I’ve always been a supporter of therapy. We’re so close to our problems and stressors. Talking with someone from the outside is often the only way to make sense of it all.
I recently saw one therapist for a little more than a year to work on one issue. After only a few sessions it was clear this issue wasn’t what I thought it was. It had been acting as a cover for many years, masking problems I didn’t realize I had.
We were talking about a few specific concerns in each session. Nonetheless, I found that the following four lessons are actually applicable in many other areas of life. Consider how you can use them to work through problems of your own.
1. Not Everything is Black and White
Before therapy I would not have described myself as a perfectionist. Yet session after session my therapist noticed I was using the word “perfect” a lot, whether I was talking about last Saturday night or my most recent workout. I was striving for perfection in every area of my life, and I hadn’t realized it.
This type of perfectionist thinking feeds directly into a black and white mindset: if it’s not perfect, then it’s not good enough. This puts an extreme amount of pressure on you to make everything perfect, leading to anxiety and stress.
It’s rare for anything to be black or white in our life, much less perfect. Working to move past this type of thinking alleviates an unnecessary burden. It leaves room for hiccups, mistakes and everything else life throws at you.
2. The Problem is Always a Few Layers Deeper
The root cause of any problem is rarely what we see and feel on the surface, making it hard to address without digging deeper:
“For everything we face today, there is a root cause behind it,” said Celestine Chua, personal growth professional and entrepreneur. “Understanding the root cause is central toward resolving our issues. Once the root has been removed, the effects will be addressed accordingly.”
Therapists are known for asking questions like, “How does that make you feel?,” and for good reason. These questions help get to the root of the problem. Our first answer is rarely the one that holds the key to the solution.
By questioning yourself, you’re able to understand what’s going on in your mind — Why do I think that? Why do I feel that way? Why is that my first response? Question every answer until you hit the root.
3. Fears Are Often Only Unclear Thoughts
We all have fears. Approximately 10% of Americans have a phobia, including fear of reptiles, insects, social situations, personal failure and public speaking. In therapy I realized many of my fears weren’t clearly thought out it in my mind. They were more like ominous clouds that were hanging over my head.
When I actually put a “face” and description to the fear, it wasn’t so bad after all.
For example, with a fear of public speaking, ask yourself, “What is so scary about that?” Reasons could include:
- I might forget what I need to say.
- I might stumble on my words.
- I might say the wrong thing.
All of those are valid concerns, but now think about what would happen if those fears came true. Would people laugh at you? Would you get in trouble? Would you cause irreversible damage?
These consequences are not likely to happen. Messing up would be a bummer, but the consequences are not as terrible as this cloud of fear is making you think they would be.
Instead of letting this fear paralyze you, ask yourself: Why am I scared of this? What’s the worst that can happen? You may find that the reality isn’t actually scary at all.
4. Change Takes Work and Time
Change doesn’t happen overnight. We learn certain behaviors and mindsets over a long period of time. Changing those — and the tracks we’ve built in our brains to support them — is a long process.
My long process involved repetition of mantras and daily habits that reinforced changes I was trying to make. It wasn’t until 13 months after starting therapy that I was able to continue on my own, no longer needing my therapist as a guide.
How long it takes to reach a point of peace and understanding is different for everyone, but going into the process knowing it will take time is critical. In both life and therapy, this mindset gives you space to understand the problems and work toward a solution.
I keep these lessons with me at all times. You can, too, by using them to solve problems in your own life or as inspiration to seek out an in-person or online therapist for yourself.
Everyone has their own lessons to learn. Maybe it’s time to discover yours.
Jessica is an ACE-Certified Personal Trainer in San Diego, an NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition specialist, and the owner of Honest Body Fitness. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Insta