That’s an ironic title for a therapist who makes her living helping people with various life problems and challenges, and who are frequently convinced there’s something terribly amiss.
And I get it. As a professional, I view symptoms, mistakes and problems with a different lens, but in times of deep personal stress I revert back to that kind of “I’m defective” or “I’m broken” thinking; it’s that ingrained!
Raised in the Christian faith, I was taught that I was flawed at birth – not because of anything I did but simply because I was born into an already sinful world and therefore blotted with badness. It’s taken me more than fifty years to counter this teaching of “original sin,” – a teaching I view as untrue and damaging.
Now I believe something different. I understand clients who come to me as humans whose challenges and symptoms are important messengers trying to get our attention. They may certainly be painful, confusing, damaging to themselves and others, deeply entrenched or getting them in trouble. But that does not mean they are sign of individual pathology or badness.
Turning Toward Yourself
A therapist can only truly help their clients with lessons they’ve learned themselves. For me, finally turning to myself – my mind and my body, with kindness, acceptance and compassion has been the key.
When I started to more consistently relate to myself with genuine acceptance and friendship as I felt scared, angry, worried, depressed, tired or sad, I recognized a fundamental shift, a huge relief and a feeling of rightness.
Going Against the Grain
How is it that our culture (and religious systems) teach us to hate ourselves until or unless we reach some pinnacle of perfection? And who decides what perfect is? You needn’t travel too far to understand that in other cultures and countries what is beautiful or right is different from our western notions.
Do you know anyone who truly loves and accepts themselves for the marvelous creature they are? Their body, even if it’s got stretch marks, varicose veins, sagging skin or “too much” heft? Their fine mind, even if it sometimes spins unhelpful tales and convinces us of our imperfection? Their emotions of grief, joy, fear, worry, contentment – all of them – as entirely human and acceptable?
Clients are relieved when they can name and experience this shift – from believing they are defective, flawed and in need of a huge overhaul to truly understanding themselves as whole and good, but with habits, ingrained reactions and ways of handling their problems that CAN CHANGE.
Clients also often fight this shift – it can take a lot of time for someone to understand that hating, criticizing, berating and rejecting one’s self never gets them anywhere on the road to health.
A Wider Lens
Applying a family systems perspective to what is going on in your life also widens the lens and can make it easier to see how futile it is to place all the blame for life’s problems on one person (yourself or others). A systems lens allows us to see that everything is connected and affects everything else. We are intimately connected in our family, friendship and work relationships and what others do and what we do are part of a moving, integrated, dynamic system. No one stands alone, isolated, defective and to blame.
The paradox is that change happens quicker and more smoothly once a client starts to trust more of the time that indeed, there is nothing wrong at the core with them – that they have inner goodness, resiliencies, strengths and insight that can guide them in the work of kindly looking at and taking responsibility for what is painful.
Pema Chodron says this in Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change: “We are fundamentally good, not fundamentally flawed, and we can trust this.”
If you can see struggles, symptoms or problems as messengers while harnessing an even fledgling belief in a wise, good, core self, you can learn to work with the very pain that led you to seek help.
So, there you have it. I won’t view you as broken, defective, or “bad.” And I’ll gently challenge you if you view yourself that way.
Brenda Hartman-Souder, LCSW
For further reading, consider:
Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, by Pema Chodron
Six Steps to Befriend Yourself, by Matt Licata and Jeff Foster. You can access it in two parts on Sounds True: https://manyvoices.soundstrue.com/6-principles-for-befriending-yourself-part-i/, and here: https://manyvoices.soundstrue.com/6-principles-for-befriending-yourself-part-ii/ and here: https://manyvoices.soundstrue.com/6-principles-for-befriending-yourself-part-iii/
Restful Insomnia Article: https://restfulinsomnia.com/how-to-make-meditation-be-more-kind/