Finding Truth for Themselves
By Cassidy Miller, M.A. MFT
Without realizing that the past is constantly determining their present actions, they avoid learning anything about their history. They continue to live in their repressed childhood situation, ignoring the fact that is no longer exists, continuing to fear and avoid dangers that, although once real, have not been real for a long time. –Alice Miller
Often clients come to us having exhausted the usefulness of various coping skills, ignoring the need for an honest exploration of their past. Yet, this introspective process is a most critical aspect of positive identity formation and sustainable relationship with Self and Other. One’s effort to out-run the reality of her suffering, often tied to the past, results in additional suffering and is cloaked beneath sophisticated defense strategies preventing inward discoveries. The process of unveiling personal truth is hard work and is often confusing and frustrating. It is a powerful process that we therapists get to be a part of as our clients engage in this work and learn these truths for themselves.
“This ends now.” My client stared at me, then at the dirt, then at me again. Maybe she was waiting for me to agree with her that “this,” in fact, ends now. Maybe she was pausing to assess if she really meant it, what it would mean if she did mean it if she could really follow through on such a thing. The issue she was attempting to verbally intimidate into submission was the multigenerational transmission of addiction, codependency, and shame in her family. She looked serious, certain and desperate. She, a 27-year-old heroin addict, knows a thing or two about feeling desperate. After five weeks of self-reflection in the wilderness, she wanted to lay to rest all of the sufferings she was beginning to see scattered throughout her familial relationships. This young woman was unraveling a tightly bound belief system about herself and the world, sensing new self-understanding rising in its place. She came to call these weeks her “waterfall weeks,” referencing the flood of insight about herself, her addiction, her family history and the emotional ties that weaved these aspects of her life together.
“It just keeps going.” She was now aware of feeling exhausted from the energy it takes to stay in dishonest relationships. In addition, her exhaustion tapped into a well of previously dormant compassion. She found herself curious about where these dynamics came from, not only for herself but also for her parents and her parents’ parents. She was learning how to speak honestly about her feelings and needs and how to ask questions and seek to understand as she hoped to be understood. She said she was motivated, grateful, and hopeful. As I listened to her, part of me ached with a knowing that she would fail at any attempt to perfectly uphold this new line in the sand. She still hadn’t learned the inevitability of some failure and the promise of emotional and spiritual relapse along the journey. But that is work she will get to do now as she creates a foundation for knowing her Self. Because of this work, later it will feel a lot more like remembering what she forgot rather than trudging through a swamp to find something brand new. When she declared her emancipation, I could hardly conceal my sense of joy. I heard the new awareness of her “emotional discovery and emotional acceptance of the truth …and the unique history of (her) childhood” – Alice Miller and I believe in how this discovery has the potential to save her life.