw what could be improved and were (understandably) angry that we didn’t invest more into it. These people were almost exclusively very good mothers. There’s a lot to be learned from their perspective. Women notice things.

A lot of men view families the way I view a fish tank. A cursory look tells us that it’s fine and doesn’t require our attention. We wait to be asked to attend to things. We don’t necessarily seek opportunities to invest and improve. Interestingly enough, the men who expressed concern over the state of the tank were uniformly men of great sensitivity.

I feel a bit like Dr Seuss as I talk about fish and try to further stretch this metaphor.

I ask my Higher Power for inspiration each morning and today I find myself staring at where the fish tank used to be. I am mindful of what I value, what my limits are, and how I get stuck in fishbowls of my own making. I am blessed to have a lot of very good people in my life. They share their truth and challenge my perspective. There’s always more to the picture than what I can see.

What we can do together is so much greater than what we can do alone. All that’s required is that we honor the truth others hold and learn from their perspective. Step outside. Look through the eyes of others. Go home tonight and invest.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.