The Scar that Heals

“Whenever we give up, leave behind, and forget too much, there is always the danger that the things we have neglected will return with added force.”

~ Carl Jung

The above quote contains an important cautionary tale. In psychotherapy I often see people that believe that they have resolved an issue, only to see it return at a later time. Usually when it returns it is more intense, because: 1) they had put energy into believing that it was now o.k., and 2) the consequences have gotten higher. For example * Jim and Deseray were a young Houston couple. They were overjoyed when after 4 years of trying to conceive Deseray became pregnant. The joy was short lived when Deseray miscarried two months into the pregnancy. The couple was devastated, but quickly became pregnant again. This time they had a child, Gwen, and thought they had resolved all grief around the miscarriage. However, when three-year-old Gwen cut her arm in a playground incident a new conflict arose. Although Gwen was not seriously injured, Jim was furious with Deseray, who had been attending to Gwen at the playground. Deseray and Jim came to see me because they had never had so much conflict in their marriage. It was only after several weeks of couples counseling that the grief and fear related to the miscarriage were brought to light. Jim’s grief over the miscarriage and fear that Gwen would die were covered over – until Gwen’s injury allowed them to erupt. “I thought that we had resolved that grief a long time ago”, said Jim. “Now I see it may never fully be resolved.”

In therapy we worked to discover the reasons behind the anger, to recognize emotional patterns in the relationship, and to learn ways of communicating that would help the couple be aware of problems. Because Deseray and Jim were highly motivated and had a strong foundation to their relationship, with in a few months we all agreed that they did not need continued regular counseling. They now see me every six months or so to check in and explore any small conflicts that may be brewing. When they look at the very small scar on six-year-old Gwen’s arm – they remember that Gwen’s injury helped them explore a deeper one in their relationship. Jim is still anxious about Gwen’s growing independence, but he and Deseray have effective ways to discuss Gwen’s safety. The couple can even laugh about how anxious Jim is likely to be when Gwen starts dating!

Saying that a psychological issue has been resolved is like saying that winter has been resolved because there was a warm day in February. While one may not be experiencing winter at this time, it will return in it’s own time. Most incidents that are highly emotional: traumatic events, death of a loved one, even loosing a job or failing to get into the college of your choice, can have lasting repercussions. Old fears like “I am not good enough”, or “I am too disorganized” may also feel resolved for a while, only to return later.

When we can become aware, familiar with and even embrace a concern or issue that is troubling then we can find effective ways to manage it, even if we never resolve it. Often, through reflection, a hidden problem can be managed alone. At other times it may be helpful to seek the guidance of an experienced psychologist or counselor.

* to protect client confidentiality this is not an actual case, but demonstrates the dynamics that are similar to many client circumstances.

Michael Winters is a Psychologist in Houston focusing on marriage counseling and therapy. Michael received his PhD from the University of Memphis and has been practicing since 1991.