It is interesting how memory and experience work. Yesterday morning I was sitting in a classroom for the first time in a long while. I am taking some lessons in Italian language. One of the first things that I remarked was how reticent people were at first to make contact with one another, even though we were all embarking upon an experience of learning together. There seemed to be several layers of feeling operating: embarrassment at speaking to new people whom one does not know jostled with a sense that we are all in this together and there is no reason why we should not become friends. Nonetheless, I felt quite relaxed and positive in the first session and it struck me how different this was from how I would have felt when much younger when such situations would have struck terror in me. Having thus complimented myself in the first session, I was surprised to notice that in the second session I had a lump in my throat. I was not aware of any specific trigger for this - the class was going quite well - but I immediately connected it with a similar sensation in a particular school situation when I was seven years old. The old wound was being stimulated by current conditions.
I have a theory that we never totally "get over" anything. Old experience is put aside, as if onto a shelf in the back of the shop. Or, one could say that it is put into a new perspective. As one gets further away from it in time it recedes, just as distant objects seem smaller, but if one is thrown back into the same or sufficiently similar conditions, it all comes back. Of course, I now have a lot of experience to put alongside, that I did not have when I was seven years old, so the feeling, though uncomfortable, was not so threatening or over-whelming, but it was just as real.
This, of course, all has some relevance to therapy. What is a reasonable goal? One often hears people say that they have or have not "dealt with" a particular issue as though there were some way to finally depotentiate an issue. I am generally doubtful about this type of assertion. We can explore things. We can put them in new context. We can change the angle of perception. We can add new experience and material. We can do all these things and they all give life new meaning and direction, but we should not expect to actually erase experience. On the other hand, there is no point in clinging to it either. The extremes of suppressing or catastrophising are both best avoided. Writing this this morning I can, with an effort, conjure up the sensation of yesterday, but it is weaker, presumably because I am not in the classroom right now. My attitude to it is mostly that of detached interest. Will it return more strongly? Possibly, but such things are like changes in the weather - a storm rarely lasts all day and one cannot have sunshine all the time without desiccation.