Community//

Thriving By Gaining Freedom From Our Negative Habits: The Unfinished Journey

A psychotherapist's story about his continuous journey on the couch so he can thrive in life and break his negative habits and how you can do the same.

Your negative habits, the things you do and don’t do that bother you so much, are an automated set of unconscious repetitive thoughts and emotions that have accumulated from your past experiences which create these behaviors.

Habits are mindless and to have negative habits is you unconsciously choosing to not have any more free will over yourself. And we choose slavery to our unconscious because it feels easier. It feels less painful. But we will get to a point where we know that it’s not true as we look at the ruins of our lives.

This truth, of course, is a very big problem because we know through neurological evidence and from theories, sciences and philosophies that are thousands of years old, that we are not the masters of our own home. We aren’t the masters of our own mind.

Psychoanalyst, since the late 1800’s, realized that when their clients woke up every day, they would think about all the problems they had and the things they had to do. All of these memories affected how their clients functioned. Some were very stressed, some were considered hysterical and some were depressed or even psychotic.

And this was just at the conscious level. In our unconscious these memories are being continually lived out within our bodies. Bessel Van Der Kolk (2014), the Dutch Psychiatrist who is the leading researcher in trauma and PTSD, wrote the book The Body Keeps the Score and has done excessive research to show that traumas in our lives that have not surfaced to our conscious mind and have not been spoken and resolved will sit in your body causing many diseases within the body that have no biological or medical explanation.

A more common occurrence of this is when soldiers are suddenly paralyzed, not due to an injury, and they then regain full control of their body once they’re back home.

Psychoanalyst also saw that these memories were ever-changing, something he called Screen Memories. These memories that people wake up thinking about every day are attached to an emotion. Some days these screen memories would evoke life and a drive to work and love and be creative while at other times these screen memories would evoke depression and devitalize the person into a perverse life. All of this happens due to a person’s conscious perspective on their unconscious and conscious past experiences (Freud, 1899).

The thoughts, emotions, and experiences that come from your unconscious, drive the direction of your thoughts and automated motor functions which directly influences who you will be today and at any moment.

Will you get up today and go to work or therapy or take on your responsibilities? Will you wake up and keep going back to sleep so you don’t have to be awake and remember anything?

This all means that your conscious and unconscious past will be repeated in your future. Have you always not gotten up early? Then you will never get up early. Have you always dated garbage people? Then you will always date garbage people. Have you always tried to do things alone? Then you will always do things alone.

This is the Repetition Compulsion.

  1. You will always be compelled to repeat your past experiences in your present and future.
  2. You will let your past be your destiny until you learn to tolerate those experiences and emotions you are feeling so those experiences and feelings do not overwhelm and control your thoughts.

And when you have just enough conscious will over your conscious reaction to your unconscious emotions and experiences, you can fix your fate in your favor. You may not be the master of your own home, but you do not have to fall prey to the house rules.

But that’s the end game. To get to this ability, for me, it took a relational experience with my analyst. For many, this relationship is a regressing into your unconscious past where everything is reexperienced with the analyst and every feeling, emotion and memory is projected onto the analyst so you gain mastery over the past through them.

How Being With An Analyst Masters Your Past 

The analyst can be a bastard, the analyst can be a creep, the analyst can be incompetent, the analyst can be a savior and the analyst can feel like a lover.

As Humanist Psychologist Carl Rogers said, “It is the relationship that heals.”

And as American Poet Diane Ackerman said in the book Tales From The Couch, to a friend who asked what would happen if she fell in love with her analyst. Ackerman said, “You would find yourself in a diabolically painful, unrequited relationship, but you would also have the unique luxury of being able to analyze your pain (Shinder, 2000, pp. xiv)

This is why Freud many psychoanalysts today will see thier clients 5x a week. So they could speak through these regressions to resolve and master them.

So, let’s remember. We are unconscious beings meaning that the majority of our functioning happens outside of our consciousness. We may be 5% to 10% conscious at most just because our consciousness would not be able to take in so much information. It’s not a bad thing that we’re about 95% unconscious, but we have to learn how to live constructively within our existence and be available to pursue satisfactions.

I remember at age 21 going into the office of a psychoanalyst and saying that I want to get better. I want my life to be more stable, I want to pursue my goals in my career and I want to create a better love life. I told this analyst that I wanted to fix myself so I don’t feel crazy. How is this going to happen?

First, I made a contract with the psychoanalyst and made a frame that consists of just a few things.

  1. When and how often you will meet.
  2. The fee.
  3. That you will take the couch and be given the space to Free Associate which means to speak freely without censorship.

This is done so you have a stable place to get beyond the conscious mind and get into contact with the 95% of the mind that is unconscious. That’s when psychoanalysis comes in and why you’re on the couch.

You’re not there to worry about the analyst and what you imagine they may think. I spent a lot of my time censoring my speech because of this worry. You’re not to be worried about society, what the norms are or how you think they think you should act. You are there to let everything from underneath that 5% of consciousness come out.

You are setting your unconscious free with someone who will contain every known and unknown anything from you, with someone who will not deny or try to change who you are in their own image and with someone who will be emotionally present with you to help you make the changes you need and are seeking.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. The stronger the trauma you had and the stronger the emotional reaction you had to the trauma predicts how strongly you will repeat the trauma to try to master it. But, using the repetition compulsion, for example getting back with the same garbage boyfriend or girlfriend over and over again even though you know it’s not good for you, which is you unconsciously being compelled to repeat bad past experiences to try to master them, doesn’t work when you’re by yourself and unknowingly doing this.

And I want to point something out for a second. This all doesn’t happen just because of traumas. It can be anything in your conscious or unconscious mind.

This means that if you continue to have the same negative experiences, the emotions tied to these experiences will become You. They will first be an emotion, then if you let it last long enough that emotion will become your mood and if it lasts even long enough that emotion will have transformed into your personality. Through this personality, you create and solidify your negative habits.

Through this personality, you create and solidify your dead life.

In The Analyst’s Office

I was in the analyst’s office, on the couch that first session and the analyst said, “Say anything.” The idea is to say what first comes to mind.

Maybe years ago something happened that changed you. You were molested, you saw something traumatic happen, you lost an important loved one, you had a great defeat or maybe nothing specific happened and there is just this deep well of chaos and sorrow within you.

This means that you are frozen in time at that moment. Mentally you are always reliving all of these past memories at the same time and you have not been able to progress past it.

In the unconscious, there is no such thing as time which means that everything exists and produces a force at the same time.

I remember laying on that couch speaking about the events of my memories and I was mentally, emotionally, chemically and physically reliving those experiences. This is the same thing you do every day in your life when you, let’s say, get together with the same garbage boyfriend or girlfriend who treats you as poorly as every other mate you had before. Or when you think yourself back into bed in the morning which means you will not get the things you need to be done that day.

But this time, with the analyst, I was reliving all of this with someone who is emotionally present with me and will go through your unending suffering. Does it make sense how powerful that is?

I didn’t just have company for my miseries, but the analyst was there to give me the proper space to resolve these emotional, mental, chemical and physical problems so I could have a new and positive experience in its place. You’re breaking the compulsion to repeat your past experiences by having new experiences.

This is how I changed the state I was living in. I have new emotional, chemical, mental and physical responses to old, but living memories and then these memories don’t have the force to terrorize my world anymore.

It’s uncomfortable to not be terrorized by the familiar. Change is emotionally, physically, chemically and mentally more painful than continuing on in your compulsive repetitions. This is why we usually don’t just naturally change unless some great event forces us too.

This is also why the analyst is there. They are there to crawl through the broken glass of change with you and if they’re worth their salt, they’ve already been there and know how to let you find your way out. They bleed with you while giving you the opportunity to not bleed out.

Here’s another inconvenient truth I discovered while on the couch on my journey to breaking my negative habits. To change even one negative habit isn’t a one session type of thing. You reexperience new and more constructive things over and over again with your analyst until it is hardwired in your brain, psyche and neurology.

Years of your brain firing in one particular way and your unconscious driving you in one particular way takes time to rewire.

But, when you do this enough you won’t go back to the old ways. You won’t have to because you have mastered those past memories in such a way that when you recall them they evoke inspiration instead of dread. In my new inspiration, I create new positive habits that are again unconscious through my new personality.

This process is why I can even write any of this to you.

But it’s fine that they’re unconscious. You don’t want to and aren’t able to always be cognitively thinking that you should be doing ABC all the time. You will naturally be attracted to mates who aren’t going to retreat you as poorly as you were treated in the past by others. You will hear your alarm and get out of bed with purpose and meaning.

A thought will come from your unconscious and you will be able to think and feel that thought and experience. But, what you think and what you feel will no longer tear you down. You will be able to resist succumbing to self-defeating thoughts and feelings. You won’t replace them all since you will always have all feelings as a healthy functioning human. But you will have mastery over your destiny. This is how I have mastered fear well enough. I can be rejected without being shattered.

Your unconscious will always be bent and will try to bring you back to how it was once before. To be defeated and to go back to mates who are bad for you and to stay in bed. When you’re with an analyst and failing the most…this is the moment you are about to change the most and break through your negative habits. The unconscious doesn’t care for change and fights against change.

But let’s be honest. If you’re not automatically running on your unconscious that repeats the old, your future will be unknown and that’s horrifying. This means that the best way to create your unknown future is through the unknowns within yourself. When you can tolerate the intolerable feelings that drive you into your negative habits then you can imagine what your unknown future will be. You then create your new repetitions and will be compelled into the unknown with your ability to tolerate the unknown and create your future through the materials of the unknown.

And let’s not be willfully blind. Unknown just means new.

This is why we can’t wait for something outside of ourselves to change how we feel inside of us. Through toleration and the ability and freedom to think into the future creatively and in new ways, you will be able to feel happy, strong, worthy, useful, hopeful and successful while you’re on the way to your success.

You will stop living in a world of lack. You will start living in a world of what you have, what you seek and obtaining what you seek without letting your past tell you that you don’t deserve what you seek or that you can never have it.

You will create your reality through your thoughts and feelings. But, this time, they won’t tear you down.

You will now define yourself by the vision of your future and wake up in the morning in the image of that future instead of defining yourself in the screen memories of your past.

In psychoanalysis and when you’re on the couch you disconnect from the environment. At first, you will fight being able to experience the unconscious and you will let yourself be defined by your emotional past and then, with the work you do with your analyst, you let yourself change that.

You will change yourself from needing the predictable, needing those negative habits, needing that compulsive repetition to needing what is new, novel and unknown. When you are in need of needing what is new, novel and unknown you are free.

That’s what the couch of the psychoanalyst brings. Freedom. In freedom, you are free to experience and create everything you can’t even imagine yet.

This is why my journey on the couch to be free of my negative habits won’t end. New things come along and I will always make sure I choose freedom over destiny.

References

Freud, S. (1899). Screen Memories. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume III (1893-1899): Early Psycho-Analytic Publications, 299-322

Shinder, J. (2000, November 21). Tales from the Couch : Writers on Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Couch-Writers-Jason-Shinder/dp/0380976145

Van der Kolk, Bessel A. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Viking, 2014.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Change habits: The definitive guide

by Simon Andrew
How to be happy in 6 steps or less
Community//

How To Master The Art Of Being Happy In 6 Steps (Or Less!)

by Kelly Rudolph
Community//

We Know How to Change — Why Don’t We Do It?

by Ariel Levari

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.