How are lives transformed?
If someone struggles to build consistency in their lives, for example:
- they feel depressed or anxious
- they fail to develop their creativity and potential
- their relationships fail
- they don’t seem to make the best kind of professional working alliances
The answer they commonly get told is; improve your focus and you will get there. Self-help books tell them that the problem is that they are just not seeing what they want clearly enough.
They can coach themselves, or be coached to achieve better results.
This is poor advice.
Generally these kind of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps ideas are unhelpful, and often this approach produces very limited results.
It can appear that all kinds of difference have been made in the short term through a combination of
- application and repetition
But when you revisit the person 12 months on, you find very little has changed. Some superficial changes perhaps, but nothing else. If anything the person may have become more isolated from other people because now they have come to see everything as being down to them. Other people can’t be relied upon. And they feel more dispirited for having failed at something else.
To succeed we have to be prepared to fail
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Becket, Worstword Ho!
We all tend to fail to follow up our good ideas. Failing at things is part of the story of how we learn to succeed. Ever tried to stop smoking? Generally people have to try again and again to break the habit. Failing is part of the process.
When people go to Alcoholics Anonymous to help them stop drinking, relapses are common. One of the strengths of the 12 step programme is its capacity to help people build up the habit of living an alcohol free life. This is done on a day by day basis. Some people might go to a single meeting and never drink again. But for most people it tends to be a more involved and possibly drawn out process involving relapses, success and failure.
The key is to not be crushed by a single failure but rather to treat the failure as a part of the process and journey of recovery.
A great deal of psychotherapy involves repetition
Frequently psychotherapy involves people going round and round the symptoms that hinder them. The psychological symptoms that have developed generally can’t just be walked away from. The symptoms have developed often over years.
To transform a person’s psychological issues and struggles you have to find a way to understand where the problems have come from. Often the symptoms have developed as an adaptation to a difficult experience.
At one point the symptom was necessary and helped the person live as well as they could in difficult times. Then life changes.
Perhaps a violent or bullying parent leaves the home and the bullying stops. But the symptoms that developed while you lived with the bully don’t go away so easily. If someone has developed a hyper-vigilant way of monitoring the world around them to detect any threats, though the threats are diminished, the habit of hyper-vigilance persists. Something like this uses a great deal of energy.
Imagine how much energy it would take to keep an alarm running all of the time.
If you have had to live under these kind of threats and conditions a lot of your energy and creativity will have been used up running the defensive system. That is a big drain. It means there is much less energy available for spontaneity and creativity. People who have lived through these kind of things are likely to be anxious and depressed.
Someone in this position might come to psychotherapy looking for a treatment for the anxiety or depression without thinking or being very aware of the complicated experience from which the depression or anxiety has developed.
To transform the problems you have to get at the earlier experience. That takes time, but can create lasting transformation.
To get at the underlying experience you have to build up trust. This is very difficult in someone who has learned to be hyper-vigilant when it comes to trusting others.
So what would it take to create real and lasting transformation?
How do you go beyond the smokescreen of surface change and make a genuine and lasting difference?
In cases where people find themselves struggling repeatedly with self-limiting problems you need to work in a way that gets beyond the surface presentation. You need to be able to work with the deeper sides of the person.
This takes time and commitment. And these days when everyone has become accustomed to expecting things immediately, that may sound distinctly unappealing.
But there are no quick fixes, no magic wands, and people who sell you treatments saying that they can work miracles in a few sessions need to be treated with caution.
This kind of transformational work takes time and commitment
It isn’t that the transformation takes time, that may happen relatively quickly, the time is taken up by carefully working towards the point at which transformation can happen.
To transform a life you need to be able to travel into the nucleus of the personality and to experience the forces and dynamics that operate there.
From there you then need to find a way to help the person to experience this in a non-threatening way.
This can be extremely difficult particularly if the forces operating at the nucleus are old, possibly so old that they predate the person’s acquisition of language. If for example, they happened when you were a very small child. Particularly if they are distressing, or contain a sense of shock or trauma.
You need to be able to work with great sensitivity.
In psychotherapy we may be required to find out more about the adult person’s primitive experiences of trauma, shock and the upsets that they were left to manage unaided as babies and small children.
But, if we can do this, if we can survive the sudden shifts, the feelings of failure, not be put off by the powerful emotions that operate at these very basic levels in the person then things can change.
If we can do this, then we are doing something that can rightly be called transformational
This kind of work can be hard.
What’s more it can probably only be done through working with a therapist who has themselves travelled to the depths of their own psychological and emotional identities. Someone who has learned from their own first-hand experience of the way unexplored emotions disturb the surface personality.
Only a therapist who has himself travelled into the nucleus of his personality can do this.
If this work can be done, then we are able to transform the previously unruly and unacknowledged emotions that disturb our aims and concentration into a force that can work for us.
Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my work might help you.