“It was in the garden of a madhouse that I met a youth with a face pale and lovely and full of wonder. And I sat beside him upon the bench, and I said, ‘Why are you here?’
And he looked at me in astonishment, and he said, ”It is an unseemly question, yet I will answer you. My father would make of me a reproduction of himself; so also would my uncle. My mother would have me the image of her illustrious father. My sister would hold up her seafaring husband as the perfect example for me to follow. My brother thinks I should be like him, a fine athlete. And my teachers also, the doctor of philosophy, and the music master, and the logician, they too were determined, and each would have me but a reflection of his own face in a mirror. Therefore I came to this place. I find it more sane here. At least I can be myself.” Then of a sudden he turned to me and he said, ” But tell me, were you also driven to this place by education and good counsel?” And I answered, “No, I am a visitor.” And he said, “Oh, you are one of those who live in the madhouse on the other side of the wall.” Kahlil Gibran
Though patients do not frequently come into my office complaining that they do not really know who they are, this sometimes lies at the heart of their more typical complaints of depression and anxiety. I believe that one of the most important functions of psychotherapy is helping a patient to be most fully him or herself. There is so much pressure on many individuals to conform to the expectations, projections and belief systems of the family, as well as the cultural and societal norms, that it can feel as though the life that they are living is not their own. This can lead to a feeling of alienation, of going through the motions, rather than feeling fully alive.
Sometimes when an individual gets in touch with the fact that they are living out their parents’ dream, they feel angry and feel tempted to throw the baby out with the bath water. They feel the need to reject in a wholesale way identifications with their parents. It may well be that they would choose their parents’ dream as their own, or aspects of the dream, if they could do so in a way that felt like a freely made choice.
Psychotherapy can help a person become aware of the unconscious patterns he or she has felt compelled to enact. This may involve choice of profession, partner, style of relating with children, attitudes towards money, leisure, food, the body, really any aspect of living can be an unconscious repetition of ancestral patterns. With awareness eventually comes the possibility of choosing to accept or reject those expectations and projections which have been so influential in our psyches. Free choice generally translates into a greater sense of meaning, joy and a greater sense of authenticity.
Many of these patterns form through repetitive chronic interactions with parents and siblings, which sculpt and form and deform the psyche. I think of the metaphor of erosion, like the geological forces of water and wind that over time produce the earth’s canyons and rock formations. In today’s climate of managed care for mental health, a patient may be given 10 sessions to deal with an issue. This is a totally inadequate amount of time to help someone shift deeply ingrained patterning.
Psychotherapy is a process that takes time to effect deep and lasting change. It can be a meandering, often inefficient and organic process that can be truly transformative, given the right chemistry between clinician and patient. Ten sessions may provide a bandaid, deal with an immediate crisis, but that bears no resemblance to what I am talking about here.
Part of Monday Mania