I’m currently in my late twenties, and since I was 22, I’ve been going to therapy on and off. The first time therapy was suggested to me as something I should try, it was both scary and, honestly, a tad embarrassing. I was healthy, young, and compared to others, had virtually no major issues. I wasn’t clinically depressed, or bipolar, or diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Why would I need therapy? Was I even old enough to have dealt with issues that people go to therapy for? I didn’t think so.
The reality, though, was that at that point in life, I wasn’t owning up to how I was feeling and, more importantly, how to deal with it. I lived far away from family and friends, and though things seemed fine on the surface, I was actually lonely, insecure, sad, and not sure where my life was headed. I’d gone through things in high school and college that left me very aware and dependent on what others thought of me. I measured my worth by my relationships and I wasn’t confident in just being myself.
Initially, I tried to work this out with people close to me. I talked to my sister, my parents, and some close friends. What I found was, even though these people loved me the most, they were probably the least helpful in helping me love myself more. The reason was because they were too involved. People that have known you for years care about you, and many of my close friends would never straight-up tell me that I was approaching something the wrong way or snap out of my self-pity party. They wanted to help me feel better by building me up, but I didn’t feel suddenly more confident just because my mom told me I was a great person.
Fast-forward five years, I’m happier, more confident, in touch with my emotions, and one of therapy’s biggest advocates – for anyone and everyone. (Hey, that’s why I’m writing this post!) Here are a few things I’ve learned, and why I love it so much:
Find the right fit
To me, finding the right therapist is a bit like dating. Since they need to dig a deeper into your emotions, it’s really important for you to feel comfortable with that person. Any dentist may be able to fill your cavity, but if you feel too awkward to tell your therapist what’s going on in your head, it’s not going to work. Sometimes personalities don’t match, and there’s no shame in deciding that someone might not work for you after one session.
Have an open mind
Therapy can be tough. You’re forcing yourself to come to terms with hard and often painful emotions, rather than pushing them under the surface. I think people struggle with negative emotions because, even though we all experience them, it’s not really socially acceptable to walk into a room of friends and proclaim “I’m feeling lonely/insecure/angry today.” We want to portray the best versions of ourselves, which usually means the happiest, even if we’re not feeling that way. That being said, it can be hard to have an honest session with your therapist. Oftentimes, I felt like I was just constantly complaining. Like every time I would start talking, I basically said the same thing and was just feeling bad for myself. But here’s the thing – that’s what a therapist is for.
They’re trained to handle negative emotions and help you handle them too. And the best part is that it’s completely judgement-free. If everyone came into a session talking about how great their lives were, there would be no need for therapy. Therapists may suggest ways of thinking that you never realized or ask questions that make you rethink how you feel. Enter with an open mind and be honest with your therapist, as well as yourself.
Try new things
My therapists have given me lots of resources to help me feel better, from books to breathing exercises to iPhone apps. Some seemed a little strange at first, but you never know what will help until you try. I talked about writing a letter in my other post on how to relieve stress, which was something I learned in therapy. There are lots of things out there to help you feel better, whether it’s dealing with stress, building confidence, learning to handle anger, or even just sleeping better at night. But you have to be willing to try them to help yourself.
Give yourself grace
Therapy is not the end-all and be-all of your problems. Life will never stop serving emotional blows, and whether you’re dealing with a death, a breakup, or low self-esteem, nothing is insignificant. But instead of focusing on embarrassment that you need therapy because you don’t know how to handle something, look at it as simply taking care of yourself. If you get a cut and need stitches, you’d go to the doctor. It’s the same with an emotional cut. Once the bleeding stops and you feel better, you don’t have to continue if you don’t want to.
I’ve found that even when I’m feeling happy, therapy still helps me understand both myself and my relationships better.
Here are a few more resources to give perspective if you’re thinking of giving therapy a try: