I am posing this question today because I have known more people throughout my life who have gained insight into their family of origin and understood how their family impacted negatively upon their development, but then used their insight merely to play the blame game.

They rationalize why they behave as they do, make excuses for the decisions they make, stating who and what experiences cause them to behave as they do. They might call what they have INSIGHT, but never taking the next step to change their behaviors or their decision-making patterns has left them, in my opinion, emotionally impoverished.

Insight alone has fooled them into believing that they know themselves, when, in fact, what they know is what may have happened to them and how they believe they were affected.

What they’ve missed is that we know ourselves not by what we think or believe (as lofty as our thoughts may be) but by how we behave and how our actions affect us and others. The decisions we make, the ways we opt to communicate (or not) define who we are. Our thoughts and beliefs do not define us unless they are reflected in the choices we make and the life-style we live.

For those who are satisfied with having insight but choose not go beyond that, I view what they are doing as being similar to receiving a gift, a gift that is kept wrapped and un-opened, the real treasure remaining inside, un-explored, un-used, and essentially unappreciated.

To offer a mini-historical perspective: During the early years of “talk therapy” (when psychoanalysis was the rage), the goal was to have patients free-associate – retrieving memories from their earliest years – in order to better understand the events that shaped their lives. It was the road that supposedly led them to acknowledge the relationship(s) they had, revealing family traumas that affected them in ways that limited their choices to destructive ones and predetermined the course of their lives based on the emotional injuries suffered.

However, to my way of thinking, there was much that was missing from that formula. Specifically, it failed to take into account that we’re all wired differently and many people experiencing the same disadvantages – even terrifying ones – have different degrees of resiliency available to them.

Each of us is born genetically pre-disposed to a variety of illnesses both mental and physical. Whichever ones we live to experience have as many variables as do the illnesses themselves … and without belaboring the pros and cons of psychotherapeutic treatment modalities, I still believe that those people who talk about how their families impacted their lives negatively and then convince themselves that their “understanding” suffices, making it unnecessary to take the steps that go beyond insight to those of change are ultimately “short-changing” themselves and not giving themselves the opportunity to grow into
different/better selves.

Although this blog will not be addressing the needs of patients who are psychotic or suffering from mental illnesses which require hospitalization, I am talking about the vast majority of people who are what many of us refer to as “garden variety neurotics,” myself included. We have our fears and anxieties, strengths and weaknesses, all of which color our daily lives but do not immobilize us.

In my experience – and throughout most of the literature – there is no disagreement about when people are most likely to seek treatment. It is when they are consciously aware of emotional pain directly related to the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, a failed marriage or relationship, and/or a physical diagnosis that has rendered them incapable of using their ordinary coping skills. In short, their emotional bank feels empty and that’s a feeling that at best is uncomfortable and more commonly has become intolerable. That’s usually what they are aware of on a conscious level once they’ve decided to seek professional help.

Unconsciously, they are not as likely to be aware of the fact that they’re stuck in patterns and behaviors that they have repeated time after time, year after year. Such patterns haven’t worked for them in the past and have seldom, if ever, served them well. How to help them change such patterns is probably a therapist’s greatest challenge.

The art of therapy comes into play when the therapist has the ability to be in tune with the patient and uses language that the patient feels comfortable with and can therefore best hear and absorb. Of paramount importance is the therapist’s ability to pace the patient’s readiness for change. Challenging anyone to change when he or she is not yet ready usually leads to frustration and loss of self-esteem.

The desired outcome then is to help the patient take responsibility for failed attempts to accomplish goals in the past and to recognize that old – albeit familiar – ways of behaving (surviving) need to be altered.

That is precisely why gaining insight is only the first step of many which are needed if one is to arrive at a new developmental destination.

Becoming un-stuck and being able to move forward gives anyone on such a journey new-found skills, strength, and the freedom to be his or her best person.

I hope you are on that journey and if you’re not yet walking that path, I trust that you will do so whenever you are ready!

Be assured that the rewards are many, the journey fulfilling, and the change well worth the effort. The pay off is most assuredly life-enhancing!

Go for it!

Warm regards ~ Linda

1 Comment

  • Pamposh Dhar says:

    You ask a very important question. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, they say. Understanding only the role other people have played in one's past often leads people to grow attached to their own sense of victimhood or gives them a reason to remain stuck in patterns of behaviour that are unhelpful to themselves.

    I wouldn't even call it insight. More like partial understanding. But one needs to understand more to actually move forward.

    However painful the past may have been, and whatever pain memories may continue to inflict, we do all live in the present. So at some stage we do need to start using the understanding of what happened in the past to making helpful choices in the present.

    Your point about pacing is very valid too. It's sad to see people simply stop therapy when it becomes too challenging, just at the point where it could lead to some real change.