One reason we seek out therapy in order to gain perspective and in turn recover from our neuroses. Neurosis is a pattern of negative thinking that can get in the way of appreciating our full potential. Every human is in part neurotic, at work, in relationships, in our attitudes around creativity or politics. How you are neurotic should be carefully explored without judgment and without insult – as part of a mission to understand the human experience and ultimately feel better about yourself and your environments.
It is generally accepted that our neuroses originate from childhood experiences, before we are old enough to employ adult mechanisms to process painful or incomprehensible events. These events can be collectively referred to as traumas. Trauma is the mind and body’s reaction to a traumatic event. Such instances are shocking like abuse, or something more innocuous such as continuous petty criticism, emotional neglect, or isolation. As stated before, in childhood we simply do not have the recourses to rationalize the why or what of trauma, and subsequently the child suffers impairment to the sense of self, the ability to command trust, or the ability to recognize safety.
For every parental inadequacy there is a corresponding rise in a child’s neurosis. Where there is an over controlling parent there will be a child with problems around autonomy. Where there is a belittling parent there will be a child who struggles with confidence and self-esteem. Where there is a sexual rivalry or inappropriate seduction there will be issues of guilt or shame. Every character defect on the side of the immediate caregivers potentially imposes a toll on the child. There is no such thing as a non neurotic parent – but rather than deny responsibility parents must invest in opportunities to gracefully and perhaps humorously, collaborate with their child in figuring out the particular difficulties they have bequeathed to them.
Trauma leads to repression which over time manifests into the formation of neurotic symptoms. Neuroses that have not been processed and understood continue into perpetuity – time never makes them better. Healing comes through self-awareness and the desire to improve; we need to therapeutically disassemble the mechanisms of repression and contact the original trauma. To do that and before anything else, we need to accept that engaging in this process is a good idea – that permission to help is granted to your therapist. We have to agree that self knowledge will be what can save us.
The hard part. It will not be enough to simply know the past – we will need to feel it too. We may have a practical sense of the central details of our traumas, but an intellectual grasp won’t be enough. We need to viscerally reexperience our pain, rather than merely intellectually knowing the past, and in turn free ourselves from its hold on us. Neuroses will wane once the traumas that perpetuate them are finally known and more importantly – felt. That is the mission and promise of therapy.