The Therapeutic Journey: Insight

This is a series of 3 blog posts to explore the distinct but interrelated categories of INSIGHT, HEALING and TRANSFORMATION as the arc of the therapeutic journey.

I want to ask you told hold two questions in your awareness as you read through this post:

  1. Where did you come from?

  2. Where are you going?

These questions guide us into the category of INSIGHT.  What do I mean by insight?  Simply put: INSIGHT is making the unconscious conscious.

We are often like really passive landlords, unaware really, that we are landlords at all. Each of us, without exception, has tenants that take up residence in our being.  What am I talking about?  

We each have both an inner critic and an inner child that have emerged from our stories:

The inner critic is made up of the harsh and shaming voices from our external world, family of origin, religious leaders, teachers, coaches, etc that have been internalized and have taken root in our unconscious. The inner critic is tricky in that we tend to believe that its voice is our own voice. It’s not. In fact, if you pay close enough attention you will notice that the inner critic typically speaks to you in 2nd person.  “I can’t believe you said that, you’re such an idiot,” or, “you suck as a parent,” or “you’re worthless and can’t do anything right.” You get the idea.

The inner child is often experienced as a voiceless sense of powerlessness or helplessness that bows her or his head in agreement with the inner critic. It is the recipient of the shame and condemnation that the inner critic is heaping on.

Exploring your story is not just a mental remembering of facts and events. Your story is your embodied reality. There are scenes and characters which have marked you. There are themes woven throughout your life that currently impact the way you show up in the world. We often try to convince ourselves that the past doesn’t matter. “I can’t do anything about it anyway. It happened so long ago. I just need to move on.” These are harsh and violent words to your inner child.

There is a quote by William Faulkner that I absolutely love. He said that, “The past is never dead, it’s not even past”

The truth is that we don’t actually, on a deep gut level, believe that the past doesn’t matter. Intuitively, we know that it does. What is more true is that we want to believe that the past doesn’t matter because denial and avoidance are much easier than turning toward the scenes of harm, abuse, shame and other forms of suffering in our stories. We’d like to believe that there is an easy way to bypass looking back. But unfortunately, there is not. Further, to attempt to do so is an act of abandoning your inner child.

To demonstrate the dance between the past, present and future, I will share the following story.

At the end of my freshman year of college my Resident Assistant, Virgil, handed out little sheets of paper to each of us in the dorm. His desire was to name a particular goodness he saw in each of us as young men. We sat in a circle and one by one we took turns unfolding our little sheets of paper and reading the contents to one another. As you might expect, there were some whose strength in leadership was named. Others whose sense of humor was highlighted. And still others who were recognized for their kindness. I sat there with an eager anticipation of what would be named about me on this small, folded piece of paper.

What you need to understand is that I grew up in a home in which my goodness was rarely seen. Or if it was seen, it was even more rarely intentionally named. So as you can imagine, my very being was thirsty for the words on that piece of paper. My turn to open my note from Virgil arrived. I looked down at the folded piece of paper and opened it. I encountered the following words, “Bryan, your even keeled personality lends stability to those around you.” Something I had intuitively known, but had no words for, was named that day. I felt a mixture of relief and a subtle undercurrent of sadness.

You see, that “even keeled personality” has often served me well throughout my life.  I would call it a strength of mine. It has helped me remain calm in chaotic situations. In part, it is what makes me a good therapist. It gives me the ability to non-judgmentally hold space for others to explore their own stories of shame, past abuse, and woundedness.

I firmly believe that our greatest strengths are often born out of our deepest wounds and that no individual moment exists in isolation. All stories are connected to other stories. This is to say that the past, present and future are always in an intimate dance with one another. So in order for you to truly grasp the weight and gravity of the words, “Bryan, your even keeled personality lends stability to those around you,” I will, of course, need to tell you another story.

When I was 5 years old I was sitting on my bedroom floor...crying.  Nothing had happened. Meaning there was no triggering event that made me sad. At least not that I can recall. What I remember is that I just felt sad, as 5 year olds are inclined to do on occasion. What happened next marked me. My mom, who I would describe as emotionally chaotic and unpredictable, opened the door to my bedroom because she must have heard the sobs. I felt relief that she had come to me. Maybe she would comfort me. Help me sort out my own confusing emotional experience. Tell me that it is going to be ok. But instead she asked this question, “What is wrong with you?” My relief vanished as I registered the look on her face not as one of warmth and compassion, but rather one of annoyance as though I had interrupted an episode of General Hospital. I said, “I don’t know. I just feel really sad.” Seeing that I was not physically hurt, my mom turned around, walked out of my room and closed the door. What I internalized in that moment was that my emotional needs don’t matter. In fact, they are a burden. I recall making a contract with myself in that moment. A contract in which I agreed to stuff my emotions down deep...to stay off the radar and not rock other people’s boats with my needs or emotions. It was a contract to always be a peacemaker.  Can you hear it? Can you hear in the contract of a 5 year old little boy the seedling that would eventually grow into, “Bryan, your even-keeled personality lends stability to those around you,” and can you also see the cost of this contract?

As humans we all experience core wounds (Emotional abandonment in my story above). These core wounds become unconscious core beliefs (My needs don’t matter. I don’t matter). From these core beliefs we, often unconsciously, develop relational survival strategies in an attempt to get our needs met (Be even keeled and lend stability to those around me if I don’t want to be rejected).

So, as you gain INSIGHT about your core wounds, core beliefs and survival strategies you also gain the possibility of experiencing deeper HEALING, which we will explore in part 2 of this series.