Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The Squares Won't Line Up

A while back I read an interesting article once about our collective, Western treatment of emotional pain.  The article made the case that emotional pain has become its own treatable syndrome, wrong in its experience and to be treated away. I think this is true, and not necessarily a bad thing.

I think of this as an issue of, as one brilliant friend put it, the "order of things". Yes, from a meta perspective, one might assume that emotional pain results from outdated and useless paradigms of identity and experience. The pain is "wrong" and the thinking paradigms are "wrong". Seems simple enough: straighten out the thinking paradigms and the pain should disappear, right?

After years, sometimes decades, of effort to repress, understand, therapize, cathart, share, metabolize, and medicate the "wrong pain" away, clients are sometimes ready to face states that have taken on the shape of not just sadness, or loneliness, or anxiety. The states have taken on the shape of more primitive experiences: blackness, existential aloneness, death. How conscious these states become is a matter of adding mental structures to protect the psyche, or just plain running.

The "wrong pain" is perceived as obliterating and dissolving in its direct encounter, or perhaps just potentially crippling to the personality and its functioning. This region of pain can feel like the ominous location in the psyche that drives the personality in its entirety. One believes for a while that s/he might find temporary relief via vaguely addictive processes, but temporary relief is really the only respite imaginable. 

Another process emerges when the ego, exhausted and devoid of hopeful faith in one's own system, surrenders. The technical, step-wise approach to this process should be guided by someone with a mechanical understanding of how the pain developed, along with correct capacity and motivation for helping another face it. The work can feel dangerous because it is: to the ego, its erected and existential reinforcements, to the most vulnerable part of the personality who sits in the dark reworking a kind of rubics cube system of logic with squares that never line up, to the therapist him/herself, who must undergo training and more training, allowing for a technical and creative process to guide the encounter.

Some dimensions of experience may never be "mentalized" in a traditional sense: that is, understood at an emotional level, to be thought about and worked through via thought structures. Rather, some states must be encountered and survived. The memory/personality structure is relieved of its duty to survive the very mind erected to protect it. Until then, one is forced to constantly twist and turn the thinking structures in an effort to find relief. It never comes, because the squares don't line up.

Emotional pain is a symptom. Without hope to face the deepest pain, it becomes its own syndrome to be treated away. After facing the pain, the thinking structures that perpetuate it are relieved of their duty, and straighten out on their own. As a secondary effect of the primary process, the straightened out thinking structures were an important part of the system to address. But without comprehending their function as essential to primary feelings of safety, the thinking structures are destined for being reworked to seem different, but never really be different; their function is too essential.

We let go of what we believe is essential to realize - a bit at a time - that we save ourselves only by surrendering to a bigger love than we knew how to perceive when we first needed it. Letting go of the pain, itself, is sometimes the scariest part of the work. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yep another one. Please write a book. I wait for these posts. How do you know this if you are not on the spectrum?