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  • Knowing our own minds is difficult at the best of times.

  • It is extraordinarily hard to secure even basic insights into our characters and motivationsof a kind that we hope

  • can free us from some of the neuroses and compulsions that spoil so much of our lives.

  • It is therefore especially humbling and at moments truly dispiriting to realise that

  • dispelling ignorance of our psyches with knowledge isn't going to be enough by itself. Or rather,

  • we stand to realise that there is going to need to be a further and yet more arduous

  • distinction to observe between knowing something about ourselves intellectually and knowing about it emotionally.

  • We might, for example, come to an intellectual understanding that

  • we are timid around figures of authority because our father was a remote and distant figure

  • who didn't give us some of the support and love we needed to tolerate ourselves.

  • Assembling this insight into our characters might be the work of many years and, having reached

  • it, we could reasonably expect that our problems with timidity and authority would then abate.

  • But the mind's knots are sadly not so simple to unpick. An intellectual understanding of

  • the past, though not wrong, won't by itself be effective in the sense of being able to

  • release us from the true intensity of our neurotic symptoms. For this, we have to edge

  • our way towards a far more close-up, detailed, visceral appreciation of where we have come

  • from and what we have suffered. We need to strive for what we can call an emotional understanding

  • of the pastas opposed to a top-down, abbreviated intellectual one. We will have

  • to re-experience at a novelistic level of detail a whole set of scenes from our early

  • life in which our problems around fathers and authority were formed. We will need to

  • let our imaginations wonder back to certain moments that have been too unbearable to keep

  • alive in a three-dimensional form in our active memories (our mind liking, unless actively prompted,

  • to reduce most of what we've been through to headings rather than the full story,

  • a document which it shelves in remote locations of the inner library). We need not only to

  • know that we had a difficult relationship with our father, we need to relive the sorrow

  • as if it were happening to us today. We need to be back in his book lined study when we

  • would have been not more than six; we need to remember the light coming in from the garden,

  • the corduroy trousers we were wearing, the sound of our father's voice as it reached

  • its pitch of heightened anxiety, the rage he flew into because we had not met his expectations,

  • the tears that ran down our cheeks, the shouting that followed us as we ran out into the corridor,

  • the feeling that we wanted to die and that everything good was destroyed. We need the

  • novel, not the essay. Psychotherapy has long recognised this distinction. It knows that

  • thinking is hugely importantbut on its own, within the therapeutic process itself,

  • it is not the key to fixing our psychological problems. Psychotherapy insists on a crucial difference

  • between broadly recognising that we were shy as a child and re-experiencing, in its full

  • intensity, what it was like to feel cowed, ignored and in constant danger of being rebuffed or mocked;

  • the difference between knowing, in an abstract way, that our mother wasn't

  • much focused on us when we were little and reconnecting with the desolate feelings we

  • had when we tried to share certain of our needs with her. Therapy builds on the idea

  • of a return to live feelings. It's only when we're properly in touch with feelings

  • that we can correct them with the help of our more mature facultiesand thereby

  • address the real troubles of our adult lives. Oddly (and interestingly) this means intellectual

  • people can have a particularly tricky time in therapy. They get interested in the ideas.

  • But they don't so easily recreate and exhibit the pains and distresses of their earlier,

  • less sophisticated selves, though it's actually these parts of who we all are that need to

  • be encountered, listened to andperhaps for the first timecomforted and reassured.

  • We need, to get fully better, to go back in time, perhaps every week or so for a few years,

  • and deeply relive what it was like to be us at five and nine and fifteen

  • and allow ourselves to weep and be terrified and furious in accordance with the reality of the situation.

  • And it is on the basis of this kind of hard-won emotional knowledge, not its more painless

  • intellectual kind, that we may one day, with a fair wind, discover a measure of relief from some of the troubles within us.

  • Our dictionary features the language of emotional intelligence.

  • Too often, we struggle to find the right words to explain what we mean; this dictionary is

  • a tool to help us convey our true emotions and intentions with economy and precision.

Knowing our own minds is difficult at the best of times.

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B1 UK intellectual knowing authority relive emotional intellectually

Knowing Ourselves Intellectually vs. Knowing Ourselves Emotionally

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    Samuel posted on 2018/06/20
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