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  • Danusia Atkinson

"I just want to stop being angry"...How therapy works and what to do with difficult feelings.

A wonderful image by Marcos Avlerado has been popping up on my social media this week. It follows a person through the start, middle and end of therapy. At the start, the person is carrying a huge bag with a dark cloud over their head, during therapy we see demon-like creatures escaping from the bag and finally, after therapy, we see the person happily walking forward, guiding their demons behind them.


Therapy and the benefits of it can be a really difficult thing to explain to someone who is unfamiliar with the experience. Clients often say that they come to therapy as they want to stop being angry, they want to forgive someone, they want to stop their anxiety. In this blog, I am going to use this drawing to explain the experience of therapy and also explore why some of our more negative feelings are important to listen to. If we can understand our demons, we can walk happily with them rather than feel weighed down by dragging them.





In the beginning….


We all have a bag- some are smaller, some are larger but carrying our bag through life can feel difficult at times. It can cause us to repeat patterns in relationships that are unhealthy, it can prevent us from living the way we want to and can cause us great distress.


In this picture, the bag is hiding something. The person has demons; different ones, in different sizes but hidden and always carried. In psychodynamic counselling, we could look at this bag as representing our unconscious. When we talk about the unconscious in therapy, we talk about a number of elements.


First, we are all impacted by our culture and our society. We will have internalised values about money, sexuality, class etc. These values will impact our choices, and our self-esteem and may well do so without us realising and challenging whether or not these values are actually ours.


Secondly, we have our intergenerational inheritance. We know now that the experience of trauma makes changes to our genetics, genetics that are passed on to our family. A study in 2016 found that children of Holocaust survivors had genes changes that were attributed to their parent's experiences. The Holocaust is an extreme experience but it is something we have to be alive to in therapy; what experiences did our ancestors have, and what early experiences might our parents have had?


Finally, we have our own past and our experiences as a child. There may have been trauma, bereavement, family issues such as separation, mental health, and substance abuse. Even without these more intense experiences, we will have created an internal model as to who we are, how we are supposed to live and how we are supposed to relate to others. These experiences often sit outside of our awareness but have a tremendous impact on how we experience the present.


In the middle….


Coming to therapy can be incredibly hard. It is a difficult thing to do and important to do at the right time, with the right person with whom we can feel safe. Uncovering these demons, and starting to look at what’s inside can be scary. In the middle picture, although difficult, the person seems to be standing taller. Despite it being difficult, there is great relief from being listened to and supported. The experience of being able to uncover, understand and unpack these demons without shame or judgement, in a supportive and compassionate environment is powerful. Through doing so, we make changes to our internal model. We begin to learn that it is safe to be vulnerable, we can survive shame.


I am reminded of a children’s book called The Huge Bag of Worries. In this book, the child is carrying a huge bag of worries, every attempt she makes to get rid of it causes it to get bigger until she can’t lift it anymore. When she eventually meets an old lady who helps her sort her worries, the child is astonished at how small the worries look when out in the open. Sometimes these worries won’t seem small, they may seem more like demons but, as in the picture, demons are different sizes and shapes. We won’t be able to uncover them until we take them out, but we may be surprised at our ability to manage what we find.





At the end.....


Finally, the picture shows the person walking holding hands with their demons. Often, we can go to therapy expecting to get rid of feelings we don’t like. We might be furious with someone, we might feel depressed or anxious, we might feel guilty about our past or envious of another. (If you find yourself full of rage at someone, I would suggest looking at my other blog where I ask what can I learn from someone I hate. )


We can often feel shame or humiliation in expressing these feelings or frustration that they impact how we live. Counselling can be so helpful in this experience. We can, with the help of a professional, learn to approach these feelings not with disgust or aggression but with curiosity and compassion. Not only can these feelings give a clue as to what is in our bag but also, we can start to recognise how they have helped us. Our anger at someone who let us down might have been necessary to prevent us from being overwhelmed with sadness when that sadness felt too scary. Our social anxiety might have been necessary at points to prevent us from being judged when our idea of our self was too vulnerable even if it now leaves us disconnected and lonely. Our constant need to please and be liked by everyone may have kept us safe at some time even if it leaves us burnt out now. We can start to recognise how these parts of ourselves have attempted to help us, have helped us at times but now, we no longer need to be at their mercy. We can allow them to walk with us but we are in control of the speed and direction in which we are walking.


You can contact me for counselling, online or in person in Sevenoaks, Kent via the “Contact Me” section of this website. To find out more about the therapy that I offer, please look at the rest of my website.




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