The 4 Best Lessons I Learned From Seeing A Therapist In My 20s

Written by Sandra Bienkowski

When I saw a psychologist for depression in my 20s, he told me I could win the hurt Olympics. My butt landed in that recliner chair across from him every Wednesday for an hour so I could stop the cycle of hurt.

I knew my childhood wasn’t anything remotely close to healthy and I knew it had damaged me. I wanted to fix me. My parents’ parents had damaged them, and I wanted the cycle to end with me. So we talked about my mom’s alcoholism, the pervasive denial, and the verbal and psychological abuse that went on in our home.

It was especially confusing because my parents had adopted my sister and me. Why would anyone go to such great lengths to have kids and then treat us as they did? While my journey to a healthy life filled with healthy relationships was a long one, I learned a lot about how to stop letting people hurt me along the way. I hope what I learned can help you, too.

1. Fill up your own cup.

I can’t tell you how long I went around with an empty cup (feeling all alone) innocently hoping other people would fill it and make me feel like I belonged.

Gosh, is that dangerous. When you're empty, you are more likely to put anything in your cup. You aren’t discerning. You let people into your life who aren’t healthy or worthy. Or worse, you go to people who have hurt you repeatedly, hoping this time they won’t hurt you and instead they'll fill your cup with love, understanding and empathy.

Here’s the thing: You have to fill your own cup. Whatever you didn’t get and need, you have to give to yourself. If you didn’t get praise, give yourself praise. If you didn’t get love, show yourself some love and compassion with kind thoughts and doing things that make you feel good about yourself. If your home didn’t feel safe, create a safe and secure home as an adult. And that’s what therapy taught me to do. Some people, sometimes even parents, are not capable of filling our cups.

2. Stop looking for external validation.

Do you get your self-worth internally or do you seek it outside of yourself? If the whole world (everything outside of you) is your mirror, you are in for a world of hurt. Learn to listen to your internal gauges to assess how you're doing. Don’t stick your head out the window and ask everyone on the street how you are doing. Your internal voice is the only mirror you need. Don't hand over your self-perception and self-worth to anyone with an opinion.

3. When people show you who they are, believe them.

Oh boy, is this a tough one to learn! To this day I can get all tied up in knots about something someone says and a few minutes later I’ll be laughing because I realized I was expecting that person to be different from who I already know that person to be.

Maya Angelou once said, “When people show you who they are believe them” and it’s so true. When people show us who they are, it is futile to expect or hope they will be different. Accepting people and their limitations can bring a lot of peace to your life. Don’t expect people to suddenly be different and you will be disappointed a whole lot less.

4. Remind yourself of one word: boundaries.

You have to draw perimeters in your life all the time. Boundaries draw the lines of where you end and other people begin. You don’t have to let other people’s negativity/crap/stuff/issues hurt you. Your boundaries set the bar on how you expect to be treated or set the limits of what you accept and what you don’t. Whenever you have bad boundaries or no boundaries it’s as if you are opening a giant-sized door to hurt. Set boundaries left and right and life gets better.

As a child, you can’t really control who hurts you because you don’t have the tools to fully understand what’s going on, how to express yourself or fix things. You think anyone bigger than you knows more than you.

As an adult, it's so liberating to know that you alone have so much control over the amount of hurt you let into your life. Yes, uncontrollable things will always hurt us, but isn't it empowering to know you can play a starring role in significantly reducing the hurt in your life?

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