I smell the home-cooked meal prepared by my parents
I smell compassion
I smell kindness
What do you smell?
I only wish you could smell what I smell
I smell blood in your hands
I smell fear when you come near
I want to ask you why
I taste the sweetness of being alive
I taste the joy of solidarity
I taste hope
I taste truth
What do you taste?
I only wish you could taste what I taste
I taste the bitterness of being silent by you
I taste the sourness of swallowing pain
I want to ask you why
As an Asian American mental health worker, it absolutely breaks my heart to see my own community being attacked. These attacks do not only cause physical harm to the victims but also psychological harm that we often do not see from the outside. According to Mental Health America, experiences of race-based discrimination can have detrimental psychological impacts on individuals and their wider communities. The month of May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, together let’s raise mental health awareness in the AAPI community. Now more than ever, we must take care of our mental health. Please reach out and do not suffer in silence. You and your mental health matter.
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
Therapy. Sometimes we get the idea to enter therapy when life is going smooth, but we’d like to tend to our self-growth anyway. More often we get the idea to enter therapy when something traumatic has occurred in our lives or we’ve tried everything else we could think of first (aka we’re desperate).
We want something to change, and we want it to change fast because we’re tired of feeling this way.
We may still be hesitant to hand over our time and money to a therapist, but we bargain with ourselves. “I can commit to this for a few months.” And we do. And things may start to feel a little better. The storm settles. We’ve had some time to process. Things might even feel somewhat normal again.
We did what we said we would do. We stuck it out for a few months.
And all the thoughts start swirling in our heads about why it might be a good time to say goodbye:
We’re feeling better.
Money’s a little tight.
It’s not always fun to show up and be vulnerable.
Do we really need this? Or is it an unnecessary luxury? There are so many other responsibilities to manage.
I say this all from firsthand experience. These were the thoughts I bumped into after seeing my therapist for a few months (yes, therapists see therapists too).
Afterall, they’re valid and convincing thoughts.
And yet, I decided to stick with my therapist anyway. Something told me these reasons to leave were emerging as a convenient way to avoid digging deeper.
Now, six months later, I realize I was on the verge of doing some real work with my therapist. Work that has already and will continue to shift my life in some powerful ways.
It’s not always comfortable, but I’m glad I’ve stayed.
Here are some reasons I’ve come to believe in the value of committing to a long-term relationship with a therapist:
1. Trust and safety take time
In therapy, the relationship is key. The amount of trust and safety you feel with your therapist determines how authentically and vulnerably you’re able to show up. And trust and safety take time. Think about the people you’re truly yourself with. How long have you known them? I once had a mother of a client I see reach out to me concerned. Her son told her he wasn’t being completely honest with me. I had seen him for five sessions. I told her I probably wouldn’t be honest with me either at this point. Trust in a relationship takes time.
2. Deep-seated patterns don’t change overnight
Oftentimes, when we begin therapy, we become aware of patterns that have been part of our lives for years, maybe even decades. And even if they’re not healthy patterns, they’ve become part of how we operate and even part of our identities. There can be a lot of delicate untangling to do. And after we untangle, we have to learn new ways of being and operating. These kinds of shifts understandably take time.
3. Therapy is continuously empowering
Even if you’re not facing something acutely stressful in your life, there is a lot of beneficial work that can be done in therapy. For fifty minutes, you are turning inward, slowing down, practicing being with yourself and your emotions, expanding your capacity for feeling, and taking responsibility for the state of your life. All of this creates a more mindful approach to living that then ripples out and affects the rest of your week. The decisions you make. The behaviors you choose. You begin to have more say in your life. Even if you’re not in crisis, it is always empowering to slow down and become more aware of how you’re feeling, what you’re needing, and what you’re choosing.
4. Your mental health matters
In a world where self-care usually falls to the bottom of the barrel in comparison to work and responsibilities, carving out an hour each week in which you choose your mental health is a gift you give yourself that fosters a kinder, gentler relationship with yourself where your feelings matter.
5. You learn how to be with your emotions
Everywhere else in our lives, the people who care about us want to offer solutions. When we tell them what we’re going through, they instinctively want to fix it. Quickly. As a result, we are constantly taken away from simply experiencing our emotions. Therapy may be the only place in your life where you can truly be with your experience. Not only is this healing, but it deepens your ability to be with your feelings. When we don’t know how to be with our feelings, we run away and distract ourselves. We blame others. We act out. As we learn how to be with our feelings in therapy, our worlds start to feel safer. We learn how to allow. We take more deep breaths. We react less and thoughtfully respond more.
6. You learn how to be honest and how liberating it is
To have a place where you can just. be. yourself. Most of the time, we have to consider the feelings of others. We modify or perform in some manner. In therapy, where it just gets to be about you, not the expectations of others, you begin to speak truth in a way you may never have before. As a result, your life starts to feel more honest.
7. Life is constantly offering us opportunities for growth
Short-term therapy is based on the idea that there’s a problem to be fixed. Fix the problem and you’re good to go. But the thing is, that’s not how life works. Life is a continuous process of growth and change. Once we reach the top of one mountain, another appears. Long-term therapy acknowledges this. It acknowledges that to be human, with all of our unique emotions and fears, challenges us in an ongoing manner. It acknowledges that the whole reason we’re here is to keep stepping into growth and to keep doing the work so our lives continue to feel alive and rewarding. Long-term therapy acknowledges that change is constant and so support should be constant too.
Long-term therapy provides a safe and empowering shelter where you continue to grow, heal, and nurture the relationship you have with yourself and life. A therapist is a wonderful resource to support you on your journey.
“I failed the test again. I’m never going to get any better at this.”
“They cancelled plans – they must not like me.”
“Everything I say sounds so unintelligent. I’m such an idiot.”
Any of these statements sound familiar? These statements are examples of negative self-talk. Self-talk is your subconscious inner dialogue that you engage with everyday. The average person has about 6,000 thoughts per day (Murdock, 2020). What do you notice about how you talk to yourself? How do these thoughts make you feel? If the answer is sad, unmotivated, upset, angry, or anything similar to these feelings – chances are you are being mean to yourself.
Why are we mean to ourselves?
Our inner dialogue is shaped in childhood by the way we internalize how we are spoken to by people around us – caregivers, parents, peers, teachers, relatives. Maybe you had a teacher who said you just weren’t a good writer after failing one too many writing assignments. Maybe your parents dismissed your feelings a lot. All this to say – even though we may have internalized negative thoughts about ourselves for years, we can change these thoughts to positive self-talk statements:
1. Start with awareness.
As with any change we take on in our life – we first need to be aware that there is something that just isn’t working for us anymore. The purpose of explaining the “why” above is to create space to use curiosity (not judgement!) to discover where your inner critic comes from.
2. List evidence against your negative belief about yourself.
You may notice that you say, “I’m such a burden,” a lot. What is evidence in your life that shows that you are not a burden? Maybe you have friends that initiate plans with you. Maybe you have a partner that always asks and genuinely wants to hear about your day.
3. Create a new, positive self-talk statement based on the evidence you listed.
With the example above, the evidence shows that “I am loved”.
4. Review the list of evidence often.
Keep a running list of evidence against your negative belief on your phone so that you always have access to it. Look at the list even when you are not being mean to yourself.
5. Practice self-compassion.
It takes time for these evidences to replace your long standing negative self belief – it’s like teaching yourself an entirely new language! Be kind to yourself as you navigate this process by using positive self-talk statements: “I’m doing the best I can.” “I can do this.” “I believe in myself.”
Practice using curiosity to identify your self-talk and how the statements make you feel. Therapy can support this process by providing a safe space to explore where your inner critic comes from and work on creating positive self-talk statements to replace negative ones. Wishing you healing on your journey to self-kindness!