The analyst Mike Eigen wrote “The ‘ I know who I am’ moment’ can, at times, be more destructive than doubt or confusion.” (The Analytic mystic) Those people who come to see me with ready-made life stories are often those who find therapy the most difficult. The patient who comes in and says “My life is a mess. I’m a mess. What can you do?” is already some way along the road to insight and help. The patient who presents me with their “Happy Ever After” picture book is more difficult because they have chosen this story with good reason. I have yet to meet a patient who tells me this story who hasn’t, in fact, had a thoroughly miserable childhood and adulthood. They tell this story to protect themselves from the pain of what they did experience. (This is not say that all my patients bring stories of appalling abuse. They don’t. But many of them bring stories of neglect. Of unreasonable expectations. Of gross unfairness. Sometimes these “abuses” were intentional. Sometimes not. It doesn’t much matter. Their impact is felt across the years and is expressed in bad marriages; in unhappy relationships; in an inability to be genuinely intimate.) They bring their own Prayer after birth. It is a prayer they would like to have been answered-by someone. The pain comes with the acknowledgement that those who could or should have heard their prayer couldn’t or wouldn’t respond. Thus their adult life is spent setting up repeating situations where their prayer remains unanswered. As a counsellor it is painful to point out what it is they are doing. (It’s not a route to popularity!)
It is never possible, I realise, to predict who will stay and who will go in therapy. Those whom I was certain were committed to me and the work often are those who leave most unexpectedly. Money is the most common reason given. “I’ve had to move house; buy a car; get married; get divorced… so I can’t afford to carry on seeing you. I’m sorry but …” These are the people, mostly, who find the work too difficult. The story they have told themselves is too important to have it challenged in therapy.The fear is that all that will be left is a huge void.(That is why the most valuable part of a therapist’s training is their own therapy.If I have never looked at my own resistances ,my own “No go” zones, I will be unable to help my patients work through their difficulties.)
So, where does Eigen’s quote take us? I think it takes us to a place where we need to find courage. It is a difficult process, this thing we call therapy. It upsets many of our ideas about our selves and our world. It can challenge our assumption that “I know who I am”. It invites us to be seen and to stay with that being seen.It also allows us to consider our prayers – before and after birth.
The link is, of course, to a reading of Louis Mc. Neice’s poem.