Palo Alto Counseling, Psychotherapist in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, CA, California - Carol Campbell, MFT
706 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301 • (650) 325-2576
License MFC 28308
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How Therapy Can Help You Stop Turning Good into Bad
and Bad into Good

by Carol Campbell, MFT

Sometimes the issues that bring a person to psychotherapy or psychoanalysis are a result of a recent problem or of an unexpected and disturbing development, such as a death in the family or a divorce. Other times the presenting problem is actually a lifelong pattern of response in relationships that developed early in life out of necessity, but which now is a stumbling block. One of the most frequent of these lifelong maladaptive patterns is when a person takes something good and turns it into something bad in their mind, or takes something bad and makes it into something good.

Therapists sometimes refer to these types of relationship patterns as perversions. Probably the most extreme example is someone who is sexually perverted – taking something that should be good (sex) and turning it into something bad (self-harming behaviors). But perversions come in many forms.

Rick came from a family that had immigrated to the Bay Area. His father had grown up in a brutally abusive family, with the not surprising result that the father was an insecure man. When the family relocated here, the father dealt with his discomfort at being an outsider by telling Rick and his siblings that they did not need to be like the other families in the neighborhood. They were told they did not need the activities and experiences that the other children were enjoying. Denying needs was the coin of the realm. Rick's family was unable to embrace the new culture. When Rick went to school, the teachers recognized his great academic and musical potential. But the parents treated Rick's achievements and exceptionalism as betrayals. They insulted Rick's attachments to his teachers, never went to his performances, and refused to support the recommendation that Rick skip a grade.

What Rick internalized was a perversion that turned good into bad and bad into good. Throughout his life, if Rick did something well, he felt ashamed. If he was drawn to a romance, it had to be with an inappropriate partner. If a sibling invited him to join in a family activity, he told himself he did not deserve to go and would stay home to work on some unpleasant chore instead, all the while telling himself that the family really didn't want to see him anyway. If he got a bonus at work, he would go blow it in Reno.

In our therapy, Rick's perversions manifested in how masterful he was at not letting his feelings of dependency on me develop as they needed to, in order for deep psychological treatment to work well. If he were having an especially difficult week, that would be the time he would find an excuse not to come to his session. Rick pulled to keep our work on an intellectual plane, lest he gratify the part of himself that truly wanted my help to touch and heal his inner world. He focused on what an inconvenience it was to have to drive to my office, to pay my fee, and to have to face the problems inherent in his perverse personality.

Our progress came slowly. Rick's humiliation for actually wanting my deepest care and attention was overwhelming for him. He hated what he loved, because he felt exposed and vulnerable in a very scary way. But together over time we figured out all the puzzle pieces of why he had needed to develop the personality he had – his longing to please his father, his guilt-inducing anger at both his parents, his sadness at lost opportunities, his fear of doing things in unfamiliar but healthier ways, etc. In validating these realities, Rick could grieve his losses and move on with new hope in his heart.

Over time Rick was able to use our therapeutic relationship to establish goodness in his mind that he could count on. Just as he could trust that I would listen to him, that I would be there for his sessions, that I would come back after vacations, that I would keep strict boundaries around the times of our sessions, etc., he could allow predictability and consistency to develop in his mind. He could let good be good and bad be bad, and have appropriate reactions to both these poles of reality. He learned to talk about his most tender feelings and his most frightening fears. He allowed me to be strong and forgot about his former need for control of our sessions. He lost his sense of humiliation about being appropriately dependent on someone he loves, and was able to find and establish a loving, reciprocal relationship with a wonderful woman he met through a club he joined. He learned to seek out enjoyable experiences and not create miserable or unhealthy ones for himself.

Perhaps there are elements of Rick's story that seem familiar to you about yourself. A licensed mental health professional such as a Marriage and Family Therapist can help you make profound changes in your life, including changing perversions into healthy responses. There is no value added to your life by being trapped in the habit of turning good into bad or bad into good. The road to an honest acceptance of reality is not easy, but the difference in the quality of your life if you do so can be well worth the effort and expense.

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Calls regarding appointments are welcome at my private voicemail: 650-325-2576.

Carol L. Campbell, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist providing psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for individual adults and couples in Palo Alto, California. She has degrees from Brown University and Santa Clara University and has been licensed since 1991. Carol is a graduate of the Palo Alto Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Training Program sponsored at Stanford by the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis and was a candidate at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California in San Francisco from 2010-2011. She is also a clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology.

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