The cornerstone of healthy adult development

Q. For three years now I have been telling myself I need to see a therapist, but I cannot seem to make an appointment. I feel shut down, numb and flat and I am beginning to wonder if there is something wrong with me.

I am a 38-year-old woman living on my own and managing a thriving bakery. The staff gets along well. They often seem quite jovial with one another. But I seem unable to join in their fun! As a result, I have a nagging feeling that I am not living life to the full.

At the same time, I believe I am an introvert. I know I withdraw into myself when I am uncomfortable. Some time ago, a few friends told me they experience me as being somewhat disconnected, but I just shrugged my shoulders and told them I was pretty happy with myself.

In terms of my family, I have a sister and two brothers living in my town. I have another two sisters and one brother as well as my parents living in a town an hour and a half away. I travel to my parents’ home every third weekend of the month and visit for the day. My sisters will often drop by when I am in town. We have a relaxing time together, which was not the case when I was growing up in the family. It was often chaotic and stressful due to ongoing financial difficulties. At least, that was my understanding at the time.

A. When children live in a critical and/or stressful environment and are not affirmed in a positive way, their spirits go underground.

This may well have happened to you. By withdrawing into yourself when you are uncomfortable, you are protecting a little piece of your potential spirit. So don’t give up! Your spirit may well be bubbling up now in an attempt to challenge you to become who God intends you to be.

The main way children defend against physical or psychological threat is by shutting down. The more they shut down, the more numb they become. Many children, thankfully, can get past that if they have caring aunts, uncles, teachers and friends in their lives.

Self-awareness
Now, however, you are an adult. And if you want to have a full life, you need to make adult responses to the challenges that come your way. In other words, it is important for you to become more aware of how you function in your daily life.                                           

As an example, when your friends told you that they experienced you as being disconnected, your response was to “shrug your shoulders and tell them you were happy with yourself.” From a therapeutic perspective this response is a typical “rationalization or intellectual defense,” which allows you to keep yourself hidden for reasons that may be conscious or unconscious to yourself.

Had you been in therapy, the counselor would have asked “What was it like for you to hear your friends’ critique that you are disconnected?” or “What did that feel like when you heard your friends’ critique?” Answering these questions would encourage you to search within yourself and become more self-aware about how you relate to others.

This self-awareness ultimately becomes the cornerstone to understanding yourself.  It will also help you become more aware of the changes you need to make to become the person you want to be.

Overall, I would recommend you see a therapist who can guide you in this journey. I would also suggest you read The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types. 

  • Arlene Van Hove is a therapist, a mother of four adult children and a grandmother to an ever-increasing brood of delightful grandchildren. She also belongs to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, a subsidiary of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which raises funds for grandmothers who are raising the next generation in countries devastated by the Aids epidemic.As a writer Arlene hopes to provide a comforting voice for all those who struggle with the complexity of life. At the same time, she believes one of the roles of a columnist is to unflinchingly challenge 'the map when it no longer fits the ground.' And while she has less advice for others as she herself is aging, she hopes her columns will encourage her readers to develop questions and answers for themselves that continue to be worth asking and answering in the 21st Century. She is a member of the Fleetwood CRC in Surrey, B.

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