Alice puts the finishing touches on her resume. She will email it along with a cover letter to apply for a position for an early childhood educator. She hits the “send” icon, shuts down the computer and stands to stretch. Her body feels awkward and stiff. Suddenly a wave of regret floats across her mind. She flips open the lap top, reads the email and thinks, “ I should have been more enthusiastic!” Palms sweating, her heart races. She feels at a distance from the world. Alice is creative, bright and compassionate yet she feels lethargic, boring and ignorant. She’s not even sure that she knows how to teach, even though she has completed two internships and received glowing recommendations.
Why did Alice experience a shift from confidence to a depressed and anxious state?
“I was feeling excited, I knew I was qualified, this job is totally the right match! Why can’t I feel OK about it?!”
Alice’s shift from excitement to loss of confidence ushered in deadening judgments that produced anxiety and alienation: “I’m not enough!”
“It’s so good that you applied for this job. Why would you feel so bad about yourself when it sounds likes such a good fit? Why the loss of confidence?”
Alice felt comforted by my understanding of her loss of self worth. Soon she described how she often felt unrecognized in her family, “I felt buried behind all of the attention my parents showered upon my brother. He was a math genius, always winning awards. My mother swooned around him! I resented him but I also felt guilty because he encouraged me.”
“ How sad that you felt left behind and unrecognized in your family. It was hard for you to take in your brother’s encouragement when you were at the same time upset by not getting what you needed. Your hopes for the future have stirred up the remnants of an old, bad dream.”
The understanding that her current job search was triggering past experiences of feeling unseen, helped clear up confusion about the hopelessness Alice was feeling. Present aspirations were “triggering” expectations of rejection so strong that anxiety was palpable in her body. Understanding that Alice was feeling herself lost in a cold, alienated place, helped her to feel “found,” no longer alone. Identifying that she can feel vulnerable when asserting her wish be known for her skills and interests, we solve the mystery of the “sudden” shifts from vitality to fear.
Psychoanalyst Donna Orange describes the process of healing in therapy:
“Psychoanalysis….studies human capacities when acute or chronic trauma or deprivation has disrupted healthy growth, and when adaptation to trauma or deprivation continues to disrupt or restrict love, play and work. As a therapy, psychoanalysis is an opportunity to understand and be understood through shared emotional experience…through “making sense together,” a second chance at developing a good life. A psychoanalysis makes the future possible through shared experience of one person’s past in the present of both people.”*
*( Donna Orange, “Emotional Understanding, Studies in Psychoanalytic Epistemology”, page 31, Guildford Press, New York, 1995.)