England's hopes to go through to the ‘96 Euro semi finals ended when Gareth Southgate missed a penalty. He was consoled by some of his teammates but guilt and humiliation were an obvious consequence of his failure in front of thousands of people in the stadium, millions of people watching on tv, hundreds of millions of people talking about it in the days afterwards.
After England got through to this years’ semifinals someone (if you know who it is let me know so I can credit them) created this image of that younger, devastated Southgate being met and reassured by Southgate as he is now: 25 years older, steady, the universally respected, inspirational manager of the England team.
I've spent a long time looking at this image, it encapsulates a vital piece of the work of therapy: reaching back in time to meet with the parts of us that were harmed - and harm is part of being alive - to see them, pay careful attention to them, listen to what they have to say and help them feel less beaten. That young Southgate is never going to skip off the pitch singing “Oh it doesn’t matter!” but the impact it had on him wasn’t met and so it affected his life for far longer than it needed to: “I just couldn’t face anyone but my family. It was a bleak time. I felt anxious and nervous, as I didn’t know how others would react to me.”
He’s since said he could have done with therapy, which is now a standard part of professional footballers care. Instead, he got a Pizza Hut advert.
This kind of banter can be healing for some men who already have high status but it’s a risky tactic to embrace the identity of a dolt in the hope that you can diffuse it.
Therapy offers the space to risk a return to the pain, to relive some of it with someone who isn’t going to sneer at you or tell you to get over it or punish you. If you need to make it better by laughing at yourself and telling yourself to toughen up, that’ll be respected and the opportunity to reach further will be offered.
You’ll find the internal resources to be the person you needed at that time, to tell yourself that it really is terrible right now but this isn’t going to last forever. To let you know that yes, it’s humiliating, crushing, and maybe even dangerous but that this will pass. The confidence and pride that was demolished remains available to you. Therapy offers the chance to rediscover it and to move on with greater knowledge and understanding.
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