By Rachel Negar Partiali, Ph.D.
Walking up the stairs to see my therapist, I always felt the visceral sensations of my pounding heart and a lump in my throat. A mixture of anxiety and excitement filled me as I eagerly waited in the waiting room with several other brave souls. Sitting there reminded me of the anticipation I felt during grade school, when I would vigilantly wait to see who would get picked first for the softball team. I guess, in more ways than one, the experience of being in therapy evokes childhood feelings, sensations, and even, latent fears; this is why many stay away from therapy.
Regressing to a state where we not only recount our early experiences but we relive the feelings that we have so carefully compartmentalized and pushed out of consciousness can feel like we are losing control. Along with the fear of facing our hidden wounds, our trepidation toward committing to therapy can be rooted in our fear of dependency.
But why would we fear being emotional dependent on another person?
As children, we had no choice but to be dependent on our parents and caregivers. Not only were we reliant on them for our basic survival needs, but also for our emotional well being. Although they did the best they could to provide for us, we undoubtedly experienced disappointments from their failed attempts to care for us the way we needed to be cared for.
Growing up, many of us made silent promises to ourselves to never be placed in situations where we would be reliant on another. We chose to avoid the powerlessness of being at the mercy of someone else, even if it caused us emotional suffering. Yet, allowing such dependency is vital for our growth. Just as a child needs to crawl before she can learn to walk; to reach a state of interdependence, we must go through healthy stages of dependency.
So, what is healthy dependency?
It is allowing ourselves to be emotionally dependent on our therapist. To allow ourselves to be helped by our therapist, taken care of by him/her, and even allowing ourselves to need our therapist. By doing so, we permit those aspects that have been tucked away in our unconscious mind to come forth and be observed. The only way to have influence on the aspects of us that are buried deep in our unconsciousness is to have awareness of those parts.
For those of us who have chosen to embrace our fears, and have committed to our therapeutic work, the road is not painless. What often leads us to therapy is the realization that the suffering we currently feel is far greater than the pain we will feel confronting our past. As so beautifully stated by Anaïs Nin,
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Although the road to healing is a conscious journey toward, rather than away from, our pain; the initial experience of being in therapy can provide a sense of relief. Being in the presence of an empathic, nonjudgmental therapist can even help us feel seen for the first time. This initial stage of therapy is often followed by coming into contact with uncomfortable feelings that have been hidden and ignored by us. As we become aware of our emotions, we also start to experience those emotions. With the resurfacing of feelings we may, at times, feel like we are in the midst of a storm. With the help of our therapist, we can navigate unknown territory and weather the many storms we will face.
Being in therapy is a courageous path. It is a path where we plunge into our own darkness, and create a relationship with our shadowy parts. What is being called for is our faith in ourselves, trust in another, and the enlivening of hope. Through our healing journey, we hold on to the hope of possibilities to come - the hope for a life in which we can feel truly alive.
For those of you that have chosen the courageous path, bravo! I commend your courage. For those of you who have dabbled with the idea of going to therapy, but have not committed to the process, I invite you to look within and know that you have the courage to face your pain. Not only do you have the courage, but you deserve to have a life where you are not driven by the pain of your past. If you decide to take this inner journey, remember that you are not broken, but you can break through your past wounds; to create a life where you truly come alive.