There’s a perception of the therapist and client relationship looking something like this:
Wise old analyst sits stroking his or her chin while mildly neurotic patient sweats it in a chaise lounge, eyes wide. The dialogue starts by wise old therapist asking in a thick European accent –
“So, tell me about your mother…”
Thankfully this isn’t a true representation of psychotherapy. I fondly think of my own therapist who is young, anti-chin stroking and from the Midlands. In fact she’s incredibly likeable, wise and grounded.
But we do talk about my mother, and my father, and other family members too. And as a practising therapist I find the topic of childhood often rears its youthful little head.. And it’s no surprise really
Our early years are massively formative in terms of how we relate to others, the world we live in and ourselves.
When we’re tiny newborn babies and the umbilical cord is cut we’re aware at a very primitive level that we have needs; the basics: food and protection of course, and equally important the emotional demands; an attachment to another. Unable to satisfy these needs on our own we rely on caregivers to attune to our cries and read the signals.
If our needs are responded to in a loving and caring manner we learn unpleasant feelings, such as being alone, hungry, wet or tired aren’t permanent and feel settled once we’ve been attended to.
Ideally, children learn feelings of distress can be managed. Through modelling from significant adults around us we learn how adapt to challenging situations and how to tolerate a wealth of different emotions while keeping ourselves and others safe and OK. Usually the “significant adults” are parents. This learning should be a continuous process, transcending newly born to adolescence.
But what if…
- Parents get ill?
- Parents die?
- Parents run away?
- Parents are scared?
- Parents are being abused?
- Parents can’t tolerate their own feelings?
- Parents have been awake for 36 hours and have three children under the age of 4 to look after?
If parents don’t have the time, resources or energy to meet their children’s needs and frequently neglect to soothe the distressed child, how does the infant tolerate the experience of unpleasant emotions?
Throughout infancy a number of coping styles can be adopted to manage difficult internal emotional processes.
Children may become
- flat and withdrawn repressing their emotions because they’re do painful to be consciously aware of
- Clingy and anxious because they’re worried about what’s going to happen next
- In-authentically smiley and pleasing believing other people’s (parents) needs are more important than their own
- Avoidant of intimacy because they’ve never been taught about closeness between people
- Terrified of rejection because they’ve missed out on essential safe separation (parents may have oscillated between being overbearing and absent)
And of course children become adults, adults who’ve survived and adapted to whatever glitter and shit life has thrown at them. They’ve grown up, physically matured and retained the above methods of relating to themselves, others and the world in general. And therein lies the problem.
Past clever and resourceful ways of dealing with the world can cause problems in the present:
- At work
- With partners
- Between friendships
- Within the sense of self
Childhood means of managing emotions can be difficult to break, and with good reason, they’re survival mechanisms after all…
But they’re also outdated survival mechanisms and that’s when therapy can be useful. Therapy can help uncover maladaptive behaviours as well as originating their roots. Client and therapist work together forming a strong relationship, locating and exploring the original missed child need. Work on settling historically repressed feelings can commence by using a number of techniques. Finally therapy can aid the development of appropriate and updated strategies to deal with stress over a period of time in a way that feels safe and empowering for the client.
If you want to see a Stockport counsellor or want psychotherapy in Stockport contact me on:
07908710526 or firstname.lastname@example.org