In psychotherapy, we work together to understand the meaning of your symptoms and the sources of your pain. This process is unique to each individual, but usually includes the exploration of the following elements:
Therapy is in large part about dealing with the effects of the past as it lives on in the present. The past remains alive when it is unexamined. In fact, to the degree that you have not explored your past, it rules you. It unconsciously/implicitly shapes your experience and influences your behavior. C.G. Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” To address the unconscious, automatic way of being is to become the author of your life.
2. Recurring patterns
The past has a tendency to become known through repetition. We repeat our parents’ history by identifying with them, copying their patterns of behavior (including the way they treated us); and thereby, providing testimony to their way of being. We also repeat our own history as we spiral up and down through familiar places and people. Freud spoke of repetition compulsion, a universal tendency to gravitate toward the familiar (from Latin familia) and repeat the past in attempts to master it, to write a new ending. Part of therapy is converting some of these automatic patterns into something that can be thought about and spoken about, so that we do not have to repeat them. Because whatever is unthinkable and unsayable repeats. Putting words to this self-perpetuating patterning of experience makes it possible to transform it.
Despite common cultural prescriptions to avoid or dismiss emotions, the biological fact is that we do not have a choice not to feel them. These are intelligent biological forces that inform us of our needs and wishes, motivate us to act, and connect us to other people. Blocking emotions from our awareness brings about a host of consequences detrimental to our mental and physical health, e.g., anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, and more. Conversely, when we allow ourselves to fully feel our emotions, to experience them viscerally, we tap into a wellspring of energy, vitality, and authenticity inside us. However painful or intense they may seem in the moment, feelings do not last forever. They crest and dissipate like an ocean wave, leaving in its wake a sense of aliveness, clarity, and personal truth.
4. Attempts to avoid emotions (i.e., defenses)
While biologically useful, emotions can also be painful and overwhelming. To avoid the emotional pain, we employ a range of defenses: humor, numbness, denial, suppression, somatization, addictions, minimizing, rationalizing, overeating, spacing out, etc. We may also be afraid of emotions because of the past conditioning in our family where we might have learned that certain emotions are not acceptable. Thus, we thwart and hold back our feelings for fear of negative reactions from other people, similar to those we got from our parents, e.g., abandonment, punishment, or rejection. To be sure, it is important to have some defenses to modulate our feelings. However, when defenses become the standard response to our feelings, we are deprived of the benefits that come from feeling emotions, e.g., a more authentic experience of ourselves and a deeper connection to others. (cost: leads to physical)
Relationships are of utmost importance for the development of the human mind. According to the developmental research, the interpersonal context leads to the creation of an individual. For example, attachment theory empirically demonstrates how the mind of an infant emerges in the context of a primary caregiver. It also shows how the childhood relational environment gives rise to internal working models or relational schemas (i.e., the way we think about ourselves and interact with others) that persist across the lifespan. Thus, it is crucial to reflect on relational dynamics, their origin in the past and manifestation in the present. In therapy, our current relational patterns can be illuminated by past experiences and changed in the context of a therapeutic relationship so that we feel more secure, alive, and whole in the way we show up in the world.