The material in this chapter is drawn from my book Understanding Ourselves: The Uses of Therapy (1988). It is based on my experience as a feminist and a psychotherapist working with fairly ordinary but deeply distressed individuals whose problems are readily recognisable and easy to identify with. The material selected for inclusion in this book illustrates the processes by which people come to repeat or replicate distressing experiences from their childhood. It also explains what therapy can contribute to understanding these repetitive cycles and to helping afflicted individuals to stop abusing themselves and others.
Psychotherapy is a process that enables us to work towards a better understanding of ourselves and the forces that operate both within us and outside us in society, which determine our feelings and behaviour. It is this understanding which plays such a crucial part in enabling people to work towards the sorts of changes that they want for themselves.
I believe it to be particularly important for people who work in the so-called 'caring professions', who help other people to develop and change, to have experienced this process of increasing their understanding of themselves. This is because it is a two-way process. Only through working on understanding ourselves can we begin to understand others. Likewise, when we see clearly why someone else feels or behaves as they do, we can sometimes break through some of our own blindness concerning ourselves.
We nearly always know, even if only dimly, that severe conflicts which make us feel torn and helpless and seem so hard to resolve, have been very strongly determined and deeply patterned at an early stage of our lives. Just as we can sense that our inner conflicts started very far back in our own history, so there is a similar sense about the forces at work creating conflict in society.
When we seek to bring about better solutions to conflicts both within ourselves as well as those outside, it is important that we do not under-estimate either the complications or the strength of the forces opposing such changes. We need to give