In recent weeks I’ve been facing an array of challenges that have arisen from change in my personal and professional life. I had tried reaching out to peers and discovered a guilt so strong that I then masked my situation with an internal “You’re almost 30 years old, you know how to handle this,” and an external deletion of the message I had reached out with.
The next day I sent a message to one of my most favorite people whom I met through my struggle with an eating disorder. Because he, too, is a survivor of internal demons and is now a counselor, I have always valued his input and support. His wisdom is given in a way that I can receive well. His response pointed out what others have also pointed out along my journey, that humility tends to be difficult for me.
It’s not because I can’t set myself aside long enough to take in what others have to offer, but rather because I let myself feel intense guilt and become almost stubborn when needing help. I’ve fought many battles alone while pretending I didn’t need others to do what I could not do for myself. I always thought of it as my way of protecting myself against those who may further harm me and assumed this was not a bad thing. In fact, I thought it meant that I was a strong, independent woman who could do it all on her own.
That thought carried into many relationships making it hard for people to get to know me. I would put on a happy face, crack jokes, and be the life of the party. I would complain or share my challenges and then quickly say, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to complain. I’ll figure something out.” Or I would simply refuse to take the conversation to the next level thinking I was required to find my own solutions.
Just this past March I attended a retreat with the gentleman I mentioned above. During the weekend we were doing an exercise that was rather emotional and I had not a single emotion showing. Instead, I was biting my lower lip, trying to hold back anything that might come spilling out. It didn’t go unnoticed. Someone asked, “Are you feeling anything?” The answer was “yes,” on the inside I was feeling something. On the outside I was showing that the exercise was just another mark in the timeline of my weekend and I’d be going home that Sunday.
By the end of the evening, I’d broken down a bit of my barrier and began to reveal a side of me that so few had ever seen. I still maintained the funnier side of me during appropriate points in the retreat, but was able to set aside that hilarity and let myself feel what I truly was feeling. It wasn’t easy and hasn’t been easy to replicate.
After receiving the reply to my message from this influential person last week, I began to open myself up a little bit more. I went into my own therapist’s office that Saturday and began talking about the message I sent and the reply. I shared with her how I’ve always thought I “should” know the answers to my problems because “I’m a big girl.” I explained to her how in the midst of my past and current struggles, I worried that calling her was viewed as a weakness and how after a certain point I forced myself not to pick up the phone between sessions. “I’m good to go now and can handle my own stuff.” I even went so far as to discuss the possibility of stopping therapy.
Well, the result of that was quite different than I expected. She encouraged me to reach out because “By not calling, I’m more concerned that you’re not doing what you may need to be doing.” Hmmm.
I’m a therapist myself, yes, but I’m also human. Being a therapist doesn’t exempt me from thinking, feeling, and behaving in ways that are less than ideal. I have real life experiences, real emotions and have made real mistakes and achieved real successes. Now, I’m working on having real humility.
I don’t want to be someone who was afraid to let others in or someone who thought she could conquer it all. Those types of thoughts and subsequent behaviors only lead to more difficulty in the long run. Today, I continue to reflect on the messages I’ve received lately and am beginning to commit to letting myself be human…no matter what being human brings.