One of the reasons a lot of people start thinking about going to therapy is because they want to stop the anxiety, depression, the helplessness. They want to get rid of the emotions that are making their life unbearably painful. And that’s not quite what therapy does. At least not literally. Therapy will not simply turn off the uncomfortable emotions – there’s no magic formula for that.
We do something else, though, something much more powerful and meaningful. We take a closer look at the stories that people tell themselves. On how sometimes what we have on repeat in our head is wrong and one-sided, harmful, and causing all sorts of internal and interpersonal problems.
When I hear people’s stories in my office, I’m often astounded by how they miss other perspectives/other ways you could understand them. Someone might be so blinded by their guilt or anger or a sense of failure that they cannot see the full context or the bigger picture. And what’s worse, based on these stories, the whole line of thinking is born: “that’s who I am/I’m useless/that’s why I will never….. /that’s why they always…… /that’s why it’s always gonna be this way, etc..”
Sometimes it’s the parent who put those thoughts into our minds – by what they said or did (or didn’t do), sometimes it’s some other important person or even unfortunate or dramatic circumstances. Often enough, it wasn’t an isolated incident but rather a pattern in our past.
Therapy, amongst other things, is about getting that another – healing – perspective. One that is very different from what was imprinted in our brains. It’s about learning that even the most toxic narrative we trust and repeatedly tell ourselves can be considered "a perspective" a can be modified and adjusted.
I remember that one patient back in the hospital at least ten years ago; I was barely starting my career then. I will never forget what she said, as it was so very true for so many people. She said that beneath all those stories, beneath all the limiting beliefs laid the fear that she was the only one to have been “this bad.” That she was the only one to have felt this way; she never even thought to make a reality check with others, as she was so ashamed of herself. Instead, she unconsciously opted to stuck with the story that made her feel she was the worst and couldn’t be helped. The moment she finally said whatever it was that kept her in these shackles of shame, she heard herself for the first time. And I heard her too, and also the therapy group members. All that was liberating in itself. And it was also the beginning of the whole other story. One about rebuilding her sense of self and creating a narrative that was much more adequate and considerate of both her emotions and other people’s part in it.
So in short – that’s what a lot of times therapy is all about. About rewriting the story, we somehow mistakenly believed was true. The story that was often limiting and cruel. It is, in fact, a very multilayer process of getting to know ourselves from a loving and compassionate place.
Don’t think it’s easy, though. It takes A LOT of courage to own that narrative and take responsibility for your own life, and that’s yet another story…