THERAPY & HEALING: AM I GETTING ANY BETTER?
BY KALI MUNRO, M.Ed., Psychotherapist, 2006
Do you feel like you’ve been working on your healing for what feels like a million years and still see no end to your pain in sight?
When you’ve been abused (in any number of different ways) and/or raised in a dysfunctional family (which can be abusive in and of itself), you can carry with you what seems like an endless amount of grief and pain. It may be masked by anger or smiles but it’s there just the same.
Maybe you’ve been in therapy for years, have cried, gotten angry, talked about your childhood and yet still feel a lot of pain and wish you could stop doing the same things in every relationship you’re in. It’s really hard undoing the pains and outcomes of our childhoods, it truly is.
When I started my own healing, I thought I was going to feel better in a matter of years. I had no idea what I was getting into. While I did feel better in a number of years, I also tapped into even more pain and conflicts than I even knew existed. Many people start therapy thinking they’ll work on one or two things and in time realize how much deeper it all goes.
Healing demands a lot from us, and anyone who has stuck with their healing for any extended period of time deserves huge recognition for doing so. It takes great strength and perseverance to confront difficult emotions day in and day out. It takes sheer will power and stamina to continue healing in the face of few rewards, or at least initially.
What can be very hard about healing, whether done via therapy or in other ways, is that not only is there no road map so you can see the path, there’s no destination in view either. We are told that the destination will include our feeling better about ourselves and life in general, but what does that really mean? Does it mean that everything works out in the end like it does in a hollywood movie? Well, no, not really, and who would want that? But it can get a whole lot better.
Actually, it depends on a number of things, for example, what you’ve experienced, how you coped, how much support you had or didn’t have in the past and now in the present, how traumatic your experiences were for you and so on. The availability of support at the time you were having a hard time, being abused, or otherwise suffering are key in determining how well people fare in adulthood. How you interpreted what happened to you is important as well, for example, if you always knew that the bad things that were done to you were not your fault you’ll be in a much better place.
On the whole, when people begin their healing they usually feel better in the initial stages because they’re no longer holding back many of their feelings and thoughts. They may have started to write, to talk, or draw their feelings out and they feel some relief at having done that. If they’ve joined a group, or started talking with a therapist or a friend they usually feel less alone, less isolated and supported and that usually feels good even if scary too.
Over time, some of the initial positive effects of starting one’s healing can wear off. As the person goes deeper into their feelings and thoughts, they often begin to feel more pain and discover that they have more issues than they realized. The relief gained through talking and writing about their feelings may not have the same effect any more. This is when many people begin to feel stuck or wonder what they’re doing. Even if they don’t wonder themselves, other people around them may. People hear things like, “I thought you went into therapy to feel better; you’re always sad after therapy”, and “When are you going to start feeling better?”
It’s not easy explaining the purpose and benefits of healing, or going to therapy, to people who haven’t done it themselves, or when you’re beginning to doubt the process yourself. This is why many people who are focusing on their healing seek out others who are doing the same. Talking with others can help you in your healing path and, at times, it can contribute to your feeling like ALL you do is focus on your healing.
It’s normal to go through a stage where you feel like you only focus on your problems and healing; this doesn’t mean that you’re being a victim as some people would have you believe. Being immersed in this stage can be transformational, but at some point you’ll want to take a break, have some fun, and not focus on your healing. For some, this shift evolves on its own. For others, perhaps many, it involves making yourself do other things. Some people have to make themselves get out in the sun, do something fun, and try not to talk about their issues, therapy, and/or their therapist. This may require repeatedly reminding yourself that you’re not going to talk about your issues. Over time, you won’t have to remind yourself quite so much.
The secret to healing is working on your problems or memories and then finding ways to shift out of that place, even if you have to make yourself do it through distraction. It’s the back and forth movement between focusing and letting go (to the extent that is possible) that helps us to move through our changes. Sometimes you need to sit with your sadness or write an angry letter. And sometimes you need to have fun and not ask yourself why you feel what you feel. Finding a balance between focusing on your healing and having fun, letting go, and forgetting all about it, even if for a moment, can be challenging to do, but is key to getting through and past the pain. Believe me, I speak from experience — it can and does get better.