5 Unexpected Ways Therapy Helped Me Grow
Running along with the theme of April, I thought we could jump into therapy as another option for spring cleaning–but of the emotional kind! People go to therapy for countless reasons: to get help working through a period of crisis like a divorce, a death, or a major move; to deal with anxiety, depression, anger issues, sleep problems, relationship difficulties, and addictions, to just name a few.
I remember thinking, when I started seeing my psychotherapist, that it was something people did when they had serious issues or major problems in their lives. And as far as I was aware, that wasn’t me. I was fine. I started going because I was curious, and, well, because it was a requirement to becoming a psychotherapist myself. Looking back on the process, I realize that most of the ways therapy helped me are things I really didn’t count on, or consider. So here’s what I came up with as I thought it through.
1) I Stopped Pointing Fingers
I think I realized that this had happened a bit later in the game, but genuinely, it was a revelation! I started seeing the ways I unconsciously blamed people around me. For being the way they are or doing the things they do, and the ways those things affected me. Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t get to recognize how people close to me had IMPACT, or that I didn’t get to work through what that impact was. In fact, I think it was recognizing the impact, and working it through, making adequate SPACE for it, that let me also take responsibility without judging myself, for how I was a part of the dynamic that made me unhappy. And that I could choose to alter it.
2) I Learned the Value of NO
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. That becomes a big word when you go to therapy. Maybe you have too many boundaries (in which case they are less like boundaries and probably more like walls), or you don’t have enough. What does this mean? Boundaries are the lines you draw; the limits you have that you recognize, and which you learn to honour. Respectfully. They don’t separate you from others, they just better allow you to retain yourself. They are the ways that you learn to say no, either literally or with actions, to things that compromise you either emotionally, physically, mentally or spiritually. This is a major component of self-love. And this was definitely one of the biggest lessons that helped me grow.
3) I Challenged My Own Story
We all have a story, a narrative about who we are, why we are that way, and why it might never change. You think you can handle everything, that you’re an island, that you have endless resources to give that replenish like some magical well. You might secretly feel undeserving, or like you will always be alone, or any other self-beliefs that emerged early in life and get reinforced over time. Therapy helped me become aware of and challenge my own story. It was super scary and then incredibly freeing not being unconsciously locked into a version of myself that no longer served me.
4) I Quit Denying Parts Of Myself
Related to challenging your own story, is gradually uncovering and integrating into yourself, the parts of you that have been disowned, cast aside, repressed, hidden. When a part of you is cut off and put in a box, it is a way of splitting yourself. Saying this is my bad part, this is what I don’t like, this is what hurts, this is what I’m ashamed of. And then this me, the me I love and show the world, this is the good me. When we do that, we compromise our wholeness. Our ability to really love and accept ourselves, and in turn, to really love and accept the entirety of others. We are flawed and wounded and beautiful, and like Leonard Cohen said, ‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in’.
5) I Discovered Language For My Feelings
Again, related to everything else, is finding a language for feelings. It seems obvious doesn’t it? Like, we all know how to know when we are angry, sad, disappointed, embarrassed, full of joy, or the vast kaleidoscope of other emotions? Surprisingly, not so much. Especially when it’s something really deeply stored and embodied and old, and it becomes triggered in the present outside of your awareness. Many, if not most of us, didn’t really learn how to name our feelings when they are most difficult to express. We might feel a heat in our chest, a tightness in our throat, a paralysis in our legs, a tension in our forehead, a dull ache in our hips. And hidden in those somatic sensations is often unspoken and unverbalized emotional experience. Naming is powerful, it opens a door, it loosens things. At least, it did for me. It made my body and my mind connect in entirely new ways. And I couldn’t have done it on my own.
Breaking the Taboo
There are still many misconceptions about psychotherapy; how it takes place, what it involves, who seeks it out, why it is or is not valuable. There is also still a taboo around going to a therapist and mental health in general that exists in much of the Arab world (and elsewhere). This makes seeking support an even bigger hurdle and sometimes even a source of shame. So I wanted this to be a gentle encouragement to fracture this taboo.
Therapy might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but hopefully, if you’ve been curious, you might consider dipping your toe in. We’ve been talking a lot about different methods of self-care in this blog lately, whether through healthy eating, meditation, breathwork, community engagement, creative outlets, and more. This is just another way to do that. Another option to find the combination that best works for you. And no better time than a month that centers around rebirth, renewal, and new life. It’s an opportunity to shake out your internal cobwebs, the areas that have felt neglected, stuck, and in need of some love.
We’re going to keep sharing practices of deep self-care and healing, so if this sparked your interest, stay tuned!