Can We Ever Get Over Past Psychological Damage? Thinking, Psychotherapy and Developing Inner Strength. Written by Dr Linda Berman.


‘No meaning that comes from outside of ourselves is real. The Buddhahood of each of us has already been obtained. We need only recognise it. Thus the Zen master warns his disciple:

If you Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!’    Sheldon Kopp.

How can we do more than survive childhood damage? Can we ever recover?

Many times, people search for someone to compensate for past losses. This will inevitably mean disappointment. No-one can replace the parent we did not have or rectify a broken childhood.

Thus, life is often disheartening. It might feel that people fall short of  our expectations, as we seek the ‘perfect’ spouse, parent, child, sibling, guru, therapist, friend.

Jung said ‘Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.’

When we expect a saviour, we are a little like Vladimir and Estragon, in Waiting for Godot:


Image:Waiting for Godot. Flickr. Silver TD.

The play may be seen as….

…..a metaphor for the futility of man’s existence when salvation is expected from an external entity, and the self is denied introspection. (Sion, quoting Dukore.)

The protagonists are encaged in nihilism and passivity. They cannot think for themselves. They expect enlightenment, solutions and meaning to appear from outside as they wait and wait.

This issue of being unable to think for oneself is is highly relevant in our twenty-first century society. The ability to do this is being eroded by current societal trends.

These trends are also reflected in psychotherapy, when people often expect advice, solutions and a speedy cure. There is the general rise of a blame culture, regarding others as responsible for one’s own psychological recovery.

Vernhaeghe explores this blame discourse in a paper entitled ‘If They Don’t Make You Happy, Sue Them.’  He observes that often people do not feel they have to work on themselves, thinking they will be ‘made better.’

In reality, it is only through personal ‘introspection’, an exploratory journey into self-understanding, that we can discover how to repair ourselves. Psychological renewal can occur, through life experience and through psychotherapy.

Poppies symbolise such growth out of damage and loss. They grow on the former battlefields of the first world war. They are a living memorial and a reminder of past trauma.Poppies_Growing_on_the_Marne_Battlefield_near_Villeroy_and_Chauconin_France_-_panoramio

Poppies on the Marne Battlefield, France.

Phoenix-like, energy and strength may emerge from the ashes of adversity. Sanford describes how many adults traumatised in childhood have amazing resilience. It is frequently said that lifelong emotional damage is inevitable after such experiences, yet there are countless examples of healthy, functioning adults who have experienced childhood abuse.


Healing may be attained, for example, through nurturing relationships, spirituality, self-examination, religion or art. In psychotherapy, people learn to work through their past traumas, emerging stronger and more insightful. How might this be achieved?

The psychotherapy experience, an ‘accompanied’ journey into the self,  is different for everyone; therapists also differ in their approaches. If people are unsure, a preliminary assessment will help people decide whether it is right for them.

Therapy may help people explore faulty beliefs and ideas. An empathic, non-judgmental therapist can enable troubling, repetitive thoughts and emotions to emerge that may have been denied or repressed. Feelings such as guilt, shame or uncontrolled anger might be limiting personally and affect relationships.

There may be an exploration of past experience, discovering its influence on adult feelings, relationships and behaviour. One may thus gain insight into the roots of  psychological pain and how to manage and resolve it.

Whilst therapy cannot make people forget trauma, it can help them to manage the effects better. They become less burdened by disturbing memories and more confident that they have the inner resources to cope.

Often, people come to realise that being human involves having shortcomings ; an aware acceptance of one’s own ‘shadow side‘ makes this feel less threatening and more under control.

Frequently, our human fallibility can be a foundation for empathy and compassion; being flawed is different from being weak. Our idiosyncrasies make us unique and individual; loving another person involves embracing their, and our own, limitations.

Perhaps, paradoxically, our irregularities, our incompleteness, are what makes us real, whole people. Leonard Cohen said : ‘There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in .’

The impossible quest for perfection creates unbearable tension; it is often about feeling inadequate, perhaps partly through high parental expectations. Broken and healed people, at all stages of personal renewal, can be beautiful. Imagine how dull life would be if we all resembled a prototype of human robotic perfection.

The Japanese have a process called kintsukuroi, in which they mend broken pots with gold.


Image: By permission of Kitsugi Oxford (

The repaired piece is changed by the breaking and the recovery; different, but still beautiful. Maybe it will be more valuable, as there is evidence of a past, of its history. Something precious has been added. There is also a powerful visual indicator of the pot’s innate resilience.

Thus it is with the wounded and broken person; repair and improvement are always possible. Out of bad, sometimes there emerges something good, enhancing, reinforcing. This may take the form of new learning, resilience and courage.

People are often inherently stronger than we could possibly imagine. We are born with truly amazing resources and we need to learn to trust and fortify these in ourselves and others.

We end this post with a story from the Talmud. This tells how when a child is born, it possesses all knowledge. Then an angel touches the baby on the lips and it forgets all it once knew. The child will spend the rest of its life trying to remember. The legend has it that the angel’s touch forms the philtrum, the little hollow above our lips.

The angel's whisper



  1. I found this very enlightening…and more important: USEFUL….there are many points that triggered my interest and are very pertinent ….I will certainly read through again and again…THANKS !


    • Thanks so much for your positive comment. Sorry didn’t reply sooner but the comment ended up in my spam box. Will check more in future.Thanks again, Linda.


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