“Imagine meeting someone who understood even the dustiest corners of your mixed-up soul.”
I ran across this unattributed quote this morning on the web and was struck by its power and poetry. Please let me know if you know the author or artist so I can give them credit. I am a body-oriented psychotherapist and this quote sounded like my job description.
What exactly is a dusty corner and why should I go there?
Good psychotherapy involves identifying and understanding the dusty corners of our mixed up souls, learning to love ourselves in spite of them and sometimes learning new behaviors that are more adaptable.
A dusty corner could be a recurring argument with a spouse about where to spend vacation time or how to discipline a child. It could be a fear of abandonment which exhibits itself as unreasonable jealousy. It could be a nebulous feeling of dissatisfaction with life in general.
They’re the places that we’re afraid to go that run our lives.
Depression is a good example. There are many facets to depression: heredity, diet, hormones, etc., but on the psychological level it’s the emotions that we have not identified and expressed that form the dusty corners that cause an emotionally “constipated” condition.
We have not identified and expressed these emotions because it was not acceptable or tolerated by our parents, our teachers and our society at large. Therapy is a place to explore the dusty corners, to be honest about the feelings we find there and to give ourselves permission to be real, three-dimensional beings.
We may choose to share these feelings with the people involved in a non-threatening manner or it may be enough just to be aware of the dynamics ourselves and make the necessary course corrections internally.
Why would I expose my dusty corners to anyone else?
In order for us to dare to visit those dusty corners, it sometimes helps to hold someone’s hand; someone who is not afraid because they’ve been there before and survived or even thrived. An effective therapist is one who has examined and continues to examine her or his own dusty corners.
It is only through this humbling experience of doing her or his own work that a therapist develops the compassion, the courage and the skills to be of service to anyone else. To the extent that any therapist has been afraid to explore any of their own dusty corners, she or he will be unable to facilitate another’s growth in this area.
It is as if the therapist’s fear of a certain emotion—whether it be sadness, anger or joy for that matter—is communicated to the client non-verbally and the client will not feel safe to go there. The therapist experienced in exploring their own dusty corners knows that it is possible to experience intense emotional states and live to tell about it. This is good news!
How do I know if my therapist understands my dusty corners?
One very important way to tell if you’re getting into the dusty corners and therefore performing the cleansing and organizing functions necessary to growth and transformation is to note whether or not you are experiencing emotion in your psychotherapy session or whether it’s more or less an intellectual experience.
This is one of several reasons I favor integrating body awareness into psychotherapy. Our bodies are the repositories of emotional and thought patterns we have learned throughout our lives. Bringing our awareness to our bodies opens up a treasure chest of information about current, as well as past issues. It also provides a channel for emotions which want to be acknowledged and released.
If you are not feeling movement forward in your therapy and feel that you are going over the same material in a surface way, it may be time to look for a more holistic approach.
What if I’m really tired of dealing with the dusty corners and would rather just ignore them?
None of us has the energy to do heavy cleaning every day. Give yourself a break, appreciate the work that you have done and know that it’s a lifelong process. Have compassion for yourself as an imperfect human being. As someone once said, “If we’re still on this earth, it is because there’s still something left for us to learn.”
Mara Lindstrom is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Cruz, California. She does deep cleaning of her “dusty corners” on a regular basis and hires the best help she can find. Her website can be found here.
Editor: Jamie Morgan
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