I’ve come to a point in my life where I’m confronting the fact that I’ve always been trying to be part of some kind of establishment, without even actually agreeing with it in the first place!
Why have I done this, in general? But most importantly, why have I done this to myself? Why have I made all these decisions to belong to places, people, and things, that 1) I don’t value, support, or believe in; and 2) don’t value, support, or believe in me? Fake belonging, validation, and low self-worth, that’s why!
Admitting this is not easy. In fact, I’m fucking angry and disappointed at myself. Making all sorts of decisions to please others and get their validation, whilst fooling myself into thinking that this is what I wanted, feels like a damn waste of time and life! Being 30 and realising that my goals and dreams were in direct proportion and relation to my family’s validation of my own “specialness” is quite depressing! I mean, it’s not their fault, and this is definitely not a “blame my parents” kind of blog. I don’t even believe in that. I was the one who accepted the story, believed it, internalised it, and have been living it until now.
A story of perfection. Do you know that it took more than 10 years of formal education for me to even drop below 90% in a test? I remember hearing mentions of “future Dr” from a really young age. Not even for the fact that doctors save lives or anything, it was for the title! People wanted me to have the title. And then I found myself wanting the title. I don’t even know when that transition happened. But it did, and it took until these past two weeks for me to finally ask myself the question: why do I want to be a Dr? For nothing special or that truly matters, that’s the answer.
Allow me to elaborate on that. Whilst I like some material things, I can actually be quite detached from the physical world. Emotions, spirituality, and bigger picture have always been my thing. My own mom sometimes asks me how I can be so detached from family affairs, and my honest answer is that in the grand scheme of things, most human interactions tend to be petty and superficial, including and especially family! I always wanted depth of everything. I never really wanted to just have friends to talk about boys or music, I wanted friends who could talk about how they FELT. I believe everyone has depth, but not everyone can access it. And so, if you can’t access the depth of your feelings, I’m sorry, but we are probably not going to make it as friends, or anything, really.
And this is what struck me this week: my insistence on becoming a Dr at some point in the future had nothing to do with depth. It was superficial, pure and simple. It was simply supposed to feed the image of perfection that I grew up to believe in and have been trying to deconstruct since my early 20s, first through self-destruction, and now through hard and uncomfortable spiritual and emotional work.
As I continue to do this work of deconstructing all these messages and social/cultural/familial conditioning I have received, accepted, and lived with, sometimes it becomes difficult to figure out what is really me and mine, or theirs. However, I can say with some certainty that one of my most genuine qualities and intentions in life is to help others. Again, going back to my earlier mention of depth. I want to help others in the depth of who they are. I think this is why I ended becoming a therapist, after studying so many other things. For example, when I studied Politics and International Relations with the intention to then go and work at the United Nations, I quickly discovered that I could never do that kind of work. The level, extent, and amount of game-playing, bureaucracy, and superficiality were too much for me. I felt that I would never be able to help people the way I felt that I wanted to help people, but also the way I felt people should be helped. Again, depth is my thing! And doing anything other than that, it frankly feels like a waste of my life. That is my integrity right there, and this is where I’ve often come into conflict with systems.
Every single time in my career of supporting and helping others – in its various guises – where I have been confronted with the choice of individual versus system, I have always chosen the individual, and have invariably always been punished by the system. A very practical example: I was working for a community service where I was therapeutically preparing clients for a residential service. The idea behind it was that I had seen clients go into residential services and then drop out within weeks because they couldn’t handle it, for a variety of reasons. So, me being me, I thought: what if I devised a programme where I emotionally prepared clients for their upcoming intensive therapeutic processes, thus giving them a chance to really understand and reflect on themselves, their choices, and their goals, and increase their chance of long-term recovery? In the end, I prepared them so well that the system asked me to stop, because I was hurting the system. Clients were choosing to remain in community services longer, to prepare better, therefore not going into residential services at such high rates. I argued, as I always will, that to me, the individuals are more important than the system, and if it is the system’s duty to care for individuals and the policies aren’t working, then change the policies, not the individuals. I no longer work with that service. And leaving my clients was one of the hardest days of the last few difficult months, because I knew that, deep down, not many people cared for them, in a system that is meant to care for them.
This is my problem with systems and the current paradigm of care: money always ends up hurting people, because people in those systems value money more than people. They value statistics more than people. In fact, my experience of political/egotistical fights within care services, is that the clients are always the ones who suffer the most. They are the last ones to know anything, to be consulted, or even to be considered. I love the work, but I do not enjoy the politics of the work at all. They are superficial and petty. No depth at all. The only thing that kept me going all these years in care services were the clients themselves. Everything else felt completely irrelevant to me. This is how I can tell the intention and integrity of any professional caring for people: how they refer to the people they work with. In the therapeutic world, if I hear a professional referring to people by their diagnoses or symptoms, I immediately know where I stand with that professional: in conflict. I will always defend the person, which actually entails letting go of everything I think I know, and they will always defend their training and profession. When the theory is more important than the person, then that’s another instance of the system taking over the individual.
I’ve always puzzled professionals when I get asked how I measure my clients’ progress. I often answer with “they smile more”. “And they can do their meditations without opening their eyes”, or “they found a safe metaphor for their trauma”. That’s all I need. And I say “all”, because actually I know that this “all” entails very profound and unconscious developments in the psyche, in someone’s heart, in someone’s spirit. It takes great unconscious dynamics to start a session full of anger, sadness, or resentment, and ending it with a genuine smile, and grounded body language. “How can you prove that this is due to your approach?” I used to get all flustered and try to answer this with all sorts of clinical jargon and theory in order to fit in into the clinical establishment of psychological therapies. My answer now? “I don’t need to prove a goddam thing!” My responsibility is to my clients. That’s it. And often, my responsibility is to my clients, despite themselves. The great paradox of therapy is that people will seek the help of a professional and will simultaneously reject it at every chance they can. That’s where the relationship develops.
So, this is what I mean by depth:
Basically, we all do things, simply because we’ve been doing them for a very long time. We developed a pattern out of some kind of need, but most patterns overstay their welcome. Here’s one of my most insidious ones, as an example: I experienced emotional neglect and hurt from men at a young age. So, I stopped trusting certain men to protect myself, but what happened is that I stopped trusting ALL men. However, I was not aware of this, and when I had any kind of relationship with men, I would never be fully myself because I didn’t trust them. I would present a façade, or in the odd circumstance of opening up to someone, I would promptly sabotage that relationship to avoid future pain. I wasn’t even aware that I was doing this!! And I spent YEARS doing this to every single man I met, gay or straight, personal or professional, friend or lover. No trust at all! I became fully and consciously aware of this pattern around the age of 25 or 26, and so, by that time, I had been doing this for 20 years. Most people are like this. We have decades upon decades of patterns which no longer serve us. Layers and layers of feelings, thoughts, sensations, circumstances, conditioning, external messages, all of them covering up the original seed of the pattern.
Now, tell me, in all honesty, do you really think ANYONE on this planet can help you with ALL of that, or something else, in 6 or 12 sessions? Let’s be honest with each other. My clients in addiction services always complained “But I spent 6 months in rehab, why am I still here?” Short answer: because you spent 20 or 30 years doing something, and you are not going to solve all of that in 6 months! I mean, simply look at the time difference! Why do we think this is realistic? Systems all around us tell us that this is the way, and we believe them! Every single time! We believe fast food is good. We believe fast diets are healthy. We believe we can sort through lifelong traumas through short-term therapy. Another example: I received some health news in May 2016, which changed my life. In turn, the news uncovered a deep-seated trauma, which not even 3 years of intensive therapeutic processes during my training had been able to reach. This thing had REALLY carved itself a deep, dark corner in my psyche. I was able to get some therapy through the NHS which I had to wait for about 5 months, and knew in advance that it would be short-term even though I wasn’t given a specific number of sessions. But anyway, I had a few sessions, worked through some stuff, released some demons, and then agreed with the therapist that for THE TIME BEING I felt good enough to stop treatment and go live my life for a while. Under no circumstance, did, or do, I think that I was “done” with the trauma. It’s there forever, and no amount of therapy will ever make it “go away” or “make it disappear”. What therapy does is help people to re-frame and contain their experiences, so these stories are not in control of you, but you are in control of them.
In the past 7 years of active and conscious healing in my life, this is what I’ve come to know and found difficult to accept at times: everything is a paradox, including healing and living a better, more fulfilled life. One of the greatest paradoxes of life is this: change is the only constant aspect of life, and yet is the one thing no one wants to do. Take that one in and let it percolate!
Do you want to feel happier, more focused, fulfilled, with more purpose, more joy? Then change will be necessary. Not always big changes, but changes nonetheless. And the biggest opponents to change are systems, for they represent collective patterns! So, when looking at your life and what might be in its way, it might be helpful to start thinking about which internalised systems might be trying to keep you “in your place”.
If this resonates, feel free to share with friends, family, and networks.
Thank you. xx
Ryan Campinho Valadas
HCPC registered Dramatherapist