-“I’m not in the fixing business, I’m in the growth business.”
I had just gotten through saying that I always react to difficult things by wanting to fix them, and the reason is because my brain is broken. How many times have we, as therapy clients, used the term “broken” to describe ourselves or our brains? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? I know I have. It’s easy to self-blame when we feel helpless or when we feel like we can’t seem to break out of an ineffective coping strategy. Being broken allows us to continue to avoid looking at what may have hurt us, and to finally face some really difficult feelings. But, it’s not particularly healthy or helpful in moving forward with therapy.
So when my therapist said this I literally felt like my brain exploded (Cue brain exploding Emoji). Everything I had previously believed about myself and about my healing shifted in an instant. If I wasn’t broken and didn’t need to be fixed, so many things could be seen differently. So much pressure could be lifted away from the process of healing that I had inadvertently placed upon myself, and maybe (definitely) unfairly upon my therapist. As much as we want our therapists to be magicians and miraculously wave a wand that will make us ok, they can’t. They are only human.
The first thing that shifted for me with this sentence was the pressure of time. If something is broken, it needs to be fixed quickly. There is a sense of urgency that exists putting pressure upon us to fix what’s broken by some imagined deadline before we destroy everything around us, as if we had that kind of power. This is not only unrealistic, but it simply creates additional anxiety to heal faster than what is possible or even safe. Without that deadline, we can allow ourselves the patience and grace to heal at our own pace, recognizing that healing is not linear and therefore it will not progress like some kind of mathematical equation or an instruction manual that we can follow.
The second, and perhaps more significant part of the shift that occurred for me was recognizing that everything I need to heal is already within me, it just needs the right environment to grow. When we are born, we are already whole. We are seeds that have been planted and our parents are there to provide the nourishment we need to become who we already are. If that nourishment is disrupted by a traumatic experience or our parents aren’t capable of providing us with all the nurturing we need, we don’t germinate. We remain in that state until the environment is right for us to begin to grow. Our therapists can provide the care, guidance, nurturing and love that we need to finally germinate and begin to grow. And other supportive and caring friends and framily can continue helping the miracle that is within us to mature to it’s full potential. What a beautiful way of viewing our healing journey! It feels so much less isolating, so much more powerful and so much more natural.
And finally, I was able for the first time to view my therapist through the lens of an adult with a hurt child within her, rather than as a pseudo-mommy who would rescue me, adopt me and raise me. No matter how hard we wish, we cannot return to childhood and rewrite our past. All we can do is pick up where the damage began and start to create the life we always deserved to have. When I went to my next appointment I didn’t have this feeling of a child screaming and reaching out desperately crying for my “mommy” which was very anxiety inducing, and it was replaced with a more equal relationship of two adults sitting in a room together, one supporting the other with complete understanding and open arms but with healthy boundaries enabling me to become myself. It was the calmest I ever felt walking in to her office and it allowed me to really hear some of the things she has been saying to me for years, but that I simply wasn’t ready to hear. In particular, I was able to tap into the anger that I had pent up about the ways in which my toxic relationship with my mother affected me and kept me caged, entrapped like a circus animal.
I’m sure everyone experiences therapy in a different way, but I do know that many of us who have experienced trauma have similar coping strategies and attachment issues. We never know what will be the thing that makes the difference for us in terms of facilitating a breakthrough in our therapy, but I hope that these words will help at least someone feel more empowered and less anxious in the process of healing. The therapeutic alliance is one of the most powerful and singular relationships we will ever experience in our lives. Being able to see it in a way that promotes a sense of being on the same team without a hierarchical power structure can mean the difference between staying stuck and finding a path forward that we can walk together as allies in our healing.