Psychodynamic psychotherapy addresses the conscious as well as the unconscious roots of emotional pain.

What is the unconscious and how does it affect the present? 

Let’s begin with how feelings become unconscious-

You have to give credit to the brilliance of our psychological mind. It operates much like our physical body in response to pain.

When we experience (overwhelming)psychological or physical pain our bodies and psyches shut down in order to spare us that pain.

There is a threshold beyond which…. our body and mind work to close down operations.

When we reach our limit in tolerating physical pain, we faint or pass out.  In the case of psychological pain, we numb out, split or in other ways repress the extreme emotional response.

  Our psychological defenses are set up to help us survive feelings that otherwise surpass our ability to cope at the time (read, especially…but not always, in childhood).

This protection comes at a price, however.  When we repress pain we “forget” that which has hurt us and we don’t know how to prevent it from happening again.

Sometimes we avoid things associated with this pain but we don’t consciously know why.

How do these unconscious associations form?

Let me give an example. Jane had an alcoholic father and a codependent mother.

{She had a vague notion that life could be pretty awful when her dad was drunk but trying to remember as an adult-well the memories were pretty blurry.}

When she was really little she would ask her dad why he drank so much. In response, her dad would become explosively angry.

This frightened and confused Jane so she learned to stop asking questions.

This saved her a lot of trouble,….. at the time.

As a child who was totally dependent on her parents, Jane needed to make sense of her world.  She needed, as every young child needs, to get along however she could.

When she experienced her father’s anger, it was so overwhelming and confusing that her psyche shut down. Because she didn’t feel safe, Jane couldn’t “process” or “make sense” of what was happening.

An observer who was like a fly on the wall would have noticed her “tuning out”, not “seeming to hear” or “pay attention”.

If we could see inside of her psychological processes we would see how her psyche was searching desperately for a place of refuge. Searching for a place to run and hide where she could find emotional shelter.

Her psyche protected her by shutting down, numbing out, splitting, or even disassociating.

These emotions and the details of the frightening event ( her father’s explosions)  stay buried in the psyche and locked away from conscious memory.

Jane would tell anyone who asked, that her childhood, was not perfect but OK and that she wasn’t really affected by it. That was then and this is now.

How do these unconscious memories cause Jane problems in her current life? 

This problem resurfaced in adulthood when she needed to ask direct questions.

Whenever it was appropriate to ask questions… she would be filled with a sense of dread and anxiety, break out into a sweat, heart pounding and her thoughts would race.

Jane knew on some level that her emotional response was disproportionate to the situation at hand.

 Many times these blocks would prevent her from asking the things she needed to ask in her adult life.

Jane was a smart woman but didn’t understand why she kept “missing” red flags and always operating on less than complete information.  The very things she needed to pay attention to, she missed.

Because not asking was starting to take a toll on her life, Jane sought out psychodynamic psychotherapy. She had started to realize that her past had more of an impact than she had originally thought.

Yet she was unaware of this block until she explored in psychodynamic psychotherapy specifically how scary it was to ask direct questions in childhood.

Her psyche had protected her in the best way it could at the time.

By working through the feelings in the present, Jane was able to ask the questions she needed to ask and make choices her conscious mind knew were best for her.

Psychodynamic therapy helps in this way:

These notions/associations and blocks buried deep in your awareness can be affecting your current life, even though the time for the associations has long past.

The more overwhelming the trauma you have stored in your unconscious, (read cumulative baggage unprocessed feelings) the more likely you are to be influenced by these unconscious notions in the present.

Ummm, makes sense, doesn’t it?

 These feelings hang out on the edge of awareness, regardless of life experience or passage of time.

When these feelings start to surface they are most readily accessible for processing thus removing the blocks that limit you.

It is important to capture the opportunity.

The whole point of psychodynamic psychotherapy is to bring these feelings to the forefront so they can be made accessible to the conscious mind for working through.

Then and only then can you free yourself of their debilitating effect.

Paradoxically, the times in life when you are the most upset can be the most fertile times for becoming aware of and working through the blocks that are holding you back.

A psychodynamic psychotherapist will be on the lookout for feelings that have the telltale charge of the past and help you process them in the present.

Then, and only then can these feelings get reintegrated into the psyche, thereby losing their charge and give back control to the conscious mind.

Real control is not a bad thing!

When you work to process your pain and peel away blocks to awareness, the dividends are multiple.

This is where the real magic of life-changing therapy is experienced.

You are able to make more fully informed decisions and most importantly, love more deeply and fully.

Questions? Contact Katherine here!