This blog post is inspired by the great Dr. Gabor Mate. A physician and Psychotherapist who was based in East Hastings, Vancouver in British Columbia in Canada. Dr. Mate’s role was to treat those with chronic addiction – individuals that we can identify on the streets of any international city, including Dublin.  As a medical doctor, Dr. Mate would attend to his patients from a purely medical model, prescribing medications, dressing sores and wounds, referring to a multidisciplinary team. All physical needs of his patients. What he noticed however as he continued to work with his patients, was that there was a common thread and theme in this community of people. As he worked with them in his clinic he began to listen to them, and their stories. What he discovered was that most of them came from broken homes, had experienced childhood traumatic events, were abused or simply not cared for. He began to shift his persective of addiction, from a “disease” and medical model view to a more compassionate perspective as a human coping mechanism. Addiction for him was a response to pain, to trauma, to depair. He reframed his treatment of this affliction, by no longer asking the question – “why the addiction” and in its place asking “why the pain”.

Early experience informs our current day presentation. What we learn or assimialte from the home environment from an early age forms our character strucuture that is further shaped and molded by life as we experience it. This is our frame of reference for how we understand our place in the world and determines our self-worth, our sense of security within ourselves and our ability to freely be ourselves. These are big ticket items, each of them houses vast complexity and nuance.  Our sense of ourselves needs to be nurtured by our significant care givers early on in life to begin forming healthy versions of each of these parts of our self. Sounds like an easy or concrete feat for a parent to aim towards – but that, it is not. Parents are human beings, and even if they have a doctorate in Psychology, they don’t transend their humanity. For a parent to get it all right, is an impossible task.  Each of us has the experience we have with our family and in life that brings us to where we are today. Care givers will do what they think is best, or moreover repeat what they experienced themselves – and this is integrated by us creating our sense of self. Emotional responses are connected to the early experience we had. Relationships, events and circumstances will trigger emotions that were indented in us early on in life. These can be difficult to get past, to understand, or to make the connection with from where they came. Working with a Psychotherapist really helps join the dots in around emotional responses. It also uncovers the genesis of certain beliefs we hold about ourselves. Often times these beliefs are veiled or confused by a superficial narrative, but underneath we are operating from a place of simple un-met needs or lack, pain or trauma.

In the extreme where such devastating pain has been experienced early on, like the people Dr. Mate treated in Canada the response is addiction. This is the presentation of excruciating trauma, unmet needs and pain and suffering. Unfortunately addiction and the behaviours then invites it’s own complex set of issues, and begins a negative compounding effect with relationship with self. Something if unaddressed for too long – can be immensly difficult to recover from.  However there is a way back for those who are supported and have an appetite for change.

We will all pick up painful experiences and traumas in life, we will not all respond by becoming an addict. These pieces though can create a lot of difficulty in our lives. Being overly affected by others, feeling invisible or ineffective, feelings of inferiority or inadequacy, being a passenger in other peoples plans, pleasing others to not upset the status quo, over extending ourselves and leaving no mental space or time for our own needs, never speaking our minds, avoiding conflicts, having an inner critic on over drive, having low expectations or being highly conditional with your self are just some of the more typical and less extreme presentations that can develop as a response to early experience. Just like an addiction, if left unaddressed these things have a habit of becoming entrenched and can feel like imovable objects. However, these objects are us. We are the source. Yes, life happened and is happening, and yes these responses seem automatic. This is due to the unconscious nature of how they were integrated. They can be unpacked, they can be challenged. You have an internal locus of control over the story of you.

Psychotherapy is about moving towards these parts of yourself, to allow for the emotion attached to it to stir and for you to understand that you are more than your early experience, and that you can move and shift to new places, with new beliefs and a healthier more compassionate relationship with yourself. With the help of a skilled practitioner and with courageous curiosity you can look into these parts of yourself and understand yourself better – move on, reinvent, shed the difficluty, bare the pain.

If any of this article resonates with you, and you are intersted in connecting with one of our excellent Psychotherapists – contact us today

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