Is therapy self-indulgent?

We live in times where seeking to improve ourselves is encouraged and advertised. Many of us belong to gyms and keep our bodies in shape or attend short courses and learn new things. Now more than ever we are encouraged to increase our skill set and become better-rounded individuals.

So, how does therapy fit into this? Well, despite living in times of self-improvement and self-development, therapy is often seen as self-indulgent, and the term navel gazing is often mentioned.

This article aims to ask whether therapy makes us more self-absorbed, whether we can have too much self-awareness and if maybe saying less is more useful. It also aims to look at how therapy can help.

Does therapy make us more self-absorbed?

We have all at some point, become lost within our own thoughts and absorbed in what is happening in our own lives. We lead incredibly busy lives, and can often be lost in chasing the next goal. Adding therapy into this somewhat already self-absorbed way of living can provide some difficulties.

One of the many useful and worthwhile by-products of therapy is an increased understanding of your own mind. However, this can bring with it a greater sense of inward thinking, self-assessment and self-analysis. The explorative process of therapy can be a double-sided blade. On one side, we can take the understandings we gain in the therapy room into the outside world for the benefit of our own lives and those around us. However, the danger of this is that we can also find ourselves becoming more aware of our own processes that can negatively impact on our relationships with others.

We can find ourselves on the one hand saying that talking to someone about our issues is useful and that we find it enjoyable, and on the other side, we tell ourselves that it is a luxury, and the reason for it is our vanity and obsession with ourselves.

Can you have too much self-awareness?

The nature of therapy is that it develops our sense of ourselves to a higher degree, and opens us up to sides of ourselves we may not have known existed. However, can too much of a good thing be bad for us? Are we creating a monster by becoming so much more self-aware?

Acquiring a deeper sense of self-awareness can be highly rewarding, but it can also be a scary, difficult and emotional experience. The actions or thought processes, which we once saw as helpful or fulfilling, can now be viewed with a different lens, and we may find ourselves, seeing our relationships with others differently. This is the danger of acquiring a deeper level of self-awareness, and often ‘getting out of our own minds’ can be helpful. By this I mean, consciously removing ourselves from a constant sense of analysis of moments, thoughts and ideas, and being in a moment more openly and honestly.

A mountain out of a molehill - should we say less?

How often have you been talking to someone about an issue, and found yourself saying ‘I’m sorry, I’ve been going on and on about myself for ages. How are you?’ It is all too common to sensor oneself and apologise for talking about feelings, thoughts and ideas. We are often told that we are ‘Making a big deal out of nothing’ or that ‘You worry too much, it isn’t that important’. The thing is, these are our lives, our interactions and our stories. These things matter to us.

Of course, we all at times overreact to situations, and feel that what is happening to us is more important than anything else at that time, but does that mean we should put up with things and be quiet?

Society encourages us to have a stiff upper lip, to carry on the fight without anyone knowing or to make the best of a bad situation without burdening anyone. How many of us have been told that we shouldn’t air our dirty laundry in public? These phrases, and stock reactions to our attempts to express ourselves often do more damage than they do good. Through stigmatising worry, and saying that talking to others about your worries and needs is selfish or self absorbed, creates an environment where we feel unable to speak up, which leads to an unhealthy culture of silence.

How therapy helps

The nature of being human means we are both complicated and intricate. We may at times struggle to understand thoughts, feelings or ourselves. We may find a friend who understands, or a partner who is able to offer us perspective. However, we reach a point where we seek to know more, further our self-understanding and gain knowledge. Therapy offers you the chance to talk, be heard and to be understood.

Seeing a therapist offers you the chance to speak to someone who is trained to listen, understand, and empathise. It is a space for reflection on your life and relationships. In essence, therapy offers you the chance to be more open to feelings and thoughts. Therapy is not a one-stop shop for answers or results, it is however a space where you can search deeply into your self to develop understanding, and ultimately live a life that feels more real and connected.

In closing

It is the nature of society to tell us that self-exploration is selfish, that we should consider the lives of those in a worse position than ourselves before we begin to think about our own life. Of course, talking about ourselves to others for extended periods of time, can be self-indulgent, however seeking to better understand ourselves and our lives is not. This is the key difference in therapy.

It is highly important to consider the world around us, and what happens for others, but our own internal world, and progression through life does truly matter. The opportunity to think freely about our life and what matters to us is something that should not be devalued or considered self-indulgent.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N6 & NW5
Written by Joshua Miles, BA, MSc, BPC, BACP Accredited Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
London N6 & NW5

Joshua is an experienced Integrative Therapist & Bereavement Counsellor who works with a wide range of issues such as loneliness, isolation, depression, relationship difficulties and anxiety. He also has particular expertise working with sudden or abrupt loss, and has helped many people work through the pain of their loss. He is based in Shoreditch

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