Life presents us with many challenges: difficult relationships, stress at work, financial concerns or worries about our health. We try to deal with them as best we can, by seeking help from friends or family or, perhaps, by learning from previous experiences. However, there may also be an inclination to deny that there are any problems at all, or to ignore them. Gradually the problems build and we end up feeling overwhelmed. It is at such times that expert professional support can guide us through the confusion, distress and even pain we are feeling.
Why is it so hard to face oneself honestly? It is easier by far to blame others or events for our problems. As Jacinta Tynan wrote in the Sun Herald Magazine about her decision to turn to psychotherapy, ‘Had I known then what I know now, I would have gone for more than one session . . . . . It is hard work taking a long hard look at yourself. Much easier to point the finger. But the effects last longer when you do.’
Why do we resist consulting someone about the vital mental and emotional aspects of our lives? We accept without question the need to see doctors for our physical health, dentists for our teeth, accountants for taxation. Is it, Jacinta Tynan asks, that ‘we see it as betraying a weakness, a fault line’? In fact, acknowledging that we need help does call for courage, a virtue many of us display eagerly on the sports field, under pressure at work, in facing up to all kinds of challenges. Perhaps it is just plain old fear of the unknown.
Is it the costs involved? People will spend large sums on a ‘big night out’ (often much more than necessary), new shoes, designer clothes, an expensive meal, a holiday, or a new car, yet baulk at paying for the best and most long-lasting investment human beings can make: an investment in ourselves and our internal world. Or expressed in another way, a relationship with ourselves. Yet we cannot have sound relationships with others if we do not already have a good one with ourselves.
Today’s consumer culture, supported by the media, persuades us to acquire, to own, to focus entirely on the trappings surrounding us, all the while ignoring the most essential foundation of a good life: a peaceful internal world.
We can spend endless time and effort blocking out of our awareness those things that, deep down, worry us most, perhaps because we have grown used to suffering, to the familiarity of feeling as we do. However, eventually there will be a high price to pay for trying to struggle on alone, wasting our creative energies and psychological resources.
Therapy makes us feel lighter. It rids us of debilitating thoughts by bringing them into our consciousness, so that we can look at them and make sense of them. They can then be dumped on the counselling room floor. The burden is transferred to the therapist and we can refocus, redefine our priorities. We are lighter yet stronger.
We have to accept that what is in the past cannot be changed, but psychotherapy can help us explore and practise a different way of being in the future. It can provide lasting support, liberating us to accept ourselves with confidence and self-respect.
Jacinta Tynan, The Sun Herald Magazine, Sunday Life, 9 September 2012 ,
‘A Beautiful Mind’.