8 Life-Changing Lessons I Learned From Therapy

1. There is a difference between boundaries and walls.

Boundaries are a healthy and necessary part of life. They’re meant to give others guidelines on behavior we are and are not okay with.

Setting boundaries will leave us happier in life, and it makes our relationships more fulfilling. It’s scary in the beginning because we might wonder if the person we’re setting boundaries with will be angry with us or if they’ll be hurt. The people who are genuinely there for us will understand where we’re coming from and respect the boundaries we’ve set.

The people who may be adding toxicity to our lives will try to make us feel guilty for setting and enforcing boundaries. Boundaries are meant to let good things in and keep bad things out.

Walls are built as a response to trauma. When we build walls, we do it with the intention of protecting ourselves from experiencing that trauma again, but it ends up hurting us in the end.

Walls keep everyone and everything out. They also keep us in. They prevent growth and processing. Once a trauma is processed, it becomes easier to cope with. Building a wall around a traumatic experience doesn’t allow for the time and space needed to deal with the emotions of the experience. The longer the wall stays up, the harder it is to break down.

2. Vulnerability is not a weakness.

Vulnerability is scary because it means opening ourselves up to something that could end up hurting us. If we refuse to be vulnerable for fear of the things that could go wrong, we also prevent ourselves from potentially enjoying deeper connections and experiences.

When we are vulnerable, our lives are enriched by not only the relationships that flourish because of the vulnerability, but also by the knowledge that we are strong enough to allow vulnerability.

Even when vulnerability does lead to hurt, there is often something to be gained or a lesson to be learned from the experience. Without opening ourselves up, we never grow and learn.

When we deny vulnerability, we also rob the people who love us of the opportunity to support us. When we refuse to let people in when we’re experiencing big feelings, we are essentially telling them that we don’t trust them enough to handle our feelings with care.

It’s okay to feel however we’re feeling, and it’s okay to express those feelings to people we trust and who love us.

3. We can’t love people into loving themselves.

It’s so hard when we see people’s potential and all of their good qualities but they don’t see those things in themselves. We might wish we could make the people we love see themselves through our eyes because then they would know how valuable and worthy of love they are.

Sometimes it seems like if we love people enough, then they’ll learn to love themselves in the same way. Sadly, that is very rarely the case.

When a person is stuck in a destructive mindset, no amount of extrinsic love can pull them out of it. The only way for people to learn to love themselves is for them to work through the trauma and lies that have convinced them of their unworthiness. It’s not until they face these things head on that they will find an intrinsic love for themselves. And until they discover that self-love, it will be impossible for them to believe that anyone else could love them with no ulterior motive.

4. Regardless of how our trauma might compare to other people’s, it is all valid.

The first lesson here is that we don’t need to compare ourselves to other people. Ever. Everyone is figuring out life in the best way they know how. It’s unfair to compare people and situations when we’re all working with different backgrounds and tools.

Sometimes when we hear about someone who has been through a horrific experience, we might think our own negative experiences are trite in comparison. Maybe we think we shouldn’t be complaining about the things that have hurt us when so many other people are suffering at such a greater degree.

It doesn’t matter how our trauma compares to anyone else’s. If it hurt us, if it continues affecting our lives, it matters, and it’s valid.

When we accept the validity of our own trauma, we give ourselves the space to work through it, to understand it, and to learn how to grow around it.

5. Don’t spend too much time focusing on the bad feelings, but don’t disregard them either.

“Fake it until you make it” is something many of us have heard at some point in our lives. We’re made to believe that if we’re unhappy or upset, we should pretend the feeling isn’t there until it just magically disappears. We’re made to believe that leaning into feelings instead of brushing them off is a bad thing.

If we don’t let ourselves feel whatever we’re feeling, good or bad, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to understand the emotion and whatever led us to feeling that way.

Emotions often come in waves. If we let them wash over us when the wave swells, then we’ll be ready to continue swimming when the swell subsides. Conversely, if we fight the swell of emotion, we’ll be too exhausted to continue swimming when we come out on the other side.

We shouldn’t spend an unhealthy amount of time dwelling on these feelings, but we shouldn’t disregard or fight them. If we allow ourselves to live in the feelings while they’re overtaking us, then we’ll be able to process them and move through them.

6. The results we get are based on the work we put in.

As with many things in life, the results of therapy are directly proportionate to the work we put in. It isn’t enough to go to a session, tell our therapists what’s going on, listen to what they have to say, then go home and not think about it until the next session. That would be like going to school, sitting in class, listening to the teacher but not taking notes or studying, then expecting to do well on the exam.

If we actively practice the strategies and healthy coping skills our therapists help us develop in our everyday lives, the positive results will be exponentially greater than if we are passive participants.

7. Love is unconditional; relationships are not.

This is a tough one. As humans, we associate love with relationships. Not just romantic love, but that deep affection we feel for family and friends. We can let our love for the people in our lives be unconditional, but we do not have to keep relationships intact if they’re unhealthy.

Love, real love, should be boundless.

Relationships should not be boundless; they should be built on a foundation of trust and boundaries. When the people we enter into relationships with can’t or won’t respect our boundaries and conditions, we can continue loving them, but we can do so from afar.

8. Grief is not a linear process with a clear beginning and end.

The human brain seeks to understand. We look for patterns and processes. Human emotions do not always follow patterns and processes. This is why logic and emotion often battle against each other.

When we experience unpleasant feelings, we may want a timeline for when we may expect them to end.

Grief doesn’t work this way.

Just when we think we’re recovering, we may have days or months where we feel like we’ve regressed in the grieving process. This is not a regression, this is simply grief running its unpredictable course. The more we try to make sense of it, the more twisted it seems. As with other feelings, the best course of action is to simply let the waves overwhelm us with the understanding that it will end, even when we feel like the pain and sadness will be a visceral part of us forever.

As we work our way through the grieving process, we may begin to notice small moments of relief when we feel like we can breathe again. Then the waves will wash over us again. In those brief moments of reprieve, it’s important for us to remind ourselves that we will feel okay again one day.

The 8 Most Helpful Things I’ve Learned In Therapy Thus Far

1. The hardest part is taking the initiative to go to therapy.

I was weighing going to therapy and talking myself out of it. I felt that at times, I would be doing myself a solid by going to therapy – which I was – and other times felt that I was not good enough or that I couldn’t do therapy. The important thing to realize in my journey of whether to go to therapy is that once I was ready, I knew I was ready. You can’t go to therapy unless you’re ready.

At the time, I was comfortable with weighing whether I wanted to go to therapy or not. The real change slowly started when I finally took the leap.

2. Past traumas shaped me but do not define me.

In therapy, you’re going to learn a lot about yourself. Mannerisms, triggers, and habits could all be a product of past traumas.

The important thing to remember is that past traumas — especially things completely out of your control — do not define who you are. What defines you is who you choose to become.

3. It just helps to have someone thinking logically when I’m thinking emotionally.

I’m an emotionally-driven person and I’ve always been that way. So when something happens, good or bad, I react more with emotion than I do logic. With therapy, I’ve been able to talk through things with my therapist, who not only offers advice for those situations, but also helps me see the logic side of the situation.

4. Self-awareness is key. The conscious thoughts can overpower the negative thoughts.

This kind of piggy-backs off of my last point about being emotional versus logical, but it’s quite valid in me managing my mental health. Through therapy, I learned how to be more self-aware of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Because I became self-aware, I was able to notice what was causing my triggers and work from there on how to stop them from happening or diminish the symptoms of my issue. Creating conscious thoughts about your mental health — especially in a time of mental health crisis — is no easy task and requires you to actively learn how to do so so you can better understand what causes triggers for your mental health issues.

5. Being able to talk about “that” freed me.

Until therapy, I didn’t realize how badly I needed to talk about the thing that’s been a weight on my shoulders for years. I feel like there’s one story everyone has that they need to get off of their chest, but they just don’t know how. That was the case with me. I knew there was something that was bugging me for years until I finally had the chance to talk about it and why it made me feel the way it did. I’m gonna tell you now, it felt soooooo good being able to release that weight off of my shoulders. Since I discussed that with my therapist, I’ve literally felt somewhat empowered and free.

6. I wasn’t totally open at first, but that’s okay.

Confidentiality laws, opening up to a stranger, and other housekeeping rules your therapist will tell you is enough to be overwhelming in concern to what you feel safe talking about. Know that you are safe and your therapist is there to help you in the best way possible. Eventually, you’ll feel more comfortable discussing everything that is on your mind. It’s okay if you don’t explain everything just yet.

7. Sometimes it just helps to talk about something that may seem insignificant.

If you’re having an off week because you forgot your keys but you were already out the door or your two dogs work together to wake you up at five in the morning, then you know sometimes some things may just set you off. If you feel like there’s an issue with why something — even small — might be setting you off, it’s okay and actually great to discuss it with your therapist. Something that you might downplay as not that bad might actually be something worth talking about, and it’s better to talk about something small and insignificant than to keep it bottled in.

8. On the contrary, it feels great to discuss when things are going well in your life.

One thing I didn’t really realize about therapy is that it’s not always about discussing heavy, negative situations. You can talk about when things go well in your life, too. It’s supportive and invigorating to let your therapist know what’s going on in your life, good and bad.

I wrote this article not only to share with others what good therapy can do, but also to remind myself how far I’ve come in my mental health journey even in the times it may be difficult. I was super nervous to take the leap at first, and I even thought that my therapist would downplay my issues. That was not the case. My therapist listened each and every time and provided the most helpful tips and tools to help me continue to be mentally healthy. If you’re on the fence about going to therapy yourself, I highly suggest you take the leap like I did.