Letter to Myself (or Anyone) Just Starting Therapy - Part 1

You’ve spent your life until now not talking about anything. Hiding your thoughts, feelings, and memories from everyone—including yourself. And you had to do things that way to survive. 

You’ve been through a great deal. You don’t yet know the full extent of your trauma because you’re at the beginning of the journey. But I know all of it, and trust me, you’ve been through a lot.

As you start this journey of healing, I want to share a few things that I’ve learned along the way. I hope that they provide encouragement and comfort as you walk your own path.

Your path will unfold just as it’s supposed to.

You don’t know what’s ahead, how things will look, or how long this will take. You don’t need to know. I know that’s easy for me to say because I’m not where you are now, but I have been there. And I know the idea of not knowing can feel unnerving. You’ve spent your life trying to stay on top of things, anticipating what’s next so you can get ahead of what’s coming. That was a survival skill that you needed, but you don’t need it for this healing journey.

Just take it one day at a time. 

Your defense mechanisms and coping strategies will shift, but not all at once.

You experienced difficult things in childhood and developed ways of coping that helped you get through. Those strategies were good because they helped you survive. What you’ll start to see, or may already be seeing, is that those things are no longer helpful.

They keep you hidden, they may be destructive, and they are starting to make your current life difficult. Although you will no longer need those adaptive strategies on your journey, they won’t go away all at once. Shifts will happen as you’re ready for them. For example, you’ve gotten very adept at keeping your emotions stuffed down, but in therapy you’ll start being able to feel. You aren’t going to go from not feeling to suddenly weeping in a ball on the floor (and the goal isn’t to weep in a ball on the floor—but it’s ok if you do!) But you will start to recognize and connect with your emotions bit by bit.  You’ll start to realize that you can’t deny your emotions as you used to. 

Pay attention to what’s coming up for you. That’s often an indicator that you’re ready to work on it.

Your process will unfold as it’s supposed to. If a particular memory, image, or feeling in your body keeps coming up, pay attention to it. That usually means  you’re ready to start working on it in therapy. There’s not a particular measure for this (i.e. If it comes up three times, that means it’s time to work on it). It’s much more nuanced than that. As you settle into the process, you’ll start to get a sense of when you’re ready to address other parts of your story.

Feeling your emotions can feel scary, but you’ll eventually feel comfortable connecting with them, even in front of someone else.

I know, you don’t believe me, and I get that. You’re adept at not acknowledging and connecting with your emotions for good reason. But that doesn’t mean the emotions aren’t there. I promise they are.

You’ll connect with them as you’re ready in the way that you’re ready. Eventually you’ll start to connect with those feelings in your therapy sessions, and maybe even some trusted friends. I know that sounds scary, and it can be at first, but it is so, so healing.

To have someone hold space for those tender parts of your heart is a powerful experience.

Don’t walk the path alone.

You’ve survived on your own up to this point, and the tendency will be to continue doing that. Especially because you’re going to be connecting with things that you never thought you’d utter to another soul. And because going it alone is what you know. It’s what you had to do and you’re good at it.

But we aren’t wired to go it alone, and if you connect with emotions and memories long buried in an isolated way, you’re just repeating the past. You’re doing what you had to do as a child, and that won’t help you.

As you learn to trust relationships and allow people into your life, you’ll be able to allow them to be with you as you connect with your story. It will end up being one of the biggest parts of the healing process. I know you don’t believe me now, and probably can’t see how that’ll even be possible, but it will be.

Your therapy journey will take as long as it takes.

There’s no quick fix for the unhealed places in your heart, mind, and body. You may have the idea that you’ll go to therapy for six months or so and then be done. Healing work that gets at the root of things doesn’t work that way. 

It takes some time to settle into the process and trust your therapist. It also takes time to build your tolerance for feeling emotions (for good reason). It takes time to be able to put words to things that you swore to yourself you’d never say aloud.

As much as you can, allow the process to unfold and trust the timing.

Be honest with your therapist about what’s happening for you during sessions.

This idea may feel counterintuitive. You learned early on not to share what was happening for you because it wasn’t safe to do so. Sharing in this way will take some getting used to, but it’s an important part of the process.

Just the act of being honest about what’s going on inside of you is part of healing the wounds from being shamed, dismissed, etc. It means you’re operating from your reality today, and you’ll experience a response that’s different from what you experienced as a child. It’s also part of building the relational connection with your therapist.

Try to share in the moment if you can, but if not, you can always share the next session. I also want to be clear that bringing these things up isn’t your sole responsibility. An attuned therapist will often notice something is going on and will ask.

Come back next week for the continuation of my thoughts in Part 2...