Through uplifting and engaging real-life stories, psychotherapists Robert and Jane Alter reveal how to unlock your own incredible power and and use it to achieve your most important personal goals:
And most important --
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A psychotherapist in private practice with individuals and couples since 1978, Robert Alter graduated from Cornell University and earned his M.A. from Brandeis University. A former contributing editor for Mothering magazine, he has taught literature and writing at Brandeis and Wheelock College.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Past to Present
We are all the products of thousands of years of failed parenting . . . because the human species has not yet evolved to the point that it knows how to raise its young without injury.-- Harville Hendrix, the audiotape SafetyMama always said you gotta put the past behind you before you can move on.-- from the movie Forrest GumpReceive the child in reverence. Educate the child in love. Let the child go forth in freedom.-- Rudolf Steiner
At the same time that we are moving forward in our journey toward our inner Self, we have to move backward to our childhood. We must face what happened in those early years that was so disappointing, hurtful, terrifying, or infuriating that we had to leave behind major parts of our emotional selves in order to deal with it all. All of it that you can remember you have to face, and the parts that you can't quite remember, you have to infer and intuit and face. You can do all that in therapy because you have a guide accompanying you on the trip who has himself been back there, in his own childhood, and knows the neighborhood. He might not know your specific neighborhood--the exact events that happened to you back then--but he knows the general size and significance of these events, and their emotional, behavioral, and spiritual consequences in your adulthood. He knows all the hiding places we crouched in when we were children, and the ones we retreat to now--because he himself has hidden in most of them, and come out of some of them. “Healing occurs when a person returns to the pain of the past and finds she is not alone this time.”1 In therapy, we return to the pain of the past accompanied by the therapist, who looks at the facts with us, and helps us finally come to terms with them.
There's not only a psychological but a spiritual reason for this trip: We can't slip through the finer and finer gossamer filaments on the way to the inner Self unless we're very light in our being, so we can't be carrying the dark, dense weight of the past with us. If there's any part of us that's still there, in our childhood, we can't be fully here, in our adulthood, ultimately trying to achieve Self-realization.
By whatever means, including therapy, we try to finish our childhood and get to adulthood.
Back to the Past
And as the bombshells of my daily fears explode, I try to trace them to my youth.-- Indigo Girls, “Galileo”
Donald, a forty-year-old electrical engineer, was in his third week of therapy. He suffered from anxious depression, “a slight drinking problem,” and regular outbursts of tongue-lashing rage at his wife, his two children, and the subordinates in his office. His wife had encouraged him to seek therapy with me (she had been in therapy with me two years earlier), which he was willing to do, but with one condition.
“I don't want to go into any of that psychological crap,” he said. “I'm willing to look at myself and the way I am, but I don't want to go back forty years and dig up my whole childhood and blame my parents for everything under the sun. I'm not into that ‘inner child' garbage that my wife keeps talking about.”
I admired his spirit. I thought it was great that Donald didn't want to avoid responsibility for how he is in the present by, as he put it, “whining” about what happened in his past. However, none of us can grow psychologically or spiritually unless we spend some time in the past, figuring out what happened then that keeps influencing how we are today. That time in our lives is like an electrical generating station that keeps feeding tremendous power into the repetitive and destructive patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior in our present lives. That's why those patterns seem to have lives of their own quite independent of our best intentions, our intelligence, and sometimes even our conscience.
We have to revisit those generating stations, to go back to our past and know it for what it was, good or bad or wonderful or horrible or a mix of it all. We need to expose our circuits and see the tangle of wires inside, trace them back to the generating stations, make sense of it all, and reconnect what has come loose. Often we have to clip some of the wires leading from our past to our present, bearing messages that don't serve us well. “I'm not the kind of person who can do that” . . . “It's just my nature and I can't change it” . . . “I'll always be stupid or ridiculous or unlovable”--and bearing with those messages, those powerful, recurrent, negative emotions that control and torture us from morning to night.
I think I spend half my time in therapy trying to convince otherwise intelligent people that the treatment they received in their childhood was not natural, or right, or acceptable, but traumatic and wrong and toxic. People tell me stories about their childhood as if they were reporting what they had for lunch, while I sit in a silent apoplexy of outrage at the multiple crimes against innocent children I'm hearing about.
When my clients don't remember what it was like in their childhood, I say, “Trust your symptoms, and let your symptoms lead you back to your past. Based on the symptoms you're reporting to me, you're probably going to find some childhood experiences there that were pretty damn bad.”
“It can't be as bad as all that,” they say.
“Actually, it's probably worse,” I say.
I know that sounds pessimistic, but I'm being up front about how easily we all minimize or...
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