Saturday, June 23, 2018

Be Aware of the "Past-Present Switch"

Once years ago, a young school teacher for special children, Angelica, saw me. She was brought to me for therapy by her parents and siblings.

According to her family, she'd been acting strangely. She was talking in riddles, hardly sleeping at night, and seeing things they don't see.

When I asked about when it started, both parents were saying ever since Angelica was pre-school.

They'd always tell her even as a child that she's "Matigas ang ulo" (hard-headed). Interestingly, during our family sessions, they'd repeat that "label" several times in front of her.

By using the label "matigas ang ulo" (hard-headed) to Angelica as a child, the parents have given her a label that does not suit the developmental context of childhood.

Onwards to adulthood, the parents still apply the same label and explanation to their daughter's strange behavior.

In effect, it then gets too challenging for the parents to see their daughter's present problems objectively ... because they already have their own imposed interpretation of her.

Therapist and author Virginia Satir refers to this aspect of family communications "past-present switches." Each subsequent exposure to a label strengthens its accompanying past-present switch in the mind.

Trauma victims, whether emotional or physical, are often victims of adverse childhood "labels" and much earlier experiences.

Thus the answer to my question in the session of when it started is as useful in individual/family diagnosis as psychological testing.

The first thing to do to heal is to simply notice the voice of this underground "past-present switch" and be aware of it.

It's best done in therapy where a patient is helped to be in touch with signals from his or her internal self. That way lets himself know and feel what really is.