It’s hard to admit you need help. Everyone knows that therapy is out there, but as soon as you consider it, a voice in your head tells you all the shameful reasons NOT to go. Don’t let that voice stop you. Therapy Shame is real. But, listen to what Jessie Rosen says instead. She’s been there. Jessie’s blog, 20-Nothings, brings to light many important issues for 20 and 30-somethings. On September 16, 2015, she posted this piece: “Why You (And I) Should Not Be Ashamed To Go To Therapy.” She shares her experience. That’s a courageous thing to do, especially since Jessie had her own shame to manage.
Here’s a part of what Jessie says: “I still don’t tell most people that I’ve been in therapy. Even at the therapist I’ve said things like, “when I come here,” instead of, “to therapy…where I am right now…in a room with just you, my therapist!” I think it’s because …”
And here are the 3 reasons Jessie identifies for therapy shame. From my experience in my office, I have to agree:
1. ‘Therapy = problems‘
Yes, if you come to therapy it means you have problems. But what’s wrong with that? It’s human. You can’t learn to walk by yourself. You can’t learn to read by yourself. You can’t learn to do many things without parents or teachers or mentors. So, why isn’t therapy the same? Someone to help you with what you can’t be expected to do on your own. And, yet, you probably think: “I should be able to figure this out for myself.” What’s that all about?
2. ‘Problems = weakness‘
In my work as a psychotherapist, I’ve seen, too often, that problems are thought to be signs of weakness. Worse, that any kind of emotional need is weak. This is particularly the case if you grew up fast, your feelings weren’t encouraged or understood, or you had to put your feelings aside to take care of a parent or sibling’s feelings over your own.
We all have a baby or little child part of ourselves that still lives inside. If you experienced trauma, or rejection, or no place for your feelings when you were small, you likely treat that child self with little empathy or kindness. Instead of thinking of your feelings or needs with understanding – you very probably push them aside and treat them as if they don’t belong – or that there’s something very wrong with them. That voice in your head might even be telling you that you’re weak for feeling the way you do at all.
3. ‘Weakness = not perfection‘
That voice can be so shaming that it tells you the only answer to your supposed weakness is – perfection. What is perfection by those standards? Being tough and trying to have no feelings at all? That’s a terrible pressure to be under, since no one can achieve perfection. It doesn’t exist. And, besides, everyone has feelings – even if they try not to.
Perfection, that voice tells you though, means having no need for anything or anyone. It also probably tells you that if you expose your emotional needs – you will be humiliated. Judged. That even that therapist you’re seeing will be thinking critical thoughts. Yet, what’s most difficult to believe is this: that judgment is really inside you.
What’s the answer? Have the courage to try.
The shame (or stigma) about going to therapy is only the shame wrongly attached to either a need for help, itself or to those unwanted feelings you need help with. So, how do you walk into the office of a stranger, learn to trust, and, especially, open up feelings you’ve so likely grown to hate? Maybe easier said than done, but you just get up the courage and call.
As Jessie says: “that stigma isn’t true, it isn’t fair to me, and it certainly isn’t fair to you … there is nothing shameful about going to therapy. Stand up to Therapy Shame. It is brave, and it is helpful, and I recommend it to anyone.” So do I – from both sides of the couch.