Clients may come in to therapy with what seems like a situational problem, and find it uncovers something deeper. Here are examples of not infrequent patterns:
Having a baby
A woman gives birth and is anxious because she wants so badly to be a good mother, meet her infant’s needs, deal with her changed relationship to her husband. Sometimes her extended family freely gives opinions and voices desires. She might find herself confronted for the first time with having to deal with her perfectionism because there is no such thing as a perfect mother, or with her anger at not having learned to speak up for herself. This may become obvious when her ideas for taking care of her baby are different than her parents or in-laws. The older deeper issues may be confusing, may add sadness or depression, and take away from her ability to enjoy her baby.
A man whose wife or significant other complains that he is too controlling may uncover how vulnerable, or even inadequate, he feels when he can’t fix everything, and make everything right, including other people’s feelings such as hurt or sadness. Rather than continually avoiding or covering up such vulnerability, dealing with it can promote a more solid self confidence, and less fractious relationships. It’s not uncommon for the controlling and angry parts of a person to show up in intimate relationships while on the outside most people only see a “nice” guy.
Being a nice guy
We often speak of women as pleasers, and men as aggressive yet many men develop a pattern of being nice, wanting to avoid emotional confrontation, and the only person they say no to is the person they’re in an intimate relationship with because that is usually where underlying feelings surface. Nice guys often push aside their own needs and then feel resentful. In treatment, nice guys can often change this pattern and be more sure of their own worth even if not everyone else likes or “approves” of them.
Being self critical
A successful man or woman who gets accolades from the world may be extremely self critical. This may come to the fore when the person finds himself or herself experiencing a degree of anxiety or depression that makes it difficult to function. The underlying pattern may be having learned to turn uncomfortable feelings into judgements.
Parents may be concerned about their child’s anxiety or unhappiness. They do everything to avoid unpleasantness but see the child getting worse – more anxious, or avoidant. The parents may uncover their own discomfort with certain emotions, and their difficulty separating from their child.
People sometimes speak of repeatedly trying to make another person happy, a child, or partner, only to find themselves getting increasingly anxious about the other person’s self destructiveness, or negative behavior within the relationship. Unknowingly the caretaker may be responding to early life neglect or abuse and to the child-like idea that if only one is good enough, care taking enough, the other person will change. Sometimes this pattern is referred to as enabling particularly when the caretaker’s relationship is to some being self destructive through the use of drugs or alcohol.
The past surfaces in the present but it is always a person’s choice whether to deal with underlying issues and patterns. Sometimes just acknowledging them can help.