Protecting and taking care of yourself doesn’t encompass just the immediate physical concerns that can impact your safety. Before and after those events, there’s another piece I’ve talked about here and there. It’s important to help you avoid certain types of violence and unhealthy situations, to help you survive them when they happen, and to thrive as you move on with your life after them. It’s a lot of work and you’ll need to dedicate some significant time to it, as much as or more than you do or would into learning and practicing how to shoot or how to fight or any of the other skills we normally think of as associated with personal safety and safety defense. But I promise it’s worth it because putting that effort in will eventually result in the kinds of rewards that make your entire life richer and even happier.
I know, there’s a lot of stigma associated with it. There’s this idea that therapy is for people who have “real” mental health problems and difficulties. That it’s not for people who are managing just fine through daily life.
Here’s the thing, though. Sometimes we’re functioning because we’ve band-aided over and adapted to issues that may underlie the fabric of our lives. We may be passively or actively ignoring a past trauma or a current struggle. We may simply only know our way of living in and dealing with our world. And none of that is bad. Finding ways to make as much as we can work as well as we can is a positive skill and mindset. Even some of the behaviors that are sometimes considered “bad” coping mechanisms can actually be healthy in the short term or in limited amounts. When we’re in that state, life continues and that’s a good thing.
But I’d challenge you to consider therapy anyway. Instead of insisting to yourself and the world that you are doing just fine, open yourself to your most secret fears that not everything is okay after all. Open yourself to the possibility that life may be good, but it could be better. Open yourself to considering that you’re not managing as well as you might. Open yourself to the idea that checking in with a person who is interested in supporting you and only you can make you more confident in yourself.
With a good therapist who is a good fit for you (and we’ll talk another time about how to find one), you can discuss the things that you’re afraid to express to even your best and closest friends. You can ask someone who has professional knowledge about whether the things you think and feel are weird or unusual or bad, and if they turn out to be, your therapist will help you navigate and fix them if they need fixing, without judgment. You can learn how to enrich and deepen all of your relationships. You can find out what it’s like to be free of those emotional and mental aches and pains that you’ve learned to survive with. You can work towards preventing future bad situations and struggles. You can practice managing difficult situations and conversations with someone who has no baggage with the folks and places involved and who has no investment in the outcome. You can do all of that in a confidential setting where there are no possibilities of a secret you tell whispered into a mutual friend’s ear.
It’s true that you pay a therapist to be your listening ear and your trusted adviser. That doesn’t make them less able to care about you and really, it makes them more able to give you objective advice backed by education and experience on how people work. Their professional and ethical responsibility is to you. Not to your partner. Not to your parents. Not to your children. Not to your friends. Not to your boss. Not to your coworkers. And while you may have a wise person in your life who offers excellent advice, a therapist is obligated to you and you alone among the people who surround you. There are some exceptions here if you may become an imminent danger to yourself or others, but in a therapy environment, you can even have the conversation about what that might look like and when those exceptions might come into play.
It’s also true that there are some bad, even terrible, therapists out there. It’s also true that therapy can be an experience that traumatizes more than it heals, perhaps even more especially so if you know you’re going in with difficult issues to address. I know – I’ve been there. But just like the worst of your profession or your hobby doesn’t represent the whole, the same as true of therapists. Even if you’ve heard the horror stories or have one of your own to tell, I can also tell you, from having been there, that they aren’t inevitable, that it’s worth trying again with a therapist who is a better match for you.
Because therapy is a place where the hard talks can happen, and the deepest secrets can come out, and you can change life patterns that you might or might not have known were toxic but thought you were stuck with either way. And that? That leads to a more full life today, a life where you can enjoy every moment. A life worth fighting for.