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Occasional Thoughts on Psychotherapy

Blog | Dr. Jamey Hecht | Beverly Hills, CA
 
Survival vs. Growth

Surviving is a lot easier if you have a reason to survive. But even if you have no reason at the moment, it is still your job to survive while you search for one. It is your job to become a happier man or woman, more and more capable of loving self-acceptance. You must grow, because that is what human beings are here to do. You do not have to become perfect. Even if you never accomplish anything—and you will accomplish plenty—you are worthy of love just as you are right now. Even if only a tiny part of you realizes that, you can make it. You don’t need a reason to love yourself.  You don’t need an excuse to love yourself. You don’t need permission to love yourself. You don’t need to meet criteria to love yourself. It isn't achieved by striving, because it is the necessary baseline above which all striving occurs. It's achieved by letting go: you are already a living organism on this planet; therefore, loving-self-acceptance is already within you somewhere. Shift it into the center.

Does loving yourself feel selfish? How about breathing? Does breathing feel selfish, too? A good cliché can help here. Recall the old saw about the oxygen mask on the plane: you have to put on your own mask first, so you don’t pass out while trying to get your kid’s mask onto his little face. As with breathing, so with love: you first, so you have the strength to help others next.

Daring to Grow

There is an adult part of you that wants to grow. There is a child part of you that just wants to survive. Addiction is a survival strategy. It allows the terrified child part of self to replace unbearable states of mind with new states that are euphoric near the beginning of drug use, and merely numb when the addiction has really taken hold and tolerance has increased. Because of trauma, the child part of self remains frightened, helpless, and in chronic emotional pain. It has very little experience of being consistently loved, and it is struggling to remain unaware that the parents it depended on were not good-enough parents. Maybe they were good people, but they were not good-enough parents—otherwise there would be no trauma, and therefore no addiction necessary to cope with it.

The reason why growth into genuine adulthood is so utterly scary for the child part of self, is that growing up requires admitting two things: first, the parents of your childhood were not good-enough to meet your needs, and second, your childhood is over, so the good-enough childhood is never going to happen, after all. Relentless hope for a better childhood is the reason some people won’t grow up. On the other hand, this relentless hope is mixed with despair, because they’ve been waiting so long, and striving so hard, without the good stuff ever coming along. Unhappy kids strive to excel, since that might please their parents enough to turn them into reliable, encouraging, affectionate, safe parents. Unhappy kids strive to rebel, since that might rouse their parents’ interest in them. Unhappy kids strive to be self-destructive, since that might elicit their parents’ loving care. Unhappy kids strive to be good-enough parents to their own parents, since that might teach their parents how to do it. Unhappy kids will try damn near anything they can think of as they strive to get what they need from the people who are responsible for their very existence. When little or none of it works, the result is despair. But because the despair is still mixed with unrealistic and relentless hope, they cannot avail themselves of the one good thing that despair has to offer: release from the exhausting misery of relentless hope.