Most psychological difficulties are in three areas: Issues with your past, Poor relationship with yourself, and Poor relationship skills with others. Often my clients and I assess these three areas of personal development and psychological health together to decide where to start.
Most people have an unconscious that is like a huge cluttered back room. This is where we throw all the stuff we do not know what else to do with. Some of it is new, some of it hasn’t been touched for decades. Buried at the bottom of the mess is the rule book we live by and a ledger of beliefs we have about ourselves and the world. Stacked on top like layers of sediment are all the events we have been unable or unwilling to organize. This may include traumatic memories as well as unaccepted or unprocessed emotions or thoughts. Many people have so much stuff in their back room that it effectively runs their lives.
One of the first steps in psychological healing is to clean up and organize this mess. We want to start with the freshest stuff nearest the door and slowly work our way down until we find the rule book. As we pick up and identify each piece of debris we want to put it where it belongs and retrieve any emotional aliveness that may be stuck to it. Gradually the room gets tidier. We put things in labeled boxes, drawers and filing cabinets. We no longer have to be afraid of the mess from our past spilling out into our current life.
Once we find the rule book and the belief ledger, we can shake the dust off and update things.
This gives us more control over our lives.
It is common in my business to work with a person who seems to have his or her life together and yet has a persistent low level anxiety from the mess in their back room. For individuals with more traumatic histories, the mess may spill out into their lives as unusual symptoms or as out of control behavior.
Poor relationship with ourselves:
The next general area is that of how you treat yourself. Most of us are aware of the “inner committee” nature of the mind that shows up when we have to make a difficult decision. The quandary brings to light the chorus of different voices and perspectives within each of us. Most people are not aware of these “subpersonalities” on a regular basis. And yet this is really the nature of the mind. Some of these subpersonalities are named in popular culture – so we speak of the “inner critic” or the “inner child”. The reality is that each of us have a myriad of different parts. Health in these terms is where 1) we admit this 2) we observe our different parts in action without getting too identified with one or another and 3) we cultivate an internal attitude of mutual respect and compassion. Having an internal committee which is feuding, snide or judgmental is a very painful way to live. Developing internal loving kindness and respect is a crucial part of a joyful life.
Poor relationship skills with others:
Lastly are our interpersonal relationships and the ability to create and sustain intimacy with others. A healthy person in the first two areas may still be dreadfully lonely if he or she has not developed these skills as well. Really satisfying relationships are built on communication skills. These are skills around boundaries, expressing emotion, conflict resolution, knowing how to love, listening, and others.
Unlike the first two areas that require a great deal of introspection and emotional processing, developing and honing these skills is refreshingly straightforward. As with any other skill, if you practice these intelligently, you will improve. Doing this requires that you make it a priority and then get a clear idea of how to proceed. Groups, classes, books and honest feedback from friends and family can be invaluable in this process.
We can all benefit from working in each of these three areas, but some people have glaring weaknesses in one area or another. How do you assess yourself in this regard? What would your friends say about you? The primary benefit of this sort of map is to help you determine where you are, and what area would be most rewarding to work on. To get the most bang for your effort, work in your weak areas – generally we have already played from our strengths.
Working on any of these areas is much more likely to lead to having a happy life than many of the other things we spend time on. If you want ideas on how to proceed, just let me know. If you are putting it off, what are you waiting for?
Each of us deserves a truly joyful life. Go for it!