In June, in the article “I feel terrible but I don’t ask for help” I addressed the cultural and psychological aspects that hinder a boy, aware of being ill, in approaching a psychotherapy. Today, I would like to talk about a much thornier subject instead, which concerns many young people who, although they are objectively very bad, do not realize it at all, however the people who live next to them can perfectly see it. It is something that crosses all social classes.
In these cases the psychotherapist is almost powerless. Very often I found myself with parents who wanted their son to come to me but he had no desire to do so or anyway to do a psychotherapy and I was forced, with regret, to tell them that if the boy does not want, he doesn’t feel the need for it because he says he’s perfectly fine, it is absolutely useless that he comes, indeed it is perhaps even harmful. Starting a psychotherapy when the boy is brought to you by the parents or teachers, sometimes by the friends themselves, without having the slightest desire, means making a hole in the water with the certainty that you will never see that boy again.
The key to being able to do a psychotherapy is that there is the motivation to do it, that the request starts from the boy. So what do we do? I say straight away that I do not have a recipe, even though I have been having trouble with this issue for years, with how to deal with it, with the strategy to be adopted. The fact is that these kids are in no-man’s-land and something must be done. But let’s go in order and figure out who and what we’re talking about.
I’m not referring to a specific diagnostic category but to all those situations in which you get a deviant behavioural attitude (alcoholism, gambling, drugs, violent behaviour, fights and things of this kind) that is experienced as liberating, as if all those difficulties that the boy felt up to a moment before, such as the relationship with the different, the closure with peers, feeling ugly and so on, disappeared by magic to turn into sick behaviour. Behaviours that in turn determine a whole series of other negative situations that then the guy often ends up putting himself in really bad situations.
It is as if at a certain point, and I emphasize at a certain point because then I would like to resume this passage, the problem would no longer be experienced, would no longer be heard, would no longer be lived but would be discharged directly into the behaviour, bypassing the thought, bypassing the ability to experience this malaise, malaise that is not experienced because it is immediately discharged into an act, a behaviour. Note that these young people very often manifest a great sensitivity, contrary to what is believed, sensibility that, however, does not reach the thought but it is as if it provoked an immediate short-circuit between sensation and behaviour without passing through a lived, an appropriate affectivity, a thought. If we take a magnifying glass we can see a very powerful active dynamic that creates this short-circuit. In fact, for this to happen, it is necessary that there is a cancellation of the affective dimensions of relationship first, annulment that determines an internal void that in turn leads to a compulsive need to fill these voids of thought/affections with behavioural pathological attitude thus creating a loop, a compulsion to repeat that draws strength and nourishment from the mechanism itself. In this way, a circular chain is created that is very difficult to break. Sometimes these guys are not able to stop and arrive at a situation where they need an external containment, something that acts as an “auxiliary ego” as if it has to be an external situation, an institution, for example a community, to replace the missing ego (thoughts/affections) and these situations are able to mitigate the evolution of certain behaviours because obviously in these contexts the deviant behaviour is blocked, is prevented from the outside, but the risk is that this will only overcome the symptomatic manifestation without solving the internal problem. Also because usually these institutions are managed in such a way that rather than acting as the auxiliary ego, which in some way should return thoughts and affections, it functions as the auxiliary super-ego, that is, the basic idea is to restore an internal control that must repress the onset of the impulse to deviant behaviour so that then the boy should spend his life controlling the emergency of the beast, always ready to get out of the cage.
What to do then? Before I said that this immediate transition from unpleasant feeling to behaviour happens at some point but before that point there is a time, usually around 11/12/13 year old, in which the malaise is experienced instead, even if in absolute solitude and with the idea of being the only bearer of that malaise that is therefore considered insuperable and incommunicable. I believe that at this stage there is still a wide range of possibilities for intervention, but it is important that everyone, from friends, to professors, relatives, instructors of various kinds, do something to break that impenetrable shell into which the boy has closed himself in. The signals of all this can be very hidden, difficult to detect. I mention one that is very frequent and easy to notice: the fall in school performance, often followed by numerous absences. And here I feel like launching the umpteenth appeal to teachers, repeatedly proposed on this blog, to not just hastily label the boy as listless but to try to understand if there is something else underneath. Obviously there are many other signs, which I am not here to list, but at least this one so obvious that we try to grasp it. (Be careful not to fall into the opposite mistake of believing that if the boy goes well in school it means that he is fine: just think of the anorexics, but not only them, who are usually very good at school).
Here, however, as we said, there is still room to intervene effectively, this is the fundamental moment in which there may be a turning point on one side or the other and we are all responsible of this turning point because very often the boy gets into trouble because he feels alone, misunderstood, loneliness and misunderstanding which then “solves” by meeting people that feel like him or worse than him and at this point, things get really bad.
After this period in which there is still an experience of malaise, parents and therapists are completely cut off from a possibility of valid relationship with the boy (the first because seen as smoke in the eyes, the second for the reasons expressed before) and I believe that teachers can still play a central role (even if the school has to change radically) but I would say above all the instructors of various sports and other activities, or in any case all the figures with which the boy can make a freer relationship, completely unrelated to the parents and a context of care. It would then be important that these figures would not have the culture of “just sing and it’ll go away”, the idea that to not have problems you just do not think about them because this “thought” is just what we should fight. It would be nice to be able to create a network, a synergy that can stem this enormous crisis that we powerlessly see daily. Often there are nice people who face these difficult situations but do not know what to do, do not have the tools to intervene. Having a little chat together with them, maybe online, could be a good start!
It is clear that if we really want to help these kids, we must first reject this culture that tells us that we are all children of Cain, that human nature is violent and evil. No, you become bad and violent when you get sick. If we are not clear about this, the best we could do is to push them to control themselves, as if for them the possibility of living a happy life was excluded forever. I find this unacceptable.
Thanks to Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article
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