Thursday, June 29, 2017

Too Much Therapy

Sometimes our friend Polly, of the Ask Polly column, sounds like she is talking to a teenager. In today’s column she goes on at length about how the woman in question, aka, Stuck and Uncertain, has real value and real worth. Polly adds that this woman, 29 years old, should never fear asking for what she wants.

As has become my habit, I am not going to regale you with Polly’s silliness. Instead, examine the letter that Stuck and Uncertain has sent, asking whether anyone ever overcomes one’s dysfunctional past:

I’m a student in my late 20s. My question is simple and not simple. I guess the relatively straightforward version is: Are we ever able to transcend the dysfunctional patterns and behaviors established in our childhood?

The not-so-straightforward version: I grew up in a small, conservative, overwhelmingly Evangelical Christian town. My parents were pretty controlling. Partially because we lived in such an insulated environment, and partially because their professions relied on other people viewing them favorably, I was taught — in both subtle and more obvious ways — to subvert my feelings and desires if they appeared to conflict with the feelings, desires, or expectations of others. I remember standing with my father in church one day when a boy my age came up and slapped me (sort of hard) across the face; my father just stood there. Later, he told me it was hard for him to restrain himself. He’s deceased now, but I still want to scream at him, “Why the fuck didn’t you protect me? Why the fuck didn’t you stand up for me? Why couldn’t you let me be myself: a weird and complicated and messy person? Why did we always have to care so goddamn much about what other people thought?”

I still really struggle with this, even though my father has been dead for several years now. I struggle with letting myself be who I am unapologetically. Typing this feels like I’m whining, but the truth is that I continue to feel really suffocated and haunted by the male figures from my childhood and adolescence….

I haven’t been in a relationship for a long time, and I’m trying to be okay with that. I try to eat healthy and exercise; I see a therapist. But I’m upset with myself for wanting things like a partner or children; I feel like I should just be happy with where I am right now. (I should add that my childhood friends are all married and/or engaged with children.) How do I break this cycle?

Let’s cut to the chase. Is this woman suffering because she was brought up in a conservative community by Evangelical Christian parents? Or, is she struggling because her therapist has taught her that such an upbringing is fundamentally dysfunctional? Is she being treated or brainwashed? Did her therapist also tell her that she will never really overcome her upbringing?

What we have is a failed therapy, conducted by someone who has no respect for the patient. To be fair, Polly does not either. As you see,  therapy is not going very well.

Lately, cognitive therapy has lately been recommending that we get over our therapy-induced tendency to look back into the past and that we direct our attention to the future. That we be prospective and not retrospective. Because if you whine on about your past you will never escape it.

SU says that she feels like she should not want to have a partner and children. In the past, the term used to be “husband,” but the more politically correct term is partner. This tells us that the work of brainwashing is ongoing. It has made inroads,, and she is paying the price.

There is no reason on earth why she should not want to have a husband and children. She ought not to feel guilty about harboring such wishes. She has the right, as even Polly suggests, to ask for these things. 

And yet, the question is not about wanting or asking. The question is how to get what she wants. Clearly, she ought to begin by firing her therapist. This latter credentialed professional has taught her to introspect, to doubt herself, to defame and malign her parents and her birth community, and to convince her that she has nothing to offer to a relationship beyond her dysfunction.

When therapy fails, it’s good to have a few convenient scapegoats around. In this case, her therapist has scapegoated conservatives and Evangelical Christians. Because we know that such groups are fundamentally repressive. They produce intractable neuroses. If SU wants to examine her past, a good cognitive therapist would teach her that there is good and bad in her upbringing, that it has given her strengths and weaknesses.

1 comment:

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: If SU wants to examine her past, a good cognitive therapist would teach her that there is good and bad in her upbringing, that it has given her strengths and weaknesses.

Sure. I'd hope a good therapist of any sort would do that, but apparently that isn't guaranteed.

I often get in trouble playing fair-and-balanced devil's advocate to someone else's past miseries, still haven't fully learned most people want validation for their beliefs, not perspective.

I can't guess how bad therapy is, but certainly what leaks out into social memes on Facebook looks pretty grim, and it comes close to 100% from women. Men must hold their pity-parties elsewhere, maybe in bars?

Perhaps self-pity has always been popular among every privileged class, but now we have online communities to support our stories in mutual sympathy and against the oppressors. Maybe the "Darkside of Empathy" is what encourages all this?