How do you take yourself seriously if you have never been heard?
Our early experiences of relationships and the impact they leave upon us was brought home with force to me, recently. We were exploring the client’s difficulty in staying in touch with her feelings and thoughts especially when others are around and the confusion she experiences in maintaining equal focus upon herself and others.
When we are younger, we instinctively know that we need others for to feed, house and care for us. We also need our carers to be skilled in managing their own anxieties in life and provide us with the right environment for growth. As a result of her carers’ excessive anxiety however, my client had to work very hard to ensure ongoing attention from them and moulded herself to their expectations.
Being forced to focus on her basic safety and survival issues early in life did not help with her overall development and filled her up with anxiety. She got stuck in a continual loop of fear of life and precariousness of existence because she had not experienced adults who felt confident in those matters. She stayed focussed upon ensuring on-going survival instead of developing mentally and emotionally and getting out of the loop.
As her environment had not been very conducive to her needs even being acknowledged let alone met, she tuned out of being in touch with herself. Hence the need for others to listen to us if we are to develop that attitude towards ourselves. In order to allay the anxiety she has always carried, she alternated between the strategies of focussing upon others or trying to make herself feel bigger than she is. Focussing upon her needs or vulnerability can quite easily trigger the ever-present anxiety so not listening to herself became common sense.
How psychotherapy could help?
Through the experience of a relationship in psychotherapy where she is listened to, she might gradually relax enough to firstly notice and then create a better balance between focussing upon herself and others. As she experiences a relationship where she is accepted, she can start listening to all those messages her body and mind have been sending her but she was too anxious to notice. As she tends to those messages she might gain a greater ability to manage the anxiety and resume the growth that should have happened earlier.
The irony and the difficulty for her and all of us lies in the fact however that in order to recover, we need the courage to trust in another relationship.
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