It's a misconception that the reasons leading up to therapy and that attending therapy itself are linked in any way to weaknesses.
When we were little ones, in whatever circumstances we were presented with, in many ways, we would have learned to "pull ourselves together". There are many ways that a child can do this. A child eventually becomes tired from acting out, not being seen or heard and not getting what we wanted or at times, needed and eventually the coping mechanisms were built. The coping mechanisms can be seen as a way of coping with the painful emotions (namely sadness, fear, anger and shame) that came up from our early experiences.
Much of the time, the way that these coping mechanisms were constructed was based on a combination of what we experienced and saw from our care-givers (often parents) and the circumstances that we grew up in (often called the environment). But let's face it, little ones don't have adult minds and it is perfectly understandable that, whatever the coping mechanisms were in those early years, these are actually unlikely to be satisfactory, relevant or even wholly effective throughout life.
The conundrum often comes when the cost of continuing to use these coping mechanisms outweighs the cost of not using them at all. We can feel check-mated, trapped and with a feeling that things just aren't working anymore. The coping mechanisms can end up redundant and we are faced with those same painful emotions that we were trying to avoid in the first place. It is not uncommon to be left feeling very vulnerable and out of control when this happens.
This can be a point when someone turns to therapy. Society, especially with its "do now", "do quick" outlook and the pressures that are more prevalent than ever to "look well", is not helpful to the conundrum of the defences not working anymore. Often, we feel that it is a weakness to even admit to ourselves that we are not ok, let alone to others, whether that be friends, partners, families, employers or even therapists.
It takes great strength to allow oneself to be vulnerable together with another. It takes great courage to walk on the path together through what is happening and what happened. In many cases, it would actually seem easier to scrape together the same coping mechanisms and push on alone rather than to sit with the pieces and work through it. In this respect, it can be viewed as very brave to make the choice to sort things out than to press on and turn a blind eye.
Here's to 2024 being a year of true strength and courage.
By Hannah Downing, Psychodynamic Psychotherapist, firstname.lastname@example.org