CPPNJ - The Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy of New Jersey

Saturday, March 20, 2010

How Betty White can save your life

As a lonely pre-adolescent, I often found comfort perched in front of the warmly-glowing television set my mother insisted would make me blind. (She also warned I would poke my eye out with an umbrella. It's a miracle I became a psychoanalyst rather than an optometrist.)

TV gave me hope. If Mary Tyler Moore could make it after all every Saturday night, then maybe so could I.

And so I think it is wonderful that one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood these days is Mary's former costar, Betty White -- an octogenarian with a zest for life and a delicious ability to poke fun of herself. So many people have lost that sense of joy and playfulness. I'm amazed by how many 20- and 30-somethings are already having midlife crises, terrified of growing older.

Over the years, I've worked with a surprising number of healthy people of all ages gripped by a fear of dying. As we explore this together in therapy, we often find that what they are really afraid of is living. They have experienced so much disappointment whenever they have gotten their hopes up, they are wary to embrace life more passionately. So they procrastinate, avoid and worry. The misery they know is safer than the uncertainty they don't. Ironically, they are petrified of a death they are already living.

That's where psychoanalysis comes in. Finding meaning and richer ways of living by understanding oneself from the inside out is the goal of psychodynamic psychotherapy.
Psychoanalysis is unique among therapeutic approaches in that it does more than simply alleviate symptoms and teach coping skills. (Although it does that too.) It helps get to the deep-seeded patterns that cause suffering by helping people understand how, unconsciously, they contribute to the very unhappiness they are trying to avoid. Psychoanalysis gives a sense that one could be a more active contributor to one's life. It generates a precious ability to be curious, creative, open to new possibilities -- to embrace the very uncertainties that so many people feel overwhelmed by.

In short, psychoanalysis creates laughing, loving, teasing Betty Whites, eager to live life with relish.

You'd have to be blind not to see that.

-- Eric Sherman, LCSW

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