You’ve Acknowledged That You’re Struggling…Now What?

You’ve acknowledged that there are things in your life that aren’t working. And now that you’re aware of what’s going on, it may feel even worse. What do you do now?

Here are three steps you can take—regardless of your particular situation.

1. Find a therapist that works with family of origin issues.

I intentionally use the word therapist as opposed to a more general helping professional term. I’m also suggesting a specific type of therapist.

I believe that anything that you struggle with today—any of the things that I mentioned in my last post—are rooted in childhood experiences. They are essentially symptoms of deeper issues. In my experience, I’ve yet to find an exception to this. Because of this, it’s important that you work with a therapist who can help you deal with the root causes of the problems in your life today.

Side note: Let me address the term “trauma-informed,” as you’ll likely see it in your search for a therapist. I’m personally not a fan of it—I don’t doubt that it’s used with good intentions, I just don’t find it particularly helpful. My suggestion is to ask a therapist what they mean by it if you see that phrase on their website. Ask how they work with trauma. Ask if they’ve done their own family of origin work. Yes, you can ask a therapist that question!

How the therapist answers the question isn’t about the details. It’s about you getting a sense of whether or not they’ve dealt with their own stuff. I wholeheartedly believe a clinician’s healing of their own family of origin issues is the most important factor in their being able to help others with them. Finding the right person might take some time. It’s better to wait for the right therapist than to start working with someone who isn’t the right fit for you.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing a therapist:

  • Be honest with yourself about why you’re seeking therapy, and let that guide you
  • Ask for recommendations from people you know
  • Ask as many questions as you need to in your consultation
  • Pay attention to your gut—what is your reaction to the initial conversation? Did you feel comfortable with them (as much as you can tell in a 15-minute phone call)? Did you feel heard and understood?
  • Do you feel a connection with the therapist? 

2. Get support.

Recognizing that you need help, finding a therapist, and starting on this journey are big things, and having supportive people in your life will be important. This may be counterintuitive to some, who have internalized certain messages (don’t talk about your struggles, take care of yourself, don’t need too much), all of which are messages that come from our family of origin.

It’s important to have empathetic support from others throughout your therapy journey. Who do you trust to support you in your recovery? I believe recovery should be done in community with like-minded people who are doing their own work. Even if it’s just one person, that’s a great place to start. Is it a friend? A partner? A family member? You might also find this in a support group, therapy group, faith community, or 12-step fellowship.

3. Create a self-care plan.

Because the therapy process can be disruptive, it’s helpful to have a list of things that help you feel grounded and settled—things that help create emotional space and allow you to breathe. When you’re struggling, it can be hard to know how to take care of yourself. That is when this list comes in handy. Self-care doesn’t have to be something that takes a long time or costs money. It can be, but it doesn’t need to be. I suggest having a mix of things on your list. Be sure to include several that are easily accessible.

Here are some examples:

  • Set a reminder on your phone, three times per day, to take some deep breaths
  • Reach out to one of your support people
  • Go for a walk
  • Drink tea or coffee out of your favorite mug
  • Exercise
  • Read some recovery literature
  • Meditate
  • Watch something that makes you laugh
  • Go for a hike
  • Write in your journal
  • Do something creative

Remember, you don’t have to figure out everything at once. Trying to can lead to frustration and overwhelm. Take it one step at a time, one day at a time, one moment at a time.

Peace on the journey,