Emotional integration is what relieves emotional suffering, heals, and transforms.
It takes time to bring about deep and lasting change. Such change can not be rushed. We live in a world of fast everything: fast food, fast love, fast change and quick fixes. Self-help seminars promise to change your life in a weekend. Short-term therapies promise to fix your problems in ten to twenty sessions.
To tell you the truth, earlier in my career, I succumbed to this social pressure as a therapist. I truly believed that if I was a really good therapist, I should be able to “fix” any type of problem quickly. I associated speed with expertise. Thankfully, I realized this is not true. Good things take time. A good marriage takes years of hard work and commitment. A successful business takes years of sweat and tears to build. Bringing about deep and lasting personal change also requires time and patience.
Patients often ask, “Is there a practical exercise I can do?” Usually, but not always, my answer is, “no.” This is because the type of learning that takes place in analytic therapy is not a cognitive or rational one, like the learning we do in a school or in a seminar. Rather, it is a learning process that is as much non-conscious as it is conscious.
Through this unique type of learning experience, you will gain new insights which will become a part of you. As a result, you will begin to feel less conflicted and more at peace with yourself. Integrating repressed and disowned feelings can, over time, cure, restore vitality, and generate new possibilities for emotional growth and expansion. Alternatively, painful feelings that remain outside of your awareness and not integrated cause emotional suffering and stagnation. For example, the pain of a broken engagement is relieved when the feelings of loss and sadness can be accepted and integrated. But if the feelings cannot be accepted and integrated, the person remains stuck. On a deeper level, it is the same experience of emotional integration that relieves the suffering caused by traumatic experiences in one’s life. Playwright Arthur Miller powerfully describes the healing and transforming power of emotional integration when he writes:
I think it’s a mistake to ever look for hope outside of one’s self…I tried to die near the end of the war. The same dream returned each night until I dared not to sleep and grew quite ill. I dreamed I had a child and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept onto my lap again and clutched at my clothes. Until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible…but I kissed it. I think one must finally take one’s life in one’s arms.
As you come to understand the meaning of your feelings more deeply, they will become more integrated. As a result, you will find yourself responding to old situations and relationships in new ways and you will feel more alive. These types of results cannot be expected to take place at a fixed time or within a fixed number of sessions. For just as every person is unique, so is every process of change unique. At the same time, since this learning and change process begins immediately, you may begin feeling differently even after the first session.