"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
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
- Show you how strong I am
- Impress you with my wisdom
- Seduce you with my wit
- Dazzle you with my charm
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
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
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
Labels: Authenticity, Kristin Young, Negative Beliefs, Resistance, Self Love