I have been in and out of talk therapy since I was 15. Some have been good, some mediocre, but never had a really bad experience. I count that as a blessing. Three years ago, as my baby sister’s death was looming, I connected with a new therapist, knowing I would need guidance to navigate this particular situation.
What I can say about therapy is you only get what you put into it. Therapy is not a magical cure. A therapist is not a magician or your fairy godparent.
Yesterday, being Thursday, is therapy day with my Amy Tanner. It is also a very VERY busy day for me at work. My first thought this morning was to cancel my appointment due to time and all I have to do. She was on vacation last week, so I know it is important for my mental health to make the time for my appointment. Instead of allowing my first impulse to take over, I instead gave myself a pause. I want to share this important tool I’ve installed in my head. It has saved me more times then I can count.
I have used visualization for as long as I can remember. I think it stemmed from my abusive childhood (but that’s another blog post), and the need to escape. I am, in general, an impulsive, quick to react human and I found myself “reacting” to things, instead of processing first, and creating a response. So I installed a pause button in my brain. Picture the Staples red button with the word pause, sitting right at my third eye (forehead between eyes). When situations arise that in the past would have elicited a reaction, whether internal or external, I hit my pause button. I use it for lots of different situations – immediate ones, and longer term ones. For example, I’m driving and someone in front of me turns without using a signal. The old me might have honked, gestured, yelled out the window, but now I hit the pause button. Is it really imperative to me that I have a reaction. I don’t know what that person in front of me is going through, they are a human too, and maybe forgot, was distracted, or maybe they really are just an asshole. BUT I can’t control them, however I can control how I react. I by no means want to present myself as a saint with this all loving attitude. To be honest, it is very selfish, and self sustaining. I have limited mental and emotional resources. I have to be choosy about what I react to emotionally, and a driving situation is not worth me getting worked up over.
If I have a situation with a superior at work, my initial reaction could go one of two ways. My inner critic could tear me down, telling me how stupid I am, that I can’t handle my position, that I should quit and run. Always fighting that fight or flight response. So instead I say, oops, hit the pause button and wait a day. Then I put the situation, whatever it is, on hold till the next day, and if I’m still in a reactionary place, it might get put on hold for another day, or a week. At which point I revisit and see what is the response I want to give, if any. A response that will address this situation at hand, and allow me to come up with a few solutions, without emotional reaction. I tell you, it has saved me more times then I can count.
I have been able to make GREAT strides in therapy due to a therapeutic model called “Internal Family Systems” developed by Richard Schwartz in the 80’s. I came upon this in a weird way. I was in a very stressful situation with my long time work wife, mentor, business partner Chelsea, and the way I reacted to something that was happening was childlike, and she said to me, “why are you sounding and acting like a 4 year old, what’s going on”? I shared that with my therapist, as it really bothered me, and something clicked. Amy said, I want to explore this therapy model with you called IFS. Nothing, I mean NOTHING in my therapy world the past 45 years has impacted me more than IFS. Everyone should learn about IFS. Coming to recognize, and learn from my parts has helped me heal my past trauma like nothing else ever has. As I continue to learn from, heal, and integrate my parts, my core becomes stronger, and I am finally starting to heal. I know that I have a long, long way to go, but I am a work in progress. And once again, I hear Dan in my head, whispering, progress Laura, not perfection.
Read about IFS here: https://ifs-institute.com/