by Ronan M. Kisch, Ph.D.
People often find themselves stuck in emotional states where they feel unhappy, anxious or depressed. They know what they feel but they are unaware of their own behavioral patterns that keep them immobilized there. Over and over they focus on their frustrations; they wish things were different. They wait for the bad feeling to go away. The more they focus on their frustrations, however, the more they find themselves stuck. They ask themselves, “What in the world is going wrong? Why won’t it change?” They continually repeat the same behaviors with the same results. For me, I ask, “Who’ calling the shots?”
Too often the answer is the neurology and hormonal chemistry of a child or adolescent who did not get recognition, confirmation, or encouragement. This youngster did not have a parent or guardian who knew how to provide a healthy role model of how to handle difficult, compromising situations. These youths saw inappropriate models or none at all. They did not necessarily feel safe or protected. As a result, they developed coping mechanisms that were the best they could manage for their age, knowledge, and resources. Often these coping mechanisms were the same as those of the parent with whom they used to identify —their dominant role model. These patterns are evolved or are created during developmental times when intellectual ability is not fully developed, when knowledge of situations is limited, when freedom of choice is restricted, and when alternatives are not available. These coping mechanisms then generalized to other situations; as time went by, when challenging, threatening, or hurtful events presented themselves, these environmental stimuli triggered the learned psychophysical protective coping mechanisms from deep in the unconscious mind. Those somatic-emotional patterns habitually, and quite automatically, jumped out and took charge. Their familiarity overrode any conscious awareness of either their happening or their origin. One might even have an intellectual sense of this pattern but the pressure is on and when push comes to shove the patterns are reenacted without the ability to control them. Let me share some examples with you.
FOUR CASE HISTORIES
Rose is a twenty-three-year-old college graduate. She is now involved in an internship and is concerned with getting into the graduate school of her choice. Rose also reports having “suffered” from an eating disorder. She is currently not having menstrual periods, suggesting she still suffers from an eating disorder. Rose explained that she was a well-accepted student in junior high school. When she went to high school things changed. Three separate junior high schools merged into one high school. The peer group configurations changed. The new “in” group was comprised of thin girls. She was starting to develop and did not feel acceptable to the new “in” group. So she created a strategy to fit in. Rose began to starve herself. Before long she became dehydrated forcing her to be hospitalized. While she was treated for dehydration, she was not treated for her eating disorder.
Clearly, neither the regimen that Rose began at age fifteen, nor the self-doubt she had then, have been abandoned in her early twenties despite being a college graduate contemplating graduate school. She is a bright young woman, but intelligence has nothing to do with her eating disorder and self-esteem. Rose has taken the GRE exams twice. As hard and as much as she studied, the second time she was unable to raise her scores. She perpetually demeans herself over decreasing her chances of getting into the graduate school of her choice by not improving her test scores.
Roger is a 68-year-old business consultant. He came to therapy reporting that he was unable to laugh, especially at himself. His psychosocial history revealed that Roger came from a working-class neighborhood. His father was a miner. Roger was one of the brightest students in school. This singled him out and made him a target for class bullies. His parents did not perceive, recognize, or celebrate his talents and intelligence. They did not compliment him or reinforce his inherent brightness and academic achievements. As a result, Roger did not recognize or appreciate his own traits. Indeed, his attributes became a detriment to him in his peer group. He is insightful, verbal, and has an impressive business acumen. Roger, the only one in his family to go to college and then receive a master’s degree, is professionally successful and the father of three. He has many innovative ideas. He begins projects that he has devised. Unfortunately, another presenting problem is that he complains he does not follow through on his projects.
Grace is a 69-year-old retired stock broker. She is high energy and sociable. She is the daughter of an alcoholic father who was physically abusive to her mother. Grace provided the following information that came to mind as Christmas was approaching. She reported a memory of Christmas when she was 11 years old. Her father got drunk and beat up her mother. When her mother was walking down the steps of their home to help the children open their Christmas presents, her mother was wearing sun glasses to hide her blackened eyes. She was also bent over because she had broken ribs. Alcoholism is not only destructive to the alcoholic but inflicts trauma on the entire family. Alcoholics not only suffer from their chemical and emotional dependency on alcohol, but they also suffer from denial. They are unable to recognize or admit they have a problem with drinking and they lack problem-solving skills in many other areas. As a result, their entire family suffers. Grace works out regularly and routinely receives massages. She is presently in a supportive, nurturing relationship. Nevertheless, she constantly has pain in her hips and shoulders. If one could feel her perpetual physical holding patterns, they would understand why she has pain.
Ken is a 32-year-old African American from Harlem, and the single father of an eight-year-old son. The son’s mother was shot in the street. Ken felt that his mother did not love him; she perpetually spanked him. His father was on drugs and was not in the home. When his father was present, he spanked Ken, too. Ken clearly does not want to replicate his father’s role model with his son. Ken was on the high school basketball team. He worked out and practiced rigorously. But the coach, who somehow knew Ken’s father, never allowed Ken to play in games. This perpetually left Ken with self-doubt and feeling depreciated. Further, he felt unworthy of the girls to whom he was attracted.
Ken presently works as a supervisor in a grocery store and is attending the local community college with the expectation of going on to a four-year college. He is still an athlete and avid basketball player. In his spare time he coaches basketball for young boys. He wants them to have the opportunity that he never had. Ken continually compares himself to Ivy League college graduates and berates himself for not having a college degree and earning more money. Ken is constantly attracted to women but does not pursue them because he does not have a college degree, nor does he make enough money. He is a spiritual and a bright man. He clearly is capable of and utilizes abstract reasoning. He has a remarkable business acumen. But he is perpetually depressed over focusing on what he has not achieved or accomplished.
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Ronan M. Kisch, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Dayton, Ohio. He is a Trager© practitioner, a Certified NeuroEmotional Technique Practitioner and holds an advanced certificate from the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute in Somatic Psychology. He is the author of two books and a contributor to Somatic Psychotherapy Today. He believes the psyche is not merely in the left brain. To unlock and transcend psychological trauma one needs to address body, mind, and spirit. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
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