Primary Socialisation and Psychotherapy

How old are our problems?   Does thinking about our experience of primary socialisation help us find a way to live better?

“I need help with my anxiety.  I am getting really stressed about my relationship.  I am worried about my girlfriend’s past relationships.  I can’t get the worries out of my mind.”

Anonymous client

Do our worries and concerns relate to our early experiences? To what is sometimes referred to as our primary socialisation?

When I work with people, I am always careful to find out as much as I can about the presenting problem.  That is the reason that compelled someone to come to see me now. 

But how does our past affect our present experience?

Part of the developing understanding of working together in psychotherapy is to think about the way the problems we experience in the present are created out of issues and factors that relate to our past.  From there we can consider what might be done to change things now.

  • Often our presenting problems relate to specific things that have happened to us in the present.  So, they might relate to being made redundant, or to a relationship breakup or a bereavement or a traumatic event. 
  • But sometimes our problems have a long history, and that is when it can become helpful to get an understanding of what our early experience was like, what our primary socialisation was like.

Primary Socialisation – Modern Psychotherapy and Counselling has a History

It was built on older traditions of psychology and psychiatry and from those developed into therapy and therapeutic interventions.  Around the end of the 19th-century things start to shape into what we would recognise as psychotherapy today and what we find are psychoanalysts, neurologists, psychiatrists, doctors, trying to establish the causal links between the problems that their patients refer with, and the roots of those problems. 

Often the origins of the problem are old 

But just because the problem is old, does not mean that it is not possible to get an understanding of it in the present day.  Or to change the way it affects us in the present.

Primary socialisation is a term that comes from sociology and really refers to the period early in a person’s life when they start to learn about themselves and build up their experience. 

During this period we learn about how interactions work with people around us, particularly with family..

Thinking of this from a psychotherapeutic point of view we are interested in the ways in which our early relationships with parents, siblings, the people who took care of us, made a lasting impression upon us and may still be shaping our interactions today. 

A History of Developing Understanding

Across the 20th-century there was a particular focus upon the way in which a child’s early experience with its mother and primary caregivers shaped its relationship with the world and contributed to solutions and complications it experienced in the world. 

One of the things that psychotherapists try to pay attention to, is how the client relates to their therapist.  There is a large body of work that considers that it is possible to gain insights from the way the therapy and the therapist is experienced and works.  In psychotherapy this is referred to as transference.

This approach can shed light upon what the primary socialisation experience of the client was.

Looked at like this, psychotherapy and counselling provides a kind of lens through which we can consider and work on our early experiences.

The reason we want to gain these insights is to see if we can make changes into how we live in the present.  It may be that there are elements of our behaviour in the present that really belong to experiences we had long ago, but we have not found a way to shake those past experiences off.

So someone like the client at the start of this blog, who finds himself overly anxious about his partner forgetting him or rejecting him for another, may have developed this in relations to a much older relationship. 

If we can discriminate between these things, see which anxiety belongs to which relationship we may be able to develop greater emotional stability and confidence in the present.

We also may see this in work situations, where somebody may struggle to get on with their peer group in a way that reflects their childhood struggle to get on with their siblings.

Similarly, they may struggle with authority with their boss, in a way that reflects their early experience but their parent’s authority. 

  • If we can distinguish between the present, the new possibility in our relationship with our boss, and the past, the way our relationships worked with our parents the way the primary socialisation worked then we might be able to get some freedom from it. 

That might be a key aim of psychotherapy; to know more about the primary socialisation bonds that influence us. 

To step out of the shadow of the past so that we can be more creative and constructive and get more pleasure from the present.

Contact me to discuss further

If you have a sense that your problems require attention, that you may be transferring problems from the past to your present relationships, then it might be helpful to talk about this.

There are things that can be changed and improved about how we live.

I have been working with people on issues such as this for twenty years.  My work is built around helping people to engage with the problems that hold them back.  Problems that block their energy, creativity and self-expression. 

Working like this in psychotherapy can be a route to being able to see the difference between what you imagine someone might think about you and what they do think about you.

Contact me to arrange a free 15-minute conversation to discuss how my work might be useful to you.

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