The list of therapists I’ve seen since realizing I may have a mental illness is lengthy. The positive experiences I’ve had from seeing those therapists are exceptionally limited, along with the various techniques utilized in those sessions. This is why I’ve always had such a negative perspective to therapy, and why I’ve always tried to find alternative ways to cope, on my own. I can be creative on my own, and I can keep things unique for myself, and my coping mechanisms. Every time I used to go to therapy it was the same awkward things. Tell me what’s wrong. Ok. How does that make you feel? Ok. Tell me more. So on, and so on. While the doctor across the table just makes note, after note, but somehow fails to provide any constructive suggestions to actually getting better. I don’t mean to be condescending, or stray you away from the professional expertise of therapists, I just have never had good experiences.
Until recently. Hopefully you read my last entry with mindyourmind, and you’ll know how I finally ended up seeing a therapist last year, so I won’t get too much into the how, and why but more the why it worked, and different things we tried.
Throughout my sessions with Sara, we discussed… everything. I talked, she listened, then she talked, provided feedback and I listened. It actually felt like we were working towards something. It didn’t feel like we were going through the process. We created goals, both short term and long term. Tried to install measureable targets, example, writing weekly, talking to someone I wanted to talk to weekly, finding different things I should be proud of, and so on and so on. My experience with this therapist was already extremely different than any other I had. We had a plan, a target, a goal, something to work towards, and I knew what it was, and we had steps along the way that would help me get there, help me get better.
All of this was beneficial for me, it was something I could visualize, and work on each week. But, what really was the most constructive exercise we did was identifying different thoughts. I always have had tremendous expectations for myself, oftentimes unattainable. Whenever I do achieve the certain personal goals, or expectations of myself, instead of feeling proud, and happy, I feel nothing. More of a relief that finally I accomplished what I was supposed to do, then it’s onto the next one, the next thing I must have, or the next thing I must do. Each time my expectations get higher, and higher, and higher. In the meantime, if I am not meeting these expectations I’ve envisioned for myself, I feel like a failure, a disappointment to myself, my family, and those around me. Even though, they’ve never once alluded to me being that. I actually often receive extremely positive feedback from 95% of the people I interact with, but for me, I have a hard time accepting that positivity. I just think of it as… “whatever, that’s what I should be doing”. Of course, I’m not that arrogant to feedback, I am always grateful, just internally, I have a hard time feeling that same sense of pride and joy.
For the longest time, I could never figure out why I had these thoughts, and these unattainable expectations. I didn’t think it was part of my mental illness, because it never necessarily made me feel sad, just disappointed and frustrated, yet it keeps me motivated and driven. Though, it certainly affects my well being.
Then one session, it all changed. She had a name for these thoughts, a classification. They were called lifetraps, there were several of them, I did some different personal assessment exercises to see which lifetraps I struggled with most, and sure enough… Unrelenting Standards & Failure. Yep. No kidding. I remember the first thing I thought was… These thoughts are actually real? It’s not just me. I felt comfortable finally. Relieved. Happy. It was ok. I asked if this was common, her response… “Very”. The next several weeks, we worked on different case studies examining other people who had the same thoughts. We played off my strengths, and built off my existing coping mechanisms; writing. We went through different writing exercises, I created different charts, and graphs of my feelings, logged the times of them, when I felt good, when I felt like I was failing, what it was I felt I was failing, and for each failure thing I wrote down, I had to write down something positive about myself. Being able to identify and visualize these thoughts, and then counteract them with positivity. Wow. What a relief.
I still today, have trouble with these lifetraps, but now I am able to identify them, and I have learned various ways to counteract them effectively. In turn, I am able to survive some of these lifetraps, and place my expectations into realistic perspectives. It took ten years to come across a therapist that provided me what I had hoped for, and envisioned. Simple, constructive feedback with a goal, a target, and more than anything… a plan.
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