I feel blessed and grateful with the many clients I work with. I cherish the moment when they begin to feel a sense of safety and trust and their most personal life begins to emerge. But for most, it doesn’t begin at the first meeting or two. As they sit across from me I hear the basics of their family, their childhood, and their friends. I then hear about their co-workers, peers and neighbors. I see the dance happen as they talk about everything except what they really want and need to share. I can feel their pain much before they realize it.
Many of my clients share they feel comfortable with me quickly but the more difficult part is getting the guts to bring it all up - the real story. Most fear if they dredge it all up it’ll never end. They fear they will cry and never be able to stop. They fear the ugly past will rear its head more vicious then before when all they want to do is forget about it. There are so many fears when one considers the choice to open up the past. I understand that and I give my clients as much space as they need – to a point.
At the beginning of therapy with me I hone in on goals. What is it that you, the client, want to accomplish? Some say, “I’m tired of feeling sad all the time”, “I want my out-of-control anger to end”, “I just don’t feel right and not sure why”. The reasons vary why people come to see me. But they walk in my door because they know they need to make a change. They know they have a story to tell. As I tell many of my clients, we all have a story. Every single person we encounter has a story. Please tell me yours.
The stories that many of us live with are often deeply ingrained in our unconscious. We carry that unconscious past around daily, which creates anxiety, depression, resentment, prejudice, anger, hurt and much more. Our stories dictate how we view ourselves, how we view others, and how we perceive life in general. Even though life may seemingly be going well now, our life stories can weigh us down, keep us angry or sad, and prevent us from feeling joy, happiness, or even content.
It isn’t until we open up the past, talk about it, purge it, dig in deep and explore it that we begin to feel some freedom. Living with our past stuck in our unconscious can be life draining. Remaining in that place affects our daily decisions, how we judge others, why we hold on to resentment or jealousy.
In therapy, as you sit across from me, we can discuss your life story, the ugly past. I want you to share it all with me. It’s when we bring the unconscious to the conscious the freedom and change begins. Trust me when I say, you won’t cry forever and you won’t be stuck there by dredging it all up again. Rather, it’s the dredging it all up again that can be freeing.
By default our brain likes to go to the negativity. So together we work on re-writing your story to shift that focus. What statements are you telling yourself? “My parents always told me I was a loser, therefore that must be true and I will never amount to much so why try?” “My uncle abused me so I will never be happy and will always feel depressed.” “I was blindsided at that business meeting, others judged me just as I’ve always been judged in the past.” “My spouse left me for another person therefore I should never trust anyone again.” Statements such as these all relate to your past and present. Using small steady steps we can begin the process of change.
It might be time for you to make a change, make a move, confront the past and search ever so deep for some good that may have come out of it. Change is difficult. And re-writing or retelling your story toward better mental health is more complex than looking for the bright side of our past situations. That’s why we work on this together and recast “I’ll never forgive” or “I’m stuck with who I am,” into a new mold.
It’s probably difficult for you to imagine finding anything positive out of your past but it’s there. Look at your options. You can stay with what you have, and you know how that makes you feel, or you can be open to looking at your life from a different lens. Maybe you can find many benefits from your experiences or maybe only a couple. But what’s important is that you grab any benefit there is from your life experiences and focus on it. When you look at life from a different perspective you will be surprised how much better and empowered you can feel. So, are you ready to tell your story?
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who provides services in her office in Orange, CA but also has options for home-based psychotherapy. Her areas of expertise are in communications, relationships, marriage strengthening, stress reduction, depression, trauma, anxiety, anger, personal growth, and ptsd (civilian and military). She can be reached via LizBirchTherapist.com, email at LizBirchMFT@gmail.com, or by calling 714-614-0612.
I'm a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Psychotherapist, who works with individuals, couples and families. I'm also a thinker, doer, caregiver and idealist. I hope I inspire you to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. You might be surprised what you discover.