Vulnerability, anxiety, therapy and you
For some, therapy may heighten levels of anxiety, during and in between sessions. This may not make sense to some because therapy is there to help you feel better not make you feel worse, right? But understanding the therapeutic process further may help you understand why this sometimes happens.
Many of us have psychological 'safety blankets' or 'armour' around us. These are 'defense mechanisms' and they are there for a reason. Perhaps you have been hurt in the past or maybe you are worried that you can't be the 'real' you because people won't like you. Whatever the reason, you may have built a sophisticated psychological defensive wall around you. You may not even be aware that it is there. These defense mechanisms can stop you from being who you truly are. When you hide behind this wall it can be exhausting. Your true 'way of being', does not and can not flow naturally. You may constantly feel that you have to conform to others expectations at the expense of your own happiness. It can demand an enormous amount of effort to maintain this defense. It can also create depression and anxiety within you. Imagine though for a moment, how it would feel to be free of these defenses. Perhaps it sounds liberating or maybe it feels very scary. But to get to this stage you have to feel vulnerable to a certain degree. Letting someone through your defensive mechanisms may make you feel very vulnerable. Feeling vulnerable doesn't particularly feel good. But being vulnerable with someone you can trust could be the gateway to freeing yourself from the psychological 'bonds' that keep you from being the real you.
Feeling vulnerable can heighten your anxiety levels. Your defensive mechanisms are being challenged. You may have had these defenses for a very long time. They may not be ideal, but nevertheless, they are there for a reason. In my experience, clients often come to therapy because something deep inside doesn't feel right. Many clients want to experience life without these defenses. Often when clients come to see a counsellor, their need to free themselves starts to outweigh the need to hold on to their defenses. But that doesn't mean that they will disappear easily. Therapy can be like a pendulum where in one session you want to free yourself from these bonds, then in another session you want to keep hold of what you know and are use to. This constant 'pushing and pulling' can be like an emotional 'tug of war' within. This process alone can cause anxiety.
A good therapist will be totally in tune to this process. They will swing on the pendulum with you. Even though your defenses may be keeping you in destructive behavioral cycles, your therapist will realize that these behaviors can only be challenged at the right time and at a pace that is comfortable for you. But equally, your therapist will know when this defensive side is dominating the therapeutic process. Negative behaviors have the ability to defend the 'status quo' with absolute rigor. Again a good therapist will recognize when this is going on within the therapeutic room and will challenge this defensiveness accordingly.
So anxiety levels may heighten at moments through your therapy. But as this article explains it can be a necessary part of the process. Remember the anxiety is there because your defenses are being challenged. Fear and vulnerability are the result of this challenge and accepting that this is part of the therapeutic process, hopefully allows you to understand why this is so. Try not to fight the anxiety but accept it is there for a reason. In time, when you have discovered more about yourself it will lessen. The defensive side of you will eventually feel less threatened and more calm. Hopefully, as your therapy progresses, and as you continually build a trusting relationship with your therapist you will not feel as vulnerable. You will also begin to realize that you are always in control. Feeling that you are in control is extremely important during your therapy. You may begin to realize that feeling vulnerable has its benefits as you work towards the changes you wish to make.
Going through therapy can be like a roller coaster with its ups and downs. Some sessions may be harder than others. But if you are thinking about therapy ask yourself this question. Does your need for change, outweigh the need to stay as you are? Only you will know the answer to this question.