'Am I going mad?'
'Am I going mad?' is a frightening and desperate feeling, usually associated with times of heightened anxiety and intense, prolonged stress. I have had clients ask me this question during counselling, usually in the first session. Firstly, I want to assure those who read this article that although anxiety and stress can cause ones mind to feel as though it is a stranger, as though the real 'you' is lost somehow, unable to find a way through - although extreme anxiety can cause you to feel as though you are almost literally 'in pieces' - it does not resemble what is commonly referred to as 'madness'.
I shall briefly explain why, and also how the real disintegration of the self is different to the heightened anxiety that many people experience at some point in life. Extreme anxiety is very painful, very isolating and can make one feel desperate but it is very different to what is commonly termed as 'madness'.
Although we may feel appallingly stressed and confused, psychologically - we are safe, even if we feel 'unsafe' because of an incredibly confused and desperately exhausted mind.
The idea of talking may seem almost pointless and yet, this is where counselling can be immensely important. Being able to talk eases emotional pain. Sharing with another who can empathise with you is a good and healthy thing when we feel very sad or frighteningly anxious.
In brief, 'madness' has variously been defined as a disintegration of the self.
The 'self' is the part of our minds that interact with the world, enabling us to psychologically function. It is our core, so to speak. In a state of complete breakdown, the self retreats, and those who experience a psychotic state can be said to be in a sense of 'madness' though I dislike this word. Also, this can be transitory.
Individuals who are in psychosis do not and, importantly, cannot interact with the 'real' or perceived world at all. Not even for a few minutes a day. There is a total shutdown of normal functioning ~ so reading even a short article like this would not be possible.
This article is not an academic thesis, but rather, a small reassurance. No matter how bad you feel, or how impossible a way through may seem at the moment - talking can help and you will feel better, even if, at the moment - you may find this very, very hard to believe.
Talking helps, and counsellors can be that beacon of light in dark times. Be assured, we all have these times in our lives. Each scenario will be different, for we are all unique individuals but talking helps and can be immensely beneficial to anyone who has ever felt desperate, confused or alone, for the reality is that most of us will have felt this way at some point in our life.
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About Linda Boutet
My training in psychology began in 1989. I have trained in psychodynamic psychotherapy and integrative counselling, and am a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
I work in a variety of settings, including the NHS, the voluntary sector and in private practice.
I am also a member of the BACP (Children & Young People).