The shedding of ourselves

We all have things that we don’t particularly like about ourselves. Things that hurt others, or hurt ourselves, or create problems that we don’t want to have to deal with. One thing we need to be aware of is that the coping skills and techniques that often create the most pain both for ourselves and others are the ones that we put there on purpose. We put them there to keep away those that were dangerous at one point, or to manage untenable situations. Those things that may cause the most pain now were often put there to keep us safe and sane. Now, as you try to shed them it is natural to feel as though you are losing yourself, losing your safety, and possibly even losing your sanity. It is akin to ripping off your skin to replace it with something better. It won’t feel good in the process.

There must be a trust that it will be better once the process is over. A belief that the world will be easier, lighter, and smoother to move through is required to endure the physical and emotional pain that shedding our unhealthy life management skills will bring. Image the first couple months of working out once you’ve decided you want to shed those extra pounds and get in better physical shape. They suck. It doesn’t feel good to work out, you are hungry for your comfort foods all the time, and you’re often sore afterwards. It isn’t a fun place to be. Then one day you can walk up stairs without feeling your heart come out of your chest. You notice your clothes fitting better, you notice you aren’t as tired in general throughout the day, and often you even notice you aren’t as irritable with friends and family and generally feel better about the world in general. Once you start seeing the results of your hard work and dedication you see that while it was miserable at first, there were great rewards.

Letting go of the sarcasm you use to keep people at a safe distance, putting down the verbal weapons of criticism and contempt,  stepping outside of the house and going to the random meetup from that sounded interesting, or redirecting your thoughts when you are focused on the bad and scary instead of the positive can have the exact same effect. It can actually even cause physical pain and distress in the form of stomach cramping, intestinal distress, and difficulty breathing. You are letting go of the security blankets that you have used for years to help you manage difficult situations. It won’t feel good. And yet when you see that people are happier to see you, even the cashiers at the grocery store are nicer to you, and you generally feel better throughout the day you will find that the hard work was worth it.

This process is often easier with a therapist or counselor. The therapist is someone that can hold you accountable. When they call you on your BS, while you will be hurt and embarrassed it is significantly better than your loved telling you that you are full of crap. A paid effective stranger giving you the spoonful of bitter medicine is always easier than a loved on that you want to see you as perfect. Where the loved on can be helpful is the honesty they can provide about the things that would make your life better if you changed. Our loved ones often know us better than we know ourselves. They know how we try to hide from hurts and pains. They know the defenses we put up. While it may be difficult, having out loved ones hold the metaphorical mirror up can give us direction for when we step in to a professionals office.

Shedding our problematic defenses and unhealthy coping skills is never easy. And yet the benefits always outweigh the difficulty of the work. It won’t be fast, and it will be messy. Things may actually get worse before they get better. Loved ones need to be aware of this, as they can get frustrated and think that you aren’t trying, even though you are actually making huge progresses. I talk to my families about the concept of successive approximations. You don’t go from using criticism and contempt to kindness in one day. And if you have a day where you manage to be kind and tender in all interactions, then the next day may exceptionally bad with the criticisms. It is still progress. You and your loved ones will need to find the patience for mistakes, bad days, and mis-steps. It will be worth it.

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About Marissa Engel

I have been in private practice in Austin, TX since 2007. My focus as a therapist is to help clients uncover within themselves the courage and strength to face life with confidence. In my work with clients I am most interested in helping people develop a compassionate relationship with their own experiences that can lead them on a journey of acceptance, self discovery, relief from suffering, and healing of relational disconnects. In my practice I have worked with individuals, couples, families, and groups, seeing adults, adolescents, and children. My scope of treatment has included depression, anxiety, panic attacks, anger and stress management difficulties, suicidal ideation, grief and loss, addictions, eating disorders, and couple/family difficulties.