Need an honest conversation with yourself? Here's how
Many of the people who access my practice often talk about how hard it is to access their emotions; and if they are able to do so, are concerned about how they can usefully manage them. Clients recall times when they were 'out there' or 'the life and soul of the party'. Equally, they often seem to harbour guilt, shame and anger about this behaviour which they dislike; yet at the same time wanting to return to that self who they also recall as being carefree and optimistic (and have the photos to prove it). Confused and lost they seem to have become lost within themselves.
These individuals want to change and be the thoughtful, considerate people they know they can be. They just need some help with having an honest conversation with themselves by confronting what or who is holding them back.
It could be one of the best pieces of self-talk they have ever undertaken.
Yes, we need to acknowledge the difficult times. It is equally important to talk about the journey we have made so far, the obstacles overcome and odds which have been beaten.
For many, getting the acknowledgement of how hard things have been can be an important turning point in our own self-realisation. When we cannot get this, then we need to find it within ourselves so that we learn how to get self-validation (feedback is good, self-discovery is better).
People often recall times when they struggled, when they didn't fit, when they felt less than 'good enough'. Families often cannot or will not talk about the past. These individuals are so wanting and needing to talk so they can understand themselves better, however, they often met with avoidance or dismissal.
J, for example, spent many of his early years in 'special needs' classes; he felt different, pushed to one side, kept down. 20 years later, his 14 year old self kept coming back. He felt like the kid who couldn't find his voice and was struggling with his confidence. Once he was able to talk about his feelings and the way they had held him back, he realised it was down to him if he was to move on.
By talking about his struggles, what may be affecting his self-belief and what he could do about it, he discovered his world did not come crashing down, he was not judged. On the contrary, he felt relief. He had shared his worries and self-doubt. We reframed his view of not being good enough into something more inspirational. He could be a positive role model to others.
Therapy had provided, in his busy life, a space for him to sit down, reflect and take stock. I don't believe he needed weeks and weeks of therapy; just a couple of hours to find some space for himself as the adult he knew himself to be.
Another client, E, recalled a time in high school, when for two and half years he was a 'nasty person', going from a shy, introverted boy to being the life and soul, which he recalls, meant not being nice to others. Above all, not being very nice to himself. This had haunted him until he started talking about how it affected him and what steps he could take to face his past as opposed to it becoming a roadblock.
With A, having made a lot of progress in moving on, he found he kept returning to fight a fight which was effectively over. He had physically left his marriage but psychologically he was finding it hard to leave the past behind. He enlisted the police and others to fight his corner. When his anger subsided and he sought my guidance, I suggested it was safe to let it go and start a new chapter. Focus on the good memories, and leave the rest behind (having learnt some lessons on the way).
There comes a time when we need to say goodbye to our old lives, to the people, places and situations which are holding us back, keeping us in a box from which we want to escape. This is often a difficult process because it involves change and loss, and we have been taught from a young age to acquire. Not to lose.
Feeling able to disclose and unburden ourselves can help us avoid becoming overwhelmed and not thinking straight. Sometimes, we are not sure what to do with strong feelings. How we used to deal with our feelings - or more often, not deal with them - may not work anymore. When we reflect on our past behaviour there are many themes - our childhood, who we hang out with, what is going on in our social media circles.
In my practice feelings of guilt and shame are frequently discussed. We often find there is a loss of identity with no idea how to leave the past and build a new one. If we feel we have to be strong and successful, and look the part to boot... what happens when we feel anything but?
Anger is often a frequent emotion which enters the therapy room on a regular basis. So I often ask the question:
'What do you do with your anger?'
'Where does it go?'
After some reflection and exploration we find it has been buried. Not dealt with. It has been placed on the pile of other negative emotions, which if not acknowledged and worked with risk being suppressed. This can be a block to forming authentic relationships with our inner self.
In my experience, unless we sort our inner self there is little hope we can connect with others in a meaningful way.
If people feel they cannot talk and bottle things up, they are more likely to face mental health problems and either withdraw or explode. It helps to open up and talk. This provides safer spaces for us all - ourselves and those we hang around with, so we need to:
- talk about our feelings
- speak up about our feelings
When we don't do this, it becomes harder to reach out when we need help ourselves. (More bottling it up or getting angry which becomes a vicious cycle from which it becomes increasingly hard to escape).
These aspects can be modelled by a good therapist. Most people who come to my practice are at a total loss as to what to do and how they got to the stage they are at. By providing a positive role model, good therapists are in a privileged position to help those who want to learn to change their behaviour.
In my experience, what often emerges when we keep our feelings locked away is we either act out (drink, drugs, food, sex - anything to ease the pain) or become withdrawn (and angry within ourselves). The more we talk about our disconnection with ourselves and the damage this is doing to us and how it impacts on others the more we will be able to change. We learn to become happier within ourselves, we have less to prove, we can accept who we are, we can relax.
Good therapy offers a safe place to open up about ourselves. I liken it to a rehearsal on finding out who we are, which takes place in a private, confidential setting. We can then put our self discoveries into our day-to-day life.
It is then when we find out 'what works' for us and what doesn't and what we need to do about it.
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