When I first experienced psychotherapy as a kid, I was initially perturbed by the endless questions in answer to my own.
Why am I sad? Why do you think you’re sad? How come I feel so alone? Why do you think you feel alone? Am I doing the right things? Do you think you’re doing the right things?
That’s totally annoying, right? I think I went off on my therapist about that (in as much as a seven-year-old kid goes off on someone). What this taught me, albeit indirectly, was to look within for answers before looking without. Not that I comprehended that lesson and took it into myself for a couple of decades, though.
I’ve taken the therapy route multiple times in my life. I’ve seen a range of psychologists, psychiatrists, and so on. The last formal therapist I saw — about fifteen years ago — was the best of them.
I believe this was not just because he asked the right questions (or answered my questions with the right questions), but I was ready to ask those questions.
Together, we learned that I had managed to shunt most of my ability to feel emotions somewhere unreachable. Negative emotions were easy — love and positive emotions? Less so. But the questions he asked, that I then asked myself, fundamentally changed my understanding of everything.
And I mean everything. Because when you better understand yourself — you become better able to understand the world.
However, asking some of these questions will lead to pain. But that pain is short-term. The long-term impact makes the pain worth it.
It’s like getting vaccinated against the flu or COVID-19. The vaccine might make you physically ill for a time. But the long-term impact keeps those illnesses from destroying your health — or killing you.
Why are the answers painful?
When pieces of your psyche have been buried in your subconscious — and you bring them into your conscious mind — it exposes them. That exposure can be painful for a lot of reasons.
Let’s say you had a childhood trauma. You buried it because it was traumatic. But that stunted your emotional growth in a way that adult you must cope with. Raising that trauma from the seemingly dead in your subconscious is going to hurt.
But that pain is temporary. It’ll pass as you ask questions and find answers to them.
I was in my early thirties when my therapist and I realized how much I had disconnected myself from my emotions. In the quest to reconnect, he asked me to ask my parents this line of questions: What was the emotional state of six-year-old me when you divorced? How did I seem to you?
Neither parent could answer that question. I don’t blame them — they were caught up in their own mishigas — and while I mattered to them, their primary focus was on the aftermath of the divorce.
That hurt. Nobody intended for that to hurt — but it did. And then came secondary pain.
The secondary pain was the realization that there was one person who would have the answer. My Grandma Betty. She would know because she always knew such things. Except she had passed away seven or eight years before I asked these questions.
After the initial pain and the secondary pain, however, we turned the question to me. Looking into my subconscious, I concluded that I shunted away my emotions because I blamed myself for my parents’ divorce. And because I was a smart kid, I told my psychologist at the time the logical emotions I should have been feeling. But I wasn’t feeling them.
Into the subconscious
Of course, I was not to blame for my parents’ divorce. In my 20s, it was crystal clear to me why they were not together. The truth is, the Universe brought them together for only two reasons — my sister and me. Both have been much happier in their ongoing second marriages.
Recognizing what I had done with the trauma of their divorce, I was now able to reach into my subconscious and start reconnecting with my emotions. Doing so opened me up to so many things that I can only just scratch the surface of in explanation.
This process awakened me to the idea of mindfulness. I’d used it before. After I got hit by a car crossing a street when I was 27, during the recovery from my injuries I saw no outcome but total and complete healing. As such, I put in more effort and energy to get to that place. While I had incredible doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists working with me — I shunted away all doubt and the possibility of failure. No subconscious doubts found their way into my consciousness.
A year later, I was pronounced healed. Unless I tell you this tale — or show off my impressive scar collection — you’d have no idea how badly broken my body was.
The emotional toll that took is another story — but was part of what the therapy in my early 30s healed.
The lesson I received — sometimes not without being beaten over the head metaphorically — was that questions of the self can open the way to the subconscious. And it’s in the subconscious where your beliefs, values, and habits lie.
To get into the subconscious to see them takes questions. Then, more questions are required to control or change them.
Mindfulness of the questions
Random, arbitrary questions will get you random, arbitrary answers. More thought-out questions, however, get you more in-depth answers.
But it’s not just a matter of thought. This is a matter of mindfulness.
Mindfulness, in this instance, is your conscious awareness, here and now. It’s attained from a combination of input via your six senses and your thoughts, feelings, actions, and intentions. These inform your mindset/headspace/psyche self. That makes you consciously aware. Ergo, mindful.
When you know where, what, how, why, and who you are — right this moment — you are aware. That awareness allows you to then dig into your subconscious and see what you don’t consciously work with all the time.
I spent years pretending to myself that I knew what the emotions felt like. Even those I believe that I felt most easily — rage, jealousy, hurt — were incomplete. Asking the questions mindfully about my emotions opened me to find and feel them.
Yeah, it hurt at first. I had a lot of regret for all the times I allowed my indifference and fears to sabotage jobs, relationships, and other potential. Forgiving myself for that took another effort — but asking the right questions mindfully got me there.
Once I bridged that gap and got in touch with those buried, subconscious emotions — my life changed drastically for the better. I calmed down and became considerably more Zen than I was. My relationships got deeper — and I found a partner who I would live with and marry. I stopped (not immediately, mind you) trying to be someone other than who I desired to be for the sake of everyone else.
My life is still, of course, a work in progress. But then, all lives are works in progress.
There will always be questions
I love to learn. When it comes to knowledge, I know a little about a lot. To be fair, I do know a lot about some very specific things — but even in those, I am always learning new things, too.
Some people find all the questions and answers leading to only more questions thoroughly infuriating. But you know what? Living life is all about asking questions.
For everything humankind knows — what we don’t know is nearly infinite. Learning new things changes us individually — but also changes the world.
Questions often lead to intangible things. But not always. Some of the questions of the past brought us the tech we have today. And more questions will bring new technology tomorrow.
On a personal, individual level, questions are the key to bridging the conscious and subconscious. That is how you manage personal growth and development. While you may feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things — you’re not. The more you know yourself — the more you know the world.
Asking questions may lead to more questions — but that’s how we grow. Don’t be afraid to keep asking questions of yourself, of the tangibles, intangibles, life, the Universe, and everything. Sure, there could be pain that comes of the answers — but that pain in the moment might well open you to unimaginable potential and possibilities.