The Myth of the Good Experience
One of the most enduring ideas we have is that if we have bad experiences, then we only need a good experience to counteract them. But we can end up saying “if I'm so better off now, why do I still feel crappy?” We believe the good experiences will wipe away the bad experiences as if they had never happened. But is this true? Or something else needed?
The effect of a bad relationship
Let's take relationships as an example. We know that having a bad relationship can have a negative effect on a person. They can lose confidence, become self-critical or angry towards others. The effect of these bad experiences can persist even after the relationship is long ended.
Popular wisdom is then if we follow this with a good relationship, then largely the negative aspects of the bad relationship will melt away and we will be left with the good things that came out of the good relationship. It's like we can then imagine that the bad relationship never happened.
The long-lasting effects of bad experiences
In practice however, the effect on us of negative experiences can be long lasting. Even after the end of a bad relationship and the start of a good one we are still influenced by what happened to us in the bad relationship. When this happens, we wonder what's happening to us and our good partners can doubt the positive influence that they have on us. Both people can end up being frustrated and disappointed.
Working your way through
One of the difficulties with this is that when we then have a good relationship, we don't have an adequate opportunity to work our way through the feelings and responses that we have towards the bad relationship. Residual feelings of anger, frustration and disappointment don't really have a place in the new relationship; we try to push these feelings aside but of course that doesn't work.
This isn't to say that good experiences don't help – they are a very important part of the change process – but they usually aren't enough by themselves.
Sorting it out incounselling
This is where therapy can come in. It gives us a chance to project these unresolved feelings onto another person (in this case the therapist) and work through them. This is what we are trained to do. When we follow this process and work through these feelings, then we have a good chance of transforming them into something within us that can be the strong foundation of good relationship. We are no longer covering up; we have worked through it.
– Tim Hill
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