This is a building in town that is being refurbished. It used to house an electrical goods store- T.V.s, mainly. In that incarnation it was thoroughly 2014. Big windows, displaying 90″ plasma TV’s that probably ran half a dozen household appliances whilst simultaneously recording 15 separate channels. The earlier store looks a more modest place, dating back to the 1960’s. when life was simpler or so we tell ourselves. Wikipedia observes that the 1960’s were hallowed by some as a time of revolution in “social norms, cooking, music, drugs, dress, sexuality, formality and schooling” . For others the 60’s were a decade of ” irresponsible excess, flamboyance, and the decay of social order.” One man’s golden age was another’s nightmare. I grew up in the 60’s and thoroughly enjoyed the sense of freedom and optimism. They shaped the way I think and work today. I tend to think that the 1960’s were only last year. Or perhaps four years ago. Certainly not 50 years ago. My inner world is not an accurate historian!
As a therapist I constantly see what Michael Jacobs has called the presenting past. A patient comes to see me and tells me how happy their childhood was. Yes, some difficult times but mostly a time of fun and pleasure with loving parents. I listen and ask a couple of questions, often about their marriage or their work. Suddenly tears form and painful memories surface. Childhood becomes a more complex story. Less idyllic. More shades and shadows. The past gets revisited and retold. Like the change of use for 1 Temple Street .The current facade hid a humbler version of itself. The large TV’s bespeak a different age. Different lifestyles. Not necessarily better or happier. But one reflecting current mores. No doubt the earlier shop was also built on a past version of the town which we no longer see. Except that in Aylesbury, one does see the past preserved. There remains a small part with houses dating back to 1600’s with all their quirky construction built for a different age.
This is what one sees in clinical work. A past is uncovered that served the needs of a different psychical time. The structures that a 10-year-old child puts in place are different to those of her adult self. Yet they still shape the present as seen in career choices. Or relationships. Or child rearing. The many facets that make up a life. The woman who is a “ball breaker”. The man who always wants to please people and covets approval. The company man who must have a Rolex to prove to himself how successful he has been. The individual who is terrified of doing something that they choose, not that has been chosen by someone else. These ways of Being all have their roots in early relationships .A mother who was seen as weak leads a daughter to identify with a tough father. “Women are wimps. Men have all the fun.” This gets played out in terms of being known as the proverbial “ball breaker” or super bitch. It defends against vulnerability. Pleasing people is admirable but as a permanent way of life, it becomes exhausting. It also serves to deflect any possible “rebellion” or “naughtiness”. these behaviours running the risk of parental disapproval and censure. Which is unthinkable. Literally. A facade is built that covers up earlier structures. But under pressure these early structures break through the current frontage in the form of cracks, instabilities, gaps etc. The work of therapy is to look at these “breakdowns” and see why the current facade is showing signs of wear and tear. And how we understand the original structure. Why is there a door here? What can we see from that window? Where might those steps take us? Then we can see how the earlier structure fits with the current one. And make some decisions about what to keep hidden and what to reveal. It’s a slow but fascinating process. Therapy as archaeology.