Needing a “Tuneup”

Client: I’ve been quite lethargic of late so haven’t followed up on your last suggestion as I should, but it’s on my internal to-do list. I’m writing because I’m struggling again – my whole mindset has shifted and not in a good way. For the first time since last autumn I find my thinking is consistently abusive and hopeless and the old pattern of suicidal thoughts is creeping back. No risk of action, I promise, but I haven’t even had those thoughts in so long that it’s quite discouraging to hear them.

Paul: I am always happy to support you with regular sessions again. However, even before that, I would like you to consider something.

When one has experienced, as you have, 20+ years of a difficult and traumatizing childhood, the momentum of the mind’s patterns of thinking and feeling is very strong. At the physical and physiological level it can be scientifically tracked that neurons and biochemistry are changed by such experiences. However, neurons and biochemistry can be changed again, deliberately and consciously, towards healthy and happier habits of thinking and feeling. That has been proven possible in both the psychotherapy world and in the neurobiological realm. There’s even a term for it…neuroplasticity. Your brain changes! Such change requires a new learning and an ongoing and consistent effort.

I am entirely sympathetic to the challenge. God knows, I have struggled too, made progress, relaxed my vigilance and backslid many times. There is a saying that “the longest journey a person must take is the 18 inches from his head to his heart.” This is the hardest task we can take on, I think, to change old patterns and to stick with the changes. It is also the most important task of our lives and the one which determines whether we remain stuck as a victim to an abusive or traumatizing past or move beyond that to a more fulfilling life.

In considering the commitment required, I find the “inner child” metaphor useful. If you had a child whose care and welfare you were responsible for, you would probably sometimes be an excellent parent. But what if some days, you just said, “let the damn baby make its own lunch. I’m tired! I’m taking a day off.” That baby wouldn’t last long, or would suffer serious physical and emotional consequences. Similarly, if you only occasionally tune into your inner feelings and needs to attend to those, but much of the time neglect, abuse, or abandon yourself in ways similar to how you were once neglected, abused, or abandoned by your caregivers, then healing progress will be slow.

My question for you is, are you willing to dedicate yourself to you…to the conscious care and love and healthy maintenance of precious you….for your own benefit and also for the benefit of all those whose lives you touch? I can’t say exactly what that “care” could or should look like…perhaps some daily practice(s) that help you experience joy and presence with yourself or which remind you how much you love life and care about helping yourself grow more happy and expansive. It doesn’t need to be the same discipline for the rest of your life. It could and probably should change.

I believe that a major part of our “life task” is to find such practices, stick with them consistently and to discover how and when to change to other practices as we grow. It’s not a regimen…it’s a dance.

As for therapy sessions with me, yes, you need support, and you deserve that regardless of whether you did your “homework assignment” perfectly or not. I may be able to make helpful suggestions for such practices and it can be very helpful to get support from someone who cares while you establish new healthy habits.

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    • James Warda

      Excellent post, Paul. Your compassion is critical to those of us on this journey (quest?). It’s oftentimes one step forward, two steps back. On some days, feels more like four steps back. That’s why it’s so important to have a voice like yours reminding us that we can do it, and that the alternative to staying on the journey is to fall back asleep – which is really no alternative at all.