Sunday, 23 November 2014

Buried but not dead - putting ourselves back together again

Does psychological suicide exist? This is the question I have been mulling over this week. As human beings we are constantly evolving and changing and it is as natural as the transformation of the cells in our bodies that parts of our psyche will also transform. But what happens when we actively try to kill off parts of ourselves?

I believe that interaction with other people can attempt to kill off parts of us. The gentle, trusting, open-hearted soul can be mutilated by the cruelty and humiliation of others. Any therapist who has ever worked with a victim of bullying or abuse can testify to the damage that can human beings can inflict upon each other. Hearts can be broken and shattered by hurtful actions and words. I think that we can take these vulnerable parts of ourselves and try to kill them off, suffocate them, bury them – so that we never have to feel them again.

"Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be."    William Hazlitt, The English Comic Writers, 1819

It seems though, that these parts never really stay dead. We bury them so deep that we cannot access them, but they keep popping back up, like zombies in a video game – ever being activated by our conversations, by our relationships and often by our relationship with ourselves. Suicide – physical ending of life, is a strategy for easing human pain. And it works, doesn’t it? You die, you don’t feel anything. Suicide of a part of ourselves is an attempt to do the same, to ease pain and suffering. But it only works temporarily or this dividing of the self can become extreme or psychotic.

This is why so many forms of therapy work towards integration of the self and have a focus on working with the different parts that we find difficult. Two chair work Gestalt processes actively encourage people to face and talk to those parts of themselves that are buried and still hurting. Psychodynamic processes aim to access the unconscious parts that heavily influence our behaviour and choices. Cognitive Behaviour processes dig deep to access the core beliefs that we have developed to make them less rigid and unforgiving.

Yet somehow, throughout history, we humans have believed that we can somehow simplify ourselves and to eliminate uncomfortable emotions and experiences. I am reminded of the numerous utopian and dystopian novels and films like the Stepford Wives or the contrast in Huxley’s Brave New World between the factory-produced beings and the savage, untamed, real humans. Sure, no one wants to feel hurt and pain but would we ever really want to be like a machine?

"Man — a being in search of meaning."  Plato

No way! Say I. I celebrate and embrace being a flawed, complex, feeling being – capable of love and hate, kindness and revenge, elation and despair, pride and guilt, joy and pain, contentment and restlessness, hope and regret, safeness and fear, passion and rage. For all that means I am alive. I am not dead. Not yet. And until I am, I will live every moment, breathe it all in. And that is all I hope for anyone I am working with. Not that they be “fixed” but to help them find kindness and compassion towards themselves, to live with themselves with less judgment and harshness. There is enough of that in the world without it being inside our own heads too.

Dr Murphy – signing off

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