Clients typically seek out psychotherapy after struggling with some amorphous sense that their lives are lacking a certain quality often equated to “happiness.” Commonly, this persistent feeling tone is characterized as “depression” or “anxiety.” Additionally, clients have come to internalize a nagging sense that their suffering is the result of some fundamental defect in his or her being. Instead, Buddhist psychology practice springs from the premise that suffering is usually not the result of any core defect, but rather is the result of entrenched conditioning leading to persistent thoughts that moment-to-moment experience should be different than it appears to be.
Clients have come to experience this negative feeling tone as some personal defect rather than the logical extension of causes and conditions that have led one to perceive experience in ways at odds with “reality.” The challenge in becoming able to live in harmony with the natural unfolding of life leads to fundamental feelings of disconnect. We no longer feel “alive” and deeply suffer.
Most of us have been conditioned in ways that have lead to an internalized belief in self-efficacy and the ability to control outcomes. This orientation is especially entrenched in people who were never able to cultivate a fundamental feeling of safety in early childhood experiences. Regular ruptures in early childhood attachment often lead to persistent feelings of fear. When fear arises, the brain gravitates to “problem-solving mode” and comes to employ these strategies in situations that are not intellectually solvable.
This orientation prompts one to reach a point of existential disconnect and suffering in adulthood. Suffering deepens as he or she continues to employ intellectual problem-solving strategies to address feelings of unhappiness. These strategies exacerbate suffering because reality will seldom closely approximate our thought-driven notions of what reality “should” be.