Can We Get Over Our Bad Past?

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No, according to Moya Sarner, an NHS psychotherapist and author. In a recent article in The Guardian, Moya Shane, recounts her experience dealing with her patients and says that there is a fairly ubiquitous desire to be able to “get rid of the parts of ourselves we feel ashamed of, hate, or don’t want to acknowledge”.

We are always finding the infant, the young child, the adolescent in patients. Like circles in a tree trunk, they’re all there.

Gina Williams

In therapy, patients often present with a combination of vulnerabilities, traumatic experiences, and a desire to deny their own needs, according psychiatrist Shane. They may think that therapy will help them get rid of the “bad parts” of themselves permanently. This desire can manifest symbolically, such as in dreams where the therapist appears as a surgeon with a scalpel. Such desires are not only unrealistic but also harmful, and beliefs that led to procedures like lobotomies, demonstrating the danger of rejecting vulnerability as a means of bolster oneself, says Dr. Shane.

Dr. Shane says that patients learn through therapy that rejecting vulnerability isn’t a sign of strength but rather a healing process involving embracing and integrating all parts of oneself, including flaws and painful experiences. Better mental health comes from repairing internal connections rather than getting rid of them, which is why meaningful therapy helps patients connect more deeply with these aspects of themselves, Dr. Shane adds.

We are like trees. In the cross-section of a trunk, she explained, you find all the rings that mark the history of that tree, from the smallest ring from its earliest days at its core, through to the biggest most recent ring under the bark. We all still contain a baby part, a child part, an adolescent part – we cannot get rid of them. When we try, I believe it leaves us as empty as a hollowed-out tree trunk. In therapy, she said, “I think we’re always finding the infant, the young child, the adolescent in the patient. Like the circles in a tree, they’re all there.”

– Gina Williams told Dr. Shane (source: The Guardian)

Gianna Williams, a child, adolescent and adult psychoanalyst, told Dr. Shane that we are like a tree.