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Do You Need Therapy?

By Caroline Kendal MBACP (Accred)
 
Read through the questions below and see what each question evokes.

 

You

  • Does anyone really know you?
  • How do you feel when you look at yourself in the mirror?
  • Do you sometimes feel as if you are a hazard to yourself?
  • Would you like to be someone else?
  • Do you feel like an adult or do you still feel like a child?
  • Do you turn your difficulties into a joke when discussing them with friends?
  • What do you do when you feel angry?
  • Do you admit to feeling sad?
  • When was the last time you cried?
  • Do you think there might be a connection between your physical pain and the way you feel?

You and Others

  • Do you often think people around you need therapy?
  • Do you often put other people's wishes above your own?
  • Do you feel as if you are a burden on others?
  • Is there anyone you could telephone at 3 o'clock in the morning if your car broke down? Would you call?
  • Is there anyone you trust?
  • Do you love anyone?
  • Do you feel anyone loves you?

Family

  • Do you fear becoming your mother or father?
  • Would you describe your childhood as happy?
  • Do you have an area or areas of your life that you keep secret from your family?
  • Do your parents know what is best for you?
  • Would you describe your mother as your best friend?
  • Does visiting your parents feel like a duty?
  • Would you consider doing something of which your family would not approve?

Life

  • Do you enjoy your job?
  • Do you often feel tired?
  • How do you feel upon awakening in the morning?
  • How do you sleep?
  • Do you often have recurring dreams or ones that disturb you?
  • How do you feel when questioned about your drinking, drug, eating, sexual or shopping habits?
  • Do you spend a lot of time at work?
  • Do you avoid spending time alone?

And Finally

  • Does it feel as if everything is alright but that something is wrong?
Some of the questions may have puzzled or perturbed you and your answers may have surprised you. There are no right or wrong answers. Reactions are personal. These questions are posed to enable you to reflect on aspects of your life that you may not often think about. You may find yourself with new ideas, observations and feelings. The questions are based on some of the most common issues encountered in my work as a therapist.  
 
Iíve set out below my understanding of the behaviour, thoughts and feelings that lie behind those issues. I hope it will help you make sense of your answers. Iíve also pointed out how I believe therapy would address and deal with the issues raised. 

 
You

 
Accepting ourselves is fundamental to a fulfilling life. It seems unfair that something this essential should be elusive to so many of us. Not accepting ourselves means we often judge and criticise ourselves harshly and find it hard to believe we have something worthwhile to offer. It impacts on every area of our lives. We may feel heavy, life can seem hard and our relationships a struggle. We are unlikely to feel proud of our achievements. We may be driven to attain new heights of success or simply be too tired to try anymore. Either way, it is hard to find the satisfaction for which you are searching. Therapy gives us the opportunity to learn how to accept ourselves.
 
The difficulty in accepting ourselves can often be attributed to underlying feelings of shame. Shame prevents us from being honest about who we are, both with ourselves and others. The effort and energy we spend in covering up and burying unwanted parts of our behaviour and feelings weighs us down. Eventually, the mask takes over and without noticing, we can end up living a lie. Facing up to aspects of ourselves which we consider to be unlikeable or socially unacceptable and then revealing these sides to another person is one of the most challenging things we can do and can lessen the burden of the shame we carry.
 
Controlling how others see us in order to ensure that unwanted parts of ourselves remain hidden is another burden. Having to control how we see ourselves and what happens in our life is tiring. The amount of control we exercise can indicate how secure we feel about ourselves and our lives. Too much control can bind us to rigid daily routines and perfectionism. We keep a tight rein on our emotions and actions while demanding the same from others. But all we are doing is setting ourselves an impossible task; one that makes it hard to let go. 
 
Too little control or feeling out of control can leave us feeling that we are drifting through life, hoping for the best, reacting rather than creating. We may yearn for change but feel unable to do anything about it, fearing that every decision we make will be the wrong one. Feeling overwhelmed and powerless by what life has to offer leaves us with the impression that we have no say in what happens to us. 
 
Whether we are aware of it or not, we tend to repeat a way of behaving and responding. These patterns of behaviour drive us far more than we think or are even aware. We may feel distressed and out of control when finding ourselves in the same situation, repeating the same actions again and again. Even when it occurs to us that we may have some part to play, the sense of mystification confounds us and we ask ourselves ďwhy did I let this happen again?Ē. This lack of control can at times leave us feeling helpless and angry with ourselves and others. Unless we reach a new level of understanding about the meaning of these patterns, we are likely to repeat them, even though we think we have learnt from our past experiences. 
 
Despite how frustrating these powerful patterns become, it has to be said that their familiarity is comforting. After all, this is what we are used to and know. However, the seductive comfort of feeling safe with what we know can prevent us from living harmoniously.

 
You and Others

 
Our ability to live harmoniously is also affected by our relationships. It can be hard for some of us to acknowledge how much we ask or do not ask from others. A lack of confidence in ourselves and our abilities means we seek approval and reassurance. Although this temporarily satisfies our needs, it leads to an undermining dependency, reinforcing our belief that everyone knows better than us and leaving our sense of self-worth in the hands of others. By giving the credit away to others, we might feel reassured for a while but we also deny the ability that we all possess to find our own answers. Our dependency on external approval drives us to please others and bury our desires and opinions, leaving us feeling confused, anxious or resentful. When we develop the ability to trust and believe in ourselves, we no longer need others to determine our actions and feelings. We are free to be and feel who we are while establishing better relationships.
 
We've briefly addressed the difficulties of too much dependency, yet too little dependency brings its own problems. Although independence is healthy, striving for independence at all costs can hide many different fears. We may give ourselves reasons why we have no interest in intimacy rather than acknowledge our fears of commitment, loss of control, feeling stifled and ultimately, rejection and loss. If we risk dependency, especially if we have never had a safe experience of it before, our own neediness can feel overwhelming. Likewise, if we often enter relationships with people who don't commit, it is likely that we find it hard to acknowledge our own fears of dependency. When these fears are acknowledged and addressed, we are then able to find rewarding, meaningful relationships in which we allow ourselves to feel vulnerable and desired at the same time.

 
Family

 
The way we conduct our relationships is influenced by what we have experienced and learnt from our first relationship: our family. As our primary contact with the world, our family contributes enormously to the way we function and feel as human beings and continues to impact on our lives: what we expect from ourselves and others, how safe, secure and confident we feel, whether we feel loved or unloved and the level of intimacy and trust we experience. 
 
As our parents have cared and provided for us, it can sometimes be difficult to feel anything other than grateful. The commandment to honour our parents, central to our culture, means that it can feel unacceptable to evaluate other feelings we might have towards them. No matter how loved we may have been, we all have a natural need for our parentsí appreciation and acceptance and this can mean we face difficulties in making choices of which we fear they disapprove. When this is the case, in order to maintain good relationships with our family, in particular with our parents, we can be faced with the following dilemmas:
  • We can pursue our family expectations instead of our own.
  • We follow our own wishes but hide these from members of our family.
  • We risk following our own dreams but harbour feelings of guilt.
Weíve talked about parents caring and providing for us, but what happens when we grew up feeling that only our most basic needs of food and shelter were met? Although our parents were there physically, we were somehow left to protect and take care of ourselves, in school, with friends and within the family. When our parents were angry, frustrated or unhappy, we were there to receive it, whether or not it had anything to do with us. We felt our parents had no time or perhaps no interest in listening to how we felt. This lack of care leaves us craving attention and searching to be heard, understood and comforted.
 
If our emotional needs went largely unacknowledged while growing up, it can be difficult to tune in to our needs today. Having been misunderstood and uncared for may have left us with understandable feelings of loneliness or anger. In order to compensate for what we did not have, we may seek to be the centre of attention or feel unworthy of attention and blend into the background. We may also experience a lack of belonging and it can be hard to trust someone to provide us with what we yearned for. Therapy can be the first time we are truly heard and experience a sense of belonging.
 
Being part of a family can also raise other issues. Although society expects mothers to unconditionally love and care for their children, their feelings can be far more ambivalent. Fathers can feel alienated in their own families. Siblings donít always wish the best for each other and can find their relationship based on competition. These situations are more common than acknowledged and sharing these feelings can feel as if a weight has been lifted from us.  
 
Learning to be part of a family, but not stifled by it, allows us to reach a healthy independence and gives us the freedom to live our life the way we choose. Instead of wanting to change our families or putting their expectations and wishes above our own, we can come to accept them, decide the level of contact with which we feel comfortable and receive what they are able to give us. The rest we can learn to provide for ourselves.

 
Lifestyle

 
Our lifestyle is an expression of who we are and our quality of life is affected by how well we are able to provide for ourselves. There are many different ways to enjoy ourselves. Socialising, films, TV, books, sex, sports, etc. These activities enrich our lives, allow us to experience different sides of ourselves and escape the mundane realities. When we find that there are hardly any pleasurable activities, we can be so tired from our daily routines that we find it hard to engage with what life has to offer. Our days can seem repetitive and dull. This dullness might offer a sense of safety and familiarity, but can result in our existing rather than living. Our lives become a treadmill of work, chores, meals and sleep.  
 
The other side of the coin is excess. Although we might not want to think about it, most of us know when we are having too much of something; drinking, eating, clubbing, working, shopping, socialising, sleeping, sex or drugs. Our pursuit of these pleasures can help us get through the day. They are precious to us and the thought of not having them is unpleasant. However, it might also mean they are helping us to avoid something that is troubling us. There are plenty of ways we can avoid unwanted thoughts. For some of us, switching on the TV as soon as we get home, reaching for the phone whenever we have a free moment, maintaining a constant background stream of radio and music, endlessly surfing the net, immersing oneself in one book after another; somehow ensures that we are not alone with a sense of unease.
 
Assuming there is a sense of unease from which we wish to protect ourselves, where does it go? One place it can travel to is our sleep. When external distractions are minimal last thing at night, our worries can come into focus and make it hard to fall asleep or may prevent us from having a good nightís rest. Anxieties often emerge in our dreams and may also confront us upon awakening, making us jump straight out of bed or wish we were still asleep.
 
These unwanted feelings may also manifest themselves through our bodies. It is well acknowledged that stress plays a major factor in many physical conditions. Sometimes it is more acceptable to complain of chest pain than heartache. When we do not allow ourselves the acknowledgment and care we need, our bodies often take over and force us to rest, whether through exhaustion, illness, etc.
 
Understanding what lies beneath the distractions with which we fill our lives can loosen the hold they have over us and open the way to a less demanding life.
 
Perhaps you can't relate to anything we have written so far. But still the feeling persists that although, technically, everything is okay, it still feels that something is wrong. It can take a while to figure this one out.

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Other Articles by Caroline Kendal:

About Bereavement and Therapy
Bereavement is one of the most intensely painful processes we go through in life...

About Loss and Therapy
Losses evoke similar feelings to those experienced in bereavement...

About Depression and Therapy
Each personís depression is unique and reflects their personality, lifestyle and history...

About Anxiety and Therapy
Anxiety is part of life. The trouble starts when it takes over...

About Addictions and Therapy
Addicts are in denial. Denial is the inability to look at the truth...

About Trauma and Therapy
Trauma results from any totally unexpected, powerful and shocking experience...

The First Face to Face Therapy Session
Before you even walk through the door and set eyes on your therapist for the first time...

What to Expect from Face to Face Therapy
Iím going to describe what takes place in therapy so you have some idea of what to expect...

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