Some time ago, I wrote an article called, “The Better You Get, The Worse You Feel”. Essentially, it said that, as you improve in therapy, you pay a price. That price is the awareness of the hurts, painful recollections and difficult times you experienced in your past. Initially, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, particularly because you spent too much of your life hiding from these facts. But you need to face them. If you don’t, you can’t learn to accept them. Facing all the things that you may feel need “fixing”, however, can be an emotionally overwhelming, painful and guilt-filled experience.
I hope my words are strong enough to emphasize how traumatic a process it can be, because, without that awareness, many of you may go to therapy and find innumerable excuses for ending treatment or changing therapists, rather than experience the pain associated with a process that can eventually enable you to live life better than you ever imagined possible.
Recently, an event occurred in my life which, I believe, serves as a wonderful explanation for why therapy can be such a painful experience. Two years after Hurricane Ike, the last nails, coat of paint and clean up took place at my beach house. Much of the work was due to the hurricane, but some was due to the age of the house, which allowed the storm to cause greater damage than it might have if the house had initially been constructed with greater expertise. The house was built on piers. Over the piers were rafters, which extended beyond the piers. When they built the house, the weight of the two-story construction was placed over the ends of the rafters. As a result, after twenty-one years and numerous storms, the weight of the walls began to compress the rafters they rested on. As it did, the walls shifted and sank two and a half inches from the center of the room. It was a structural flaw that took place slowly, over many years. After Hurricane Ike, it became far more apparent. There was no alternative. Additional piers had to be installed in order to level the house. This, however, couldn’t be done in one fell swoop. Jacks were placed along the wall and, very slowly, over a period of two weeks, a quarter inch at a time, the house was jacked up. Some potential problems we anticipated were that, as the house was leveled, the floor tiles, windows, door frames, etc., would be damaged. It’s similar to saying the cure for a disease is often more painful than the disease itself. To our good fortune, only two large windows shattered, the double doors leading to the outside required a crowbar to pry them open and some of the sheetrock cracked.
This article may seem like a meaningless description of home repairs that has nothing to do with human behavior. But that’s not the case. Think about it. Each of you came into this world with your basic DNA. However, over a period of thirty to sixty years, the weight of the problems you experienced due to your parents rearing patterns and the situations you were exposed to brought about changes that were invisible to your eyes. The fact is, your parents weren’t perfect. None are. As a result, many messages you got from them and from society were conflictual or duplicitous. In addition, many of the problems you thought you resolved were probably more anxiety producing than you realized. The collective effects of these factors subtly and very slowly altered your emotional growth and created stress that caused you to feel you would “shatter” if you attempted to straighten yourself out. The final straw that brings this home differs for everyone. It could be a failed relationship, an unanticipated divorce, the death of a loved one, or a sudden awareness of your own mortality, any one of which awakened you to the fact you were disappointed with you and/or your life and needed therapy.
Hopefully, in therapy you gained insight that will, long term, help you to live better with yourself, provide you with a more stable emotional foundation and enable you to relate with others more honestly, as opposed to playing games, being defensive, hiding behind addictive behaviors, or having to take drugs whose side effects are often worse than your disease. So, you pay a price for therapy, because it’s emotionally painful. Things that you weren’t previously aware of, or that didn’t bother you before, suddenly begin to cause you great stress and you become aware of “cracks” in many of your former beliefs. Even more, it often requires an emotional crowbar to allow you to exit your old way of life. Some of the windows through which you previously perceived your world may shatter, requiring that they be replaced by glass that permits you to see even more clearly than ever before.
It’s very evident, growth doesn’t take place without “growing pains”. So, if you want to set yourself straight, accept that you’re going to experience pain. The alternative is that you live crooked. You lie to yourself. You constantly have to exert effort to keep your emotional balance and to give the illusion that things are level. Living needn’t be that difficult, but to make it easier, you must build a foundation that firmly supports you and makes every moment you live a new opportunity for discovery, every interaction free of threat, competition or fear. In effect, you become open to a life filled with joy, as opposed to one you have to fortify yourself to face.
It’s not a panacea, however. It’s just a better way to live and cope with the ordeals you’re still bound to encounter in life. It is, however, an invitation to follow a new path in life. One you’ll never discover unless you decide to, figuratively, straighten you out.