LIFE LESSONS I LEARNED FROM THERAPY
May is mental health awareness month, and mental health is a topic that's very dear to my heart. I believe that being at piece in your mind sets the basis for everything else, and that taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your body. The saying "a healthy mind in a healthy body" really exists for a reason, and I truly believe that you can't have one without the other.
And just like we trust personal trainers to help us get our best body, I think it's a wise move to rely on a therapist to help us get our best mind, too.
For a really long time, therapy was seen as something taboo. It was frowned upon to see a psychologist, and if you did, most likely you were "crazy". Nowadays, a lot of people go to therapy. It's definitely nothing to be embarrassed about. In one episode of Sex & The City, Stanford even explains to Carrie why she needs to see a therapist, because it's just SO trendy.
In real life, even though it's definitely less taboo, I feel like there's still a stigma around therapy. Which is why I decided to open up about the fact that I see a therapist myself. Just in case you're wondering, I'm not in therapy because I need help navigating things like suicidal thoughts or the loss of a loved one. It's nothing extreme, but I felt like at some point, we all go through harder patches in life, and sometimes, the right thing to do is to admit that you need a little help.
And while I usually prefer handling my own shit and solving my own problem, I realized a few months ago that I was stuck. I was at a point where introspection, books and podcasts weren't helping anymore. So instead of staying stuck, I decided to keep moving and get a professional opinion. In a few months only, I learned a few valuable lessons that have truly helped me sort through my thoughts. I thought I would share them with you guys as my way of bringing a little awareness to mental health:
Just Talking About It Helps
When I was younger, my dad used to say "a problem that's acknowledged is already half solved". It used to annoy me as a child, but now, I fully get what he meant. As an adult, I see so many people who refuse to admit to themselves that they have problems. It's like pretending problems aren't there are just gonna make them go away, right? Well... No. Not exactly. In fact, quite the opposite.
I like to compare problems to cancer. Now let's say someone gets a cancer diagnosis and their reaction is "This diagnosis must be wrong, everything is fine. If I don't do anything about it, it's just gonna go away". Guess what's gonna happen? You think cancer will just get tired of being ignored and will find someone else to annoy? Not a chance. The cancer is gonna spread and that person is most likely gonna die. Same with problems. I mean, sure, psychological problems don't always end up with death (although they sometimes do, and that's beyond sad). But most of the time, a problem left unaddressed for too long will not just go away.
It's gonna linger around and poison your mind, until you become obsessed with it. Eventually, the problem might even spread to other areas of your life (once again, like cancer), until you feel totally helpless. And at this point, you've become so accustomed to the problem, that it feels almost impossible to get rid of it.
I'm obviously not talking about mundane problems like a broken dishwasher here. I mean, that needs fixing too, but it's most likely something you can fix by yourself, without needing to talk about it extensively. But issues like sexual assault, parental abandonment or an abusive relationship definitely need to be addressed and talked about.
And while your significant other and friends can be there for you, there comes a time when talking to a professional is better.
First off, it's great to have supportive and understanding friends and partner, but at certain times, they might not know what to say... Or they may end up saying the wrong thing and making things even worse. There's a good reason they recommend seeing a licensed therapist and not any charlatan giving advice from his closet: In moments of psychological vulnerability, it's easy to do more harm than good. And if your friends and partner love you and want the best for you, that's probably the last thing they want.
Secondly, even though the people around you might be supportive, it's not really fair to them to constantly talk about the same problem, over and over again. Venting is fine, everyone does it. But if you care about your relationships, you have to also be mindful that constantly complaining about the same problem can suck the joy out of life not only for you, but for the people around trying to help, too.
A therapist, on the other hand, not only has sensible advice and can really help you navigate through the touch areas of life, they're also paid to hear you complain. Win-win, right?
Forgiveness Is Selfish
One popular misconception is that forgiving someone is doing them a favour. If someone hurt you and you're choosing to let it go, you're being nice to them, right? Well, turns out, not necessarily. If you're forgiving someone, you're actually doing it for yourself. And that's wether the other person deserves it or not. Let me explain...
Forgiveness is definitely something I have a big problem with. When I love someone (wether it's family, a romantic relationship or friendship), I'm extremely loyal and respectful. So when someone talks shit behind my back, betrays me or is just cruel to my face, I just can't deal. I do have high expectations, but I don't ask for things I'm not willing to give back.
In the past, I've cut "friends" out of my life for talking shit behind my back or for behaving poorly. I just don't have time to have friends that aren't really my friends. And I have no patience for hypocrisy. If someone goes out of line and says something that's uncalled for, I also usually have a really hard time letting it go. I guess you could say I hold a grudge.
But when you really cherish a relationship and don't want to cut everyone out of your life, there comes a time when you have to forgive. Once, I was telling my therapist about how I had a hard time forgiving someone in a particular situation, and she gave me the perfect analogy.
Think about resentment as a burning hot rock. The longer you're holding it, the more it burns you. Throwing the rock away isn't doing a favour to the person who gave it to you. It's ridding yourself of something you don't have to carry, you just choose to.
Just like the burning hot rock, resentment consumes you. It's just negative energy, and well, there's enough negative energy in the world without you having to burden yourself with some more.
Wether you choose to maintain contact with someone after you forgive them is a whole other story. But forgiving them is the only way to go if you wanna be at peace within yourself.
What You Tell Yourself Matters
It's time for an embarrassing confession: I talk to myself out loud. Not like I have full-on conversations with myself, but more like I think out loud. When I was younger, my sister used to make so much fun of me, because I would say things like "Oh, I can't believe I still have that" when finding an old thing in my closet. She would pass by and ask if I was still talking to my imaginary friends, ha!
And while I'm not crazy enough to actually answer to myself (just yet), I still think out loud from time to time. But as I've gotten older, I also developed the habit of saying nasty shit to myself. Things that I would never say to anyone I love... Like "I'm so ugly" and "Fuck, I can't believe I'm such an idiot".
Turns out, talking to yourself like that is actually the worst thing you could possibly do. It may seem innocent enough, but it actually leads to self-hate and deep self-esteem issues. Yes, the internet quotes on 25 000 variations of "be kind to yourself" are annoying, but they're actually onto something. Turns out, when you talk to yourself, your brain is actually listening more than you think.
It's a well-known fact in psychology that humans tend to focus on the negative much more than the positive. Genetically, we're wired that way, because that's what allows us to survive. Think about it... You can do the same thing every day with no issue, but if it goes wrong once, that's the time you're gonna remember. How many times did you drive your car, use a flat iron, or walk down a flight of stairs? Probably really often. But if you've ever had a car accident, burnt yourself with your iron or fell down the stairs, I can guarantee that's what you remembered for a while after it happened.
And that's your primal brain's way of making sure you don't get yourself into life-threatening situations again... Because your primal brain's only goal is to survive. Turns out, we're a lot more primitive than we think... Certain people more than others - ha!
Same goes for what you tell yourself. You may not tell yourself that you're ugly and fat every time you look at yourself in the mirror. But a few times here and there are actually just enough to convince yourself. That's why we should all be careful about what we tell ourselves.
So instead of focussing on the 10 lbs you gained in the last 6 months, or the few pimples you have, try telling yourself how your hair looks good or how your legs are long. This is an exercise that takes time, but it's so worth it.
I haven't been going to therapy for very long, but the short period has definitely been beneficial. I don't consider therapy to be only for the extreme problems, but rather like an alternative to meditation... With the help of a professional. Just like meditation connects you to your higher self and usually brings introspection, mindfulness and self-awareness, therapy has the same effects.
I hope these tips will be as helpful to you guys as they were to me. Obviously, I'm not a psychologist, I'm just sharing what works with me, as usual. If you think therapy could be beneficial for you, I highly suggest looking into it. If you're interested in mental health, you can read this post on how to deal with stress and anxiety.
I also did a book review of Furiously Happy, a book by Jenny Lawson, that talks about mental illnesses like depression, in such a funny way, I was laughing hysterically at almost every page.
I understand that not everyone feels comfortable talking about therapy, and that's a choice that's up to anyone, but if you have stories to share, please do so in the comment section below. You can also chime in the discussion on Instagram, on my latest post about mental health. I always love reading what you guys have to say.
I hope you all have an amazing week!
Love, Jenny xx