The thing I love most about being a therapist is getting to know someone in a way they may not have ever been known before. Then I get to help them understand who they are.
I cherish this part of therapy more than all else because I believe that understanding ourselves is the key component towards self-love, healing, and freedom.
My supervisor describes therapy like this:
Imagine you’ve just woken up after a good night’s sleep. You yawn, stretch, and pull yourself out from under the covers. Slowly, you gather yourself together and decide you want to get dressed first, before you do anything else.
But the lights are still off. You can’t see into your full-length mirror. How will you know if your shirt matches your pants or your belt goes with your shoes?
You may choose to turn the lights on so you can see into the mirror and check out whether you feel good about what you’re wearing and you’re ready to walk out the door.
And that’s exactly what therapy is. Therapy, when done correctly, is when a person tells the therapist who they are in their deepest and most intimate forms, and the therapist then reflects that picture back to the person they’ve fully understood. Kind of like using a mirror.
Then it’s up to the person receiving the therapy to decide whether they want to make some changes. Maybe they what they see. Maybe they enjoy wearing one green and one red sock to throw people off.
Or maybe they’re interested in sculpting a new outfit, a new self-image. Maybe they want to do some further work with the mirror and try some new approaches to life.
The point is, therapy is one way that people get to know themselves. And when we get to know ourselves, we’re able to live intentionally towards a life we truly want.
But not everyone needs therapy to get to know themselves. It can certainly be an extremely helpful resource, one that I’ve used countless times myself. But there are ways to learn who you are right at home, or in your car, or on your lunch break.
You have what it takes to figure out the inner workings of you.
And maybe you’ve been thinking about that lately. What makes you tick? Why do certain things people say or do piss you off? What gets you excited, and why? And do you like these things about yourself? Why or why not?
So many questions, huh? And you might not know the answers to some (or any) of them.
That’s okay if you don’t. The fact that you’re even asking them means you’re on the brink of something.
The desire to look yourself in the mirror and truly inspect who you are means you’re on the path towards incredible self-discovery, peace, and wholeness.
Congratulations to you! That’s a big, beautiful journey you’re embarking on!
But maybe you’re not quite sure where to go from here.
That’s okay, too. There have been plenty of times in my life where I was totally oblivious as to what to do next on my personal voyage towards better getting to know myself. And spoiler: I still don’t totally know who I am.
But I use a few strategies to get at the root of what makes me who I am all the time. And today I’m gonna share ’em with you, because I really think they could help.
1. Decide to allow yourself to feel negative emotions, and have a plan for coping when you do.
The biggest roadblock people face when trying to get to know themselves is their desire to avoid feeling things they don’t want to feel.
I do it all the time, and I don’t even notice it!
We numb ourselves to negative feelings in a variety of ways:
- We might quickly turn to television, scroll through social media, or peruse other Internet-type-things to distract ourselves in moments of anxiety or despair.
- We might use alcohol or drugs to dull or cover up the bad emotions running through our brains and bodies.
- We might always keep ourselves busy by cleaning, spending time with friends, or otherwise filling our schedules so we can’t have time to process the rough stuff happening inside.
- We might eat uncontrollably, restrict our eating, or hurt ourselves as a coping mechanism for dealing with unwanted pain.
- We might find ourselves zoning out when people talk about things that make us sad, hurt, or upset.
These are just a few examples. You might have other coping strategies you use.
For me, I realized at one point that I was always zoning out when I felt like people weren’t hearing me. I would start to daydream the moment someone interrupted me, was distracted when I was talking, or communicated in other subtle ways that they didn’t really care about what I was saying. I had to dig deep as to why I responded this way.
But first I had to develop some other coping mechanisms to deal with the pain in the meantime.
Because how would I focus on why being unheard was painful for me when my coping mechanism was to zone out and stop thinking about what was hurting me?
And for coping strategies like using alcohol or hurting ourselves or keeping busy to avoid or numb our pain, we can’t just stop doing these things cold turkey. We’ve been doing them to avoid something painful, and we’re going to need other ways of dealing with that pain if we want to stop numbing and start feeling, but also protect ourselves.
I won’t get into coping strategies here. For some people, therapy is necessary, especially if your coping strategy is getting in the way of living your life to it’s fullest potential, or other people are complaining that it is hurting them.
For others, keeping a journal, talking with someone about what’s going on, attending support groups, exercising, or performing mindfulness/relaxation techniques may be helpful. I’ve found that journaling works well for me.
2. Be open to what in your history might have caused you to become who you are.
Another big, BIG stumbling block I see a lot of people wrestling with in my therapy sessions is personal history.
The people who teased you in 3rd grade might have caused you to become suspicious of trusting people now, so that you no longer open up to relationships and isolate yourself.
A negative relationship with your parent or guardian may have led you to develop similarly dysfunctional relationships in the future with romantic partners.
But it’s hard to make the links between our past and our present.
This could be for many reasons. We might have difficulty believing that people we love could hurt us so badly. We might feel guilty because we think we are “victimizing” ourselves or giving ourselves “the easy way out” by pointing fingers at past pain as reasons for current situations rather than owning them as products of our own doing. We might not really believe all that psychotherapy mumbo jumbo that silly counselors say to us. (Hi, silly counselor here! How are you? 🙂 )
But in my personal experience, understanding why I am the person I am necessitates a good look into the past.
We didn’t just materialize from nowhere. We came from personal experiences, important relationships, and formative moments.
And understanding how we got to where we are means we have to glance back at where we’ve come from. We must be open to this step.
3. Ask yourself “why,” and ask it about everything.
Now comes the work. The last two steps were all about getting ready for this moment. Finally, we’ve decided to experience the pain. We’ve made up our minds to being open about how our past dictates our present.
Now we need to ask ourselves the big questions.
And we can’t retreat from the answers.
Why is it that I haven’t fully gotten over an ex-partner? Why do I hold on to bad friendships? Why is my performance at work or school so important to me? Why do I want to travel? Why do I want to have a family? Why, why, why…?
The list could go on and on. Ask yourself “why” until you drop. Ask it every second you can.
And when you get the answers, ask why of them too.
When you ask why and allow yourself to accept whatever rings true in the answers, freedom is found. Self-discovery is uncovered.
My hope for everyone is self-understanding, self-acceptance, self-love, and happiness. I believe in those fiercely, and I believe they come in order.
And I hope your journey is beautiful and magical every step of the way, even when it hurts.
What do you believe is an important step in self-discovery? What did I miss in this list? Why is knowing yourself important to you?