One of the things that makes people feel better and become healthier is the balance between self-understanding and choosing better and more appropriate things. What I mean by this is that within a therapy it is necessary to understand the internal mental functioning, especially emotions, thoughts, behaviors, but this is not all. We do this most of the time with unpleasant emotions, in order to feel better and to behave healthier. Understanding has always been needed to identify how those emotions were born, how behaviors are generated and maintained by those emotions, but also by the thoughts, beliefs that lay behind.
Once understood, these things can be changed. It’s almost impossible to change something you know nothing about. And people often find themselves in this hypostasis, to feel things, to behave or to think in various ways, without knowing how, why and they live on autopilot. If everything goes well and we feel good, then there is no problem. But usually this is not the case and we want to make some changes. We cannot change what we do not know how it works, we cannot stop a behavior if we do not know what its function is, we cannot stop an emotion if we do not know why it appeared in the firts place. The psychic does nothing for no reason, everything makes sense and is consistent with the internal and external circumstances. We can find out why a person has depressive tendencies if we look at the context of the life of the person , where we will certainly find the causes. These can be multiple, but they always make sense, especially the persistent emotions.
However, many people have experienced the following situation. They understood why they feel how they feel, they found out the way this influenced their thinking, behaviors and life, they began to feel their pain for the purpose of healing, for the purpose of self-recovery, but with all this they did not reach the well being they desired. This can happen for several reasons. One of them would be that that well-being they were thinking about was not realistic. An example would be the desire to always be happy. I have heard this from some of my clients, that a normal life means a life lived in positive states, almost exclusively. The truth is that a normal, healthy life involves the full range of emotions. We can not live a life only in happiness, it is unnatural. All kinds of things happen to us, losses, stressful periods, break-ups and it is healthy to react feeling unpleasant. Beyond that, most of us have had unpleasant childhood experiences that have marked us and that have effects in our adult life. With this in mind, normality and health would mean being aware of these effects which are made up of unpleasant emotions. The good part is that we can work with them in psychotherapy, but it is certainly necessary to feel them in order to know that they are there and that they generate automatic reactions.
Another very common reason for which the desired well-being is not achieved is that the necessary changes are not implemented. And here are the choices I referred to at the beginning of this article. When we were accustomed to living, for a long time, in an environment that “forced” us to adapt to it, reacting in a way, which worked very well and produced the expected effects, it is very difficult to give up those habits. For example, if a child has been told for a lifetime that he or she is not able to do things right and parents have always intervened to help or do things in his/her place, not allowing the child to be autonomous, then that child develops an adaptation to this environment. How will this look like? He will become a child who will have no initiative, will not resist the effort to do things alone, will not mobilize to overcome obstacles, will always seek outside for help and will not rely on his own strengths. This can be beneficial for him in adapting to the relationship with the parents who do not give him the freedom at all and may even sanction him for the moments of autonomy and initiative. Why? Because the children cannot impose themselves on the parents and they want to be accepted and loved by them and they will do everything in their power to be treated nice. So, a child raised in this way will please his parents for years in a row and he will not develop his abilities to handle himself, he will not trust himself, he will be scared and he will always anticipate failure.
Anything repeated years in a row forms neural pathways in the brain, which means that that pattern of feeling-thinking-acting will be automated, will remain registered and will be activated automatically in any trigger situation. A person with the history described above will have a helpless-vulnerability scheme that will be activated automatically, and, during therapy, it is very important to understand where this was formed, how this helped him adjust in childhood, to understand that it was not a healthy thing and that he is actually capable of doing things as any other human being. And especially that it is no longer necessary to perpetuate this scheme, since he is no longer a child dependent on parents and it is no longer necessary to submit to ideas about oneself that are not true and which are not healthy. Beyond these steps, effective action in a healthy sense is also important.
Once formed, the neural pathways will tend to automatically activate and strengthen each time they are activated. It is not enough just to understand how we have formed these pathways, but it is necessary to start to form new neural pathways, to start acting differently. The first step is observation, awareness of the activation of the scheme, and then choosing a new mode of reaction. In the example above, the person would need to observe the activation of the helplessness scheme by identifying the moments when he already anticipates a failure, when he feels afraid because he does not feel that he can rely on himself, when he wants to give up the first obstacle, when he feels discouraged and does not think he can continue. The next step would be to check the reality, to say the correct, healthy message, such as “I am able to do this till the end”, and then to do so in order to experience the success that will contradict the planned failure.
This is just one example, but the step of implementing new strategies can in look in any way that is appropriate for a person. Here are important the awareness, the understanding of the schemes formed and the choice of a new healthy and suitable option to be “practiced” more and more often in order to form new neural pathways and to stop the maintenance of the old pathways that have represented only adaptations to an unhealthy environment.
The actual experiences in which a person is aware that he contradicts his deepest negative beliefs about who he is and what he can do, are among the most powerful methods of change and healing. The moment when the person feels that he is unable to do a thing, but manages to mobilize to do it and succeeds, it becomes a healing moment. And as this moment recurs, healing becomes more and more complete, and the healthy side of the person grows and becomes stronger.
Although this is not an easy thing to do, it is necessary for a change to occur. It is an effort that will become easier over time, like a workout. Healing may be difficult sometimes, but it is necessary for a truly happy life, lived authentically and with inner fullness.