I was in therapy for eight years in my late 30s and early 40s.
Eight years is a long time, and I think for the last couple of years I wasn't getting much out of it, but it can take a long time to actually make a move.
Anyway, there was one moment that made it all worthwhile. An epiphany that was available to me at any time, even without therapy. But it took a conversation with my therapist to get me to see it.
I was talking about a family member, X.
"I know exactly what X is thinking right now," I said.
"Really," said the therapist. "How do you know?".
"I don't know what X is thinking."
A very simple idea. But so hard to grok. The image I have of someone is different from the person.
Another example. At a workshop. The teacher passes around a picture of someone famous, Y. He asks each of us, as we hold the picture and look at it, what is that you're holding. Each of us says Y. At the end (you know where this is going, I'm sure) he says we're all wrong. That's not Y. It's a piece of paper that has a picture of Y on it.
The point -- the image is not the thing. And further, all we see, even when we're close enough to someone to be intimate, is the image. The real thing is only something that X or Y can experience. We can get closer to the piece of paper, but we can't get through the paper to the thing it is representing.
Why is it important to know this? Maybe it doesn't matter if we understand the difference between image and reality.
Well it turns out if you want to get along with people, you have to respect the difference. And by respect, I mean acknowledge it, accept the distance between yourself and this other entity. The separation is where each of our power comes from. The unique power to be that thing, whether it's a brother, an actor, even a picture of an actor, all these things deserve our respect, to be taken at face value, not to have their individuality destroyed by treating them as if they were an image of the thing they actually are.
Kids especially yearn for this kind of respect. And if we don't get it as kids, we carry that through to adulthood. Always seeking recognition, and never getting it. So we slosh around between our bodies, imagining things that aren't real, and never getting closer to intimacy, which is pretty much what we all seek, imho.