After a thorough conversation about his inability to understand why he doesn’t feel connected to his partner three years into the relationship, I suggested that he considers seeing a therapist. He paused, took a minute to gather his thoughts. “Do I look like I’m mentally ill?”, he scoffed. Clearly, he did not understand what therapy is for.
While psychotherapy can help diagnose mental illnesses and eliminate/control troubling symptoms, it can also help a person without mental illness resolve problematic behaviors, beliefs, feelings and/or relationship issues. It’s a place where you can work on self-destructive behaviors and habits, resolve painful feelings and improve your relationships.
In basic terms,
Psychotherapy is the practice of spending time with a trained professional—usually a psychologist, a social worker, or a licensed counselor—to help diagnose and treat mental and emotional problems, as well as talk through everyday difficulties or seek advice as a couple.Psychology Today
A Place For Reflection
Overwhelmed with our emotions, we do not always see things the way they are. We can be biased, unfocused, or perhaps confused during an ongoing conflict. Even worse, we’d rather make ourselves responsible for our misfortunes if things are incomprensible, because being oblivious makes us feel helpless and our psyche hates that.
A therapy session is a space for you to introspect and question your actions or motivations, where you have an intense yet quiet conversation to expand your thinking, feeling and stance towards your conflict or dilemma.
We can seek therapy for different reasons, perhaps because we:
- want to understand ourselves better
- cannot move forward because we’re stuck in unsatisfactory work/relationship
- lost touch with ourselves
- are searching for authenticity
- do not know how to let go
- suffered events so bruising that we do not know how to assimilate them
We may feel enraged all the time and cannot seem to understand why. What we do not know is that rage could be a cover story to hold ourselves together. We feel hurt in different ways; we can feel confused but express it through rage. The feeling of rage is part of the problem that covers subtle feelings such as confusion.
Patients are typically full of words but missing the ones needed to express the underlying confusions. Patients typically feel:
- pain or sorrow
Shame is another feeling we get accustomed to experiencing because it’s easily stimulated, but it’s not relieving. The feeling of shame is injurious to the sense of self because it seems like it’s protecting us from hurt when, in fact, it stops other kinds of feeling and thinking. It’s a closed loop that makes it hard for us to release the sorrow. To live with meaning, the person who experiences shame needs to experience and digest the pain, not be defended by shame. We need to enable a wider spectrum of feelings such as disappointment, sadness, hurt and loneliness. This is what moves you from the state of being stuck.
Purpose of Therapy
Words may be few, interrupted with gaps or hesitation. They may be too jumbled to yield their truths immediately. Therapy aims to find entry points so that the contradictory thoughts or feelings can surface and be acknowledged, anger can be heard, and disappointments felt.
Therapy can help:
- crack open existing words, emotions and ideas
- take time to listen closely and find entry points
- slow down the person sufficiently to hear, feel and think what they’re saying
- understand and provide context
- indicate ways of thinking, feeling and being that invites a person to know about oneself
Therapy addresses the problem and the options out there, but it does not offer solutions to fix it. Sometimes, there is no solution. Conflicts remain, but they are often transformed. A person enters therapy with one word or emotion to explain, when there may be several words, feelings and ideas that sit alongside one another. A person enters therapy with a past and a future, and ends up with a present informed by an examined past that can welcome rather than fear a future.
Therapy is a place to explore all the losses, things that went awry, long-held anguish, and most importantly, it’s not a place to hide. It’s a place to lift the blame and look for options.
How Do I Deal With His Mother?
A woman, who happens to be a therapist, reached out to another therapist because she’s having problems with her boyfriend’s mother. She thinks that the mother has narcissistic and mean traits, which she tries to handle through reflective listening and nonviolent communication. Whenever she shows a bit of dissatisfaction, she’s faced by temper tantrums. Her boyfriend accepts his mother’s behavior because she worked so hard to provide for him. He thinks that the best way to deal with her is through empathy. The different perspectives are causing the relationship to be tense, as he is always defensive of his mother. She thinks that she is a sensitive person and cannot help but wonder if a less sensitive woman would be more understanding and capable of handling his mother.
The woman is seeking help: How can she deal with his mother better? Is it time to leave?
This is an exemplary example that everyone needs help at some point in their lives, even therapists, because an outside perspective can see the situation more clearly.
The therapist acknowledges the woman’s feelings and indicates that there’s a blurred line between the woman’s professional and personal life. She suggests that the woman might have been taking things personally and being sensitive due to baggage from past experiences or relationships, because she judges the mother for behaviors that are not personal attacks and confronts her with displeasure despite knowing that she might not have the ability to grasp another’s feeling of hurt without feeling hurt herself. The woman seems to be trying to make the mother see and understand her, although she’s aware of the limitations.
Changing the mother is hardly possible, but changing the way she responds to her behavior might clarify the feasibility of the relationship. The woman is trying to get her boyfriend to see his mother through his eyes, when it would be a better idea to consider why it’s important for her. Her boyfriend is being put in the middle of two people whom he loves, and he has no control over his mother’s behavior.
After the therapist helped provide context and clarification, she suggests that the woman focuses more on the positive qualities rather than the negative qualities of her boyfriend’s mother. Ignoring the past and focusing on areas of connections and the things they share would help improve their relationship. As for her relationship with her boyfriend, talking about living with his mother would help them learn to hear each other better and work out their issues in the course of their relationship if they decide to stay together. There are various options to choose from regarding living with his mother. Having conversations with her boyfriend regarding those decisions will help her learn more about the strength of their relationship than her trying to change his mother.
You can find the therapist’s entire response here.