Category Archives: Therapy

Know Thyself (and Others)

To be known is an innate desire in us human beings. But what does it mean to be known? To be known as we know ourselves at this moment or to be known as a process of discovery? There seems to be an understandable need in both individuals and societies for us humans to be complete and settled into who we are, to be solid and unchangeable. The need for this stability is understandable as it provides the basis for building long-term projects such as marriage, parenthood, and careers. From this base point, we can go out and do. Self-reflection and interest in the unknown parts of us do not align very well with this process. They could encounter unexpected realizations that unsettle those ongoing life projects that we participate in and often are solely responsible for. Still, we continue to want to be known by others, to be received, understood and responded to in the way that makes us feel seen. Outwardly oriented, we look to others to give us the self-reflection that we are not so inclined to do ourselves. 

Of course, there are many who are completely averse to any self-knowledge – from others or themselves. This attitude can be effective and lead to great external success. In some small way, a small part of me admires it. However, for those of us who have embarked on an ongoing dialogue with ourselves and others about all that we are, there is a beautiful and exciting road ahead, covered with bumps and roadblocks, interrupted by confusing road signs and surrounded by an ever-changing scenery. And as we go on, we need to keep pausing to evaluate the landscape, assess how it has affected us, determine how prepared we are for the next step, and recalibrate our self-curiosity. There is a continuing tension between the motivation to keep going, and the temptation to submit to the pull of our current environment. This tension appears from the moment we are born. For survival, for nurture, for love (as defined by those important others in our life) we learn to compromise the innate need for creatively expressing who we are. From unconscious split-offs to conscious withholding of our true thoughts and feelings, we hide the parts of us that are not welcome. On an individual, family, peer group, and social level, the creative expression of who we are is constrained by how we are received. What we reveal about ourselves to others is determined by our assessment of what feedback we will get. And so we adapt and reorient ourselves to continue fitting in.

The need to be known remains intact, however. When we are received and understood, we become alive. In these moments we are one with our external reality. Sometimes, it takes only one curious and understanding human being to change our self-perception and activate that (often) dormant need for a dynamic, energetic and connected living.

To live in this way requires a continuous effort to remain in a dialogue with oneself and with others. It is based on deep inquisitiveness, the ability to listen without judgment, and the responsibility and skill to express our own thoughts and feelings. The desire and attempt to see another person’s perception is a high aspiration, a difficult undertaking, a brave step. Mistakes will be made, miscommunication will occur. However, as long as there is a willingness to understand and an attempt at it, the dialogue will go on. In this ongoing dialogue, stands our chance to know ourselves creatively, to reveal and remake ourselves and to do the same for others.

Reaching for a book?

Part 1

This post lists some of the books I recommend to my clients and the ones that have remained my favorites through time. Having gone through a number of self-help books, I have experienced the hope and curiosity they trigger, the validation they offer and the discouragement that arises weeks or even days after we finish reading them. The books below withstood the test of time and produced a good wholesome effect on me. To keep this blog short, I have split the list in 2 parts and will offer only part 1 today:

The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

Each chapter offers one story about one client of psychotherapist S. Grosz. The author takes us into the realm of the unconscious and its effects on our behavior. Gently holding your hand, he reveals the nature and impact of psychotherapy and delights you with an expected ending.

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge

Do we change or do we not? This question still traverses the conversation around human psychology. Written in 2007, this book will convince non-believers that adaptive changes in our brains could be seen in brain scans, including changes resulting from psychotherapy. This is scientifically-informed captivating storytelling.

The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller

114 small-size pages will draw you into the complex and intense world of children as they relate to their parents. The innate need for survival as well as the inherent love for mom and dad lead to astonishing adaptive changes in the psyche. This applies to all of us, almost without exception. It is the human nature.

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

More than this book, I like E. Perel’s original video talks in which she explains “the secret of desire”. She caught the psychotherapists’ attention before she became a celebrity through her popular talks and interviews with the novelty of her ideas, direct and honest speech and a sense of humor.

Monogamy by Adam Phillips

Unconventionally-written and philosophical, this small book may not fit your taste but if it does, you will hang onto it. The ideas feel ahead of our time.

Which of the books you have read supported you and helped you make sustainable changes?

Five Reasons Not to Seek Therapy

 

Going for a dentist appointment is less painful than seeking therapy. We really don’t like talking about it. So we face our struggles alone. Sometimes for months, sometimes for years. Sometimes we never act. A few days ago, I came across a 70-year old answer to the question why that is.  The excerpts below are from the book “The Psychiatric Interview” by Harry Stack Sullivan. The book was based on his lectures in 1944 and 1945.

Excerpts from “Cultural Handicaps to the Work of the Psychiatrist”

“…First, in attempting to be psychiatric experts, we are very much afflicted by the fact that all people are taught that they ought not to need help, so that they are ashamed of needing it or feel that they are foolish to seek it or to expect it. And along with this, they come to psychiatric assistance with curious expectations as to what they are going to get, perhaps partly because this is so necessary to prop up self-esteem.

Second – and this is very widespread in the cultural heritage, so that people are taught in quite generally – is the belief they should “know themselves”, know what a fixed something-or-other called “human nature” is, know “right from wrong,” and “good from bad,” and be able to see through others in respect to all these important matters.

And third, people are more or less taught that they should be governed by “logic”, or have “good sense”; or if they can’t claim particularly good sense, then at least they should have “good natural instincts” and “good intuition,” which ought to govern them in choosing the “right” way to act and to think about themselves and others”.

Another idea which is very generally ingrained in personality is that one should be ashamed if one has not risen above and overcome the limitations of one’s past, one’s misfortunes, and one’s mistakes; or if one hasn’t, then one should occupy oneself with producing a very rich crop of verbalisms to show why, in spite of one’s fineness and so on, these misfortunes were too much to be risen above and overcome.

Finally, as a sort of generalization of all of these, or in some people as yet another and separate antipsychiatric view: one should be independent. One should have no need for anyone else to tell one what to do or how to live…”

 

If you are still hesitating to talk to a therapist, these are five good reasons why. And there are more.