Psychotherapy and Showing Up With What Is Real


"What we attempt to hide from ultimately has power over us.  On some level we are always aware of that “bad” place that we must not reveal to others and even in psychotherapy we can feel afraid to show up with what is real."  Kristin Young






Psychotherapy and Showing Up With What is Real

by Kristin Young, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Website: www.kristinyoungmft.com

Showing up with what is real  - with what we really feel and think -- with oneself and with another can, at times, be among one of the most difficult things we can do.  However, it can also be one of the most loving things we can do, not only for ourselves but also for another.

What I would rather do:


Basically, have you thinking that I have my act together – My house in order – All my ducks in a row.
If you are convinced that I am wise, charming, kind, attractive, orderly – you name it -  then maybe I can begin to believe that I have value and worth.  When I have value and worth then I am safe from rejection and abandonment.  “I am good enough, strong enough, and damn-it, people love me”.

The problem with this, however, is that when we hide what is real we are rejecting a part of our experience and subtly reinforcing the belief that something about us is too shameful, too bad, too taboo to reveal.  By not exposing what is real we also miss the opportunity to be seen and loved for all of who we are.

When I say “showing up with what is real”  I mean sharing honestly what one is experiencing on the inner layers of feeling.  We certainly all have our reasons for NOT wanting to show up with what is real!  Most of us received all kinds of messages within our families and tribes that there are certain parts of our experiences that are best not shared.  From very early on we are trained to manage and repress much of our true experience or risk facing rejection, disapproval, and perhaps even danger until we come to show only a small portion of our inner experience.

As adults we may become clear at some point that we feel unseen by our friends and partners and we may crave real intimacy, and yet, still hide, cover up and repress at any opportunity for real sharing.  Beyond that, we may even feel, at the deeper layers of our experience, that we are shameful, bad, and unlovable as there are so many parts of ourselves that weren’t loved and accepted as children.

One of the ways psychotherapy can be healing is by offering the opportunity to experiment with showing up with what is real.  The therapeutic relationship hopefully offers a safe, trusting environment where one can begin to reveal deep layers of the self that have been stored away for most of our lives.  This type of revealing, though therapeutic, can also be quite anxiety provoking at times.

When clients first begin therapy with me I will often tell them that at some point they may begin to feel uncomfortable with therapy and have anxiety arise at the thought of an upcoming appointment.  Because I talk to people about this in the beginning of their work with me, clients will not relate to the idea that they may have anxiety about showing up for a session, but I suggest that they keep an eye out for such feelings and let me know if they arise.

Often, in the beginning of therapy clients will feel a relief in having someone to go to who will deeply listen and help them to navigate their thoughts and feelings.  It feels good to reveal what is real and sort out some of the more difficult and confusing feelings.  However, as time goes on and clients get deeper into their process, they can begin to encounter feelings that are more taboo.  We all have stored within us a myriad of feelings that we learned long ago to hide away with the label on the box reading, “Toxic Waste” or “Too Shameful To Open” or “Danger – Keep Out!!!”.  To open one of these boxes feels like it could endanger us in some way so anxiety arises just at the thought of peering under the lid to see what is inside.

I remember when I encountered this place in my own therapy years ago.  I was studying to be a therapist myself and so was well aware of how resistance to therapy can sometimes indicate deeper and more taboo layers of the psyche being encountered.  However, after seeing my therapist for a number of months I suddenly felt like I needed to take a break and did not connect this to the fact that we were getting closer to more taboo layers of my psyche.   I decided to call my therapist and tell her I wanted to take a break when I remembered that it would be important to tell her in person so she could see for herself that I was not trying to hide anything.  So I went to my next appointment with the plan to let her know I wanted some time off from therapy.  

What happened, instead, was that when I walked into the room for my appointment I immediately understood that my desire to leave was not casual as I felt a tremendous amount of discomfort.  I sat on the couch with my head hung and tears running down my face repeatedly saying, “I just don’t want to be here.  I feel so uncomfortable”.   This was literally all I said the entire hour, suddenly well aware of how uncomfortable I was not only at looking at all of the places in myself which I had judgment around, but also at being seen by someone in the deeper layers of my psyche where I felt inadequate, ugly, and unlovable.  I assumed that my therapist would judge all of these layers in the same way that I did.  I had never had anyone in my life accept these places without judgment so just couldn’t imagine that she wouldn’t be appalled by what she witnessed.

Having this experience of having even our darkest places fully accepted inside of the therapy room is just the reason that it is so important to bring these places up in therapy.  One of the ways therapy can be healing is by bringing all of the taboo, shameful places to someone who looks over all our stuff with and open heart without judgment and says, “huh -look at that, there’s jealousy, there’s rage, there’s powerlessness, there’s lust”, etc etc… basically, there is a human being having human experiences.

When sitting with someone with such acceptance and love in response to feelings that we ourselves judge a door opens a bit.  We see that what was revealed did not shatter the therapist.  She didn’t go running out the door or reject us.  She still seems to love us.  She still regards us with kindness and says, “See you next week”.  Then maybe I can begin to believe that these feelings aren’t as dangerous or ugly as I had imagined they were.  Maybe even I can come to accept and possibly even dare to love these places inside.

What we attempt to hide from ultimately has power over us.  On some level we are always aware of that “bad” place that we must not reveal to others.  How exhausting to work so hard at covering up and how sad to not take the opportunity in therapy to be seen and loved and in turn love ourselves a bit deeper.   Or at least to be able to stand in our power, which is to stand in our truth and our vulnerability as it shows up right NOW.

If we take this one step further we can see that this type of revealing is also the foundation of intimacy - Intimacy with ourselves and intimacy with others.  When you show up with all that you are I get to see and love you for real.  If you are hiding, we both lose out.  You don’t get to be loved in the deeper places of your psyche and I don’t get to see, know and love you in those places.

I hope you can tell I am not, in the least bit, saying that showing up with all that you are is easy.   Far from it!  This may take all the courage that can be mustered at times.  And part of practicing showing up means accepting that we will not be able to show up all of the time.  I like to think of this as a life long practice.  Every day we will encounter opportunities for risking being seen.  Every day we are given opportunities for honesty and greater intimacy with ourselves as well as with others.

Can I reveal and love myself even when I present as awkward and not in the least bit cool….Can I reveal and love myself even when I am overcome with emotion (in front of a group of people)….Can I reveal and love myself when I am grumpy, scattered, intense, rigid and in the midst of messy, taboo thoughts and emotions? 

At times, what is real is that I can be genuinely witty, or “together” or even charming, but I also understand that these are only a part of what makes up me and if I grasp on to these things and try to force them or identify with only them they lose their value and beauty.  Lucky for us, life will offer plenty of opportunities to reveal, love and accept ourselves over and over again.

Kristin Young has been working with clients for over eight years.  She works with individuals and couples on a short and long term basis in her Santa Rosa and San Rafael offices.  She also leads groups and has interest in multi cultural spiritual traditions. You can find out more about Kristin at her website.

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