The world seems to be crazier than ever, and most of us are horrified by the atrocities we see in the news today. We would love to change the world for the better, and that is admirable — but how? We may not know where to start, and sitting across from a therapist while talking about our personal problems for 45 minutes is not intuitively our first thought.
But let’s take a look at the suffering in the world: Who is ultimately causing it? Humans, right? People just like us; most of the suffering in the world (both yours and in the world at large) is the byproduct of our choices. We all suffer on a fundamental level — in our lives, our relationships and careers. So, how does addressing our individual suffering help change the suffering in the world?
For many of us, the idea of seeing a therapist may seem terrifying. It’s natural to think that others who seek therapy must have something wrong with them! But rarely do we acknowledge that our behavior has consequences that impact the world. We look outside of ourselves for change, and when we do look inside, we can go to the other extreme of being critical and judgmental toward ourselves.
Psychotherapy is helpful and necessary; however, only four out of 10 Americans have seen a counselor — and that’s usually for brief symptom relief, not actual psychotherapy. Psychotherapy focuses on gaining a deeper level of understanding — exploring inner conflicts, emotional attachments and defenses that we have developed throughout our lives to maintain homeostasis. It is paradoxical that while we are uncomfortable with the symptoms derived from our core conflicts, we are often more uncomfortable with the work that is necessary to confront them. Not examining those conflicts, attachments and defenses actually keeps us from addressing the issues in our inner world and subsequently the problems of the world we live in.
It is understandable to seek out immediate results and relief of symptoms without confronting the challenging work of sitting with our emotions and thoughts; ultimately, we just want to feel better. However, we know from decades of research that our past, from the attachment with our parents (or primary caregivers) to our interactions on the playground, is what shapes us and the temperament we are born with. This all sets the stage for the belief system we adopt and how we construct and perceive the world, which influences our personal preferences, relationships and even our careers. By connecting past and present, we can gain awareness and hopefully resolve past micro and macro trauma that impact our ability to move forward in our lives.
We all have conscious and unconscious emotions and thoughts that drive our behavior. Understanding them (as crazy as they may be) is the very foundation of awareness, which helps us to respond rather than react and to make choices based on what we know about ourselves, especially our darker sides. What we need is psychological flexibility in understanding ourselves, and psychotherapy helps us procure this.
Psychological flexibility and awareness assists us in making changes to become a better human, and, more importantly, a saner person within the insane world. If everyone did this, we would have more awareness about the emotions and thoughts that are driving our behaviors and therefore become more accepting, kind and compassionate to ourselves as well as to others.
Sitting across from a therapist talking “selfishly” about ourselves for an uninterrupted 45 minutes gives us the opportunity to explore aspects of our inner world that we do not share with anyone. As we better understand the underlying emotions and thoughts that fuel our behavior, we can, in due time, take the appropriate personal and social actions that positively impact the world we live in. As our psychological flexibility increases, we can cultivate the ability to experience uncomfortable feelings and move toward our goals, values and interests — while staying in alignment with our life purpose and, ultimately, “selflessly” helping to change the world.