"How Do I Cope with What I'm Learning About Myself in Therapy?"
Updated: Jul 7, 2021
From a r/therapy post: "How do you cope with everything you learn about yourself? I started therapy a bit more than 1 month ago. By now I’ve learnt SO MUCH about myself that sometimes I have a feeling that I can’t handle it.
I thought my abused childhood was behind me, but it isn’t. It affects my everyday life, my anxieties, and my relationships. There’s truly a sack of things to unpack, and if earlier I ignored them or wasn’t even aware of them—now they are all in front me lit like pictures in a museum.
I’m psychologically and emotionally overwhelmed. I just want to cry and pity myself. Is there even a way out of this state of mind?"
Oh, friend. I am sorry to hear that you are feeling overwhelmed. If it helps, I want you to know that this is a common response, especially when we’re new to therapy.
Tip #1: Take therapy slowly.
You’ve been in therapy for a little more than a month, so my first piece of advice would be pump the brakes. Tell your therapist about what’s coming up for you, and see if there’s a way the two of you can approach the work a bit more slowly or gently, instead of examining all of the pain and trauma at once.
Therapy is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself accordingly so you can finish the race without falling apart.
Tip #2: Set aside time to feel your feelings. All of ’em, even the uncomfortable ones.
You say that you “just want to cry and pity” yourself. … Why not do exactly that? Give yourself permission to throw a pity party. Gather your snacks, your Netflix, and let yourself cry. Grieve and indulge every feeling that arises without judgement.
If you don’t give yourself space for catharsis, you may find the thoughts and feelings you’re exploring in therapy will pop up in inopportune times—at work, while relaxing, with friends—and drag you away from the present moment. By setting aside time specifically for crying, venting and feeling low, you can lessen the weight of those feelings throughout the week.
Similarly, it may help you to build a habit that immediately follows your therapy session each week. Whether it’s meditation, taking a walk, or writing in your journal—setting aside time to clear your head following a tough session will be key.
Tip #3: Create a post-therapy routine like meditation or journalling to clear your head.
I’m curious when you wrote this post on Reddit, if just getting it out through writing helped lessen the pain at all. Journaling can be extremely effective for helping us transition out of therapy and back into “real life” because it literally externalizes your thoughts. By putting them on the page, you can keep them from rattling around in your head.
However, I have some unfortunate news: even if you were to practice all three of these tips with perfect fidelity, there will still be thoughts and feelings from the work you’re doing in therapy that will come up unannounced throughout the week.
That’s partly how therapy works; our brains massage the content of our session even when we aren’t consciously reflecting, making new connections or digesting old hurts to arrive at a place of healing. It’s why most people typically don’t see their therapist every day—our minds need time to process everything we are growing through and create a new way of relating to the events of our lives.
Tip #4? Practice self-compassion.
When we start getting serious about addressing our old trauma, it can feel like an impossible mountain to climb. With such a treacherous trek, we may wish that we’d never started looking at our past in the first place and kept it at a conveniently dissociated distance.
But not you, my friend! You are doing the work. You are taking on the challenge, and for that you should celebrate yourself. The fact that you are feeling kind of terrible is evidence that you are taking the work of growing and healing seriously; that you believe it is possible to have a healthier, happier life. And I promise you, it absolutely is.
The work of therapy won’t always be this difficult. As you become more experienced at feeling your feelings and processing them with your clinician, you will grow in your ability to tolerate discomfort, however painful. Your resilience will become the foundation of your healing, and the confidence you will gain by facing your demons will strengthen and empower you.
Until then, you must be kind to the person you are today. For they are the one putting themself in the ring, finding their way through the forest, and doing the work of becoming. Give yourself all of the credit you deserve. Congratulations on the start of your magnificent and courageous journey. Brighter days are ahead, I promise.