The Power of Psychic Pain – 3rd in a Series of 3 Articles – “The Irony is This – If You Don’t Go In, You Can’t Find Out”

 

Some time ago I was struck by a piece of artwork hanging in the bathroom of a friend. The piece is by Richard Stine, and it says: “The irony is this – If You Don’t Go In, You Can’t Find Out…”

I was moved by the phrase. Instead of it saying, “…you can’t ‘get out’, as I expected, it says, …you can’t ‘find out’. How clever I thought! To me this sounded like being “just” out of reach of the essence of who we are, never wishing to find out what the origin of our psychic pain is. Staying just out of reach of that pain guarantees protection from the pain, while at the same time assures that if we never get to it, we never get through it.

This idea brings to mind my own perception of the depressive syndrome. We’ve often heard that depression is “anger turned inward”; that is, we get angry at ourselves instead of at the true object of our annoyance, irritation, anger, or rage. Perhaps it’s easier to turn it inward, fearing that we might lose the object of our affection if we express that rage toward him/her. And so, the anger gets turned inward, on the object of ourselves, whom we may view as more easily dispensable.

But I think it’s deeper than that. I think depression starts much earlier in life. It sometimes can start with a loss; a loss of a tiny green turtle who disappears into the green grass, never to be seen again; or the loss of a canary, who is quickly replaced by another pet. Sometimes a well-intentioned parent replaces the lost pet to prevent the child from having to feel the loss as in “It’s ok, darling, we’ll get another turtle, puppy, goldfish”.

Sadly, the well-meaning parent does the child no favor. Instead, whatever sadness the child might have naturally felt from this first loss gets suppressed, pushed out of consciousness and forgotten (and repressed, which means that we forget that we forgot). But the unconscious does not forget. And so the sadness takes us to a deeper level of discomfort that sits there, only to be triggered during the next loss, which is inevitable. And the next loss compounds the first one, storing more uncomfortable feelings that are left ungrieved. Over time, what originally came from the outside, from the environment, namely loss, a natural phenomenon, becomes “stuck” on the inside, only to be aggravated time after time through life.

Had the child been encouraged to feel his/her sadness, mourn the loss of his/her beloved pet, then the grieving process could have/would have developed over time, allowing this young person to grow into adulthood with an open heart, more able to process and move through whatever came his/her way. If he/she had been allowed to “go in”,  she or he could have “found out” where the feelings came from and how to integrate these feelings into their internal process.

The Irony is This - If You Don't Go In, You Can't Find Out

The Irony Is This - If You Don't go in You Can't Find Out

I’m talking about The Power of Psychic Pain. Pain in the psyche (the heart, the emotions) is inevitable in life. It comes with disappointment, boundaries, disillusionment, rejection, and loss. The power of it is that if we go into it, allow it, embrace it, even in its profound discomfort, there is growth and the building of emotional skills to process the anxiety that accompanies each and every painful experience. Being in and with the pain is the vehicle that carries us to the other side of it.

I often think of the “Peanuts” cartoon by Charles Schultz. There is a loveable character named Pig Pen. What characterizes this fellow is that he is constantly followed around by a balloon of dirt. No matter where he goes, he can never get rid of that dirt bubble. I think that depression is like that. If we don’t go into it, allow it to be, and become it, we can’t find out what it means, where it came from, or how to let it go. It just follows us like the cloud of dirt following Pig Pen. I recall a profoundly effective psychotherapist/psychoanalyst named Fritz Perls, the founder of Esalen, a growth center in northern California in the 1960’s. He believed that if we embraced experience to the fullest, in fact, maximized the feelings, increasing them intensely until they collapsed around and inside of us, we could process them and move through them.

In these 3 articles, I am addressing some of the basic principles of the work I have loved doing since 1975. It is to accompany others to and through the psychic pain that is keeping them stuck so that they can come upon a new experience of life. The process can be powerful.

 

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Mim Collins Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy serves the San Fernando Valley Communities of Valley Village, Studio City, North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, Burbank, Pasadena, Encino, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Sun Valley, Panorama City, Tarzana, and Lake Balboa.

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Mim Collins, Psy.D., M.F.T.
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