I want to expand a bit on that statement in my previous post “we would continue to grow throughout our lifespan and as we do, our actions would be less and less colored by beliefs that are not reality based.”
Let’s pick that statement apart. There is a whole branch of psychology called developmental psychology that deals with the fact that human beings grow mentally as they grow physically. There are numerous systems of classification of the stages of development. Broadly speaking, they describe how when a person is born, they are very self-centered and as their physical and mental capacities increase, they learn to be a more self-reliant and social. However, sometimes—often—something interferes with this natural growth process and people get “stuck” at one stage or another.
Many things can cause this interference, but perhaps the most common is trauma of one sort or another. Most people experience trauma of one sort or another at some point. And, interestingly, things that are traumatic to one person may not necessarily be traumatic to someone else.
The point is when people get stuck, they experience all kinds of unpleasant things like anxiety, depression, addiction and even psychosis if they are genetically predisposed to it. These kinds of things tend to interfere with your ability to get what you want or need from life—leading to more unhappiness. One characteristic that these people (by which I mean everyone) invariably share is the belief in a number of things that are not true—like “I don’t deserve to be happy.” Such thoughts are learned from others acting on their own erroneous beliefs and in turn influence your behavior.
One thing these erroneous thoughts all share is they are all judgmental in some way. This gives us a clue about how to combat these destructive thoughts. Acceptance, by definition, is the polar opposite of judgmental thinking. They are incompatible and cannot exist in the same space. In fact, we know that working on acceptance is a valuable tool in recovery from the conditions mentioned in the previous paragraph. In essence, we are replacing erroneous judgmental thoughts with a more realistic view of the world and acceptance of it.
So, how do we accomplish this miracle of acceptance and growth? As far as I know the best and probably only way is to find someone with whom they have achieved a level of emotional intimacy and discuss those unpleasant aspects of yourself—and be heard with unconditional acceptance. Unconditional acceptance says, “I see your reality and it’s OK.” It is what it is. In that moment someone else’s acceptance allows you to see your own reality a bit clearer and be OK with it. Enough of that sort of thing allows you to grow past the beliefs and behaviors that have been causing you trouble and move forward with your life on a firmer foundation. That is the value of therapeutic relationships.