Myla’s question: I have bad childhood memories, can’t silence my thoughts, and can’t form healthy habits or relationships. I know I self-sabotage, but always tell myself, “I’ve made it this far and I’m still a decent person, so why would I need therapy?” But I still feel like I’m stuck and can’t escape, mentally and emotionally. I’ve always wanted to try therapy, but have kept making excuses and always end up deciding “not yet”.
First, congratulations on taking this step and reaching out to inquire about something that has clearly been on your mind for a long time.
You are certainly not alone… I would bet that most people who are currently in therapy and benefitting from it did not arrive at their decision to start easily or quickly. And that is understandable. Even on the surface, simply the idea of telling a total stranger private, sensitive information about your life is daunting. It is counter to the way we most commonly approach life, confiding in people only once we know them and have built trust over time.
Here are some other common concerns that keep people from seeking therapy:
Fear of judgement — In life there is vulnerability associated with revealing ourselves to others. “What will they think of me?” is a question that can haunt us in the social world. Rest assured that therapists hear many life stories over our years in the field. What is a deep, dark secret for you is likely something they have heard many times before (and perhaps have experienced themselves.) A good therapist creates a judgement-free zone.
Reluctance to share complicated feelings about others — You mentioned painful childhood memories being among the topics you want to address. One thing that can make this difficult is guilt over expressing thoughts and feelings about the people who raised you. It is common that even people who were abused, neglected, or otherwise mistreated as children feel the need to counter every angry feeling or painful memory with assurance that their parents did the best they could and are not bad people. Therapists know that there are numerous aspects to every person. We are able to hear the full range of a client’s complicated feelings and not hear it as condemnation.
Fear of what you might find out about yourself — Remember that movie with the famous line, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” I have a theory that that line sums up what often keeps people from starting therapy. The sense that something will be revealed that will be too harsh or painful to know.
In my experience as a therapist (and having been a client), while those kinds of realizations can happen sometimes, it is far more likely that learning new “truths” comes as a relief. You already know what your problems and frustrations are. That often means you are already dealing with the hardest part. While looking deeper does not magically solve problems in itself (like people sometimes wish it would), it usually does not make the problem more painful.
“Too good to be true” syndrome — I have heard different versions of this: “If I didn’t have these problems, life would be perfect. And life cannot be perfect; therefore it is unrealistic to think that these problems can be solved.” This is an example of “all-or-nothing thinking.” It leaves out the huge gray area between “suffering” and “okay.” Rest assured that you can decrease your mental struggles, live more intentionally, and life will still be its own new version of imperfect.
Now that you have taken this first step of writing in to inquire, I hope some of this information has eased your fears enough for you to take a deep breath and schedule a session. If you are not quite there yet, that’s fine. I have a suggestion that might make taking the next step more manageable.
I suggest sitting down with a blank piece of paper (or a blank computer screen, whichever works best for you.) This could be similar to writing in a journal — or could be more like a private brain-storming session where your goal is to get as many of your thoughts as possible out of your head and down in words.
Don’t think too hard, just ask yourself some questions and see what comes to mind.
For each one of the issues you mentioned, write one sentence about how it impacts your life, one about how you wish it was different, and one about where your fear and anxiety lie — the first thoughts that come into your mind that make you reluctant.
You might be nervous about taking this jumble of thoughts and feelings in your mind and putting them into words. Rest assured that good therapists are prepared for that. It is our job to guide you as you tell your story gradually, often in bits and pieces. We work together to fill in the blanks and turn those fragments into the coherent whole that you want to express. But this writing exercise can give you a head start, a general map of where you want to go, so that you feel on at least somewhat solid ground when you sit down for the first session.
I sincerely hope you decide that this is the time to push through those jitters and misgivings and give therapy a try.
All the best to you on your journey.