Are we ever finished getting to know ourselves? The answer to that question may vary depending on one’s current circumstances and begs the next question which is, are we ever finished working on ourselves? The obvious answer is that if life is a process then we must keep ourselves open to being transformed into a better, more caring human. I remember one job interview I had when I was asked about the condition of my emotional and spiritual state. My response was, “I’m a work in progress, like everyone else.” The interviewer had no response to that!
Recently I decided to see a professional therapist even though I am one. I wavered back and forth telling myself that if I just stood in front of the mirror, I could tell myself anything I may need to hear. But instead of helpful suggestions, I kept hearing the phrase “you’ve been a stupid idiot.” Now I don’t really mean that and am much more forgiving of myself than that, but sometimes we fall into the trap of negative thinking. People call me an optimist and yet, such negativism still happens to me. It was time for a tune up!
So how do we go about fighting these negative messages that our brains sometimes send us in what seems to be a relentless stream? First step is always acknowledgment. If you can recognize yourself going down that path, you are half way home. Next step is taking action. What I often tell my clients is that once you have the recognition, take immediate action by telling yourself “STOP.” Put your hand up in front of your face and say the word “stop” out loud. This interrupts the unhealthy thoughts and sets you on your way to not only terminating the negative thoughts, but also getting you back on track.
The next mental leap is tapping into your coping strategies, the healthy ones that have served you well over the years. The simpler the skill is, the better it is. So if putting on your running shoes is the antidote, it will get you out the door. One of the things I have noticed about my clients over the years is that many do not have any interests, hobbies, pastimes, or passions. Oftentimes, this becomes a homework assignment and for some, it’s like climbing Mount Everest. Clients will come back and declare that they cannot think of a single thing they would be interested in doing. The caveat being that until their survival needs are met for food, shelter and safety, nothing else can be entertained. But once these basic needs are met, it is time to explore the world before us. What is it that attracts you? For some, it is the mechanics of machinery. For others it is the beauty of art, interior design, flower arrangements or volunteering. When we look around our world, we see such great need in every arena of life. The happiest of us are those who share talents, skills and passions with others. If you’re just starting out in your field, not to worry, you concentrate on your learning and down the road, you will also be a beacon for others.
I remember the psychiatric nursing instructor that set my heart on fire for my career. She could somehow communicate with the mentally ill who had been institutionalized for 20 to 30 years. Many were unintelligible and incoherent, but not to her. She would smile in our post conferences and tell us exactly what the patients were trying so hard to communicate. Many had the unfortunate side effect of the medications called tardive dyskinesia, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements of the face and extremities. This affliction could interfere with the ability to communicate. I remember at first being fearful and later being heartbroken by the patients’ conditions but also in awe over the dedication of my instructor and her ease in dealing with people of such incapacitations.
Everyone has something to work on within themselves. It takes courage to get help. But once you have opened that door of opportunity for yourself, you will be amazed at the gain of insight you have into your own life and how that will benefit every person whose life you touch. The more forgiving and accepting you can be towards yourself, the more you can be towards others in your life.
Can therapy help? First off, get some good references on the therapist you choose. It is always best to get a firsthand reference if you can. Write down questions you may have for your therapist on that first visit, so you can use that time to determine if you are a good fit. Don’t expect to hear everything you want to hear and this is very important. Therapists are not in the hospitality business of making you feel good like the therapist s at the spa and this is an important distinction to remember. Mental health therapy is serious business and is intended to act as a guide with you at the helm. You and your therapist are partners and if something doesn’t sit right in your gut, pay attention to it. By that I mean that not every therapist will be the right one for your needs and that is Ok and often expected. A good therapist will thank you for coming and give you referrals to other therapists who can help.
Another great reason to seek psychotherapy is that it gives an individual a chance to get away from the good intentions of friends and family. Well intended as they are, they are fully invested in you in a way that reflects back upon themselves; meaning that as humans, what happens to you also affects them. What affects you may stimulate all kinds of emotional responses from others; whereas, with therapists, they are simply a sounding board upon which you offer up your emotional experiences on a clean slate. Therapists are trained to remain nonjudgmental but they are also human, so part of their education is to help them learn to identify their own “hot buttons” and know how to manage those without jeopardizing the client. Make sure you understand all the expectations on that first visit, including financial arrangements. Making copayments on a regular basis is the client’s responsibility and may even become part of the treatment plan if left neglected, so be sure you do your part.
A couple important points to remember is that change slowly occurs over a period of time, so don’t expect “miracles.” Since I prescribe medications and supplements, I tell my clients that I wish I had a magic pill for them but I don’t. One must be patient and expect to work hard to obtain significant results. I wish you a very special journey as you get to know yourself better and begin to see the very best of you brought out for others to enjoy.