There are so many sacred moments in therapy, but there is one that is perhaps the most profound for me as a psychologist. Sometimes it happens within the first few moments of meeting a new client, and sometimes it takes months or even longer to arrive.
It happens when the person in front of me shares a truth that they have been holding so close and so tightly, often for a very long time. It’s a thought or a feeling that around which they have held deep fear and shame, and the act of telling another person is a one of immense bravery.
The profound moment is when I have the opportunity to hold eye contact with that person and tell them unequivocally how absolutely normal that thing is.
There’s a beautiful unfolding that happens in those few seconds. I think it’s the magic of shame dissolving. Shame is a wall that exists around us to protect us from what we perceive will be the judgment of others. When it comes down and the light is let in, there is a palpable shift.
We’ve talked before about the various ways that therapy works, and I hold firm that this is the primary way. It’s a relationship that allows walls to come down and all those secret shames to be normalized.
Each of us carries a slightly different story, but if there is one thing I’ve learned in doing this work over the years it’s that our thoughts and feelings are not all that unique. That’s a good thing, in my mind, because these are the threads that bind us as humans. They have the power to bring us closer to one another when the walls can dissolve.
I’m sharing with you today a sampling of the “secrets” I hear most frequently. I couldn’t begin to count how often I’ve heard each of them, so if you resonate and feel alone in your experience – you’re not.
I don’t really like being a mom. Perhaps the holy grail of mom-guilt is the fact that our culture has taught us that we should enjoy motherhood – in fact, they think we should enjoy it above all else. Sure, there are special and lovely moments in parenting, but much of it involves thankless tasks, tireless work, frustration, anxieties, loss of independence, and negotiating with unreasonable little human beings. It’s completely reasonable to not like being a mom. It’s totally understandable to wish you had a life that felt more like your own or even to feel regret around the choice to parent. It doesn’t make you selfish, bad, or anything other bullshit our society tries to feed us.
I have no sexual desire for my partner anymore. Loss of sexual desire for a partner is extremely common; so common that it could probably be considered the rule rather than the exception in longer-term relationships. The potential reasons for this are vast – everything from biological changes due to hormones or medication, changes in relational dynamics, body image concerns, loss of erotic energy, or a host of other issues. The important thing to remember is that losing sexual interest doesn’t mean the relationship is automatically doomed. It may just take some exploration and some intentional work to recover the sexual energy you desire.
I have thoughts about physically hurting someone close to me. It can be deeply painful or frightening to acknowledge that at times you can imagine hurting someone you love. I hear from lots of parents that get to a point of wanting to be physical with their children, and then feel shame or fear about these urges. I hear from people who feel such rage at their partner or parent that they fantasize about them being hurt. It’s important to know that even strong urges or vivid fantasies are not the same as actions, and that our thoughts in and of themselves are not dangerous, even if they feel so.
I spent all this time and money, but I think I chose the wrong career. It can be so difficult to acknowledge to ourselves and to others that we feel we’ve chosen the wrong path. It can be especially so when we feel embarrassed that others have supported us along the way or a lot of our identity is tied into our current path. The desire for something different doesn’t make us wishy-washy or selfish. It makes us human with evolving interests, needs, and desires.
I think about cutting off contact with my family. Families are messy and complicated, and yes, sometimes harmful. In the majority of cases, navigating new dynamics and boundaries can shift family relationships in a way that prevents total estrangement. But there are also cases where that’s not possible. A lot of people who have painful family relationships carry shame or embarrassment around it, even when they were not responsible for the fractures.
I cheated on my partner. First, take a deep breath. Now, put your hand over your heart and tell yourself that you are whole, human, and worthy of love, even if you did something outside of your integrity. Sometimes therapists learn about infidelity as it’s occurring or immediately after, and sometimes it’s many years later when the feelings surrounding it have yet to subside. Regardless, it’s a painful acknowledgement for everyone involved, but sharing it with a therapist is often the first step toward healing, however that may look.
Whatever that story inside of you might be that’s holding you hostage, keep in mind that it will almost certainly not be the first time that a therapist has heard it. And sharing that truth with another human being – someone ready to offer validation and compassion (and maybe a little challenge when needed) – is a powerful move.