Being able to stay with the feelings no matter how difficult they are and not act on them impulsively is a sign of emotional maturity. The easiest thing to do when emotionally burden is to act. And that most of the times proves destructive for everyone involved. It’s an infantile mechanism, that’s what babies do when they are tense or angry. But babies’ destructive actions have limited destructive consequences. An adult who is impulsive, unable to bear tension and difficult feelings, can become dangerous for others and for himself, and I’m not only referring to physical danger. Emotional injuries can also be very traumatic.
I’ve had patients like this. For years I’ve been listening to their self-destructive behaviours. In moments of tension people can resort to various exits. Whether that could be alcohol, smoking, promiscuous sex, troublesome and destructive relationships, manic behaviour, etc., the bottom line is that all is done for the sake of not having the feelings.
After years of analysis a patient came to session one day and told me that he doesn’t feel like going out every single night, he is tired. He is able to stay with the tormenting thoughts and feelings and not act on them impulsively. Whether he would end up back to the same behaviours remains to be seen but moments like this is what an analyst (and a patient) have been patiently waiting for. The moment that a patient like this does not resort to his known, familiar, and safe mechanisms of avoiding himself, and can bear to stick with the feelings, is a turning point in therapy where progress can really start to show.
Psychoanalysis can be a slow and sometimes emotionally difficult process, but the results can be life transforming. And they are here to stay.