You left out the most important part! How was he able to know and heal those parts of himself?” a reader, Cynthia Snook, asked last week. Therapists have been pondering those issues for decades. Cynthia is really asking two important questions: 1) how do we come to know our long forgotten past? 2) How do we heal the wounds that continue to affect us?
Let’s start with the first question. Learning to know yourself whether you are in therapy or not is an exercise in courage and commitment. It is often a long and tortuous route—covered with brambles of illusion and deceit. We function with an image of ourselves that is either too good or too bad and sometimes both—at the same time!!! We have a vision of who we are. It is a composite of our innate characteristics and the messages—both positive and negative that we have heard from day one.
But then something happens—an event that we didn’t anticipate—and it shakes us to the core. It may open old wounds that we thought were well-disguised or buried. Our usual ways of coping don’t work and we start scrambling for answers—different answers than those we have always relied upon. Sometimes we must fall back upon a strength and resilience that we didn’t even know was there.
It is easier to illustrate with an example. Last week I talked about my husband Bob and the trauma that he experienced as a child growing up in war-torn Europe. When I first met him he had no thought that his early experiences had left grievous wounds or that he might need therapy. But we were both studying psychology and we began to realize that something was wrong. The positive stories that his family had always propagated about the mission told only a part of the story.
After a tempestuous courtship we did get married and soon had a baby son named Aaron. There was something about his new role as father that brought matters to a head. He knew that he wanted to be a different kind of parent. He wanted to put his children first. (That was not the case in his family of origin.) He wanted to talk about his feelings and face his childhood experiences—the good and the bad. Most importantly he wanted and needed to weep for himself and the wounds that he had suffered. It all came crashing down in the downtown parking garage in Ann Arbor, Michigan—an epiphany that cut him to the core and gave him a vision of what he needed to do.
Next week we will take a look at that striking realization and the journey that began that day.
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Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.