Trigger warning: talk of grief.
Most people I know respond to the idea of therapy in a pretty blase way. I can see why; telling your innermost desires and secrets to someone who could not possibly give a damn, ugh. And most therapists cannot imagine what might be going on in my head, obviously.
For a while, I had no one because I didn’t know how to make friends and had no non-estranged family. People eventually convinced me by example that I was missing some vital part of human growth. I went to therapy, and became if nothing else a firm believer that everyone needs at least one fan, and often, people are not their own fans. I sure wasn’t.
Why am I even blogging about therapy? Here’s what a therapist does for me: As I grow in therapy, my therapist has been pointing it out, and when it is pointed out to me that my efforts are coming to something despite how terrible I feel most of the time, I am forced to accept that I am growing as a person. Little bit by little bit, my therapist has been breaking my fixed mindset, my black-and-white thinking, my negative self-image and my flawed expectations of myself, all of which are just habits, reactions, things I can possibly pause before doing in most cases.
After the therapist points this stuff out, when I go into the world, I can better notice and accept other people responding to me more positively as a result of this growth, and better notice opportunities to, as Descartes said, “set aside the old pathways [which my mind has laid down over time, he is indicating habits] to make way for the new.”. So the therapist teaches me to notice how I am growing by noticing what healthy behaviors even look like. And especially, by noticing what I am feeling when I use certain behaviors. Yeah, the therapist told me I have problems where I didn’t think I had any. But then they are obviously problems all on their own. Externally verifiable, experimentally falsifiable, just plain there staring me in the face, one of my old pathways, one of my demons.
Descartes’ meditations, not an argument, but a contemplation exercise:
Silly enough, most of my demons/old pathways are not what you would expect. They are mostly childish coping mechanisms, defense mechanisms, behaviors that arose as a result of my childhood development in a kind of fucked up environment, just like everyone else. Pavlovian conditioning makes children excessively adaptable. They can adapt to anything, and often do so in quite twisted ways if they are around twisted people or twisted social environments.
Some of these behaviors arose as a result of other large losses in my life, griefs not dealt with properly. I’ve lost a few loved ones, a father at a young age, a grandfather when I was 21 who I had lived with for a year, my old construction supervisor friend Lenny to cancer who I used to do computer work for, but who really just paid me to come by and chat about his life with him. And, of course, Roxy. I think you can read about her elsewhere on this blog.
Not dealing with grief properly at the time it happens can cause some lingering insecurities and issues. It can cause damaged confidence. It can cause long-term, major depression, even permanently render people unable to lead normal lives.
On the other hand, whereas grief used to devastate me, I now rely on the memory of those close to me I’ve lost as a sort of sad inspiration. I got this from Jewish culture, where they remember their dead by lighting a candle and thinking about the dead for an hour a day for the year after they die. I know my dear departed would want me to grow. They were the people who put it in my head that I was worth anything in the first place, people who loved and cared for me.
So, I figure, if I’m at a therapist, and I’m paying for it, I’m just going to vent all my habits and situations, and get more than my money’s worth, and if I can’t develop social relationships, who better to develop a friendship with than someone who is paid to be friendly when I’m doing well, and tough and adversarial when I need it?
The linked blog post captures some of that positivity, along with further insight into what therapy is for.
Thanks to Steve Y. for suggesting therapy a long time ago, and sorry it took one of my other friends dying to convince me to do it.
Thanks to Angelica for reminding me about it right after my latest loss.