Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reflections: Confessions of a Former Child

Dr. Daniel Tomasulo is a psychotherapist and psychodrama trainer. In this memoir, he writes about his vivid childhood memories surrounding his parents, and chronicles his thoughts and experiences of being both a child as well as a parent.

One of the things I’ve come to realize is that there are more dysfunctional families than there are “functional”. What does it mean to be a functional family, anyway? I don’t know. Nobody is perfect. Everybody carries scars, issues, and baggage. Some just have more of them than others. It’s inevitable that these psychological issues modify one’s behavior, thus causing a chain reaction. Children “inherit” some of these issues, develop new kinds of wounds and scars, and the cycle continues. It’s easy to look back and point fingers and blame the parent, but then this finger-pointing game never ends. Everybody has someone to blame. Everybody has enough self-pity to feel victimized. The only practical solution to this is to break out of the vicious cycle of outsourcing the blame, and instead acknowledge the problem, understand the reasons (without splitting hairs) and accept responsibility for ourselves, for our own betterment and peace. That’s precisely the objective of this memoir and the main take-away message. Acknowledge, understand, forgive, and accept.

It’s an immensely cathartic experience to be able to do so. But not an easy one. The process of writing things out, helps. It makes one go through the rigors of thinking back, reflecting, introspecting, and venting. Even if there are no revelations or insights, it helps to detoxify the mind of the negativity. The memoir reiterates this as well. Since not all of us can use writing as a cathartic tool, Dr. Tomasulo describes an interesting group therapy called psychodrama that tries to achieve similar benefits. An experience or interaction from the individual’s life is reenacted amongst a group of participants or psychologists, so that the individual re-confronts the experience, helping him/her understand it in a new light, and the group gets a chance to objectively study the dynamics of the interaction, the behavior, the reasons behind them etc. The group analyses this with the individual until the roots of the hurt/problem are identified, thus allowing the individual to come to terms with current problems that stem from the past or the particular incident.

I was definitely intrigued by this approach. Often times our memory of certain seemingly painful incidents might be clouded by bias, and we keep perpetuating it in our heads. But if it is forced to come out and take actual shape in reality, our biases would step into the light. I can see how it’s a useful technique to resolve relationship issues, but perhaps not for something far more deep-seated or traumatic that can't even be attempted for re-enaction.

Since the author is a psychologist, I expected the language, the vocabulary, and the structure of the memoir to be highly analytical and academic. But, I was pleasantly surprised that it was accessible, witty, sensitive, and thoughtful. No “psycho-babble” or jargon-laden bookish language.  It was very well-written and narrated. The whole memoir has a creative story-telling approach to it, making it read more like an engaging novel. I also liked how he tied some of his early memories and incidents to similarities within the lives of his patients.

It was a very different memoir than most others I’ve read. Fragments of significant memories and incidents are weaved together to reach closure, understanding, and acceptance. It was an engaging read about parent-child and child-parent relationships.


Karthik said...

Interesting ! But I doubt if psychodrama would work with people who are relatively shy .. They would probably prefer a more subtle approach.. But I fully agree that "Acknowledge, understand, forgive, and accept" is the key..:-)

Neeraja said...

Yeah, I never thought of that. I think part of the therapy is to prepare one to participate in psychodrama, or even to gauge if one could benefit from it. One can even re-enact or role-play by themselves without anybody else watching or participating, but then again, such an approach may not be always helpful.

Aparna said...

Wow... This sounds interesting, more so because of hearing about this psychodrama sort of approach used in a forum which I have been hearing about quite often in the past few months. Hmm. This experience as you put it can be highly cathartic, and to add to it, if done in a period of 4 - 5 days, as practiced by the forum, the individual is suddenly looking at life with a completely different outlook, and has overwhelming thoughts and feelings which can be pretty disturbing for the near and dear ones!! Although beneficial in the long run, the immediate after effects are pretty high, and difficult to handle.

Neeraja said...

True, Aparna. Such therapeutic techniques make the individual confront their emotions head-on. And it is initially painful to relive and be in touch with raw emotions and sudden revelations. There must be follow-up techniques to help handle the outburst of feelings (which I think there are) to finally get to the state of learning from the therapy and reaching acceptance. Unfortunately grief always precedes acceptance...