Wendy Van Mieghem is a psychologist, sociologist and teacher. She writes about the psychology of conscious living, the human nature of being and on finding peace.
This article ‘Psychiatry reviewed from a human perspective ‘ is an introduction to the field and has been written as a contribution to Katie Mottram‘s book “Mend the gap“, which is published in November 2014.
The article invites you to review psychiatry from a human point of view. It’s just a start, but it’s a start! Whenever you’d like to respond to this article, please do contact Wendy Van Mieghem.
Life’s vast tapestry of possibilities
Life is a wondrous, breathtaking event. It encapsulates many polarities, as it is cruel and caring, dark and light, earthly and spiritual, creative and destructive.
Life is a chain of present moments with an unlimited amount of possibilities. It grants us humans a full freedom of choice to live our lives the way we choose. Yet, there appear to be certain reoccurring patterns in the challenges we face on a universal and individual level.
Most people (un)consciously feel that it is not possible to open ourselves every second again to the full range of possibilities life is offering us. For example, to take all risks of what could happen into account, or to leave all options open of the directions we can possibly choose in our daily lives every second again. It is too stressful and demanding for our nerve system. We need to build some behavioural, emotional and rational patterns that we can rely on, more or less. To live life without any patterns would probably drive us mad…
Sane or not?
So, we all tend to deny parts of our nature of being to reduce the overwhelming reality as it is. We tend to structure our reality, shape it and filter it in a way that we (un)consciously choose. From this, our patterns in dealing with our instincts, emotions, feelings, thoughts and inspiration arise. These patterns are partly copied from our parents, teachers, peers, neighbours and friends.
Whether we do or do not trust ourselves in our ability to deal with emotions and with life itself, is therefore passed on from one generation to the next. We mix it with a purely individual, intrinsic element that encapsulates our passion or motivation to live.
Yet every time we deny an aspect of our inner self, we become a tiny little bit less sane. Every time we allow an aspect of our inner self to be present, and learn to deal with the emotions, feelings and thoughts that arise from it step by step, we heal a little bit from the inside out. We then become a tiny little bit more sane.
Throughout each day, we ‘normally’ tend to move in and out of denial of aspects of ourselves. We may also move in and out of allowing aspects of ourselves. To put it roughly: if at the end of the day or night we’ve allowed more than we’ve denied, we heal bit by bit through time. When we deny more than we allow to be present, we slowly become less sane. We may not notice this at once. On average it takes years before the sum up starts to effect our day-to-day well being.
Self-development is the ongoing process of giving yourself the attention and time you need in order to heal bit by bit. It is an individual matter; no one else can do it for you. By giving yourself the time and attention you need to recover from stress and inner conflicts, you help yourself to become more aware of who you are and what it is that you need to find fulfilment through your daily life.
Technically speaking, self-development leads to an increased awareness of our individual insanity and to learn to deal with the consequences. To fully integrate the emotions, tensions and pain that is involved in healing means to learn to allow them to be in the present moment; to learn not to deny their existence. As a side effect, it brings us insights and wisdom about who we are and about life itself.
Healing through consciousness
Reality contains many layers, as mindfulness teachers are aware of. There is an incredible healing power in letting things be as they are; in respecting reality as it is, on every level. Reality is anchored in time and space in the present moment.
The heaIing ability of the present moment is often referred to as ‘the power of now’. To learn to recognize, allow and accept reality as it is, requires quite a lot of consciousness.
Practicing meditation and mindfulness, preferably with help of an experienced teacher or therapist to learn to move through blind spots as well, can help to develop and deepen your consciousness and mindfulness skills.
Not to alter or manipulate reality in any way, is often the hardest things to do, for it demands from us to take responsibility for our emotions and patterns that are also part of the present reality.
Even though it may take years of practice to learn to deal with emotions and pain on a deeper and deeper level, the reward is as grounded as it is sweet. We learn that our instinctive reaction to intense emotions and pain is to let go of contact with that part of reality. It makes us lose contact with ourselves.
As we learn to trust that we are able to find our way through emotions without altering them, we feel more connected with ourselves, with others and with life itself. It helps us to find our way to our inner home: a safe, warm and bright inner feeling that makes us feel truly safe and at home with ourselves. An anchor that keeps us centred and balanced as we express ourselves through our qualities and are of service to others.
Trauma and psychiatry
Every intense life event, every trauma, settles in our system by the way we do or do not allow emotions, feelings, memories and underlying existential fears and doubts that are involved with this life event to be present in our day-to-day life.
The way we deal with our instincts, emotions, feelings and thoughts on a daily base shapes us. This is what our attitude towards life stems from.
Many psychiatric disorders are in my opinion in their core a mixture of two human aspects:
- An inability, up to a certain degree, to deal with one’s instincts, emotions, feelings, thoughts and inspiration in a constructive, comfortable way up to an existential level.
- A lack of inner trust to deal with one’s instincts, emotions, feelings, thoughts and inspiration in a constructive, comfortable way up to an existential level.
These two aspects interact with each other. As a result, psychiatric symptoms may become less or more severe over time.
In my private practice I’ve had the opportunity to support clients through individual psychotherapy sessions. I’ve seen people with psychiatric diagnoses overcoming their limitations through time, ‘freeing’ themselves by allowing pain, emotions and patterns to be present.
The insights and inner wisdom that flew through them as a result, gave their self-confidence a boost. The way they experienced their daily lives altered. It became more bright and light. Through time an irreversible healing from the inside out appeared to have taken place, as if the penny dropped permanently.
But I have also seen people without psychiatric diagnoses become less sane over time, despite all efforts and best intentions. Some were just not ready yet to let it sink in, trying to postpone their inner homework. Others were having such a hard time, being harassed by inner conflicts and fears, that it fed their inner distrust.
Mental health care systems
But clients often do not only have to deal with their own distrust, but also with the distrust of others.
All around the world there are mental health care systems that tend to deal with psychiatry by not making contact and denying one’s feelings and inner truth. Every time I hear about this, I feel extremely sorry. It is painful to hear, for I personally feel making contact is, together with trust, the most healing aspect there is.
Still, in many health care education students are taught not to make contact with their clients: they are not allowed to show compassion or to feel touched when they meet a client. As a result, professionals are not truly able to listen to what the client experiences nor are they able to encourage and support clients to find their own way through the misty fields of inner emotional struggles.
Professionals have learned to take over their clients’ responsibility to heal. As you may imagine, taking over responsibility is a devastating act of mistrust. It expresses the (in)direct message that the client is incapable of dealing with one’s own emotions, which is exactly the fear and inner doubt the client has been struggling with before it reached out for help.
As I see it, it is impossible to truly heal in this way. For a lot of the suppression that takes place by mental health care professionals comes forth out of their own inability and lack of inner trust to deal with one’s own instincts, emotions, feelings and thoughts in a constructive, comfortable way up to an existential level.
Making a resolute distinction between the professional and the client, not allowing a sense of connectedness or contact and not truly listening to what the other is experiencing and believing, is therefore illusional by itself.
From where I stand, there is no distinction between professionals and clients. We are all human, and we all struggle with our humanity. The degree in which we are able to deal with instincts, emotions, feelings, thoughts and inspiration varies over time and has much more to do with experiencing than with knowledge.
A true ‘professional’ knows its limitations and one’s humanity through experiences and by heart; ‘knowing’ from the inside that there comes a lot more to true healing than the professional self is capable of. It involves life itself.
A professional can make contact, can listen and walk along for a longer or shorter while, but it can never say ‘I know how to make you better’ or ‘I know what it is that you need.’
Healing is an inside job
For one’s healing journey is foremost an inside job. It demands one’s attention, time and fine-tuning to heal. It demands someone’s devotion and willingness to get to know oneself and learn to deal with one’s emotions, instincts, feelings, thoughts and inspiration step by step.
It demands to get to know our individual purpose of life, in order to find inner peace. It often demands a change of attitude towards life and towards suffering, and a willingness to surrender to the present moment, here and now. It demands a certain degree of willingness to surrender to life as it is.
In my opinion there IS no distinction between psychiatric and ‘normal’ people. We are all human. We all carry a certain degree of sanity and insanity within us. We all do struggle with dealing with instincts, emotions, feelings, thoughts and inspiration on every level, again and again, as it tends to deepen itself.
The degree to which we are (un)able to deal with life varies throughout our lives. The degree to which we are able to heal from trauma and suffering is enormous yet also limited. Not everything can be done in one lifetime. At some point we need to accept that there will always be an inability left. Never the less, there is always lots of space left to grow and to restore inner trust. To make the most of now and live our best lives.
Wendy Van Mieghem, psychotherapist, writer and healer