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Freud once said that the goal of psychotherapy is to move from neurotic misery to normal unhappiness. I thought this was an interesting idea, and I’d like to unpack it a bit.

Neurotic Misery

Neurotic misery refers to problems that we cause ourselves because of our issues and hang-ups. For example, maybe our anxiety holds up back from fully engaging in life. Perhaps our depression keeps us from enjoying the day-to-day joys and pleasures in our lives. Maybe our issues in relationships keep us alone, or we sabotage the relationships we do have.

Neurotic misery can happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe we didn’t get the love and training we needed as children, and we have some skill deficits in our lives and relationships. We have difficulty navigating life and engaging in relationships. Or maybe we are stuck in a certain pattern of behaving or engaging that was necessary at one point in our lives, but now it’s holding us back. Psychotherapy can be helpful for working through neurotic misery.

Life is Difficult

But what is the ultimate goal of counseling? The reality is that life is difficult, even for psychologically healthy individuals. Life is not all sunshine and rainbows. Everyone struggles and has ups and downs. We all experience loss. We all go through the aging process. We begin to lose those who are closest to us. Eventually, we experience the greatest loss of all, our own death.

Sometimes we can struggle if we expect life to be different than what it is. For example, if you get really upset as your body ages, you are going to be in for a tough time, because everybody ages. If you can’t cope with the death of a loved one, life is going to be difficult for you, because the death rate of the human race is 100%.

Even as we try to make our lives the best they can possibly be, I think there’s an acceptance of difficulty and struggle that needs to happen for us to navigate through life. There’s a normal level of unhappiness that is just part of the human condition. To get frustrated with that, or to think that we shouldn’t experience it, is a losing battle. It’s just part of life.

Action Step

What do you think of Freud’s statement that the goal of psychotherapy is to move from neurotic misery to normal unhappiness? The next time you are struggling with something, check in with yourself. Is this a problem that you are creating for yourself, because of your issues and hang-ups? If so, it’s good to work through your stuff. Get help from a counselor if you need it. Or, is this a problem that is just part of the ups and downs of life? If so, it might be important to accept it as just part of life.

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