by: Logan Cohen, LMFT-S
“I don’t want to change who I am! Am I not enough for you? Why am I not enough for you….?”
Would you believe me if I told you that after the last 10 years of specializing in clinical work with Families and Couples, that I have NEVER witnessed a Client say this in my office? Does that surprise you?
I think this is often the “nightmare-worst-case-scenario” in everyone’s head when they consider engaging in a process of personal growth with a Loved One. And upon further consideration of my experience doing clinical work with Individuals (if you are already willing to “get real” with yourself this early in the article), most people who consider beginning a process of individual growth work are also often hesitant to begin for the SAME reason. It is just REALLY HARD to overcome that ACHING feeling that since something doesn’t “feel right”, then that must mean WE aren’t right.
So…let’s go ahead and establish that this idea of CHANGING yourself because you are flawed; changing who you fundamentally are at the pit of your soul…well this idea is TOTAL malarkey (yeah, I said malarkey) and will NOT be included in this article! We are pretty far along on this cosmological journey to go changing integral parts of our Being so personally, I’m NOT going to put myself through that and as a practicing Therapist, it is my professional recommendation that you refrain from such antics as well 😊
…Ahem…[stepping down from soapbox and feeling slightly awkward because did not plan on ranting that early]…
Over the years practicing with Individuals, Couples, and Families, I have seen that People can choose to engage in a process of Personal Growth for 3 main reasons. Sometimes one of these reasons on their own is enough to push Someone into Personal Growth and this is ideal, as the less factors that are in play the more straightforward the process of Growth generally is. However, it is common that an Individual, Couple, or Family has allowed the tension to build until 2 or even all 3 of these main factors are in play by the time a Client walks through our doors for their initial appointment. While the latter might involve a more dynamic Growth Process due to putting off the work and therefore creating more complications, it is far from impossible and in fact, our Clinicians support Community Members in successfully treating their mental health through these types of complicated situations every day. So without further adieu, here are the 3 Reasons for Seeing a Therapist:
1) Learn/understand enough of who “Self” is
Please stop rolling your eyes…STOP THAT! LOL…no really knock it off…I don’t mean it in the whimsical, even flaky way an early 20 something proclaims they have to "go find themselves” by making self-centered decisions with minimal to no regard for communal morals. That is NOT “finding oneself”; that is acting like a jerk while gaslighting Others in an attempt to convince them that the jerk in question is somehow privileged to this space in the name of fundamental entitlement. We are NOT saying to do this; in fact this is the LAST thing any of us needs more of these days. What we ARE saying is that life moves REALLY QUICKLY nowadays and there are SO MANY reasons and circumstances that stand to push people off their natural paths of growth and transformation for which they were intended. Some common barriers people discover to their Personal Growth are old/hidden Family of Origin Dynamics that continue to play out today and restrain a present perspective, cultural pressures that trap options for development yet remain only subtly visible, or even past Trauma that hasn’t been processed adequately.
What makes things even more potentially sticky here is the old Truth that “You can’t know what you don’t know.” This means if there is an awareness about Oneself that has been systematically “blocked”, the individual in question will unfortunately not be able to see this “Block” from their own subjective position with some help from another Person. Therefore, the Person is question is unable to recognize their own limitations, so cannot accurately assess what is presently required to persist through the trial/tribulation, make the adjustment, then execute accordingly. It’s just not going to happen without some support! Whether we see the example in the fundamental denial of a problem in the case of alcoholism or someone with Depression and Anxiety who is convinced they are incapable or even devoid of a need to socialize.
A purely physiological example is something that might further exemplify how rational this decision to seek support for Personal Growth work actually is. Do you ask someone who is color blind to tell you the difference between light-orange and yellow when they are missing the relevant cones in their retina? Even more, if you were color blind and could correct the appropriate cells in your retina to see a full rainbow with Talk Therapy, would you? A professional Therapist or Counselor is nothing more than a professionally trained accommodation tool that will provide the Client a deliberate and safe space to navigate circumstances/experiences that they have been previously blocked from in an all but systematic fashion (sometimes by Self, sometimes by Others, and almost always a combination of both).
2. What is Needed in order to maintain Self
As with the first item, I’m going to need to go ahead and blow up another common Cultural Myth that risks contaminating the present subject. EVERYBODY HAS NEEDS. Regardless of how “low maintenance” or “independent” someone might personally identify, EVERYBODY HAS NEEDS. Western Culture, for better and for worse, is historically based almost solely on social norms established by monotheistic religions that idealized the concept of selflessness until it oftentimes no longer resembles itself anymore at all (ohh English can be fun). There are AWESOME, AMAZING, WONDERFUL things about religion, spirituality, and their messages about compassion, however many of the Saints discussed in the religious scripture dealt with painful, horrible circumstances and oftentimes, even perished as a result. Personally, I think it is VERY possible, even downright reasonable to find some “grey area” in there without being a Narcissistic jerk or dying a painful, slow death in an attempt to rescue Others.
While we have been led to believe that People are all wonderful individual snowflakes (I’m kidding we are - we are lol), there are only so many dynamics that go into play in regards to variables of Human personality or in this case, categories of Basic Needs. Here I will borrow from the work of Dr. William Glasser that is detailed in his book Choice Theory, where he describes the 5 different categories of basic needs including Power, Fun, Survival, Love & Belonging, and Freedom. While no Human Being is exactly alike in how these variables are combined, these global categories are a really practical and informative place to begin when considering Individual Personality and WHAT needs you might be needing to fulfill exactly, to what degree, and how fulfillment occurs for you personally.
A Couple and/or Family must also develop enough of an awareness around what the general needs are for that whole system of Relationships. This is often observable in the “climate” of a Couple or Family, insofar as how much varying degrees of FLEXIBILITY and/or COHESION each member requires to sustain their perception of the partnership.
Here, I will use some dog breed analogies because I’m a shameless K9 nerd and can’t help it. So...Husky’s are about the closest modern dog breed genetically to a wolf. Like wolves, Husky’s are comfortable with spanning relatively larger physical distances from The Pack during daily events/rituals. This doesn’t mean that the Husky doesn’t ADORE their Pack Members, but it does mean that the Husky needs more space than the average domestic dog and much to the chagrin of many anxious owners, will oftentimes escape their enclosures in acrobatic fashion, then go gallivanting around the community all day while their Person frets, only to come back on their own accord later that evening as happy as can be.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have some breeds like the bulldog who usually not only want to be right next to their People ALL. THE. TIME...but would even seem to appreciate being able to crawl inside of their Person’s pocket so that they just wouldn’t have to leave their side forEVER. Whether you or your Loved Ones more resemble a Husky or a Bulldog, the more you know about what those basic non-negotiable needs are that are required to stabilize the system of relationship(s), the BETTER chance each member has of being in a healthy relationship and experiencing personal satisfaction.
3. How to Meet Needs In a Manner That Sustains Growth
The third and last main reason Clients seek out a process of Personal Growth is so they can learn HOW to meet their needs in a sustainable way. The key word here is sustainable...This means that the needs must be met in a manner that resources can be maintained at an adequate rate of need satisfaction, whilst avoiding depleting the source(s) of those resources.
To be brief, this involves NOT changing who you fundamentally are, but learning new skill-sets to help you navigate the multiple contexts in your life optimally. For an individual, this might be learning how to present assertively (without being bulldozed OR acting like a jerk) in tricky situations. For a Couple and/or Family, this might involve learning how to identify and speak to basic needs in a way that encourages collaborative effort of Loved Ones to take care of and protect each other. As social creatures, us Human Beings are literally biologically wired to do this, so it might not surprise you that the skills learned in Therapy and/or Counseling are not as fancy/dynamic as you imagine, but that doesn’t mean you know how to do it or even less, have a high likelihood of meeting your previously held performance expectations on your own with no professional support.
A metaphor I commonly use here is that of “The Sauce” in Italian families around the stereotypical BIG ritual mealtimes. “The Sauce” here is of course that old fashioned tomato-based marinara that only has a few ingredients, however the ingredients must of utmost quality and adequate ratio and of course, The Sauce MUST BE STIRRED ATTENTIVELY AND DILIGENTLY. It takes a lot of deliberate, loving maneuvering over an extended period of time to create The Sauce, and a Healthy Relationship with Oneself or between Loved Ones requires a similar dedication. It isn’t fancy (most of the time), but it is far from random, takes hard work, and has to be AUTHENTIC.
Are you ready to give back to yourself? We have room for you to grow. Consider giving back to yourself by booking an appointment today.
New Leaf Counseling Group has been a provider of Individual, Couples, and Family Therapy in Charlotte, NC since 2014. We are a Team of Professional Counselors and Therapists who are passionate about providing a high quality of clinical care with a down-to-earth approach. We have room for you to GROW.