We live in a world of quick “fixes”. Unfortunately, when it comes to dealing with who you are in the world, real change is usually quite gradual. That is not to say that we don’t have epiphanies, realizations, surprising moments in the process of change: the clock ticks after all, but movement (when we notice real difference in the hour hand) can seem slow.
Part of the reason for this, other than the fact that we are human, is that changing in the ways we would like involves challenging things that have been ingrained over many years. In therapy, we talk sometimes about growing up in family environments. This is the smallest unit of culture, but culture also spans neighbourhoods, ethnicities, and the aeons of time. Culture from the external world becomes internal too as the clock ticks onward.
There is a risk that our historical culture has not prepared us in a constructive, meaningful way for what life now demands of us. Indeed, quite the opposite might be true. Things may have been incubated for many years that now, thrust into the world, do not serve us well at all.
The individual causes and cases of anxiety and panic are very important: it is on the individual level that we can effect change, but there are commonalities of anxiety too. Perhaps more than anything, anxiety involves a sense of troubling disharmony within ourselves, usually in response to an external stimulus or internal thought or sensation.
Rather than feeling a grounded, calm, unified sense of self in these instances, before we even know it, we feel scattered, disjointed and fearful. We are no longer at ease or confident. Anxious feelings are often so uncomfortable for us that we try our best to push them aside internally, or we try to escape the stimulus itself. Neither strategy works well long term, and neither does the worrying that can occur when we are caught in anxiety’s spiral.
In therapy, we are able to do something different. We are able to work in a variety of ways, toward a sense of unity or Self. Overwhelming feelings do just that: they overwhelm the psyche. Therapy involves a working towards incorporation of difficult emotion rather than that emotion’s denial, repression, avoidance or troubling domination of us. When we are able to explore our internal worlds in a safe way, the ability to incorporate emotion and feel unified becomes possible. This may involve coming to terms with something that is (at present) simply beyond the psyche’s ability to keep contained, thereby calming that part of you, or it may involve an expansion of the abilities of the psyche – a greater elasticity if you will, meaning that certain thoughts or feelings can over time pose less of a threat. A greater confidence and unity of self can result.
We are, on the whole, not educated about how to deal with our emotional worlds. Dealing with anxiety, panic or other overwhelming emotion is not on the syllabus of your average high school. However, the rootedness of being; solid foundations; a grounded sense of self…these are the heart of a positive everyday experience of the world in which we move. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It needed time and skilled builders.
In therapy we can learn a different way of being. We can learn different ways of dealing with ourselves, and dealing with difficult situations. Over time, we are able to change patterns, and move from stasis toward growth and new momentum. As we come to know this process and ourselves better, we form new patterns and learn tools that can help us beyond therapy, and for a lifetime.
Therapy therefore isn’t a quick fix. It is a deepening, a broadening, a settling, an incorporating and an accepting. Therapy is not just about being able to do things that we currently find difficult; it is also about being itself, and being able to be in a rooted sense, as we move through life and time.