A lot of people think that when you go to therapy all you do is sit there and complain about your life, how horrible it was or is, and your therapist will tell you how to fix it. Unfortunately that is not the case. Psychotherapy is a journey you and your therapist take together. Only you have the map to go where you want to go, but the therapist can help you to understand the map when you are struggling to read it.
Sometimes therapy can bring something to light that makes your entire belief system quiver. It can challenge your morals and question the way you think. I personally find that one of the hardest things to get through is questioning something about your personality that you always thought was a good thing. Now that doesn’t mean that this good thing isn’t good, (or that it is actually bad) but maybe it’s not as good as you once thought. I had one of these moments in therapy recently so I thought I would share it with you to show a side of therapy that maybe you haven’t experienced before.
I see myself as a nice person. Generally most people will say they same, especially when I meet new people. Just this weekend I was told by a new acquaintance that I’m a ‘really nice, lovely girl’. I went through a period in my early 20’s where I was surrounded by friends that would gossip behind each others back. I was also very guilty of this and decided I didn’t like the person I was becoming. I decided to distance myself from these people for my own well being, not that they were awful people, just not the people I needed around me at that time. Ever since I have been especially careful to be nice to people and not gossip or say mean things behind anyone’s back.
Overall being nice to people is a great thing. Trying to see things from their point of view and not judging them is an excellent skill to have and I pride myself on being a nice, understanding person. However, sometimes I can take this too far. It was pointed out to me in therapy that though being like this is wonderful, sometimes it makes us push down our actual feelings about people.
Recently I have had a very strong feeling of disgust towards someone. I would tell myself that I was being mean and horrible for feeling this way about the person. They didn’t deserve such a strong feeling from me, they aren’t a bad person and I was being a less than nice person for feeling this way. I should be more understanding of this person and not judge them so much for the bad choices (in my opinion) they are making. I told my therapist about this and she was delighted that I had brought a negative feeling about someone to the session. She had asked me in previous sessions where “dark Valerie” is, as even when I tell her something negative someone may have done that hurt me/affected me in some way, I always had a justification of why they aren’t bad people. I will always try to explain that they are great people and though they may have done this one bad thing they have done these twenty good things or had these thirty bad things happen to them that made them do this one bad thing to me. I always have to justify why I shouldn’t feel anything negative towards people.
It doesn’t have to be someone close to me, I do this almost every time I have a negative thought or feeling about someone. I could be walking down the street and see a girl wearing an outfit that I immediately think is hideous. Instead of just letting myself have that thought and carrying on with my day I will start to justify them and berate myself. I will think things like ‘but she might really like the outfit and feel really confident and pretty in it. I’m no fashion expert so who am I to say her outfit is awful? I shouldn’t be so quick to judge something like that, I need to stop doing that‘.
It is a good thing to try understand things from all sides, don’t get me wrong, but by trying to justify why this person doesn’t deserve my negative feeling towards them, I am in turn rejecting my own feelings. I am telling myself that having a negative feeling towards someone is not allowed, that it makes me a bad person, that it means I’m not a “nice girl”. In truth it doesn’t. We all have negative feelings or thoughts towards people at some stage and that is ok. These feelings are just as legitimate as positive feelings and shouldn’t be ignored. Feeling disgust for someone doesn’t make me a bad person. I’m not going around screaming at this person that they are disgusting or lazy just like I’m not chasing the girl down the street to tell her that her outfit is hideous. I’m not hurting their feelings by allowing myself to feel negatively about them.
When first confronted by the idea that I’m justifying my negative feelings away I felt quite frustrated. I felt like I was being accused of being a fake, that I wasn’t actually a nice girl, I was just pretending to be. The more I think about it though the more I know that it’s not true. I still find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that thinking/feeling negatively about someone doesn’t equate to me being mean to them. To be honest I am still finding it hard to separate the two. My ability to understand where people might be coming from and seeing their point of view is one of the biggest things I take pride in. One of the ways this understanding manifests is my constant justification of other people’s actions. I need to work on finding the balance between being an understanding person or “nice girl” and allowing myself to feel negative emotions and have negative thoughts without the immediate need to justify them away and berating myself for having them.
I hope this little story gave you something to think about. I am constantly reminded how amazingly complex our minds are and how good we are at finding ways to make us feel bad about ourselves. Remember to be kind to yourself and not just to others!
Until next time!