This past weekend, two separate friends said to me, “I wish I could go back to not knowing.” One person was talking about her heightened awareness of her child’s suffering, another was lamenting this season of life when everyone divorces.
This is a common therapist-in-training complaint, too. Like, wait… I signed up for getting to tell other people what to do, not for seeing the terrible truths of my own life.
I wish I could not know, like before. I wish I could go to a party and not see every dynamic between friends and enemies. I wish I didn’t have knowledge of my own psychiatric diagnoses. I wish I still thought marriage was a promise that could actually be kept.
But ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is suffering. Worse, it’s an unconscious suffering, a suffering that comes bursting out of seams, like holes a capped-shut and worn-out garden hose. And these leaks can be hard to trace back to the source. Anxiety and depression are just symptoms of misdirected suffering. They’re the leaks that spring from our unconscious when we refuse to let our real suffering flow up into awareness.
One thing I keep noticing in my therapy work (both as a client and as a therapist) is that humans will do anything to avoid suffering and grief… Including reaching a level of depression so deep that suicide seems reasonable, or anxiety so unmanageable that friends disappear. Sometimes what we have to face is so awful that we’d rather suffer in an even worse way. Psyches are weird like that.
Sometimes we need someone to help us, slowly and carefully, to screw the cap off our hose, releasing the pressure little by little.
So what is therapy? It’s making the unconscious conscious. It’s knowing, naming, and feeling the full extent of our own suffering.
(For $100 an hour).