Stories of Change
Jessica and Paul* used to get into arguments where Jessica became more and more angry as she thought Paul wasn't hearing her and deliberately ignoring what she felt were legitimate demands for him to help her around the house. Paul was feeling she didn't understand his need for space and that she didn't want to hear about his struggles and that she wasn't there for him. Eventually he began retreating into the basement more and more and began feeling more and more distant. In turn, Jessica thought he didn't care about her feelings so she would be constantly irritated and scared that he would leave her, feeling she had to shout more and more for him to notice and hear her. In therapy they came to understand the emotions beneath the apparently hostile behavior - that became a regular negative 'dance', distancing them more and more. In therapy they learnt to spot the 'dance' and express what was going on inside themselves; Jessica said 'When you walk away from me I feel desperate that you don't want to be with me, that you are not interested in me and I feel alone'. One of the things Paul expressed was that 'when you shout and get angry I feel attacked, that you are not interested in hearing about me or understanding what is going on with me and it makes me feel sad so I just cope by taking myself off so it hurts less.' By understanding each others deeper emotional needs, they learnt how to reconnect and to be there for each other; they learnt new conversations to enable them to connect and get their needs met and meet each other's needs.
Claire* has begun to understand those 'lifetraps' that began when she was very small and is now making changes and feeling happier. She is less anxious and is enjoying living in the moment rather than always worrying about whether she will do well enough to be happy and successful. Claire discovered a strong lifetrap of 'unrelenting standards', meaning that she was always striving to 'get it right' ; she remembered that at 6 years old when she scored all 'A's and one B+, it meant the A's were not good enough- so she ended up continually striving to 'get it right' in order to get affirmation and that longed for 'well done' from her father; At 36 this still drives her life - still hoping to get her dad's smile- but is distressed when she sees herself saying the same things to her children.
Tom* When he first came to therapy he was feeling depressed and 'down' feeling that he was always caring for others and fed up that at 45 years old, was missing out but didn't know what to do. He was providing for his family as well as caring for his aged mother and had management responsibilities at work. It meant he was never relaxed, and was always meeting others needs, pushing down what he wanted, with the result that he was feeling life was not just worth living. Using the schema approach to therapy, he realized that his lifetrap of 'subjugation' of his own needs, and 'self sacrifice' came from her experience of when he was brought up in a home that he had to look after his sick father, and cover for his tearaway younger brother in order to keep things peaceful at home. His mother would always ask him to help out and he always did, even if it meant not going out with his friends, as he was told he was the 'man of the house'. By exploring feelings that are triggered in current day situations, Tom learnt to recognize his 'lifetraps' that began when he was a small boy and how they affect his life now. He learnt to be kind to himself now, to challenge his thinking that something awful would happen if he didn't do everything he was asked to do. He began to realize he needed to look after himself, to learn to be assertive and to say 'no' without believing that he was a bad person. He also was able to have some imaginary dialogues with his younger self, to say that it was not reasonable that he should at age 5 be the head of the house, whilst being compassionate to the predicament his mother was in. Not easy but he can only imagine what life would be like if he hadn't called me and begun the journey.
*Not clients' real names.