Why Therapy Saved My Life (It Can Save Yours, Too)
When I was a teenager, I told my parents I wanted to see a psychologist.
At the time, I was dating a guy who lived up the street. We had an exciting relationship but I was holding on too tight. With my shaky self-image, I pictured him breaking up with me and it felt like falling into a dark, bottomless well. I had no identity without him, and I knew the way I was feeling wasn’t healthy or normal.
I wanted help.
But asking for it wasn't easy. I’d come home from school to find either a beautiful, kind woman at the front door or a drunk, disheveled, hateful monster (depending on whether my mom had started drinking vodka during the day). My childhood was filled with unpredictability, drama, screaming, and insults. My dad didn’t protect me — he was also lost in denial. My sister and I lived in fear for years.
But once my dysfunctional parents agreed that I should talk to someone (because I was adopted, they convinced themselves that I had "faulty genes"), I started talk therapy that changed the trajectory of my life.
Some people spend their entire lives unaware of who they are. When you are in a therapist’s office, there is no place to hide.
I didn’t just go to talk therapy. I studied what my therapist told me. After our weekly sessions, I’d go home and write down everything I could remember. I ended up with three binders full of notes packed with insights and wisdom — these are guidebooks I still use today.
For a long time, I often chose the wrong boys (and then men) to date. The relationships I had with men mirrored the drama of my childhood, and my dating life provided the adrenaline rush I was used to experiencing at home.
My psychologist taught me that our relationships often reflect the relationship we have with ourselves. And he was right. It wasn't until I got healthy on my own that I was capable of having a truly healthy relationship.
My psychologist was the first adult in my life to tell me in regard to my parents, “It’s not you; it’s them." He validated the reality of my home environment when my parents wouldn’t, and this validation started to free me.
I always thought that one day my parents would acknowledge the craziness of my childhood and come to me asking for forgiveness. But my psychologist not-so-gently told me that would never happen and I was expecting my parents to be people they weren't. Though that was a tough lesson to accept, letting go of my unrealistic expectations was incredibly empowering.
“You are the healthy one,” my psychologist told me. “You are strong.” Once I abandoned the dream of a fairy-tale ending, I no longer needed my parents to validate me. I validated me.
My psychologist taught me that our relationships often reflect the relationship we have with ourselves.
Aristotle once said, "Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." Some people spend their entire lives unaware of who they are. When you are in a therapist’s office, there is no place to hide. You take a hard look at your behaviors, thoughts, emotions, strengths, and failings.
While this may sound scary, the process of therapy is incredibly healing and enlightening. You gain resilience and insight. You begin to see who you are and how to love yourself.
If you feel emotionally scrambled and exhausted from your childhood, talk therapy can help you sort it out so you can become who you are meant to be. It might take some trial and error to find the right psychologist for you, but the process can make a profound difference in your life.
The path to your healthy and happy life might not be linear (that’s life!), but if you do the hard work on yourself, happiness will become possible.
Therapy took me from lost to solid. Although it was a long road to repair my tattered self-image and dig out of depression, choosing to work on me right as my adult life was beginning was the smartest decision I've ever made.
Sandra Bienkowski is a nationally published writer and owner of The Media Concierge, a company dedicated to creating professional content for authors, speakers, and thought leaders. Sandra also is a regular contributing editor to Live Happy magazine. She worked as the columns editor at SUCCESS magazine for three years. Visit Sandra’s blog at The Media Concierge.