It seems that as we emerge from the various lockdown restrictions many people are finding themselves struggling to adjust, with accounts of relationships under strain, unhealthy patterns of behaviour around food, alcohol or other substances, anxiety disorders and anger management problems.
But times of change can also bring opportunities for us to change in positive ways too and I think that now is a great time for us to consider addressing those things that make us feel less than happy about ourselves. This week I have been reminded how in just a split second something can happen that results in the opening of a new possibility – one that can transform how we experience life. Have you ever had a moment of realisation where you can see clearly and for the very first time how you have been holding on to something, an assumption, opinion, belief, fear or action that you now realise you have control over, where there are suddenly more options or choices available to you?
The experience is one that words struggle to capture – revelation is one that comes to mind, another word and my personal favourite is an old word from Greek philosophy – “epochē”. The translation of this is “suspension of judgement” – in my personal experience and from pivotal moments in my work as a therapist it comes about as a result of something that disrupts a person’s sense of self in such a way that it reveals something previously hidden to them.
Outside of therapy such moments often happen because of something unexpected and often we hear about this occurring to other people in the context of a horrible accident, a near death experience or an illness. As such we might find ourselves not wanting to think too much about this, seeing this as something that is either out of our control or requiring huge pain but I don’t believe this to be the case. Such moments are undoubtedly hugely powerful but actually can contain huge relief and a sense of catharsis – crucially I believe we can safely create the conditions ourselves for this to happen – without needing something horrible to befall us.
What is required is that we decide that we want to allow change, that we are willing to risk what we know being challenged and disturbed, that we have become so tired of something that we will allow something different to happen. An example of this is how with physical pain such as toothache, it is natural for people to reach their point of tolerance before booking an appointment with the dentist, meanwhile in therapy it is the moment that someone commits to therapy that enables this to occur.
Here though I want to talk about risk and safety, while we are talking about letting go of something, the one thing not to let go of is what you can tolerate, what you are prepared to do and what your boundaries are. It is possible to get so tired and upset as to want to just give away your responsibility to someone else. A “safe” someone else will always be careful to attend to your boundaries, ensuring you are consenting and that you know that at any time you can withdraw your consent. This is crucial because if this doesn’t happen an experience can cause trauma, or worse – so the main point here is to ensure that when you decide you want to change then always remember that whilst another person might have skills and experience that might help, ultimately you need to be in charge and if you feel that the dynamic puts them in charge you really need to address this before proceeding.
Back now to the process of “epochē” and how to harness it for change. Here I will share an experience from my own life. I do not like heights and in the past I did not like myself for not liking heights, I remember reaching a point whereby I realised that I no longer wanted to feel that way and so for my fortieth birthday I bought myself a parachute jump training. The training was highly professional and very well organised and all the risks were carefully explained with the training rigorous. Throughout I understood that I had a choice, that I could change my mind at any time. When it came time to jump out of the plane it was then down to me. These fourteen years later I still do not like heights but I no longer dislike myself for that.
If there is something you do not like about yourself then the thing that will need to change is not necessarily the thing itself but your not liking yourself because of it. In the treatment of anxiety and phobias therapists work with patients to find a way for them to face their fears. We can change our lives in a split second but it most probably takes time to get us to that transformative moment of epochē.
Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Couples Counsellor and Coach
UKCP registrant, MBACP (accred), UKRCP
PGDip, MA, Adv Dip Ex Psych
Nicholas Rose & Associates
Counselling, psychotherapy and coaching for children, adults, couples and families.
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