By Pulkit Sharma
A clinical psychologist shares how the process of healing others can make one confront, exorcise and integrate one’s own inner demons
I am a clinical psychologist and psychoanalytical therapist. I’m often asked how I deal with the stress of my job which involves psychotherapeutic work with emotionally conflicted and disturbed individuals. I have worked and continue to work with people who harm themselves physically or psychologically, those with a history of trauma and abuse. I deal with individuals who have been unable to establish any long-term relationship and those who have lost all hope in life. Despite such a clientele, I look forward to each day with excitement and wonder, not just because I have a need to help these people but also because in the process of helping them I have got interesting insights into my own self.
I began my journey after earning a degree in clinical psychology. I started training in psychoanalytical therapy, which makes it mandatory for the therapist to undergo therapy themselves. It was the first time that I began to acknowledge that there may be a thin dividing line between the therapist and the client. After all, we have all had personal experiences that made us sad or angry or even mad. Over time, some of us learn to handle our pain or throw it out of our system. Others struggle with it. While I worked with my clients, their struggle brought me in touch with parts of myself that were lost in the process of dealing with my own pain. As I shared the pain of these individuals and helped them recover, I began experiencing changes within my own self.
This process started six years ago when I was working with Rahul (name changed), a 17-year-old adolescent who had a traumatic childhood due to an abusive father and a self-absorbed mother. Both of them treated him as an object of their whims and fancies – he never had a space where he could feel free to be himself.
|As I shared the pain of these individuals and helped them recover, I began experiencing changes within my own self.|
In the process, he developed a broken personality. In every relationship he attempted to figure out what the other person liked and strove to live up to their expectations out of fear of abandonment and his need to be loved. He told me that he had no inner sense of who he was. His self changed dramatically from one relationship to another. However, despite suffering intense pain he had never cried. In fact, he often had a smile on his face while narrating these experiences.
Once, I gently brought this up in our session and asked him why he smiled while recalling such traumatic memories. There was a long silence, and then he broke down. It appeared that he had made a shift which enabled him to feel his pain and even share it with me. However, his tears left me feeling very uncomfortable and helpless. I did not know how to deal with them. My attempts to be of support lacked genuine warmth and empathy. I felt that I could not respond to the intensity of his emotions. There was an immense fear of being washed away by his tears, a wish to terminate the session and avoid seeing him again. After the session I thought about my discomfort with Rahul’s pain and had a sudden realisation.
I realised that I was denying my own pain. While interacting with Rahul, my own sadness, rage, powerlessness and vulnerability due to some adverse life experiences, which had been denied all along, threatened to resurface in my awareness. Somewhere, I could identify with him very closely. In him, I could see a distant past I had yet to deal with, and a distant future I feared. Eventually, though the experience had been very unsettling, it made me feel alive from within, as if a lost part had come back and made me whole.
Over these six years I have developed the capacity to feel and share the pain of my clients. I remember once working with a person who had painful rejection experiences which made her hate her own self. She broke down into tears and my eyes also filled with tears. Frightened, she asked me – “Is it fine?” I smiled and said, “Your pain is so intense it made me cry, and it is absolutely fine to feel the pain.’ She smiled back and said it was a huge relief to have someone who understood how she felt.
I felt deeply relaxed; we had conquered our inner critical voices which forbade us from experiencing pain. At the same time, I became increasingly in touch with my pain. I could feel it, be with it and let go of the fear that it would devastate me.
Experiencing the pain allowed me to mourn various losses. I felt a unique harmony within myself. The unpleasant awareness that I was constantly fighting something ended. My relationships with others became deeper as I could understand and feel their pain. Therefore, as we understand and receive the subjective world of another human being, even if it is a broken one, there can be deep transformations within.
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