Our last segment (8/5/2018) discussed how anger was often misplaced and dumped on individuals who were not really the source of our problem.

Today, I want to expand on the notion that the source of our dysphoric feelings can often be hidden and needs to be uncovered.  Further, there are some clues to help you solve the case and resolve difficulties in your life.

One way to understand psychotherapy is to see it as a  process of emotional detective work wherein you (or you and your therapist) work together to solve the mystery of your unhappiness and discover more positive and constructive options.   Indeed understanding psychotherapy as emotional detective work is a helpful way to grasp this sometimes mysterious science.

A fundamental assumption of psychotherapy is that your mind knows more than your conscious awareness. In other words, that which you first think to be the problem may, in fact, not be the underlying cause of your issue.  In prior posts, we have seen how anger could erroneously be displaced . The same is true for anxiety and other emotions. Sometimes , our minds, in order to protect us from too much pain, block or repress certain memories or awareness .  When it does it usually leaves clues that are associated artifacts which are connected to more disturbing events but which are not the actual thing itself.

For example, there was the client who reported having developed an irrational fear of small birds, so much so that she could not even enjoy picnics in the park. She was aware that birds posed no real threat to her but, nonetheless,  she experienced intense dread and  anxiety when encountering them. During the course of therapy, it was uncovered that, when she was a young girl, she had experienced a serious trauma ( which had been repressed until now) in which a small bird was present. Also telling , her current fear began just at the age her daughter had reached when she experienced her trauma.  Working together, the client was able to recover blocked memories and deal directly with that long ago trauma.  With this expanded awareness she was able to not only overcome her fear of birds but also to heal from a very old wound.

This story is not only illustrative of phobic disorders but also provides some good clues for identifying  and successfully dealing with many other kinds of emotional difficulties:

  1. Be suspicious of problems and worries you are having that just don’t make sense or which stubbornly persist no matter what you do to address them.
  2. Recognize the difference between reasonable and irrational fears and anxieties. For example, it is one thing to be anxious that you might lose your job if your performance review was poor. It is quite another if you received praise from your boss but you still worry.
  3. Think about the timing.  The onset of a worry or frustration is usually relevant and important in unearthing the underlying culprit.  Anniversaries of significant deaths, losses or major changes to one’s life can trigger delayed or unconnected grief reactions which may present emotionally as irritability, depression, anxiety or even physical disorders.
  4. Be curious.  Let  your thoughts wonder and go where they will without restraint or limit.  Your mind, with a little help and a little practice, has an uncanny ability to connect seemingly unrelated events in a way that  reveals important patterns and larger perspectives.
  5. Don’t be afraid to seek help.  While some problems can be fixed with a little self-investigation, others are more complicated and require professional assistance. The good news is, with some courage and effort, the your real-life mystery can be solved and your life can become a lot easier and less taxing.

Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow AAPC                       8 20 2018

Image attribution: https://www.istockphoto.com/photos/sherlock-holmes?mediatype=photography&phrase=sherlock%20holmes