“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.”
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?
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.