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4 Concepts From Psychotherapy to Help You Understand Your Mind Better

 




Perhaps the greatest thing that has happened to humans in the last few decades has been the invention of psychotherapy. However, many of us have not been able to taste its benefits. Part of the reason is our own egoistic ignorance, where we think we know our minds. The other part of the reason is the taboo associated with asking for professional psychological help. Thankfully, that’s going away, albeit slowly.


Nonetheless, the concepts of psychotherapy have not yet reached a wide audience. A pity, considering how life-changing they can be. And of course, reading the concepts will never be a replacement for actually going through therapy.


However, in this article, I want to share 4 concepts from psychotherapy to help you understand your mind better and hopefully, to nudge you to become more open to undergoing therapy when you need it. Let’s dive in!


Rationalisation

‘Rationalisation’ is a defence mechanism where a person justifies his controversial behaviours, actions or feelings with certain invented logic or rationale to avoid true explanation. Here are a few examples —


• A person who really wanted a job, but fails at the interview says — “Worked out for the best. The job wasn’t right for me, anyway.”

• In response to an accusation: “At least I didn’t do [worse action than accused action]”

• A person who’s passed over for promotion says — “I’m glad to have avoided the added responsibilities.”


To put simply, it’s to invent ways to avoid responsibility for your own life. And like all defence mechanisms — in small and occasional doses — rationalisation may help protect our fragile egos. However, some of us may even be rationalising our way to failure and unhappiness. When we fail to achieve our desires, we may invent stupid excuses that convey what we didn’t want it in the first place.


If done chronically, it may result in us progressively chipping away at the responsibility for our own lives. We’d become much more efficient at swapping our harder desires for easier ones because rationalisation is much easier than actual hard work. And that will make ourselves miserable. So, try to recognize if you’re rationalising more than prescribed, and try to be true to your desires.


Adaptive Self and Original Self

This is a concept formulated by the psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott. According to him, each one of us has both an adaptive self and an original self. However, none of us started this way. We took birth only having an original self, and as we grow, our adaptive self grows with us. Original self is your true and authentic self. An adaptive self is the part of you that’s adjusted enough to align with society's needs.


Babies and young children don’t have an adaptive self. They cry and throw tantrums when they need to, even if it’s midnight or in the middle of a crowded theatre. They don’t have to worry about being authentic. They’re far more authentic than adults will ever be.


As the child grows, gradually and willingly, the child grows an adaptive self. That is what enables him to fit in at school and do things he’d rather not do. To be a functional member of society, it’s essential that we have a tamed self, which essentially means that we have the capacity to awaken our adaptive self whenever needed.


However, trouble arises when our adaptive self outgrows our original self because of our obsessive need to fit in and look good. That is a recipe for inauthenticity. In such cases, therapy aims to allow the patient to regress and be more childlike — saying what he wants without the fear of being unacceptable. The demand to be adaptive or our false self, which never goes away, becomes more bearable since therapy offers us a chance to be true every once in a while.


Put your own life under the microscope and try to figure out if your adaptive self has dwarfed your original self. After all, we all suffer from inauthenticity, just at varying degrees. If you believe you’re suffering from severe inauthenticity, try to regress and worry a little less about fitting in. Or, find an outlet — a friend who won’t judge, or of course, a therapist — to be more original and less adaptive.


Feeling Rather Than Thinking

Thinking is a solution to almost everything, except, quite interestingly, psychological problems. There’s a crucial difference between recognising and actually experiencing emotions. Think of it like this — when you see a close one suffering, you’re able to recognise and intellectualize their emotions, but not feel them. Only that person can feel those emotions in full intensity.


Oddly enough, sometimes, we split into two within ourselves. And we think about our emotions, rather than feel them. This is why if someone like Aristotle were to go to therapy, the therapist would be annoyed. A therapist’s job is to make you feel, and Aristotle’s high capacity to think would have interfered with the process.


Thinking or intellectualization acts as a defence mechanism, where we’d rather not prefer to feel because — let’s be honest — sometimes feelings suck. At it’s worst, it can take extreme forms. For instance, — a patient diagnosed with cancer becomes interested and inquires about the pathogenesis (how a disease happens) of cancer itself like a medical student would.


Like all defence mechanisms, intellectualization can help us avoid a certain degree of pain. However, as therapists suggest, we sometimes need to dumb down, stop being clever, and feel the damn feeling. That’s how we get over our psychological troubles.


Super-ego

‘Super-ego’ is the English translation of the German word Über-Ich, a term coined by Sigmund Freud. By Über-Ich (Over-I), Freud wanted to point to a certain aspect of our mind that sits over our day-to-day consciousness, judges our behaviour and guards social norms and morality.


But where does the Over-I come from, since, by definition, it’s not ‘I’? According to Freud, Over-I is the internalisation of the actual people we have encountered in our lives — mostly parents and especially, father.


The super-ego has two parts — a conscious and an ego-ideal. The conscious is the familiar metaphor of the angel, and the devil on both of our shoulders, and the ego ideal is an idealised view of oneself. In our mind, there’s a constant comparison between our real decisions and decisions our ideal self would make.


If our super-ego is tamable, it’s not that much of a problem. But some of us have overly critical and ideal super-egos, perhaps because our parents may have been that way. Our overly critical super-egos don’t expect us to be human; they expect us to be perfect. This can create a powerful judgement loop within our own minds and chip away at our emotional well-being.


The goal of therapy here is to re-educate and tame our super-ego. It’s to replace the harsh and critical voice inside our heads with a more loving yet inspiring voice that can help us live life the way it should be. Which is why we should all try to contemplate and recognise the presence of our own super-egos. And if it’s an overly ideal voice aimed at gods and not humans, we must strive to make our super-ego more gentle and inspiring.


Final words

Our minds are puzzles that we’ll never be able to solve completely. Nonetheless, we have come a long way in trying to make sense of it. Here’s a recap of the 4 concepts to help you understand your mind better.

• ‘Rationalisation’ is when we invent logic and rationale to justify our controversial actions, behaviours and feelings in an attempt to hide the true explanation.

• We have two selves — adaptive and original. It’s essential that we give more outlets to manifest our original self to protect ourselves from inauthenticity.

• Interestingly, psychological problems cannot be resolved by thinking. We need to feel our emotions to do that.

• Super-ego or Uber-I is a voice that is an internalisation of someone — typically parents — that guides our decisions. Sometimes, the Super-ego can be overly critical, in which case we need to reeducate it to be more gentle.

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