I would like to try to look at a very frequent situation, the one in which there are often kids who are sick but live their request of help as a defeat. In organic medicine it doesn’t happen: I feel bad, my leg hurts and I go to the orthopaedist and there is nothing to be ashamed of. (This perhaps explains why the DSA – Specific Learning Disorders, which is much discussed on this blog, are so widely and uncritically accepted, after all they are now considered organic disorders).
But if I feel bad psychically, just the idea of going to the psychotherapist is often experienced as a failure of one’s life, something to hide without thinking that getting psychically ill is a specifically human characteristic.
Let’s try to figure out why.
Let’s rewind the tape and start from our birth. As soon as we are born, the hope to find a human being who is interested in us is what immediately pushes us in the search of the relationship. And we know how important this relationship is to grow and develop not just physically. This search for relationship certainly does not end with birth. Marx said: “man is a social animal”, this drive to sociality characterizes the whole life of every human being.
But let’s try to think what happens if something goes wrong, if that hope is disregarded. This can happen for many reasons but let’s leave them aside for now. Let’s try, instead, to understand what can happen to a child who is facing such a great disappointment. The first thing that surely comes to mind is that the child gets angry, cries, screams and yells to get attention, to receive that interest so important to develop humanly. And usually these cries and these angers work and they get the attention they are looking for. Sometimes, however, they are not enough and after so many unsuccessful attempts, when the situation is no longer sustainable, there is the risk that the child will put into effect that pathological fantasy that consists in cancelling, in making the other and their own relationship with the other disappear affectively and therefore themselves with the result of becoming completely indifferent, unemotional. They don’t suffer anymore, don’t cry anymore, don’t get angry anymore. They no longer “bother” others. They are so calm and quiet but in reality they became ill, having lost that hope of relationship which since their birth had constituted their human identity. They “understood” that hoping in the relationship with the other exposes them to a certain disappointment, they “understood” that the affections are only a weakness, the real strength lies in not feeling anything, in not having the need of the human relationship. They found the trick to not suffer from the coldness of others, their armour makes them immune to disappointment.
But maybe we need to add at least one more piece to help us understand. Very often the child/ kid who feels rejected feels this rejection as their fault. It is not others who are absent and therefore violent, it’s me being so ugly and bad that inevitably others do not love me.
Clearly, here I am only mentioning and very much simplifying those complex dynamics predominantly not conscious but it can serve us to get an idea of what is under this widespread difficulty to go to a psychotherapist and it leads us to think that instead, the one who manages to go feels often much better than those who just don’t want to hear about it. A hope in a possible human relationship, small or big it might be, is maintained in the end.
Added to this situation are those parents who live as their own failure the fact that the kid goes into psychotherapy, without understanding that often the kid feels crushed by having to make alliances with one or the other of the parents (a classic in the case of separated parents – but not only – where the problem is not separation in itself, but how this is carried out) and succeed in coming out of these imposed complicities by talking to a person who in those alliances is not involved, it immediately makes them take a breath of air that usually reverberates positively in family relationships.
But let’s go back to the one who, by now a kid who has reached puberty and adolescence, feels an internal thrust to the relationship with the other outside the family, to which all the things we have said so far are opposed. And in fact it is usually in this period that the knots come to a head. All those things that until now had been more or less held, explode. The malaise becomes clear and the conflict between the search for the relationship and the certainty of the impossibility of the relationship itself and the concomitant certainty that no one will love us because we know that we are ugly and bad, in addition to the inevitable crisis that such a delicate period imposes, all this gives rise to an explosive mixture that can lead to an unbearable sick.
To all these difficulties we must add another one not less important and it is that a certain mentality is still widespread in certain environments, which we can condense into the phrase:
“You have to do it on your own, if you go to the psychologist you’re weak”, which means very little understanding of human reality. In fact, I would completely reverse the argument: to seek the relationship means not to give up and be able to keep within oneself a small idea of a possible human relationship.
It is the serious schizophrenic that does not seek the relationship. So doing everything alone does not mean to be strong but to be crazy. And here I refer not only to the idea of going to a specialist but at least seeking comfort by talking with friends. And instead very often we see a total closure that hides the idea of an impossibility to solve their problems.
I have been doing group psychotherapy for many years and I would say that it is with the kids that the group has an essential value also because it disrupts the idea of being the only person in the world to have those problems, rediscovering instead what we said before and that is that being psychologically sick relates to human beings and there is nothing inhuman and therefore nothing to be ashamed of. In addition, the group allows young people to come out of the family microcosm, considered until then the only possible world, to discover instead that the reality is very different.
Today I shared with you a subject that should involve us all, from the youngest to the oldest, because it is essential to understand that certain problems, if they are addressed in time, are resolved rather quickly and radically. The cure is always there for everyone at any age, but when mental illness becomes chronic, the therapy becomes longer and more complex. It’s too stupid to think that an underdeveloped, ignorant culture can make it even harder for a kid to ask for help. Also because then very often, just the fact of being able to make that damned and difficult first step, that phone call that weighs a ton, makes us find the smile before even hearing the voice on the other end of the phone. Because having the courage to make that phone call means I exist, I’m sick but I’m not ugly and bad, I’m just human.
Thanks to Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article