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I am seen, therefore I am.

Depression,Psychotherapy — admin @ 4:47 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we’ve been getting philosophical. It began with a discussion about how to respond to a question we are often asked about ways in which events from infancy and childhood influence our adult personalities and our emotional lives. We would take it as a given that they do but sometimes the ways this might work are not so obvious and from time to time people ask us about it when considering whether and how psychotherapy or counselling might be of benefit to them. The question is quite a fundamental one and touches on the concept of what makes us who we are.
The philosopher Descartes famously wrote ‘I think, therefore I am’ when addressing fundamental questions of human existence. We propose a variation of his remark when we say ‘I am seen, therefore I am’ and we’ll try to explain that a little further in answer to the question as to how something that we experienced as a baby informs our adult life. We draw largely on the work of D.W.Winnicott in forming our opinion and in working out the effects of our early relationships with our mother and other carers.
Take, for example a baby who is lifted from their cot and held by a caring adult. If this baby looks up into the adult’s face and is met by a smile this will have a positive influence on how the baby feels. In a fundamental kind of way the baby feels good that they are met with smiles, eye contact and attention. In fact, the baby seeks this out as being an essential element in their very survival. The baby is completely dependent and relies on the adult world for feeding and for care. These feelings of being experienced in a positive way by caring adults are reinforced by being repeated over and over again. The baby will not tire of this.
This is not always the way it works though and sometimes the experience of the baby is not a positive one. There are many ways in which a different experience for the baby may reinforce things in a negative way. Firstly, the baby may be left to cry in their cot for some time before being picked up and held. These delays are experienced as being unbearably distressing for the baby. Secondly, the baby might be picked up all right but handled and held impatiently; their hunger or cries being regarded as a nuisance or imposition. Another possibility is that the adult feeds the baby all right but fails to maintain eye contact or engage with the baby in any way. All these things, when repeated over and over again will have a negative effect on the baby and their sense of security and trust in the world around them.
A key thing in this regard seems to be a level of consistency in the care that the baby receives. Generally speaking if the care can be regarded as ‘good enough’ things will work out satisfactorily. The important thing here is that the experiences that influence these things are repeated and if they are not good the baby will develop anxieties which will endure and resurface through life. These can be experienced in adulthood as a kind of anxiety; of not feeling safe; not being listened to or heard or of not being understood. They present in our relationships at home or in work and may result in feelings of isolation or even depression. It is hoped that the experience of being listened to and understood in a therapeutic setting can help to recover a sense of self. To be seen; to be listened to by another human being can set in motion a repair of something very fundamental inside us which addresses the very fact of our existence and experience as a human person.
Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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