I think it is a safe assumption that every human being in the world needs and wants love. And it is also safe to assume that many of us do not always receive the kind of love and/or the amount of love we want and need. We might have had a fantastic childhood with loving parents. But maybe we were teased as children and that may have stripped us of a portion of our love quotient. Or, maybe our parents kinda sucked and we learned to depend on our friends, getting by, but still suffering from a deep love depletion. Either way, most of us in our adult lives have hopefully found ways to get the love we need and want. But, there are always gaps and cracks lurking within our emotional topography, and love-lack is a fact of being human.
Photograph by © Libby Saylor
I also believe there is a great amount of shame contained within this love-lack epidemic. I think human beings walk around all of the time feeling unloved, empty, confused, and broken, and usually believe they feel this way because they suck. Or, one might believe that everyone else sucks. But I think that is just an easier way to deal with the feelings of emptiness. Because when you get right down to it, it’s really painful to experience loneliness and feelings of not-good-enough-ness. And many people can’t really deal with this kind of pain. They self-medicate, find ways to escape, or latch onto anyone and everyone who sends the slightest bit of kindness their way.
The latter method was and is my preferred method of choice. To me it makes the most sense to just reach out for love. But when we feel empty and gross and unlovable, we can reach too hard and too far and too fast, push others away, and feel even worse. Or, if self-medication is your faux-healing style, you might drink or drug or eat yourself into oblivion, leading to again…feeling much worse.
THERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO DEAL WITH THE PAIN, AND IT ACTUALLY MUST INVOLVE ANOTHER PERSON
Two Clouds, Montana 2006 by Jay Wesler
I have been going to therapy for years. My father put my twin sister and I into therapy when we were five years old (we had some family trauma going on at the time). At that age, therapy was totally traumatic in and of itself and all it did was make me feel like something was really wrong.
I knew something was really wrong, but I also knew that this woman (I remember her name was Nancy and she was really nice) was not really going to be able to actually help in terms of literally and physically relieving me of my actual trauma. And that is all I really wanted.
In a way it made me feel lonelier and more frightened, because I knew I was safe in that room. But I also knew I couldn’t stay in that room forever. And being there just compounded my feelings of sadness and fear, knowing that I couldn’t just go home with kind Nancy. I felt frustrated being taunted by the refuge of all that was Nancy. Why show me what I can’t have right now? It simply hurt too much to touch that level of kindness and love amidst all of the fear I was experiencing. Better to just forget that kind of love is even possible and work on simply trying to survive the storm.
When you’re stuck in a storm, vulnerability keeps you exposed and shields keep you protected. I just couldn’t afford to feel the softness of love from someone who couldn’t save me, and I preferred to put my energy into building barriers of protection. Therefore, my therapy stint with Nancy was quite brief.
THERAPY IN COLLEGE
In college, I returned to therapy, this time with a very different agenda. I no longer needed assistance with trauma, as I had survived my childhood and was now attempting to manage my life as a completely broken, insecure, neurotic, and miserable twenty-year-old. This time around, what I really needed from a therapist was a strategic method to help me obtain a boyfriend.
For some reason, I had it in my mind that finding a boyfriend would relieve me of all of my painful symptoms of misery, angst, and self-hate. It seemed like a fairly logical and straightforward solution at the time. Unfortunately, I had this knack for repelling men. I was really, really good at it. They would come close, intrigued by my looks and quirk and outward awesomeness, but would quickly scatter after a short, short, short, time spent with me. Many times, a boy would bolt after one conversation.
This obviously troubled me greatly. And so I set out on a mission to untie the knots of my childhood, knowing my repellent nature was most likely caused by my deep-seated childhood issues. Once I could sort through my shit, find that repellent on/off switch, I could then finally land a male companion who loved me more than anything in the world, who could save me from myself, and who could essentially “make me happy.”
Freshman year of college, 1998/99. I loved that coat.
YOUNG, DYSFUNCTIONAL LOVE
This method worked, kind of. After a few stints with several therapists, I did “land” a boyfriend. He had lots of love to give and absolutely tried to save me from myself. This worked really well for the both of us in some ways. I finally had someone tending to my needy emotions, refusing to leave me. And he had someone distracting him from his own issues. He was really comfortable playing the role of savior, allowing me to remain in the glamorous role of “crazy broken girlfriend.”
I suppose after several years of that, my role began to feel more and more inaccurate and unnecessary. And my attempts at breaking out of that role with him by my side didn’t gel very smoothly. There were things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see and ways in which I wanted to grow. And he just wanted to stay put.
The relationship ultimately ended and I left with a newfound mission to find myself and live a life of passion and love. I was devastated by the loss, but it was a move that we both needed to make for ourselves.
[During this period, I saw a really lovely therapist who began to gently present the idea to me that this relationship might not be serving me. I immediately stopped seeing her.]
Six months after the break-up, I found a job in New York City and moved to the Big A in the hopes of finding love, and thus, overall life awesomeness. I honestly didn’t really care that I had this kick-ass job at one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. If my life in NYC didn’t include finding and being with my soulmate, then what was the point really?
Boy after boy after boy weaved in and out of my New York Life and shameful disappointments reigned. I wasn’t exactly dating during this period of my life. It was more like I would meet a guy, become instantly obsessed, try not to fuck it up, and then he would inevitably run. Or, if he hung around too long, I would push him away, even though in my mind I had decided that he had rejected me. It was a brutal pattern that I locked myself into and it lasted awhile. I went to therapy for a brief time as well, but felt frustrated by her lack of useful advice and lovingly challenging feedback, so I left.
The GA in NYC, 2007-2011
After four honestly amazing years of fun, drama, excitement, and adventure, I became fairly convinced that I would probably not find my soulmate in New York. I was also longing for nature and home, and was certain that I did not want to live my life as an elderly single spinster in such an urban jungle. In May of 2011 I left the city and returned to Pennsylvania.
TIME TO GO HOME
I found much stability after leaving the city. And for the very first time in my life, I lived alone in my own apartment. I am still in my precious little space and it has been a beautiful, cathartic, and profoundly spiritual set of years. My space is so sacred to me, as I have made it so. And I have moved in and out of many growth and healing experiences during this time.
My tribe (aka spiritual friend group) was formed since returning to PA. And I also experienced deep healing and forgiveness with the passing of my mother. I have created countless works of art in this space and have dated several men who still sucked but who stuck around a little longer than usual. And they didn’t suck quite as much as some other guys from my past. Progress.
GIVING THERAPY ANOTHER TRY
Upon returning to PA, I of course continued to search for that “perfect therapist,” since I was still ultimately single and beginning to lose hope. I was looking for that one therapist who could crack the code of my issues and release me from that mysterious thing that had been keeping me alone for most of my life. Whatever that thing was—I actually thought it was just one thing—I was certain that once I found a good therapist, she would zero in on that thing and help me remove it. She would swoop into my life with her therapy wand and cast away all of the mysteriously toxic muck that had been plaguing me for decades, so I could finally learn how to not be such a loser.
A PERSON’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR THERAPIST IS REFLECTIVE OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH EVERYONE ELSE…A MACROCOSM OF THE MICROCOSM
I don’t really understand what is going on in this image, but this is what came up when I Googled “macrocosm of the microcosm” and I think it looks pretty kick ass.
One of the main issues that blocked me from receiving the benefits of therapy was my “I have everything under control” mentality. I definitely believed that I knew exactly how to manage my life. I knew what I was doing, I knew what I needed, and I knew how to go about getting it. And I really didn’t need anyone else’s input. Even so, I would still seek input from everyone, including a therapist, whenever I got frustrated with the shitty results of my strenuous and exhausting efforts. But I would also reject everyone else’s input, usually to their faces. And this kept me in a truly vicious cycle of control. Only when I decided to surrender a huge chunk of that control (I might have even surrendered all of it at one point), did things begin to change.
AT SOME POINT, YOU GOTTA START TO TRUST
During a point in my life when I felt I was at the end of my rope, perhaps just before The Goddess* arrived, I finally decided that whenever I ask for help. Whether that be through prayer, or actual human inquiry, I would listen to whatever was said and take action based on that response.
*The Goddess refers to a profound shift I experienced within, after deciding to snap out of my addictive “find the guy” obsession. During this shift, I created The Goddess Attainable blog and continued on my journey with a me-centric love focus.
This took a great amount of trust in the Universe. I had to trust that my asking was a symbolic gesture, surrendering myself to the Universe. And that whatever came back was exactly what I needed to hear, an answered prayer so to speak. I blindly trusted that the Universe was working through the people in my life, guiding me and informing me. And I felt safe and relieved to finally be taking someone else’s advice besides my own. I was essentially allowing the Universe to guide me and truly trusted that I would not be led astray. My way just wasn’t working anymore and I opened myself up to the world. I surrendered my control and softened my barriers. I let love in. And it wasn’t scary. It was great and it was easy.
FINALLY, SOME SUCCESS WITH THERAPY
When I met my current therapist, I thought she was cool enough. Although, I wasn’t always certain that she “got me.” Our senses of humor were off and I don’t know if she was always able to keep up with my emotional analyses. At a certain point, I grew tired of her feedback, or style, or whatever thing that I always deemed incorrect about this or that therapist. And I decided I was going to drop her.
I was seeing another medical advisor at the time, and I casually let her know that I was going to move on from this therapist. I trusted this medical advisor for the most part and was always impressed by her sharp and profound insight. To my surprise, she urged me to maintain this relationship with my current therapist. And she suggested I confront her about some things that might not be working for me. Dread. Never in a million years did I ever want to tell a therapist (or anyone else I was in a relationship with) my actual feelings about the relationship. Best to just leave and find someone better (this pattern for me has been absurdly repetitive in all of my relationships throughout my entire life).
I would have rather done anything than confront my therapist and try to like, work things out. I recall this trusted medical advisor kept using the word “illuminating.” She said this could be an illuminating opportunity for me. And she was absolutely correct.
Photograph by © Libby Saylor
Somewhere along the line, I learned something monumental about the point of therapy and it has made all the difference.
A GOOD THERAPIST’S MAIN AGENDA IS TO SIMPLY ACT AS A STEADFAST SOURCE OF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
My therapist is a person like everyone else. I’m not sure I like her and I honestly have no idea if she likes me. But I do know she loves me. I know that whatever I think or feel or say, no matter what, it’s okay with her. She laughs at my jokes and she roots for me. And I never before saw the value in that. I never made the connection that a person simply loving me could heal me and ready me for more love.
My biggest mistake in all of my years of therapy was putting my therapist on a pedestal and knocking her off when too much time had passed with me remaining single. That was literally how I judged all therapists. Honestly, I was so broken for so many years, I just didn’t even really imagine that unconditional love was even possible. Of course, my family members love me and I have always felt supported. But even family members have agendas and biased angles jutting into their streams of love. I know my love for them is biased and full of agendas most of the time. It’s kind of normal and it takes a lot of work to love someone unconditionally. But this is literally a therapist’s job. And most of them are actually pretty good at it.
When I look back on all of my therapists, every single one of them (with the exception of “The Yawner” who always talked to me about her eating disorder), was so kind, so gentle, so interested in me, and so available. Perhaps, for so many years, I simply wasn’t ready to let that amount of love in. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for the The Return of Nancy, even in my adult life. Only when I truly decided to surrender it all and open myself up to guidance and assistance, did I actually realize the transformative healing power of unconditional love.
THE KEY TO THERAPY
That’s it folks. That’s all there is to it. Pretty simple actually. Go into a room with a person for about fifty minutes and just let them love you. And then go back to that same person next week, and let them love you some more. And keep that going until something changes. It will, if you let it. I wish you luck with this. It’s a beautiful thing and completely worth the co-pay.
Detail from ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo
Did you enjoy this article? What has your experience been with therapy? Have you had positive or negative experiences with therapy? And do you still find there is a stigma about therapy?