Relationships ?

When couples fall in love, sex and passion is not far away. It is present and overwhelming. The test for real wellbeing benefits of couple life-and there are many proven benefits of a long term relationship- is when they can voice differences which, however unpalatable to the other, demonstrate how you can be robust, flexible, containing of the other. The easier thing for some is to close down when it gets unpleasant. At times, most human beings simply don’t like to hang around when things get bad. Others get stuck in and go for the long haul. This ability to weather the storms and stay together, smile and find mutual things to do creates a great foundation for good relationships.

It is when we open our thoughts and minds to others and see them as human beings that we really becoming richer as human beings. One has to work 24/7 to keep expanding and not contract -against the impulse to shrink when things get rough. To go against the instinct to keep the circle around us from shrinking.

People gain more depth and personality when they allow themselves to create more space for the other person to be and the other person returns the gesture. Judgment ought to give way to expansion in understanding the other and accommodating what feels odd at first. The growth of civilisation depends on this give and take.

However, when that generously given space is used in a parasitic way- i.e. the other invades and takes over rather than shares in a mutual understanding, the relationship loses the balance which makes the relationship healthy. The  scale becomes lopsided, the see saw weighs more heavily on one side-the person who takes advantage of their partner’s goodness and kindness, does it far too long and there is an end to it. The sweetest of people come apart under this kind of stress.

Enduring couples allow arguments and quarrels and the love and passion that comes in its aftermath, when anger ebbs away. If this anger remains and ferments in a toxic way, perhaps because this is the way the persons involved have seen their parents behave, then the relationship will spiral downwards. Time must be made for increasing wisdom, understanding and kindness for the relationship to go on and encompass children and elders in its folds.

Migration, Displacement, Stress

Increasingly, people find themselves having to migrate to other areas of the UK or from one country to another, in order to find jobs that are suitable for them. This migration has a history and goes back to the beginning of the human race and the wandering, nomad that some of us might identify within ourselves has long term ancestors.

Milton Keynes can feel ‘modern’ to the newcomer

Moving to a new city may be an exciting venture. Milton Keynes, for example, attracts quite a migrant population, not just from other countries but from different parts of the country. It has a good success rate in employment and seems on the surface to be a buzzing city with lots to offer to someone who is new here.

The underlying issues that accompany a migration is the loss of a secure base (if there was one before). However big the reward for such movements, the human cost is high. Separation and loss cause the human to regress to some of his/her earliest experiences of loss and the response to such losses.

Our infancy is like this pic. Someone familiar is ‘holding’ us

If you observe a baby who is still at the very earliest stages of life, the eyes constantly find its mother/caregiver because that is how he/she finds an emotional and psychic anchor in the aftermath of the loss of the womb life.

If you observe yourself in a new place, you may find yourself searching in a similar way for familiar things – a McDonalds’ sign, familiar landmarks, a nice smile from someone to make you feel welcome etc. I have often heard talk in the local gym of how friendly everyone is here and how they would not want to be in that other place where no one smiles at the other. 

These are the things which bring relief to the soul that searches for a home where it can feel safe. With the relative feelings of safety come the need to perform and make one’s mark on the environment. The healthy normal human will make a seemingly unfamiliar, even hostile environment into a place they begin to feel at home in.

An ethnic word can bring relief to the homesick

Some people may never make a new place their home because all the goodness is left behind in the place they left to come here.
This is called splitting and projecting goofy shopdness into an idealised place.
Such splitting can occur with people as well. You may often hear stories of how good the previous boyfriend/girlfriend/mother/father/brother/sister/teacher etc was and how no one can ever take their place now.

Such a splitting harms the experience of the present and the potential to live and enjoy something new in the present.

Counselling/therapy can help to work through the idealised lost experience of someone or something and open up the capacity to live life more deeply and fully.

But the bottomline sometimes is that no two things are the same and we, as living organisms, require some amount of sameness and familiarity in order to feel secure and grow. Letting go of things one cannot have anymore and ushering in the new is an art that may enrich one’s experience of life’s constantly changing parameters.

What is Psychotherapy ?

Psychotherapy is a process. If you can believe that all living organisms require a cocoon in order to transform into something else, then therapy can be that cocoon. You sit week to week with a psychotherapist who knows what the process is and listens attentively. You pay for it so the process is marked as something that needs to have some achievable results.

Jung wrote extensively of the process of individuation and rebirth. He urged getting rid of moralising and seeing every action as part of a process.  Moralising tends to keep one in a simple, one dimensional compass-it reduces creative ways of thinking about problems.

For e.g, if your spouse cheated on you, you would go into some reactive mode – leave or make charges, file for divorce etc.

On the other hand, you could ask ‘why now?’ which may lead to a better understanding of how someone may have reacted :

  1. for eg, was it the onset of midlife (starting from mid 20s) or
  2. The coming of age of children, the uncomfortable feelings they arouse and the displacement of such feelings onto an outsider.
  3. It could lead to an understanding of how the person’s parents behaved at a similar time-
  4. in a family that lives together, more often than not, we pick up behaviour that is embedded deeply rather than the ‘we must not do this and that’ which we constantly repeat to ourselves.

If my son for eg breaks a plate, the doorbell is ringing and I find out I have lost my wallet I am more likely to behave like my parents than all the taught behaviour of how I must react because the crisis disbands studied ways of thinking. It takes us back to our primitive roots.

Psychotherapy that can bring about change, that punctuation in your attitudes and behaviour if you allow it to.

Fathers and their function ..

Traditionally, the father went out into the world and brought back the sustenance from the outside world that the family require-food, shelter, warmth. In ancient times, still visible in more primitive places, he deals with the threats from the external world and interrupts the mother-child duo with, ‘I too belong with you’. this would the classical view, as proposed by psychodynamic literature from the past.

From the beginning of time, mother has played this part too. Fathers have gone to battle and mothers have gone into the wild for foraging and guarding the home and vice versa, mothers have left it to the fathers to do the mothering. This shows us that the gender of a person does not necessarily align with maternal and paternal, masculine and feminine, from the beginning of civilisation.

In psychodynamic thinking, fathers are symbolically associated with rules and regulations – the boundaries that keep a child safe not only from the external world but the internal one. This may take away from empathy and the more maternal aspect of nurturing so that the role of a father-whether a woman or man does it- may be seen as hard, someone who comes in the way of freedom to do as we please.

Mothers clearly do this job many times. More often than not, one finds the mother laying down the law for her child-on playgrounds, social life and in school. This type of rule making for the child gives him/her the inner strength to make something of himself/herself.

Society creates an umbrella for the parent and child. Schools, doctors, shops, environments of toddlers’ groups, support groups etc. make up the circle around the mother/father/child/family. These circles provide the environment within which we find a nest to settle into and feel safe.

The circles that bind us and keep us safe.

Mother-the World and the Nest

The Mother is used as a broad term in psychodynamic thinking – it can include the environment in which a child grows as well as the actual mother. In some cases, the father is more maternal than the mother.

We have no control over who gives birth to us. It is the first and most powerful experience with another human being and much as we love and hate her in later life, we are deeply and irreversibly influenced by her – both genetically and psychologically.

She makes up our external world and her reflection and her shadow falls within, in our internal world. Some of us idealise mothers, others feel ambivalent and another group hate their mothers. There is a big majority which sits in the middle, feeling all the feelings of love, hate and ambivalence.

In her absence, one begins to understand how much of her is inside us -in one’s internal world.

If we are able to create and maintain good relationships, overcome the troubled times and continue to live life in a deep and satisfying way,it is felt that there is a good mother inside, who prevails over the bad one (felt during bad times) and continues to feel that life is worth living.

Suicide -Wounds that Don’t Heal

Suicide is the single most self destuctive act. It means that all the attachments in the person’s life have not been enough to contain their hopelessness, rage and despair. 

People become alone and isolated internally.  They may be angry with those around them who they could not connect with. More often, they feel hopeless-unable to see past their present issues. The sense of self value hits a new low. Thoughts such as, ‘I am better off dead’, ‘my family will benefit from my insurance’, ‘I really don’t matter’, ‘they will know how low I was feeling’…..

Then a prevailing depression hits a new low – a sense of uselessness, the pain of not being connected with is turned on themselves…..taking action against the low and depressed feelings feels empowering. So, planning their suicide becomes an empowering experience against the experience of prevailing hopelessness and not being of any value.

A perceived rejection, unfair and cruel acts done towards them can all be reasons to kill oneself. The suicide can be saying, ‘you misjudged me’ ‘you thought I was making it up’. In any suicide case, it is clear that the person did not feel there was hope in life and they did not see any way to go on.

The underlying psychology would be something like, ‘I will rest in peace…I won’t have to struggle anymore’. ‘Others will be benefit from my passing…they won’t have to deal with my poorly self’. Here you can see how hopeless it has been-the person has felt hopeless and is projecting it onto others. They are probably also not feeling they can be helped.

Our relationships anchor us to this life and this world. Relationships that are attuned and able to touch the deeper core of strong emotions within us, keep the channels of communication open and reduce the chances of strong negative fixations taking hold. The life instinct overcomes the death instinct and manifests in good relationships, creative hobbies and pursuits.

For the suicidal person, somewhere, connection has been lost and paranoid-schizoid feelings dominate. People become deeply disturbed, suspicious and angry with their near and dear ones. These are not necessarily people who are physically alone. They experience loneliness even among others.

They do not feel understood. Their anguish remains a silent scream inside. Psychotherapy which deals with a discussion of aggression is useful at such times. The therapist engages with underlying aggression and resentment and even if the suicidal person does not like the engagement with his/her darker feelings, it tends to reduce the life force invested in suicidal ideation.

Some therapists will say that this is not true. They feel that those who commit suicide are not passive in their aggression. Consciously, this is true. Consciously, the suicidal person, gives up his aggression with self destruction. the suicidal person has no sense of his/her own ‘presence’ and identity left. He/she feels like a burden to himself/herself and ideas such as my insurance will go to my family might occur. Now what does this mean ? That ‘family’ will be happier for the money from a dead person ? So many clients suffer from guilt for having had to use the money from the dead person’s insurance, even if there was no suicide. It changes a person, having to use such money.

Some suicidal people seem to forgive everyone around them before dying, passing on their mixed feelings to those who survive them. This happens in the event of any death, if the person dying has had time to think about it. Forgiving everyone before leaving the world is possibly one of the healthier options.

So why takes one’s own life? Any method to do so is violent, especially hanging oneself, administering awful toxins etc. Suicide ideation is strong. The thought of ending the despair, worthlessness, anger and loss the suicidal persons are feeling become paramount. It becomes an ideal, a fixation.

Many suicidal people have expressed feelings that were ignored or passed off by those around them. We frequently become nervous when we hear people talk carelessly about death, their own or anyone else’s. These are warning signs-if you feel odd, nervous etc it is because it is potentially dangerous.

Depression-Not so Blue ?

The predominant medical view is that depression is a mental disorder and anti depressants and psychotherapy maybe prescribed to manage it.

Depression is characterised by sad mood, the inability to derive pleasure from activities such as seating or sex, and changes in psychomotor, sleeping, and eating patterns.

This may sound all doom and gloom but research is re-evaluating depression and asking some important questions. The unusually large numbers of people who now get diagnosed with depression leads to the question whether it is not a bit of over-diagnosis and can we step away from resorting to medication where possible.

Therapy seems to be a more healthy alternative and can be a good space to take inner rumination to, avoiding too much isolation.

According to an article in the American Psychological Review (2009) ‘The bright side of being blue: Depression as an Adaptation for Analyzing Complex Problems’, the authors (P.Andrews and A. Thomson Jr ) suggest that depression maybe a natural response to help an individual avoid outside stimulus and apply his/her mind to resolving complex inner problems.

They say, ‘Depression is the primary emotional condition for which help is sought. Depressed people often report persistent rumination, which involves analysis, and complex social problems in their lives.

Depressed people may withdraw into an internal state of preoccupation where they seem to ruminate. They may slowly isolate from others and insulate themselves from the outside world.

According to the article, ‘Analysis is often a useful approach for solving complex problems, but it requires slow, sustained processing, so disruption would interfere with problem solving.

The analytical rumination hypothesis proposes that depression is an evolved response to complex problems, whose function is to minimise disruption and sustain analysis of those problems by (a) giving the triggering problem prioritised access to processing resources, (b) reducing the desire to engage in distracting activities (anhedonia), and (c) producing psychomotor changes that reduce exposure to distracting stimuli.

In other words, the authors suggest that a certain amount of preoccupation and privacy may be required to think about and resolve life’s complex problems, whether it is at the workplace or in domestic life.

As a society we have ensured that workplace meetings be relatively without interruptions and have maximum privacy. This is to encourage a more focused and deeper thinking about workplace issues by avoiding all other distractions.

However, popular ideas which dictate how social and family life should be do not make space for such a condition. The sometimes stereotypical mingling with others is encouraged to fight what is considered an illness and anyone who wants to opt out maybe considered either ‘boring’, a misfit, unwell, antisocial or unpopular.

It is difficult to live with someone who is depressed. Family and close friends begin to feel the pinch of being with someone who is quite unavailable emotionally. They may experience useless, angry and pent up feelings.

According to the authors, depression as it is defined medically, is prevalent in industrialised societies where such a study was held but it also exists in small societies wherever it was possible to conduct such a study.

They go on to say ‘such evidence suggests that much of what is currently classified as depressive disorder represents normal psychological functioning (Horwitz & Wakefield, 2007).

One likely factor contributing to over-diagnosis is that clinically significant impairment is not conclusive evidence of disorder (Spitzer & Wakefield, 1999). Impairment can be caused by biological dysfunction, but it can also be caused by properly functioning stress response mechanisms.’

Though clinical and severe depression over a long period of time is not to be taken lightly, the usual bouts of milder depression maybe seen as a human and natural response to the need for resolving complex issues.