eating the frog
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
I wrote in an earlier post about my realization that I'd been avoiding uncomfortable topics in therapy, and with a gentle nudge from a kind stranger, I broached (some of) them today! I don't know if the ensuing discussion helped me very much, but I'm proud I finally ate the frog after four attempts. It was hard! Many people have told me they found it easier to open up to a therapist than to their friends, but for me it was the opposite.
I feel bad for my therapist, because I'm a bit of a tough customer. After I confided in her that I felt lonely and let down by many of my friends, she suggested putting myself out there and making new ones, since I've already tried improving my existing ones. But I didn't like any of her suggestions, which included trying to be more vulnerable with some of my casual friends, finding another hobby to meet new people, and going to events to meet "young people" in the area. And I ruled out using any apps like Bumble BFF or whatever the youth use these days before she'd even opened her mouth to respond. I know I said I was lonely, but I didn't mean I wanted to do all this! Just the thought of going to an event to meet people gives me anxiety, I hate that sort of thing. I don't have any issues meeting people one on one but gatherings give me the heebie-jeebies.
I think we're (and I mean not just with my therapist, but with myself) at an impasse now, because I feel unsatisfied with the state of my social life, but I don't have the desire to change it. Come to think of it, I'm at this place in other areas of my life, in particular at work. I hate my job with a passion, it makes me want to jump off a cliff most days, and I know I don't want to be here anymore... but I just don't do anything about it. At least I haven't, yet. We were about to unpack this in therapy before I redirected us to issues that were more top of my mind but I'd like to get this one sorted out too. Is it just my indolence, or are there other factors, like the general unpleasantness of searching and applying for work that keeps me from looking elsewhere?
Even if my therapist doesn't provide me with any suggestions I'll use, it's been a worthwhile exercise to talk to her, because I can at least see that the only thing standing in my way for a lot of these problems is myself. I think prior to going to therapy I secretly hoped deep down that she'd have some sort of secret ways to fix me (and trust me, I still do), but when I'm talking to her it's clear she's just an ordinary person trying to help me find solutions to my problems. And in that way she's no different from any of my friends, or even myself. It feels like she's showing me a mirror, by pointing out that there are things I could be doing to at least try to feel better, but that I don't take them (for whatever reason). And it's oddly freeing knowing that I can often be my own jailer. (I also recognize that I could very well take her suggestions and still feel lonely, but I'd have to do them before I can rule them out, right?)
Something I brought up with my therapist is that I often wonder whether I have an unreasonably high bar for social interaction. I hang out occasionally with a friend group that's adopted me and spend much of the hangouts wondering if they're all also unsatisfied with the level and depth (or lack thereof, I should say) of social interaction. They're great people, don't get me wrong, but if I had to go week in week out hanging out with people but not actually talking to them about how I felt inside and seeing what they're really like I think I'd go insane.
I read Lori Gottlieb's book Maybe You Should Talk To Someone a few weeks ago, and it's not just been the best book I've read about therapy, but one of the best books I've read this year full stop. I highly recommend it. It's an easy read and now that I'm in therapy I can see that a lot of the things she talked about are true.
Some (okay, a lot) of my highlights from the book:
- "People imagine they come to therapy to uncover something from the past and talk it through, but so much of what therapists do is work in the present, where we bring awareness to what's going on in people's heads and hearts in the day-to-day."
- "What people do in therapy is like shooting baskets against a backboard. It's necessary. But what they need to do then is go and play in an actual game."
- "It doesn't help them in any way for you to be miserable. Your misery doesn't change their situation. You can't lessen their misery by carrying it for them inside you. It doesn't work that way."
- "Pain can be protective; staying in a depressed place can be a form of avoidance."
- "There's no hierarchy of pain. Suffering shouldn't be ranked, because pain is not a contest. (...) Pain is pain. You can't get through your pain by diminishing it."
- "You can have compassion without forgiving. There are many ways to move on, and pretending to feel a certain way isn't one of them."
- "We may want others' forgiveness, but that comes from a place of self-gratification; we are asking forgiveness of others to avoid the harder work of forgiving ourselves."
- "'Insight is the booby prize of therapy' is my favorite maxim of the trade, meaning that you can have all the insight in the world, but if you don't change when you're out in the world, the insight—and the therapy—is worthless."
- "Part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself—to let go of the limiting stories you've told yourself about who you are so that you aren't trapped by them, so you can live your life and not the story you've been telling yourself about your life."
- "Our pasts don't define us, but inform us."