Freud said that there was only one rule in Psychoanalysis which was to say whatever comes to your mind, even and perhaps most importantly when we don’t want to. In this way we can start to listen to different parts of ourselves and start to discover the dynamics within. We discover quite quickly how much of what goes on inside of ourselves is blocked from entering our consciousness. We become aware of all sorts of inhibitions and repressions, shames and conditioning. We may have all sorts of prepared narratives about who and why we are the way we are. Often these have been constructed to deal with difficulties in our lives and may have been to some extent useful coping mechanisms. However, what often brings someone to therapy is the realisation that these coping strategies or defence mechanisms have actually become a problem in themselves.
Aspects of ourselves that we don’t like or believe are shameful become feared parts of ourselves that have to be avoided or sanitised. Like the idea of the monster under the bed, often understandable thoughts behaviours and emotions, become magnified and terrifying.
Aspects of ourselves don’t match the identity, we feel we need to create, to be acceptable to ourselves and others. This doesn’t mean that psychoanalysis seeks to condone problematic behaviour, but rather by taking a neutral unmoralizing stance there can be space for these troubling areas to surface and to be understood, lessening their power and likelihood of being enacted.
Therapists will have spent a lot of time getting to know these parts of themselves in their own therapy helping them understand the nature of the human psyche through personal reflection on their own ‘stuff’.
Resistances arise as this unmoralizing stance can feel shocking, and be experienced as if the therapist is being critical, as any light shone on these repressed parts can feel shameful. However hopefully over time it can be understood that the therapist’s unflinching observance of these parts, is not in way an intention to criticize or shame but to be compassionately curious. When this can be understood, hopefully the patient too can start to feel less afraid and more curious about themselves, the power of the ‘superego’ or internalized judge, with its narrow rules and harsh judgments can be lessened as we accept what we came to believe was unacceptable and had to be repressed.
The following poem hopefully gives a flavour of this:-
“Be curious, not judgmental.”
- Be curious. Wonder awhile, listen, allow yourself to not know.
- Not judgmental. Not “I know what this means”, not imagining the worst, not coming to hasty conclusions.
Be here, not there. Be now, not then. Be curious, not judgmental…
Paul Salvage is a Psychodynamic Psychotherapist trained to work with adolescents from 16-25 and adults across a wide range of specialisms including depression, anxiety, family issues, self awareness and relationship difficulties. He currently works with individuals in our private practice in Hove.
Further reading by Paul Salvage –