Our lives are on constant repeat. If you haven’t noticed then you’re not paying attention. The circumstances we encounter at home, at work and in our relationships may appear to be different on the surface, but very often the underlying dynamics and themes remain unnervingly similar. We keep doing the same thing over and over again.
This is no surprise. The way we are in relationship to one thing is the way we are in relationship to all things. Which is why psychotherapy can be such a thrilling journey. People walk into my office and the dynamics in our therapeutic relationship provides invaluable first-hand knowledge of what’s going on for them out there in the “real world”. I don’t need to rely solely on a client’s account of what happened in the past because, amazingly, sooner or later it’ll all show up in the here and now.
It’s fascinating to start piecing together why we act the way we do and why we keep attracting certain situations or relationships into our lives. And I think it’s important to have an understanding of how we got wired with particular buttons that, when pushed, lead to the same ingrained responses – whether overwhelming anger, a fear of abandonment, a sense of inadequacy or the need to find relief in food, alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, shopping or anything else that distracts and numbs.
Sometimes an intellectual understanding of why we do things is enough to result in change, but often it isn’t. We may know people who have been in therapy for years, who might even have a high degree of awareness about their lives but nevertheless seem incapable of transforming them. They’re still unhappily married or unhappily single. They’re still trapped in a life or a job which they hate. They’re still on yet another diet, hoping to lose the weight that just won’t come off or stay off.
So what’s going on? Are they in the wrong type of therapy? Of course the answer isn’t that simple. Often shifts and changes happen on the inside which aren’t immediately visible or quantifiable on the outside. Whilst there’s lots of debate about which approach is best, I’m not sure whether the lens through which the therapist is looking is all-important. What does matter is that the inner body isn’t excluded from the work. We are, after all, not just minds but bodyminds. For real change to happen, we need to learn to tolerate the physical sensations in the body that accompany the feelings or experiences we dislike – fear, sadness, loneliness, shame. It’s very much like training a muscle. The more the muscle is trained, the more we genuinely have a choice to do things differently.
For real transformation to happen, we also need to remember what Albert Einstein put so succinctly: “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” But what does that mean? In this case it means realizing that who we really are is not the “voice in the head” that we think of as “me”. How can you know that voice isn’t “you”? If the voice in the head is “you”, who’s the one listening to it?