Snapshots from Therapy: The Trust Issues Edition

“What would you tell your own client?” my therapist asked me. “When you’re in my position, what would you say?”

I uncrossed my legs. My whole body shook, and shivers ran up and down my legs, my arms. Over the past year, my therapist and I had started to uncover the abuse I experienced at the hands of my mother. Though I had made tremendous progress, talking about the abuse still made my skin crawl, like the past lived and moved inside of me, tiny slivers of memory ready to burst into flames at any moment.

“I would tell them it’s not their fault,” I said. “I would say that it makes sense to have trust issues after surviving horrible abuse.”

the body keeps the score and mcdonalds

Pictured: The Body Keeps the Score, an amazing book about trauma, and McDonald’s, a not-so-amazing addition to my digestive system – both on the couch in my therapist’s waiting area. Will explain in a future blog post, or my memoir.

As soon as the words left my mouth, a wave of self-hatred hit me. Trust issues? Me? How much more pathetic could I get? I wanted to curl up into a ball and disappear into the crevices of my therapist’s black leather couch. I had read several books about therapy and abuse; I had taken several Psychology courses, including a graduate level clinical psychology seminar; I had always espoused trust and compassion as two of my most cherished values. I knew I had so much more to learn, and yet, how could I have sunken so low?

But my therapist’s question stuck with me: as an aspiring clinical psychologist, what would I tell one of my future clients? I would never blame them for their abuse or their struggles. Maybe, then, I needed to start treating myself with that same level of compassion. I needed to pause and inspect every thought I experienced and ask: would you treat someone else like this? Why would you treat yourself like this?

In my clinical psychology course, my instructor, who just graduated with her Ph.D., always says a therapist must be willing to do whatever they encourage their clients to do. Whether this pertains to keeping thought catalogues to deal with depression or doing embarrassing acts in public to combat social anxiety, the therapist must have the courage to partake alongside their client. This message resonates with me, because it speaks to shared compassion, to holding oneself to a certain standard of kindness and well-being.

I have pushed myself too hard, too often. I always thought that to become a skilled psychologist, I would have to separate all of my emotions from my work, that to ensure complete objectivity, I would need to question all my motives and make them flawless. Now, though, I feel that internal load lightening – I would never tell someone else that they needed to achieve perfection all the time to make a difference in the world. As rudimentary as it sounds, I can still work hard and care a lot without judging myself for every imperfection.

We so often criticize ourselves: maybe because our parents taught us to, maybe because practicing self-compassion takes a lot more work than we think. But it is never too late to make a change. And that change can start with a simple question: on this day, how I can treat myself with the kindness I, and everyone else on this planet, deserves?

ariana grande dangerous woman album cover o m grande

A transition image that may be irrelevant to this post but is oh so relevant to my life: the album artwork of Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman. Listen to it and buy it if you want to self-actualize.

Hello everyone! I apologize for the two month hiatus: as I always say, life has gotten super busy with classes, work, research, etc. Cannot wait to share some good news in a future post soon, and I will try my best to find time to reply to all your thoughtful, amazing comments. Has anyone else dealt with trust issues/other interpersonal problems in their lives? How have you coped? Thank you again for giving me license to create this vulnerable space.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Snapshots from Therapy: The Trust Issues Edition

  1. I’m not sure what else to say except that it’s good that you’re making progress, and this is an important thing that doesn’t get discussed often enough, especially on social media like blogs where people tend to present themselves in the best/happiest manner possible.

    …also, why am I not surprised about that Ariana Grande picture lol I’ve come to expect that from you. 🙂

    • Yes to this entire comment! I agree we tend to present an idealized image of ourselves on social media. I also agree that you should expect the Ariana Grande image. Thank you for stopping by as always.

  2. Glad to see you’re exercising some of that compassion you show towards others with your own life as well. We’re always hardest on ourselves, aren’t we? But good on you for realizing that, and taking steps to change it. Rooting for you!

  3. Some good realisations there, I think. And I took a long time to trust myself and other people with sharing details of my past. “Everything was fine,” I breezed. When I trusted myself and others to handle, not details, but just the knowledge, I relaxed and my friendships deepened. Obviously you have to pick the right people to trust, but you get better at that, I’ve found. Good to have you back, too!

    • You’re right – how trust is a delicate balance that requires both commitment from yourself as well as people who you feel you can rely on. Glad to hear you have learned over the years how to negotiate that with less turmoil. Thank you for stopping by!

  4. Mentally filing this post as Accurate Representation of Counseling: Read and Feel Less Alone. This is so relevant. Thomas, you are not alone. Thanks for always being so courageous and sharing your experiences in a way that very few people could put so eloquently into words. Love always ❤

    • Aw Emilie, this comment fills my heart with so much joy. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment with such kindness and empathy. I am so excited to see the meaningful and compassionate service you will do working with people who have undergone trauma, as well as other psychological issues. Hope you are having a wonderful day!

  5. So glad to hear from you via a blog post! Self-compassion is hard esp when you feel you don’t deserve it, from others much less yourself. My problem is that I’m too trusting of everyone, whereas my husband has the complete opposite problem. So that is tricky to work with. I have been so busy with work/family that I’ve not put much effort on my blog since the new year, with the exception of ARC books.

    • I agree Rachel, you really have to learn how to treat yourself as someone who deserves self-compassion, as well as someone who is capable of giving it to yourself. It sounds like you’re aware of the dynamic between you and your husband, which is good, and I hope that helps you two navigate issues of trust. Just stopped by your blog and read a fab review – glad to see you’re still reading and writing even if you have not had as much time. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  6. kidboise

    Much of what you talk about here rings true in a very personal way. I have spent a lot of time and energy advocating for concepts like trust in others and self-compassion; meanwhile I acknowledge that I am not always–perhaps even not usually–particularly good at either. Gaining both skills has been a challenge, and the disparity between my inner-existence and outwardly-projected ideals continues to be (although a bit less so these days) a considerable source of pain.

    You are moving in a great direction and are actively addressing your sources of pain. Proud of you, Thomas!

    • Thank you for this vulnerable and moving comment! I agree that it is important to practice what you preach and it is wonderful that you are aware of a disparity in what you advocate and what you do for yourself, and you are actively taking steps to address that. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on this post. (:

  7. I am absolute shit at trust. I am. I didn’t used to be but I grew up in a really competitive environment and high school taught me that the people around me were not going to be happy for me, so I learned to keep everything bottled in and never admit a single sign of weakness.

    I made a resolution to be better in college and, to some extent, I have. I’m much more honest and forthcoming with my friends than I’ve been before and am not afraid to admit when I need help or that I don’t know something–and that’s liberating. But I was rejected from a study abroad program I’ve been planning my life around this morning and I haven’t spoken to a single person face-to-face all day. I’m avoiding everyone and too ashamed to tell people I know or trust them with my failure. So trust issues are something I work on constantly, too, Thomas. You’re not alone. And it’s so, so hard. Because once people know something about you, they can’t un-know it and that’s terrifying.

    Anyway, I’m glad that we’ll be getting some more positive posts from you soon! I need to hear some good news in my life, even if it’s someone else’s good news. I’ve had a terrible semester–a combination of really tough courses, too many commitments and just LIFE because my best friend has been battling a mental illness and I’ve been nearly burnt out almost constantly this entire semester–but I hope your semester is going well, Thomas! Good luck with all your work and research and personal projects–I wish you all the best. And, as always, thanks for sharing and trusting US with your life–it has inspired me in so many ways.

  8. Hey Thomas! Nice blog you have here. This is curious me speaking here, but how did your mom abuse you? , if you don’t mind me asking. I understand that this question is quite personal, so an answer isn’t required. But you may answer if you choose to. Thanks either way!

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