In my previous blog, You’ll Never Walk Alone, I discussed how the therapist must be impacted by the work for the psychotherapy to be effective. Of course, the patient must also be impacted by the therapy.
I have seen people in therapy who have been relatively well parented. They knew their parents loved them and wanted the best for them. As children, they felt safe.
These people came to therapy because, despite having a fairly good start to life, something was missing. They were not able develop a close relationship. Or they became anxious that they would be harshly judged, even how they looked and behaved in a social context.
Despite the strength of the parental care, there were dynamics in the family that left the person vulnerable. The parents had very strong ideas about how a person should live their lives. Though they didn’t criticise the child, they unconsciously set a high bar that the child could never live up to. The child never felt good enough.
Other patients in this group had parents who didn’t help them process feelings. They expected the child to simply get over their feelings and get on with life. As adults, the person relied on cognitive strategies to deal with their emotions. They told themselves things weren’t so bad, or there was no reason to be angry. When this did not work, they had nowhere else to go. Their anger or anxiety would overwhelm them. They would then harshly criticise themselves for not being able to control their feelings.
These patients still had a tough time in therapy. They had built up an idealised view of their parents as being perfect. They found it challenging to accept that the parents could leave them emotionally underprepared for life. They also held very strongly to the belief that they should be able to talk themselves out of their feelings. It was hard for them accept that feelings needed time and space, and needed to be processed. As John Lennon says below, nobody told them it would be like this. Being in therapy can be strange days indeed.
However, starting from the strong psychological base of knowing they are loved, the therapy was not as confronting as it is for others.
In the next blog, we will consider the therapy experience of people who suffered abuse as children.