Removing the Stigma of Therapy and The Never Ending Search for My Happy Ending

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Once in a while, when I mention to someone, “I am in therapy“, I hesitate. I believe that subconsciously, my thoughts go to, “What will they think of me if I’m in therapy?” “Will they think I’m somehow damaged…broken?” “Maybe if I tell them why it will help?”.

Most people who know my story of loss, abuse and grief certainly don’t question my desire for therapy. I’ve been going since about 4-6 months after my husband died. When I felt that I had moved on from that grief, I felt no need to stop. Processing loss and death, along with the accompanying grief wasn’t the end of my needs.

Living through a childhood with a controlling, narcissistic mother, finding myself unable to understand healthy relationships and subsequently marrying an abusive alcoholic left its mark. I then moved on to dating a string of (for me) extremely unhealthy people who only fed into my penchant for picking the worst kind of men and helped me choose to stay with my therapy.

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For a very long time, I have been flattered by descriptions of how strong and resilient I’ve been considering the amount of shit I’ve been through. In fact, it’s the one common thread that has resounded so loudly throughout these multiple, tumultuous years. What I have come to learn is that I did it because I was SO FREAKING DAMAGED I was on autopilot.

It’s really easy to blame others for “what I went through”. Well, yeah, they do hold some responsibility for the way they treated me on some level and in THEIR own discovery. However, what is one of the most difficult lessons to learn in life is that WE are responsible for our choices, what we allow in our lives, as well as the continued permission we give for these people and circumstances to affect us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about addiction or other issues, I’m talking about my own situation and my complete inability to take better care of myself by making good choices.

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In an optimum situation, people would routinely see a therapist and it would be as common as seeing your doctor for a yearly physical or a dental cleaning two times a year. However, society has long put a stigma on mental health and for many, it’s so out of reach that most just don’t bother. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health and so many miss that.

I can remember, so long ago, asking my late husband to go into therapy to get help for his drinking. There was much ranting about how therapy was for “sissies” and a real man deals with his own problems. Instead of raising my children with this type of thinking, I make sure to let them know that reaching out for help has nothing to do with your personality, your strength and that society’s opinion should have no bearing on how that makes you feel. Thankfully, my son attends regularly and my daughter did for a while.

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Being raised in the patriarchal, masochist dominated world I lived in takes a lot of therapy to unlearn. It never ceases to amaze me how much I learn about myself when I’m open to really listening and learning. As humans, we can be such relentlessly stubborn creatures, creatures of habitual repetition that keeps us harming ourselves over and over again in so many unhealthy ways.

Sadly, psychology has long been regarded as a pseudoscience and we have all done ourselves a great disservice by allowing that to continue. The brain and its connections to our emotions and physical well-being are not some made up theory in the minds of madmen. While many concepts are intangible and subjective, there is a real cathartic relief in telling someone what you are feeling and letting someone looking at you from the outside in tell you the TRUTH. Hearing that truth is very difficult and it will test you, but it will also be worth it.

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If I’m honest with myself, I will probably continue to go to therapy for the rest of my life. I enjoy it, look forward to it and am always sad when the session ends. That’s how I know I still crave it and get something out of it. It’s not for everyone and I truly respect if someone says they aren’t interested or it’s not for them.

For some, their version of therapy is exercise, nature, travel, books, solitude, or whatever they need to help them process life. I use all of them as well. However, for me, I need that little boost from sitting in that chair every week and pouring out my heart to someone who seems to know me better than I know myself…for now at least.

 

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2 comments

  1. I was just talking to my adult daughters about all this. I said the same thing about mental health check-ups. I asked why they wouldn’t go to therapy and they blame their father’s attitude. (My ex & your ex sound exactly the same) I asked why they chose his negative viewpoint over my positive and they said the negative, angry has a greater impact.
    I keep trying to show them there’s no shame, that it’s a good thing that helps but they’re adults and have to make their own choices. It’s just too bad…

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  2. If there is one thing that I have learned in great abundance is that, no matter how YOU wish someone will change, you can’t make them. They have to see things within themselves and want to change. Otherwise, you must let them go. It’s a lesson I’ve learned, getting better at spotting and dealing with too…just taking a while LOL.

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