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Why can't I just heal myself?

Most often, you yourself will have the best understanding of what your challenges are, and why you might not be where you would like to be in life. You probably have an idea of what your bad habits and patterns are, maybe even where they are coming from, and you might even be able to see that life goal of yours, just about to be reached, if you could just tweak this one little detail in your life. So why isn’t it happening? When you understand yourself and your issues better than anyone else. Why can’t you just solve the problem on your own?

We need other people

If it was that easy, you would likely have solved the problem yourself a long time ago. But us humans are social creatures. We need each other, also when it comes to understanding ourselves better. From the moment we are born we are dependent on our caretakers to understand our emotions and help us regulate them and act according to how we feel. Throughout our upbringing, and even as adults, we need contact with others in order to understand and regulate ourselves. Connection with other people is so deeply tied to our survival and how we perceive the world, that it’s considered torture to not have access to social interactions. However, the first close relationship you have with a caregiver is not perfect. Many of us carry some aspect of insecure attachment, meaning that we tend to either regulate by avoiding contact with others or by over-engaging in contact with others. Maybe both, depending on the relationship. Ideally, we feel the best when we can find a balance in connecting with people close to us while still maintaining a space where it feels safe to be alone.

In therapy we build an alliance between therapist and client, that allows us to practice a secure attachment, to hold the discomfort we experience when we become vulnerable in contact with others. To even be able to enter this space and work on how we regulate ourselves, we need to have a relation to someone else.

We see ourselves in a clouded light

You are the person who knows yourself the best, and there will never be anyone who understands what it’s like to be you better than you do. At the same time your perception of yourself is skewed by the stories about yourself that you carry with you. When we speak with others about ourselves and our experiences, the other person becomes a mirror allowing us to see a reflection of ourselves and adjust the cloudy lens according to what is reflected back to us. Is it really true that you never succeed in anything? How come you seem upset when we talk about this specific topic? If your years in school were really that joyful, how come you don’t really remember them?

The mirror that others present to us brings forward the pieces of ourselves that we might not see so clearly. At the same time, it’s important that the person offering us this reflection is conscious of their own self-perception, and that they take care not to project their own stories onto you when offering a helping reflection on your stance in life. When talking to a trained therapist, you will get a more accurate and unbiased reflection, because the therapist is conscious of what reflection they offer you, as well as taking care not to project their private stories onto you.

Our own critic and self-sabotaging

Usually, we are well aware of our own bad habits, our good habits, and what benefits us. But despite that, we can also be our own worst saboteur, because we at some point in life have needed these bad habits and therefore developed them, and that makes them hard to give up on. Maybe you recognize it as a bad habit if you tend to stay in bed all day when your mood is low, instead of reaching out for company or support. Maybe you have had the experience earlier in life that staying in bed kept you out of conflicts at home or bought you enough time to process some difficult emotions. But at this point in life, staying in bed for a long time is not a benefit to you anymore, and yet the habit persists. And this brings out your inner critic telling you that you are lazy or a bad person when you don’t just get up from bed like everyone else.

Often, we don’t even notice when our inner saboteur or critic becomes active and that can make you feel like there’s something wrong with you. When another person acts as a mirror and helps us notice when these two inner voices show up, it becomes easier to separate them from ourselves. When others can help you point out the moment you slip into disruptive habits or become hard with yourself, or when you hit a boundary on the way to get closer to yourself, you also get better at noticing that and actively making a different choice. Your inner saboteur and critic lose control, and you regain the connection to yourself and consciousness in your actions and thoughts.

Therapeutic alliance

Several studies have shown that the actual healing element in psychotherapy is the relationship between client and therapist. When we experience being fully understood and seen by another person and being able to enter our most vulnerable spaces in the comfort of a safe relation, that is when therapy becomes effective. In order to have this kind of relationship with a therapist, also known as a therapeutic alliance, we need trust and safety. Be honest with what you experience in the therapy space, how you feel in relation to your therapist, and you help her or him guide you the best way possible. When you heal and gain closeness with yourself via the safe alliance, you also practice making a secure connection with yourself and other people.

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