The first misstep
A commonly held false belief is that if we ignore a problem long enough it will go away on its own. Whilst for some psychological challenges this may be true, however, in relational problems this is all too frequently not the case. By relational, we include any form of significant social interaction, such as between child and parent; romantic partners; or even between work colleagues.
Relational experiences are profoundly emotional events, which create a laying down of a rough, internalised guide on ‘how people are’. With time this internalised manual can become a fixed, set of expectations which we carry into our future social interactions.
This is especially true if we have experienced negative interpersonal interactions which are threatening, invasive, demeaning, or controlling. These types of experiences are particularly potent and our internal, protective systems, quickly develops the habit of scanning our environment for any indication of similar patterns in others.
The flaw in the system
Unfortunately, our internal vigilance system was designed for life-or-death situations, such as sabre-tooth tiger attack, so is far from perfect. Left unregulated, it can frequently put us into an heightened state of arousal even when there is no threat present.
Put simply this means, the bad things what we have experienced, can contaminate what we are currently experiencing because our internal survival system reacts as if they are still happening (or may happen) at any point. With time, this reaction entrenches because we can often find environmental reinforcers (whether real or imagined) to justify our emergency-mode perspectives.
What we have is in essence, an emotionally coded event which has now become the blue print on how we see, feel, communicate, and experience our world.
Without treatment, this chronic, underlying hyper-vigilance and over-arousal, creates elevated cortisol levels, which in turn, is catastrophic for the body’s capacity to heal itself. This increases our risk of significant ill health.
Why not get help?
If our emotional health is so closely linked to our physical health, what could stop us seeking psychological help? Why, if our physical health is at significant risk, would we instead choose to use the ‘ignore it and it’ll go away’ method?
For many clients there appear to be an underlying fear that should they begin to open up about emotional issues, the pain will be so overwhelming, so consuming, and so uncontrolled, that once starts it will never stop.
They describe a vague belief that should they begin to unpick difficult memories, they will live forever more in the ‘horror’ of these memories, never able to ignore them ever again. That to open the box would somehow spiral them into a worse darkness and they would risk losing their self-control and destroy everything around them.
if this were the case, their avoidance of therapy would be perfectly understandable and a most rational choice.
Hear about clients talk about their experiences having therapy with Dr Anne here
Lancing a boil
The problem is this idea is completely wrong. Wholly and totally wrong. It is completely and utterly out of synch with what happens in therapy.
We apologise in advance for the analogy we are going to use however it is most illustrative of what actually happens.
When we have a boil, it is an infection under the skin. With time it builds. Eventually, it becomes consciously painful. It may start as a minor irritation, but with time it is going to become more present and painful. We can try and ignore it, but unless we deal with it, it is simply not going to go away.
What we have to do is lance it. We have to clean it. We have to deal with the underlying infection. Yes, we may feel temporary pain at the first incision but, and this is the important part, the nasty stuff doesn’t keep coming out forever. Instead, once we’ve emptied the wound of what was trapped under the skin, we immediately start to heal.
This is what happens in deep therapy. The ‘emotional mess’ which has been busy contaminating how we think, feel, and experience the world is removed leaving clarity and relief. And ultimately, we begin to move towards real choice and real control.
Breaking our negative emotional program frees us to choose to react differently and in giving us real choice over how we act, think and react, we develop real control of our lives.
If however we choose instead to hope it will go away on its own, we are simply choosing to always be the slave to our often highly unhealthy, emotional learnings.