Owen Madden - Psychologist

Our protective responses

09 Mar 2016

Much of our experiences, reactions and protective responses are below the surface of our conscious awareness

this being so because in our early lives it is not emotionally safe for us to deal straightforwardly with what arises for us .In early life we necessarily and creatively fit around our parents and other significant adults- in order to survive, we wisely make their business our business- because we are completely dependant on them not only for our physical survival but crucially for our sense of belonging and lovability and our sense that our presence matters in the world . Because conformity is the safest option, we can find ourselves unconsciously living in reaction to someone else’s vulnerabilities and protective behaviour rather than living authentically from our own centre.

In my own life journey I was fortunate enough to receive safe holding and guidance from two friends who later went on to become colleagues and who have played a major part in my work as a psychotherapist. I understood over time that safe holding – the provision of a bridge – will come from the person who has compassion for where you are right now, who holds a non-judgemental stance towards you, who honours and respects the creativity involved in your protective strategies , who understands that whatever protective behaviours may emerge are windows into what needs to be resolved for you, who supports the emergence of new choices, who encourages new actions, and who at all times shows you loving kindness. Through this friendship I understood that the ultimate aim is that it becomes safe enough to have this kind of relationship with yourself.
This experience of unconditional loving has had a remarkable influence on me both professionally and personally. There is a profound simplicity to the state of unconditional love: ‘I love and accept myself, no strings attached,’ and, from that inner conviction and free place ,’I love and accept the other person for her individual presence-no buts!’

From my own life and the stories of others, I have come to realise how extraordinary difficult it can be for some individuals to allow themselves to feel loved; they are terrified to allow the possibility because they know the horrors of having love and regard withdrawn. Quite rightly, and creatively, they will test the love being offered in a therapeutic relationship and, in the face of such responses the boundaries of the therapist often come under pressure. There are those (therapists among them) who believe that unconditional love is not possible, but there is little hope for peace on earth without the intention and practice of unconditional love. The key to this quest is not to confuse your own self with behaviour, no matter how good, bad or outrageous, and not to confuse the self of another with behaviour, no matter how benign or how threatening. It is in this separation of person from behaviour that there is clear space for the non-judgemental, compassionate and respectful response that is critical to the resolution of our own inner turmoil and that of others.
Owen Madden. Psychotherapist/Author

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