The Secret Everyone in Therapy Should Know
You've just screwed up royally. You've done something that makes you feel embarrassed or ashamed, and the thought of talking about this...to anyone, but maybe especially to your therapist who keeps telling you how much progress you are making...feels completely overwhelming. Now she'll know I'm a fraud. Naturally, it's time to run for the hills. So all of the sudden there are things popping up last minute or maybe you are so ashamed that you just implode inward and avoid everything--appointments, telephone calls, emails. From my perspective, this is one of the most frustrating ways for therapy to end. I know what you're thinking. I can’t possibly go back to see her now—not after missing the past two sessions. She’ll never take me back.
Listen, I get it. Going to therapy is vulnerable enough as it is. Baring your soul to a complete stranger...risking judgment...these are fiercely brave things to do. I understand that also acknowledging you have done something you really regret and find shameful can be completely overwhelming. Especially if you’ve suffered criticism from important people in your life before. Why put yourself through all that just to be belittled?
But here's the thing. I don't really care what you've done. I mean...I do care. I care that it's bothering you so much. I want what's best for you, but I do not sit in judgment because if I did, I would have to judge myself for all the impulsive, thoughtless, hurtful things I've ever done. I find it much more helpful to evaluate the action, rather than judging the person as a whole. So, when you come to me saying you've done this awful thing, I am seeing the regret, the desire to make it right, and the opportunity for growth that is now presented.
Because it turns out making mistakes--even really hurtful, destructive mistakes--can also be extremely healing. Brene’ Brown talks about the importance of speaking your shame, and I find so much truth in this concept. The idea is that until we share our shame with someone else who can hear it and tolerate it and still see us as a human being of value, we cannot really let go of that shame. Even if we try to talk ourselves down by saying all the right things—I’m only human…It’s okay to make mistakes—there will still be a nagging part of us that feels ashamed until we put it to the test and are able to experience the grace of being accepted despite our mistakes and weaknesses.
If I could help my clients understand just one thing, it would be that therapists spend WAY less time judging you than you imagine. You are already judging yourself in spades. No, my job is simply to gently witness the struggle you are facing as you decide how you want to proceed from here. This doesn’t excuse what you did or enable you in any way. Instead, it frees you to look at the situation objectively, to learn from it, and to decide how to move on from here. It’s never too late to make this choice. If you are tired of running, I am here to support you. Learn to lean in. It can change everything.