Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why I Go to Therapy (and write about it)

Sometimes I get the perfect question at the perfect time.  This is one of those times.

Today I received an anonymous comment with a question.  I wanted to reply immediately with a long, detailed email; but since it was anonymous I couldn't.  I thought about responding via the comment section, but that didn't feel right either.

Normally, I would ask someone's permission before ever using their words.  In this case, I hope it's okay that I forgo that.  The question was structured beautifully and I don't think it contains any information that would reveal who the questioner is.  But the question is important.

"Miss Robin,

My partner and I are struggling with the realization that there may be a hidden traumatic event in my partner's past.  We hope not, but we both agree that there is anger, which comes from hurt that is being directed at the opposite sex in general and at me most in particular.

My partner is very afraid of the possibility that something very bad is there, but is probably more afraid to find out that there is nothing other than verbal and emotional abuse.  That would maybe be worse because then why so much negative energy attached to it.

The biggest concern is that my partner doesn't believe that anyone he/she knows has been helped in any lasting way by therapy, in fact it usually seems to only get worse by opening those deep wounds.

This session of yours makes one wonder.  Can you help by offering your best reasons as to why a person should be willing to subject themselves to such intensive introspection and the resultant pain?"

I can't begin to express how honored I am to receive this question.  Any time someone is willing to open their heart and share their fears, I am in awe.  It is such a difficult thing.  This question moved me to tears.

First, let me say emotional and verbal abuse are very serious things.  They are incredibly damaging to the soul, often more so than being hit.  If you are anywhere near my age or older, you were probably raised with the "sticks and stones" mentality.  Generation after generation perpetuated this lie.  Words can hurt you.  We are finally getting to a point as a society that we recognize this.  This is why things like online bullying can now be prosecuted.  But if you are like me, no one in your life ever tried to help you heal from verbal assaults.  In fact, you may have even been told by your abuser (as I was), "There's no such thing as emotional abuse."  This is a lie.  The sticks and stones mentality is another way to punish the victim for being hurt, as if it's their fault.

I'm so sorry you and your partner are struggling (because we struggle together).  I don't know if there's a traumatic event buried.  I don't know how to tell you to find out.  I'm not a therapist or trained in any of this.  But I do consider myself somewhat of an expert at going to therapy, so I'll answer that.

Traumatic events are like slivers.  We can try to pretend they aren't there, they may or may not work themselves out, but usually we have to remove them in order to heal.  We can ignore them for a while, but something will happen that causes us to bump one and it will hurt.  Especially if it was serious and it's now infected.  We knew it should be taken care of but thought we could tough it out.  Or we didn't want to make a big deal out of it.  Or we didn't want to seem weak.

The only thing I regret about therapy is not starting sooner.

I was scared.  I was fairly certain after one session the therapist would tell me I was making a big deal out of nothing and didn't need to come back.  I was embarrassed.  I felt like a failure.  And I was terrified that if I opened up and let go of the white knuckle hold I had on things I would fall apart.  I'd accidentally opened things up once or twice before and it was horrific.  I couldn't shut it down and it controlled me for days, weeks, or longer.  I was afraid I'd find some horrible memory and I'd have to confront someone about it and it would get ugly.  I was afraid of being weak.  I was afraid of needing someone else.  I was afraid of trusting someone else.  I was afraid of feeling again, because then I'd be vulnerable.

But that's not what happened.  The therapist listened and validated me.  I felt safe in a way I hadn't ever felt before.  My feelings were honored. 

Working with a trained therapist is different than talking with a friend about a problem.  When I start to get to an unsafe place, a friend will hug me and cry with me but doesn't know how to stop the avalanche of emotions that's pulling me under.  A therapist does.  He can talk me through it.  He can teach me how to find my own way through it.  It's kind of like walking through a dark house when you're scared but having a cop with a gun and night-vision goggles as your guide. 

It is hard to open up.  And it's still scary for me sometimes.  But I have never regretted it.  Not once.  I have regretted telling someone else in my life, someone I thought was safe who turned out not to be.  But never have I regretted sharing anything with my therapist.

Traumatic experiences mess us up because our brains don't know how to process awful things that happen, especially if we were children when they happened.  Through therapy a memory can be brought out, looked at, re-framed, and put away neatly.  I know it doesn't make sense that just talking to someone can make things better, but when it's the right someone who knows what they're doing it works.  I promise.

Does your partner need therapy?  Do you?  I don't know.  What I do know is that it's been wonderful for me.  Without therapy I would no longer be married.  Without therapy my husband could very well be in jail due to ramifications of his rage.  And without therapy I would live in constant fear and stress.

I am stronger.  I am gentler.  And I have much more peace in my soul.  I feel more complete.  I feel more content.  I believe in myself.  My heart is lighter and more open.  My life is easier because I went to therapy.

Even after my last session, when things went badly, I highly recommend therapy.  My therapist is just a person.  And as with any relationship, sometimes there are communication problems that cause pain.  The key is whether or not you can work through it.  We are.  The amount of calm I felt after his phone call amazed me.  No matter how often I am healed through a therapy session it still amazes me.

Listen to your heart.  If you are religious, pray.  And listen.  You will know if therapy is a good choice for you (your partner must decide for him/herself).  Chances are life has caused you to doubt your own intuition, but your heart knows.

If you go and don't connect well with your therapist, I suggest trying someone else.  One bad experience doesn't mean therapy won't work.  It might just mean you didn't fit with that person.  There are lots of therapists out there.  You need one you feel comfortable with, because therapy is an emotionally intimate thing.  Don't think one session will fix it all.  It takes time. 

And if it doesn't feel right, you don't need to continue.  I have a friend who says therapy didn't work for her.  She had to work it all out with God.  I think of myself as a pretty spiritual person with a good relationship with God and I couldn't do it that way.  I needed therapy.

I hope this answers your question satisfactorily.  Please feel free to ask more.  And thank you so much for being brave enough to offer the question.  I am honored.


Blond Duck said...

You're so brave to try therapy and write about it!

Adrienn TUJ said...

Thank you for sharing.

Be-Quoted.com said...

Excellent advice! Excellent!!! Pray, meditation, and therapy - all things I think everyone should try. Andrea visiting from SITS.

The Dose of Reality said...

This was such a thoughtful and thorough answer full of wonderful advice. You hit it just right. You are remarkably good at expressing your feelings and also allowing that other people may have other experiences than you do. That is really a very rare thing. I always feel enlightened and enriched by every one of your posts. --Lisa

menopausal mama said...

This is truly wonderful and heartfelt. I hope that "anonymous" comes back to read this--I think you may have helped them tremendously in this situation. They need to take the first step together, and perhaps this response will open that door for them.

Sorta Southern Single Mom said...

Satisfactorily? My dear you hit the nail on the proverbial head in so many ways. Having been in therapy several times in my life, you are so correct in this! You've helped so many people with you honesty.

Nicole @ Pencil Skirts and Noodle Necklaces said...

Wonderful post. I hope the anonymous person sees your wonderful words.

Melissa G. said...

I'm sure this poster really respects your openness and honesty and willingness to talk about something that many people keep hidden. This is a beautiful, and concrete, example of how you are making an impact with your writing.

Kim@Co-Pilot Mom said...

What a thoughtful and sincere answer to the reader's question. Through sharing your experiences, you are helping others - how wonderful.

Sheila Skillingstead said...

I just had to read this blog. Such a tender answer, you covered everything, you were patient, and you hit that old belief hard. All abuse is abuse. Sometimes I hear about a specific abuse and think, how did they make it? My therapist did help but I don't think she was the best at her job. I wish she had been. I was flooding by the time I got to her and she helped me go to work, do normal family things, and cope. I left for a while and was smart enough to go back. My big block was thinking by going I must be weak and a failure. That also is one of those old beliefs that need to be thrown away. Thanks for your post. It made my day.

Anonymous said...

"The only thing I regret about therapy is not starting sooner."


Laura Day said...

My oldest daughter was verbally abused by her father starting at a very young age. (We are not together anymore for that reason.) She struggled with low self esteem. She started cutting and doing drugs. I had her in therapy at a very young age, took her to a psychiatrist, psychologist, and put her in treatment as she got older, but nothing or no one seemed to help her. It was finally a very dedicated youth minister, who helped her out of her darkness. She is a thriving young woman now.

But I do know therapy does help a lot of people, and I think you gave anonymous very good advice.

Thanks for visiting my blog!

Sue said...

I've never been to therapy, but glad it can help those who need it.

Thanks for sharing :)

jamie @ [kreyv] said...

I've never been to therapy, but it seems that almost anyone could benefit from it. It's great that you could answer this person's comment/question so thoroughly. I'm sure you helped someone with this post. :)

Mothering from Scratch said...

{Melinda} I have been to counseling for different issues and have found it very helpful. Thank you for talking so opening and candidly about your struggles and experiences. It brings important issues out in the open. Always appreciate your insightful posts.