No topic is more interesting to people than people. For most people, moreover, the most interesting is the Self—Roy F. Baumeister
An experience of therapy is akin to that of waking the dead. We have known of narratives where in, scientists have experimented by inducing death like state in humans or there are people who were supposed to claim to have been dead yet wake up quite suddenly. As though a jerky systemic motion spins a series of life processes that had been stalled in the body for a while!
Therapy can also be likened to this swift force.
When the client enters psychotherapy, s/he is more often than not trudging in the therapy space as a result of an experience that has caused psychological death i.e. deep pain and anguish to certain fragments of his/her being which makes his/her everyday living an abated phenomenon. A sense of apathy grows towards friends and family, hence the desperation to kill oneself quite literally via suicide or expending the last vestiges of power on seeking professional help is initiated. The nature of an individual’s choice at his/her darkest hour is what necessarily differentiates therapy from the waking dead!
Traditionally therapy has been viewed by the lens of illness and despair. But in my experience of the contemporary times, I conceptualize therapy, evolving as the fifth space1. It is the ‘me’ space which is lacking in our everyday lives. The Self that is experiencing perennial psychological death pushes outwardly for professional help to say a clinical psychologist, hypnotherapist, counselor etc. thus signifying a comeback to the atman or the untainted psychic being. As a gardener lovingly embraces the weeds with the flowers, so does the Self in us assembles the unstable yet fluid, incoherent still congruent parts of our being that have spilled on the surface of our everyday living.
Consider the following example about Ria, an everyday woman living in Delhi. To an outsider, she seemed chirpy, pleasantly happy and well-adjusted person. But her scars of pain and agony; rejection and negation, hope and disappointments; were hidden in the private struggles of her inner world. Ria, a 27 year old professional was experiencing a challenging life. She had, had steady years of education; a whole knit family with occasional disputes that she considered normal, a four year long relationship that she hoped would blossom into a lifelong commitment and a supporting group of friends. Even though she considered her life as easygoing and ordinary yet challenges had began to enter her life space primarily because of marriage concerns at home and a marred career growth. Moreover, her relationship with her boyfriend was also experiencing valleys and troughs quite frequently. Her desperate attempts to salvage her relationship seemed to backfire often, leaving her inner self suffocated, hurt and confused. This was further followed by distressing effects of past experiences of broken trust and betrayal that led to changes in her preferences, social interests, and relationships. Amidst all of this, she described herself as a woman ardently marching towards her dreams of success and happiness every day.
But suddenly one day, Ria cracked and fell. The smiling, happy, talkative Ria turned quiet, withdrawn and stoic. She could sense that she was feeling happiness but she could not connect with it for more than a few seconds. She could feel the urge to scream but instead tears seemed to roll down easily. Unconscious suppression of her own feelings over the years and chastising them under the aura of striving to be a good person; her family’s jolly nature or joking jibes of her friends and/or boyfriend, Ria had quite literally lost her own Self or rather the Self had experienced its psychological death.
What happened next was something that probably Ria never imagined. In the cosmopolitan city of Delhi she realized she had no one to talk to, not because she did not have friends and family but because she wondered to herself as to how would they understand her state of voicelesness when she had no sounds to fill the void. Who would understand her tears when all she would hear around her was sabki life main problems hoti hai (everyone has troubles in their lives).
She knew that she didn’t disregard sabki problems (troubles in everyone’s life) but she could not, no matter how hard she tried, was unable to placate her own problems as trivial. After persistently trying for months through talking with friends, seeking spiritual guidance and even trying her hands on self-help book, she realized that she could hardly feel sane in the insane world around her. Finally, she determined that she could not hole up stuff in her own self.
And this is when her journey towards Self began. Knowing that she had people who loved her but could not help her garner meaning of the existential crises she was experiencing, she adopted her second last resort and sought professional help. But help does not come easy yet it comes to those who are willing to help themselves.
After doubtful days and cynical stares at her own Self she finally met a therapist and lo and behold she cried. She cried and cried and cried until she could not stop crying and she spoke briefly. She couldn’t understand why the tears welled up so easily, why they seemed to flow profusely and that too specifically in her therapy sessions and then one day, nearly after six months of being in therapy she realized that she was mourning. The pristine space of therapy inwardly bought her close to experiences she once dismissed as meaningless yet they were locked in her heart’s treasure. The ever available presence of the therapist and her own commitment to her psychological wellness enabled her to comprehend what the rational mind could not fathom. Her tears were not a sign of her weakness rather her tears personified her mourning. She was mourning the psychological death that her being had experienced so subtly and unconsciously that word could only vitiate yet her body-mind and soul constantly felt it. And when Ria discovered this, she began her journey afresh, voyage to rediscover her Self.
Therapy was her “me” space. She began to understand her courage and desire towards creating her own “me” space. Therapy blossomed as a relationship that did have its own trials and tribulations but she was already beginning to savor it. Ria understood that she is the protagonist of her story and very often the baton that she handed over to family, friends or others was finally returning to herself and she began to hear her own Voice, hear the depth of her own needs, acknowledge the purity of her own beliefs and most importantly, appreciate this new space she created with her therapist for her own care and wellness.
Her therapist had now become a partner in her journey that she could refer to, seek assistance and help from but journey was her own. She realized that therapy is not a crutch to temporarily balance oneself but is rather an antidote for the self by the Self. Even though she had forgotten a lot of what had happened in her past, something profound had been engraved in her heart and the space of therapy enabled her to connect with the missed, misunderstood as well as her own messed up feelings and emotions.
As an art lover ardently maintains his art, Ria also started to nurture herself both inside and outside therapy space—she acknowledged, accepted and attended to her feelings of love, envy, forgiveness, anger, joy and gratitude. She did things that she liked which were as ordinary as having a chai and samosa from the road side chai wallah or for that matter putting a raucous nails paint. These simple gestures gave her the most profound sense of freedom because she realized that in life’s complexities, one often ignores the simple luxuries. And the Self that is physically present needs an inner restitute too, maybe in therapy, maybe in prayers.
1Fifth Space: The phrase is derived from the term five-dimensional space. The fifth dimension is a hypothetical extra dimension beyond the usual three spatial dimensions and one time dimension of Relativity.
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