Some people call me a counselor, others a therapist, still others a shrink. Technically, I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. But regardless of what people call me, they usually get around to asking me how it is that I am able to do what I do — to be the witness to so many people's suffering, and extend my efforts to help them heal, day in and day out.
I certainly understand why it may be baffling to some why I, or anyone, chooses to become a therapist. Almost everyday, I am the last ditch effort to save a marriage, and my office is the place for many to share their most horrific experiences. I bear witness to intense pain and shame, and hold it all in a soft space. It sounds exhausting — and I get that.
But I have been consistently energized by my work, and have learned so much more about healing than about pain. Here are five of the top lessons I've learned sitting in the chair each day.
1. We can all heal.
When we experience pain, we may not always heal into the feeling or situation that we felt “before." Often, the pain we feel during the process of healing can emerge from the expectation that we can "fix" ourselves. The truth is that we can heal and develop a beautiful life around a "new normal." Letting go of what we think life has to look like in order to be OK is the hard part. But when we can do that, and get out of our own way, something new and beautiful has room to emerge and grow.
2. The human spirit’s capacity to overcome, survive and thrive is astounding.
There are moments when I listen to stories of the abuse someone has endured, and I am shocked by their resilience. For instance, I worked with a patient whose abuse made him stronger, rather than bitter. When someone shares ways they have used their pain to help others, I am so honored to be a part of their journey.
Despite whatever may be happening or has happened in our lives, we can come out on the other side with beauty and grace intact. How encouraging is that! More often than not, suffering can be our teacher, and invite us to cultivate a better version of ourselves.
3. People are basically good.
Even that awful neighbor you can’t get along with has a side that is worthy of love and compassion. I know that will catalyze some resistance for many of you. But what I see every day are people doing the best they can with what they know and what they have, rather than allowing the negative details of life weigh them down into dysfunction.
So don't cling to negativity — it's not worth your time or energy. You can choose to personalize other people's behavior, or let things go. And when you do consider the actions of those around you, try not to force their actions into a black or white schema, trying to dub their "right" and "wrong" actions. Allowing things you experience and feel to exist in the gray a little bit is incredibly freeing. We are all trying to get it right in life.
4. We get better when we decide we want to get better.
A decision to feel better on its own is not enough to emerge from a difficult place (and I am not about to minimize how herculean an effort this can be). However, until we do decide to dig into the process that holds us there, and do the work to get out, we stay stuck. I think this is the most empowering statement I could make. You have the power to change your life. When you are ready, on your timetable, with your effort, you can create the life you desire.
5. The most powerful thing you can do is forgive.
Learn to let it go. Grudges hurt you, cripple your development, and hold you as the prisoner to your own pain. Learn to forgive others who have hurt you, and mostly learn to forgive yourself for when you didn't do something the way you wanted. Go easy on yourself. You are worth it.