Monthly files: October 2014
The reasons for which people consult a psychologist are as varied as the people themselves, but they all have one thing in common: the person who consults about her/his emotional problems cannot solve them on his/her own.
In all likelihood, this person will have tried several times to find a solution, be it by exercising strict self-discipline, be it through talking to people close to him/her, be it through reading self-help books; however, despite all these sincere efforts, unfortunately the problems continue.
This inability to resolve the difficulties on his/her own is due to the fact that they are of unconscious origin and they are therefore not available to the individual’s understanding. We all have an idea of who we are, but sometimes the gap between who we think we are and who we really are is so great that it produces incomprehensible symptoms.
When we know what the matter with us is it is relatively easy to take whatever measures may be necessary in order to change the situation. However, when we don’t know ––and we suffer from depression, anxiety or sexual difficulties, amongst others–– we become, in a way, victims of ourselves, without any control or capacity to modify what is making us suffer. An unknown part of us harries us like an invisible shadow from which we cannot escape. Nina Coltart, a fine British psychoanalyst with a penchant for literature, called it “the beast that lurches in the dark”.
It is true that we often have an idea, sometimes more precise, sometimes less so, of where these problems may come from but, if we cannot resolve them on our own, we can be sure that that we’re missing essential elements, fundamentally emotional, that would give real and felt meaning to the suffering. The goal of a psychoanalytically oriented psychological treatment it to shed light on the unknown, make it tangible and thus modifiable.
What is psychological trauma?
Psychological trauma is the result of a painful excess of emotional intensity that shatters the mental functioning of an adult, or that severely distorts the development of a child’s mental functioning.
The most common psychological traumata are generally due to: a) a rupture in the basic feeling of safety; b) a lack of necessary human interaction; c) being the object of excessive or inadequate manifestations of aggressiveness / sexuality.
Though we usually associate the word trauma to something massive and obvious, it is important to note that it can equally result from something small and accumulative.
In the same way that the physiological tissues of the body can handle a certain force of impact without deteriorating beyond their capacity to recover, the mental tissue can withstand a certain quantity of emotional impact without being damaged beyond its capacity to heal. However, beyond a certain threshold, the impact is too strong, and it negatively modifies the physiological and mental tissues permanently.
From this moment onwards, if treatment is not applied, the damage will tend to become chronic and will compromise the rest of the person’s functioning. In the same way that a broken leg, that has not been adequately treated, will seriously limit the individual’s movement ––as well as causing muscular unbalances, and hip and spine misalignments––, untreated psychological trauma will leave the person “limping” emotionally, as well as creating a whole series of compensatory behaviours that will paradoxically worsen the original state.
How does psychological trauma affect us?
Without going into great depths that would be out of place here, we can understand the mind as a processor of stimuli (internal and external) that uses them to maintain itself and to evolve. This processor also needs to discharge the stimuli that exceed its capacity to use them for growth, and this discharging is frequently associated with pleasure (e.g. creative and physical activity, sexuality, etc.) At a neuronal level, every stimulus creates activation in the neurons that has to be processed, absorbed or discharged one way or the other.