“I am convinced that the deepest desire within each of us is to be liberated from the controlling influences of our own psychic madness or patterns of fear.” Caroline Myss
Recently in my practice, a patient asked: “Is there a time when I will finally get beyond my symptoms/problems?”
Two founding psychologists (both were medical doctors) gave answers to this question:
Sigmund Freud: “I do not doubt that it would be easier for fate to take away your suffering than it would for me. But you will see for yourself that much has been gained if we succeed in turning your hysterical misery into common unhappiness. With a mental life that has been restored to health, you will be better armed against that unhappiness.” ( Breuer, J., & Freud, S. (2009). Studies on hysteria. Hachette UK.)
Carl Jung: “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.” If the inner situation is trauma unexamined, the situation will show up over and over in various life situations.
Caroline Myss also says this: “Fate is how your life unfolds when you let fear determine your choices. A path of destiny reveals itself to you, however, when you confront your fear and make conscious choices.” ( Myss, C. (2013). Invisible Acts of Power: The Divine Energy of a Giving Heart. Simon and Schuster.)
Freud is tentative. He says “if we (clinician and patient) succeed,” we may only get to “common unhappiness.”
Jung offers hope, prospect and the potency that ifthe inner situation is made conscious, one can master fate rather than the fate of one’s trauma being the master, and showing up over and over in various life situations.
Therapy can be successful depending on the skill of rapport between clinician and patient, and with a therapy paradigm well suited to the patient.
Therapy is ineffective if the patient is invested in his or her victimhood as a credential. As such, defining oneself as victim is wrongheaded as self validation, as articulated here by Caroline Myss: “I have since become convinced that when we define ourselves by our wounds, we burden and lose our physical and spiritual energy and open ourselves to the risk of illness.”
Resentment feeds a fixation on one’s wounds. In AA they talk about the “dry drunk” who is not drinking alcohol, but remains steeped only in the complaints of trauma inflicted by people and institutions that you have listed in the 4th Step. AA says start to cure and heal yourself. Leave off complaints about your past wounds, wish your persecutors God’s speed for they are also wounded and sick. Direct your attention to your own faults, missteps and character flaws and wrongs you have committed. Work on making amends to yourself and those you have offended.
Therapy can be hindered if the patient holds on to a negative inner core belief about self, a negative core message about self, people, and world. This negative core may have been imposed on the person by past caregivers or persons taken as authorities. Worse still, the negative message is introjected by the patient.
Another hindrance to recovery might be a form of addiction to one’s wounds, thinking that having been wounded, this is my personal validation. Caroline Myss writes that many people hoping to heal “are striving to confront their wounds, valiantly working to bring meaning to terrible past experiences and traumas, and exercising compassionate understanding of others who share their wounds. But they are not healing. They have redefined their lives around their wounds and the process of accepting them. They are not working to get beyond their wounds. In fact, they are stuck in their wounds.”
Here is an extended quote from “Beware of Woundology,” a blog post by Phil Bolsta, in synopsis of Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can by Caroline Myss:
Indeed, the last thing that many who are wounded, grieving, or ill are seeking is the full recovery of their health. Pain is their primary “relationship currency” and, consciously or not, they fear making their way in the world without it. . . . Pain has its privileges. Those who adopt a victim mentality may use their wounds to manipulate and control situations and people; after all, suffering can be a convenient excuse for dodging responsibilities. Others discover that, after a lifetime of attending to others, they relish being attended to. Pain is also the ticket that gains the wounded entrance into well-meaning support groups where members receive, perhaps for the first time, validation, understanding, and acceptance.Myss, C. (2013). Why people don’t heal and how they can. Harmony.
Support groups are soothing but by no means the ultimate solution. In his discussion on Caroline Myss’s work, Phil Bolsta leaves us with a searing summation of the real venture and journey towards wholeness and healing. It is not for the faint of heart:
It takes courage to explore your suffering, to peel away layer after layer of beliefs, behaviors, and assumptions and rigorously hold yourself accountable to life.Myss, C. (2013). Why people don’t heal and how they can. Harmony.
Just as a silversmith holds a piece of silver in the middle of a fire to burn away its impurities, so must we lean into the fire of our pain . . . and burn. Only the searing flames of relentless self-honesty can cauterize our wounds, blunt the jagged edges of our agony, and prepare us for the journey back to wholeness.