Identity development

Knowing your self is part of the goal of therapy. Even if it means finding out there are more aspects to your identity than you ever thought of.

shutterstock_174107933People don’t make the decision to come and talk to someone about their innermost secrets and identity crisis if they weren’t in pain. Rather than concluding the world is mad, they decide that it must be them, their inability to live up to the ideal model of human existence, whether striving to be a hard nosed career woman, or a passionate development worker bringing food to Africa.

Part of our earliest confusion about believing external authorities, rather than our own internal wisdom, comes from the fact that we can’t, as babies, question the authority of those who hold up the ‘mirrors’ in which we see our ‘selves’ reflected.  Good enough mirroring helps us to name and understand the deep currents of emotion such as hunger, fear, loneliness, as well as joy and satiation. The Psychoanalyst Margaret Mahler wrote in her book the psychological birth of the human infant, that we experience them physically, before we are able to talk. We become joy, we become hunger, we are fear’. So we really need someone to accurately reflect back the names and the functions of these powerful emotions, so that we can internalise them and make them safe.

But when our caregivers are emotionally less-literate, or downright neglectful, we internalise a false mirror image of ourselves, and emotions remain unlabelled, or mislabelled. Most importantly, we never learn to ‘feel our own way in life’ and continue to rely on others to tell us what’s going on.

And in despair, we might turn to a therapist to tell us what to do, and once again, we are in danger of having their idea of us projected onto our canvas. Probably a more loving and empowering idea of us than we’ve ever encountered before, but still, their image, and so a distorted image. A good enough therapist will tell you she has no idea who you are, no idea how to make you feel better about yourself, but happy to reflect back what she sees, as honestly and as accurately as possible.

You are your own best therapist, but it helps to have someone there with a reasonably sound mirror. Believing that ‘there is something wrong with me’ can then be seen as an expression of wanting to break free and deal with your own suffering your own way.

2 replies
    • Ritva says:

      being one’s own therapist is so true; reaching that one needs a good mirror; challenning but also so rewarding – chemistry is the key issue in every relationship; can only agree with Lysanne in this respect


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