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One of the surprises that the early psychiatrists came across was that, “awareness itself cures”.
What they were referring to is the kind of experience that probably most of us have had. Times like: we are talking about something we do and don’t understand why. Then the person we are talking to gives us the reason. And then we are free of it. For example. Perhaps I am saying that I am scared of a particular breed of dog. The person I am talking to says, “Oh, you must have been scared by one of them as a child”. This feels right, I might even remember the occasion; and I am on the way to being cured of the fear of that kind of dog. Another example. I am talking about my difficulty with a work colleague. Particularly a mannerism that they have (like clicking their pen). I remember that a teacher I especially disliked did this pen clicking thing. I can then relate to my work colleague more easily.
This is quite puzzling. Why should remembering something that happened in the past, perhaps many years ago, affect me now?
In some ways this is the guts of psychotherapy – ‘the talking cure’.
Once we know something, in one way we are finished with it. Let me give an example that I hope will make this clearer. Perhaps you have been looking forward to a personal growth seminar. You have been told that the world renowned speaker will reveal mind blowing material that is completely new. You turn up to the seminar and they tell you what you already know. This is likely to be disappointing. But why should it be? Haven’t you had your own views confirmed? Shouldn’t we be gratified that this world renowned speaker agrees with us? Shouldn’t our egos be gratified? Why is it that we are disappointed? We probably feel something like, “But I already knew that” and so feel that is stale. We have already finished with these insights. Once I know where my fear of the dog breed, or my annoyance with my work colleague, comes from I am finished with this – it no longer occupies my thought. And I move on to other things – perhaps how to get to know the work colleague I’ve avoided, or how to start getting friendly with this breed of dog.
We seem to have a need to understand, to make sense of our experience, to see the pattern that connects. When this need is not met (we don’t know why our colleague annoys us, or why that kind of dog scares us) we feel frustrated and we become pre-occupied. If it is a major part of our life we may even become obsessed with finding the answer. (Why I always embarass myself with that kind of person, or, why I get tongue tied in that particular situation). To finally understand can be a huge relief.
Here are some suggestions how this awareness may be useful. The next time you are puzzled about why you do something, or, why something affects you in a way you don’t understand.
- Ask yourself: where would this make sense? In what situation would my behaviour fit?
- See what benefit the behaviour has for you. It may mean that you don’t have to do something that is unpleasant or scary. It may confirm ideas you have about yourself or others (including negative ones).
- Trace back to when you felt the feeling before. Usually we find ourselves going back further and further. When you get to what you feel was the first time it will probably make sense. (You may then find a need you have to be met in the present. A child who was scared early may need to stop pushing themselves for instance, stop scaring themselves.)
If you have other ways of making sense of your behaviour, or stories about how this has worked for you; please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your story.
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