I recently fount this video from the American Psychoanalytic Association called “Getting to The Root of The Problem”. I thought that it was very beautifully done and uses some lovely metaphors for thinking about our emotional lives and the internal world we all have and how it develops. In psychoanalytic theory this internal world is often called the unconscious. It looks at how we grow through nurturing and positive experiences and are hurt through troubling ones and how all of this ends up becoming who we are as people. The video uses metaphors of trees and gardens for our emotional lives and the unconscious and gardening for the work of psychoanalytic treatment. I hope that you enjoy it as I did.
I have had many people come to see me over the years who tell me that they only want to think positively or that they do not want to experience any "negative" emotions. Sometimes they may tell me that they only "think positively" or have time for "positive things", which always makes me wonder why they want to see me if this is truly the case. One thing I often notice with these people is that they seem to be fighting an internal battle. I notice that when they talk about only thinking positively that their entire body seems to be in revolt. It is if they have to force such words out and try very hard to keep their bodies upright and put a lot of energy into keeping the smile on their face. The truth is, that whilst over the decades a lot of self-help books and motivational gurus have sold the idea that "being positive" all of the time is the only way to go, it actually becomes very hard work. In essence, to maintain such an attitude all of the time means denying a lot of very normal and natural feelings and some people do it to the point that entire areas of their emotional experience can become more or less split-off and then take on a life of their own. Only being positive and only thinking positive thoughts means that you are no longer fully-human. This is because it means that such people are putting a lot of work into pushing away and in some cases trying to obliterate very real feelings of sadness, grief, fear, and other feelings that they have decided that they do not want to feel and experience. This means that such people can come to judge themselves very harshly for having such feelings and thoughts, thus making them more prone to developing depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, it also means that they can judge their children and other loved ones for having thoughts and feelings that they deem to be "negative". This can often result in children and loved ones feeling criticised and judged for having what are in essence very normal and healthy thoughts and responses to difficult things. Such children and other loved ones can also feel unable to have a real relationship with the parent, spouse, sibling, or friend who is into only thinking positively and this means that they can end up feeling very alone in this relationship. The truth is that we all experience feelings of sadness, grief, fear, happiness, joy, excitement and other feelings and this is part of being a normal functioning human being. The trouble is when feelings (even those of happiness) become overwhelming, uncontainable, and unmanagable. When feelings become too hard it is generally useful to get some help. It can also be useful to get therapy if you feel the need to be "positive" all of the time, because it means that part of you is missing. In order to appreciate happiness, success, joy, and excitement means that we also have to be open to feeling sad, afraid, and other feelings sometimes judged as negative. This is because we need to be able to compare happy feelings to feelings that are not happy in order to really enjoy them. Having feelings that we might judge as negative also allows us to connect with others, empathise with them and have deeper and more meaningful relationships. Below psychologist Susan David talks about why embracing our so-called negative feelings is not such a bad thing.
One major contemporary idea that is very important in developmental psychology that has emerged out of psychoanalysis, is attachment theory. Attachment theory was developed by the British psychoanalyst John Bowlby, with many other theorists developing the theory further. Attachment theory is an attempt to explain how as babies we form attachments to significant caregivers in order to get our needs met and feel safe. There are four attachment styles that are developed in infancy ranging from secure to various types of insecure attachment. Our attachment style is strongly influenced how our major caregivers responded to our needs and our attempts to communicate our needs as babies. If we develop a secure attachment style then this is good, as this generally means that we will then develop into a child (and hopefully later an adult) who is good at dealing with our emotions effectively and forming secure attachment relationships with others in our life as we age. If however, we developed an insecure attachment relationship of some sort with our significant caregiver or caregivers, then this will have negative implications for our ability to emotionally self-regulate and form secure and healthy bonds with others as we age. This means that if we end up having an insecure attachment style, this will have a significant bearing on our mental health and overall well being. It also means that we will have difficulty in getting our needs met in positive and healthy ways. The video below explains attachment theory, what the different attachment styles are, how it has implications for our ability to emotionally self-regulate, and our later relationships. It basically helps to explain how our early childhood impacts the rest of our lives and why it is so important in psychoanalytic psychotherapy.
Sometimes people tell me that they find that someone in their life engages in passive aggression, or they may tell me that someone else has told them that they themselves can be passive aggressive and wonder what it is. The following video by Dr Chris Heath explains this concept very nicely. Essentially passive aggressiveness is often an indirect communication from one person to another when they don't feel comfortable expressing their anger or annoyance over something, or they may feel that they are unable to express their anger and instead engage in communications that get the other person to feel angry instead. The secret is to be more honest in our communication. Sometimes it can be hard to tell others that we love that we are angry with them about something. However, it usually comes out indirectly. It is still possible though to communicate our anger respectfully, it just means you have to select your words carefully and make sure that the message is well received
People often fear the darker and more irrational sides of themselves. At times we find that we have certain experiences and feel various emotions that may surprise, shock, and even overwhelm us. At these times we can feel confused and even afraid and want to avoid and distance ourselves from these feelings and experiences. Other times we may find ourselves preoccupied by certain things that don't make sense to us, and it can be hard to know why this thing preoccupies us so much. We may also find ourselves suddenly attracted to someone and be confused as to why this is. These experiences come from the unconscious parts of ourselves. We call this the unconscious because it is something that is not conscious. In other words, we are not conscious of what is going on within ourselves or why we have done something. The unconscious does not tell us what it is but, what it is not. This is why it is called the unconscious, in other words not conscious. It is all the parts of us that we don't clearly identify with or only marginally identify with. We can't know it directly, but we can infer what is in it via the things it produces, such as: emotions, dreams, accidents, slips of the tongue, psychological symptoms, and various experiences in relationships. It is often by getting to know more about these parts of ourselves that may confuse, frustrate, or even frighten us that we can get a better handle on ourselves, accept ourselves with all of our complexity, and feel free and feel better. Unfortunately, this work can be painful at times, but ultimately it pays off. So don't fear the darker and more irrational sides of yourself, get to know it and it can work for you instead of against you. This is where psychoanalytic psychotherapy can help. In the video below psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Dr Chris Heath talks about what lurks beneath the surface in the unconscious mind.
I found this little article interesting and thought that I would share it here. It was written by a PhD student at the Univesity of Reading in the UK, who has been involved in some studies that have looked at language usage amongst depressed and non-depressed persons. Some general findings from this work have identified that depressed persons tend to use far more personal pronouns when discussing experiences such as "I" and "me" and far fewer second and third person pronouns such as "they" or "them" than non-depressed persons. Depressed persons were also far more likely to use words that are indicative of negative emotions. Furthermore, they are more likely to use absolutist words such as "always", "completely", "never", and "absolutely" than people who were not depressed. You can read the article by clicking the link below.
Many people who come to see me for therapy find themselves making the same poor choices and the same mistakes again and again, much to their own astonishment and disappointment. This may involve choosing the same unsuitable relationship partners, hiring the same wrong staff, continually feeling exploited in .friendships, and many other repetitive situations. They often make these mistakes despite their own best and noble intentions that this time it will be different. Unfortunately, the same thing happens again and they are again left wondering what went wrong. Sometimes they may feel that they are doomed to keep riding the same old merry-go-round and feeling disappointed and depressed with the same old results over and over. Sigmund Freud called this the repetition compulsion and it is an unconscious process that generally has its roots in our early childhood experiences. This is because we are often drawn back to situations that feel familiar, even if they feel bad. Sometimes having things turn out differently can feel very uncomfortable and even frightening. This is because change and getting something different produces feelings of uncertainty and unfamiliarity. It is almost as if something inside of us says to us "Hey, if it's different it might be worse, and that's a terrifying prospect, I think we will just go with what we know, even if it is lousy. Why risk making things even worse?". Maybe part of us inside says "We don't deserve better than this", and this can keep the repetitive pattern going as well. Like I said, we do not do or say this to ourselves intentionally or even consciously. When we find this happening again and again, it can be useful to notice the patterns and the feelings that accompany these patterns. this can give clues as to what is going on. Many times psychotherapy can be helpful in identifying these problems and changing the patterns so that you can start to get something better for yourself. It is often hard work, but ultimately worth it, because you can then start to get what you really want instead. In the video below, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Dr Chris Heath discusses the repetition compulsion.
Often it can be difficult to know how to talk to someone we know who is depressed. Often we can feel helpless, hopeless, and powerless in the face of a loved one's depressed state of mind. Quite often the person who is not depressed can feel tempted to "cheer" the depressed person up or get them to somehow "snap out of it". Let's face facts, having someone in our life who is close to us who is depressed feels bad. Just remember if you feel powerless and down in the face of their depression, just imagine how lousy they feel. Quite often our efforts to cheer the depressed person up or get them to snap out of it can backfire and lead them to feel even more misunderstood, alienated, and depressed and leave you feeling frustrated and lousy. It is important to recognise that you can't fix the depressed person's depression by telling them what to do, or to just get over it. This is often counterproductive. Just because something helped you to feel better does not mean it will help your friend or loved one. The trick in part is to be patient, nonjudgemental, and listen. Quite often the most valuable thing you can give to a depressed friend or loved one is to be patient, present, and listen. Let them know that you are there for them when things get tough and that if they need someone to just sit with them and be present, you are able to do that. Of course it is generally helpful if the depressed person is willing and able to get psychotherapy. The following article offers some helpful suggestions on what to do to be of support to someone who is depressed. Just click the link below to read it.
One guarantee that we all have in this life is that we are all going to have to deal with grief and loss at least at one point or another. The sad fact of life is that we all lose people we love and care about and often this is painful and it hurts a lot. Sometimes our grief can be mixed with relief and guilt. This is often the case if we have been supporting someone or have had a loved one who has been very unwell for some time and has been in a lot of pain for a long while. In these circumstances we can have a sense of relief when they finally die because they are no longer in pain and we no longer have to worry about them. At times we can often experience guilt due to our sense of relief that their suffering and our worry is over due to their death. Mixed feelings are not uncommon when someone we love dies. What can make grief and loss even harder is that others may not know how to respond to us and may want us to move on and through the grief and loss faster than we are ready to. Often they may say well-meaning things that we don't find helpful or possibly even invalidating such as: "time heals", "you will get over it", "they are in a better place now", (or even worse) "you should be over this by now". The truth is that grief and loss takes time and is a process not something you just go out and do, nor is there a clear right or wrong way to grieve. If you have experienced a significant loss (it may be a loved one, a relationship, a job, or even a dream), remember to be gentle with yourself and to give yourself time. It is also important to not judge yourself for how you feel. You may feel very alone, confused, and even wonder when it is going to stop. You may even wonder if you will ever feel "normal" again. Experiencing a significant loss can trigger other losses from earlier in our lives and the feelings can at times become overwhelming. It is important to get support at these times. If you know someone who is going through grief and loss, it is important to allow them to have their feelings and to not try and cheer them up or get them to move on. The main thing is to be present and listen to them without judgment or expectation that they will feel better. Let them know that you are there for them and that you care and that you are available. The following article from the New York Times offers what I thought was some sensible and well thought out ideas and advice. Just click the link below to read it.
It is not uncommon for people to ask me why I want to know about their past, especially their childhood. Sometimes people tell me that they don't want to talk about their past because they consider their past to be something that is well and truly over. The truth is the past is always with us in one form or another. Psychologists and psychotherapists (especially those of us who come from a psychoanalytic standpoint) need to get to know who you are and how you got to where you are in your life. This helps the psychologist/psychotherapist to understand you better and better understand how the past might repeat itself in your present life. So when a psychologist and/or psychotherapist asks you about your childhood and other aspects of your past, we are only interested in those aspects of your past that impact your current life. Our early attachment relationships and other significant experiences colour our unconscious thinking and emotional life and therefore have a profound effect on how our life is now. Sometimes this is for better and it helps us to achieve and find success. Other times it plays a significant role in our emotional pain and in our other difficulties. One way we therapists learn about this in psychoanalytic therapy is via what is called the transference. This is the aspect of the therapy in which people relate to their therapist or psychologist in ways that are influenced by past relationships and unconscious parts of the person in treatment. It is often by understanding this better, that it can be possible to allow you to break free of old patterns and have greater choice in life. There many other ways in which psychoanalytic psychotherapy can help, but this is one of the most important ones. The article below from Psychology Today talks more about the impact of childhood and how it impacts the transference. To read it just click the link below.