Updated: Jul 8, 2022
I am a huge advocate for the idea that what you focus on grows. If we all want to be positive and happy, well then we have to put our focus on perceiving life with positivity and happiness. We must push aside everything negative, and change our perspective so that sadness and depression, anxiety, and trauma don’t even stand a chance. They must be neglected so they don’t grow, because, heaven forbid, we acknowledge they even exist. However, as with all things left neglected, there is a breaking point.
It’s like when you are on a diet and all you’ve eaten is kale and chicken for weeks. Then one day you give in to your cravings and end up eating a whole key lime pie in one sitting. You’ve officially failed at your diet. “I was doing so good!” You scream. It’s like your one moment of weakness has wiped away all the other days when you stuck to the rules, and then the diet is over just like that. You trade in your low calorie, low carb, high cardio diet for eating your feelings while binge-watching Scandal. We’ve all been there.
The same goes for our feelings. “I was doing so good! I was meditating everyday, I was perceiving everything with gratitude and seeing everything with compassion and then I just broke down crying in the grocery store!” You yell to yourself in the mirror. “What’s wrong with me? I don’t even know why I’m crying, I don’t know why I am screaming at my kid and making him cry too! I WAS DOING SO GOOD!” The frustration overwhelms you and now, on top of crying for apparently no reason, you have laid on a pile of guilt. The heaviness of it makes it difficult to breathe in between fake smiles, while you try to prove to everyone including yourself that you have your shit together. Your breakdown makes you feel like a failure and all of a sudden everything you’ve done to improve your life becomes obsolete. You lose all motivation, snap at everyone, and just can’t seem to figure out why.
Since when did being sad equal failure?
That story all happened to me. I did break down in the grocery store and I did feel like an utter failure. I felt broken and my heart hurt so much. I began acting like a crazy ex-girlfriend and I put every ounce of effort into proving otherwise. But I was so broken. I saw a broken body and I felt a broken heart. And don’t even get me started on the guilt. That guilt was like a vise and it tightened each time I acknowledged the sadness as if it could muscle its way to making it go away. It was my Joe Pesci in Casino. It was gangster and ruthless. It would cut off my fingers, pull out my teeth, and take a sledgehammer to my feet. My guilt would do anything to make me talk, to admit I was happy, to deny any knowledge of sadness, depression, anger, or helplessness. My Guilt Gangster wouldn’t stop until I believed it.
Then one day I looked at myself and realized perhaps it was time to find some help. It was time for a therapist. I'd put this off for years after seeing two other therapists to who I just couldn’t relate to. I’d heard people say I needed to shop around until I found someone I clicked with, but who has the time or energy to shop around? Yet, I could feel something inside of me on the brink of exploding and I needed to find an emergency exit before something bad happened. I pulled up my list of covered providers and immediately emailed the closest one. It was a Sunday and I didn’t expect a response until the next morning. To my surprise and disappointment, she emailed back right away only to say she wasn’t accepting any new patients. She did, however, refer me to someone else, and luckily she was in my network. I text her and she also responded quickly. We scheduled my first visit, and right away I could feel a bit of the weight lift. I was so excited to just begin the process.
A week later, I rolled into her office flustered and 15 minutes late because I went to the wrong address. I hate being late and didn’t want her to think I didn’t take this seriously. She gave me a big teethy grin and told me not to stress. To say it was a great first visit would be an understatement. She opened my eyes to so many new things in our 45 minutes and I left feeling energized. She primarily uses a technique called Internal Family Systems, or IFS, in which each feeling is acknowledged as a part of you, and all parts are welcome. Instead of feeling like a failure because you had a moment of weakness and broke down crying, that feeling and breakdown are recognized just as you’d recognize a person. They are real, they can be validated without judgment, however, they are only a part of the equation. A part of me is sad, but I’m not sad. A part of me is mad as hell that I can’t walk, but I’m not a mad person. There’s also a big part of me that is happy and grateful for all of the blessings I’ve received, but I’m not a completely happy or grateful person. All of these parts of me make me whole, make me who I am. It would be wrong to take away a piece of me or to say any part of my family doesn’t deserve to be there. All of these parts make us human.
This internal family system of mine is dysfunctional just like any other family. There are parts that aren’t pretty, but there is also a lot of unconditional love. It's obvious all parts are working towards the same goal, despite them all taking completely different approaches. I know just as with all relationships, dealing with my family will make me stronger. The more my parts learn to work together and communicate effectively without judgment, the stronger we will be as a whole - the stronger I will be as a person.
On my way out the door, my new therapist looked at me with that same teethy grin and told me how excited she was to dive into my process. She gave me a huge hug and kissed my cheek. I guess I won’t have to shop around after all.
Let the family therapy begin.