What I’ve Learned in Therapy: The Complete List


Someone once posed the question on the forum, what are the most important things you’ve learned in therapy? I’ve actually written expanded posts on some of my answers, but thought it might be useful to post my whole list here. I’ve put links a the end for the previous expanded posts.

The most difficult thing to explain about healing in therapy is that it isn’t about “knowing” it’s about experiencing being with another person. So much of what I talk about below totally gonzo confused me when I first learned it. I used to tell BN that he was talking in Russian. But staying with my feelings and continuing to express them through the confusion is how I learned it. And I must give credit again to BN, who is really an incredibly gifted, compassionate man doing exactly what he should be. So much of my “wisdom” is actually my ability to accurately quote him. 🙂

So the full list is below. If there’s a particular item in the list you would want me to expand upon, please feel free to leave a note in the comments.

What I Have Learned in Therapy

Healing is possible.

Healing happens so slowly that it is only in looking back over long distances can we see how far we have come.

I don’t need to be scared of my feelings or overwhelmed by them. I learned this by watching BN not be overwhelmed by them.

My feelings aren’t always a good indicator of reality. I needed to learn to put some room between my feelings and myself so I could perceive what was really going on instead of what I believed was going on. My old template was pretty faulty. Reasonable when it was formed, but faulty in the long-term.

Seek first to understand than to be understood.

It’s ok for it to be about your needs.

It’s ok to make it about someone else’s needs as long as it’s a choice not an imperative.

There is more than one interpretation for a set of facts. Sometimes you have to ask.

You have to stop protecting yourself to experience being protected.

It’s human to be vulnerable and long for love, connection, protection and safety. Love, connection, protection and safety are our birthright which we deserve, but sadly, so often don’t get. But there’s nothing wrong, and so much right, with longing for them.

All of me is acceptable, some of it’s not so pretty, some of it I don’t like, but it’s all human.

I wasn’t responsible for the abuse and I didn’t deserve any of it.

There was nothing inherently wrong with me, I just didn’t get what I needed and endured things I shouldn’t have had to.

Healing is not reaching a place of perfect peace and safety. It’s knowing that you can remain safe and be at peace no matter what you run into. That you’ll come out the other side and still be ok.

A surprisingly large part of dealing with the difficulties of life is knowing you can.

Reaching out to another person when you need help is a sign of strength not a weakness.

You need to feel safe enough to be scared.

It gets a LOT harder before it gets better.

Anger and violence are two different things.

Anger is just another emotion.

We can only know ourselves in relationship. If the relationship isn’t a good one, we learn to believe lies about yourselves. If it’s a good one, we can learn to love ourselves. BN is a good mirror.

The only way to heal some of the losses is to mourn them. I can endure the losses which can’t be corrected and I can get what I need to go on.

Expressing something you want that you can’t have and being understood, far from being futile, is incredibly healing.

There is nothing wrong with having needs.

Hearing a no doesn’t mean you did something wrong.

Other people’s boundaries are just that, theirs, and say more about them than they do about me.

I need to be as patient, accepting and gentle of my own shortcomings as of other people’s. I need to be patient, accepting and gentle of other people’s shortcomings. 🙂

There is a far side to despair.

Grief is not endless, it just feels like it.

Grief is despair with hope. That’s why it heals.

Being alone wasn’t the best I could do or the best  I could hope for. I am capable of intimacy. Being known doesn’t mean being left.

That mistakes are just that, mistakes, and can be learned from.

I don’t need to know what’s over the next hill before going over it. I can trust in my ability to handle whatever it is. That’s actually part of the adventure.

Pain isn’t part of love, pain is a part of life and love is the answer to pain.

All human beings must be dependent on another human being to learn to be independent; you’re supposed to do it when you’re a child but can do it as an adult.

Therapy is NOT for wusses; its messy, scary, chaotic, confusing, difficult and not for the faint of heart.

For reasons beyond my understanding, having someone witness your pain and stay with you through it is incredibly powerful and healing. Going through your own pain teaches you to stay with others through their pain. This makes it worth going through.

We never stop needing other people.

We’re not supposed to be worried about, or even be aware of the attachment bond. It should be the background which allows us to do what we need to. The point isn’t in saying goodbye, it’s in getting what we need, to do what we need to do.

Loving someone shouldn’t be scary.

Connection doesn’t end because of separation.

Telling someone how you feel is not the same as telling them what you want them to do (or demanding they do something about your feeling).

Feelings are, more often than not, irrational. Just because they don’t make sense, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be expressed.

Therapeutic boundaries are the most frustrating, painful, and crazy making things in the world; they are also utterly necessary to the work.

We are all capable of flight.

What I Learned in Therapy Lesson 1

What I Learned in Therapy Lesson 2

What I Learned in Therapy Lesson 3 – The Goal of Healing

What I Learned in Therapy Lesson 4 – It wasn’t my fault

What I learned in therapy Lesson 5 – The relationship of love and pain

 

  1. Tessa
    January 11, 2012 at 6:57 am

    I have always wondered, what it was I wanted from therapy, and your ‘what you’ve learned list’ has just become my wanted list! Thanks

    Like

    • January 11, 2012 at 10:55 pm

      Hi Tessa,
      What a great way to look at the list! I am so glad that it’s proving to be helpful to you. That was a wonderful thing to read.:)

      AG

      Like

  2. January 11, 2012 at 7:22 am

    This is an amazing list, thank you for it. One of ones that I struggle with is ‘Feelings are more often than not, irrational. Just because they don’t make sense, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be expressed’

    That is a tough one for me.

    Like

    • January 11, 2012 at 10:57 pm

      Normal,
      Thanks for commenting. I have to agree with you, it was a tough one for me also. I fought against my feelings, and I fought against having them. They especially bothered me when they didn’t make sense. It might take a little time, but I’ll do a post and discuss that one in a lot more depth and try to share how I learned it (although mostly it was through the BN being patient enough to tell me over and over that emotions didn’t have to make sense and that he wanted to hear them anyway.)

      AG

      Like

  3. Dragonfly
    January 11, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Thats one hellova list from one hellova gal! 😀
    ‘Grief is despair with hope. That’s why it heals’, i love that. xx

    Like

    • January 11, 2012 at 10:58 pm

      That was one helluva comment from one helluva gal! 🙂 Thank you so very much for picking that one Dragonfly, that was one of my few originals (versus being a quote from the BN). I feel very cool right now. 🙂

      love, AG

      Like

  4. January 11, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    “My feelings aren’t always a good indicator of reality. I needed to learn to put some room between my feelings and myself so I could perceive what was really going on instead of what I believed was going on. My old template was pretty faulty. Reasonable when it was formed, but faulty in the long-term.”

    “Reaching out to another person when you need help is a sign of strength not a weakness.”

    “You need to feel safe enough to be scared.”

    “We can only know ourselves in relationship. If the relationship isn’t a good one, we learn to believe lies about yourselves. If it’s a good one, we can learn to love ourselves.”

    Mind boggling revelations AG…. I’m in the midst of battling all four at once and WOW was this post timely…. I so appreciate you sharing your wisdom with the rest of us! Gives me hope that the agonizing pain I’m muddling through will be worth it in the end.

    Like

    • January 11, 2012 at 11:02 pm

      Hi R2G,
      I’m so glad my timing was good. I’m actually a little surprised at the reception this post is getting, but hearing from you is making be glad I put it up. I know the pain gets so bad that it can be hard to believe it’s worth battling through it. I also understand how difficult it can be to believe these (I really did believe that BN was speaking Russian at times, I was so far from understanding what the hell he was saying!). Your perserverance is admirable, it takes a lot of strength and courage to keep going in the face of the pain, but I want to assure you that you can heal, you will heal, and I believe that in looking back, you’ll think its worth it. (If you don’t, I say you track me down and beat the stuffing out of me. That way, you’ll get some satisfaction out of it either way. :))

      love, AG

      Like

  5. True North
    January 11, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    Great list AG.
    “Hearing a no does not mean that you have done something wrong”… I’m still working on that one. Hearing NO from T is the scariest word ever and makes me want to flee for my life.

    Both you and the BN are very wise.

    Like

    • January 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm

      TN,
      Since you had front row seats while I was learning that one, I know you remember the panics and meltdowns when I heard no from my T. Let us never forget the “creepy” incident. 🙂 It really is scary but you’ll get it. And always remember that if your T can tell you no, then you know you can trust his yes’s; if he is capable of saying no to you, then what he does offer is freely given and can be trusted. You’ll get there!

      love, AG

      Like

  6. Little Blond Girl
    January 19, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    I think for me – at this stage – the hardest one to comprehend is connection doesn’t end becaues of separation. I think you’ve touched on this before, but this is my current struggle – likely due to my T heading off on vacation today. But it’s always been a struggle for me and yesterday he asked me if I wanted to come twice a week. But of course I want that! However, that too comes with it’s own emotional struggle as well, in the acknowledgment of needing someone else (which according to your list is okay 🙂 but doesn’t feel that way.

    A very profound list with lots to strive for…

    lbg

    Like

    • January 27, 2012 at 6:22 pm

      LBG,
      I took so long to reply (sorry!) that hopefully you’re on the other side of your T’s vacation. 🙂 Hanging on to the connection was a long, slow, uphill battle and was the center of my therapy for a long time. My recent post “i carry your heart” is about this struggle, but I’ll try to write on it more specifically in a future post. And ah yes, the acknowledgement of needing someone; every time I felt that I wanted to run straight over the horizon in the opposite direction. I felt like a yo-yo sometimes. 🙂 There will come a day though, that you will carry that connection with you as a solid presence and I’m hear to tell you not only does that feel amazing, it’s worth all the work.

      AG

      Like

  7. Little Blond Girl
    January 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you. I did read your post “i carry your heart”. It brought tears to my eyes for so many reasons. I emailed your response to my T – and asked him if he thought you were right – that one day I would get that connection as a solid presence – and he said, you were absolutely right! So this is what I will strive for – because “I want that!”. It is really encouraging, when I’m fighting and angry and thinking I’ll never find a place where I can trust, where I deserve connection and safety – to come here and hear from someone who’s been there, who can tell you it’s out there – and it’s worth all the work and pain. It helps more than you probably know.

    Thanks again – lbg

    Like

    • February 4, 2012 at 11:37 am

      (((lbg))) Thanks for the affirmation from your T. 🙂 I am so glad that what I am writing is giving you hope. There was a period of my work with the Boundary Ninja where HIS certainty that I could heal carried me. I know how very important it is to healing to be able to hang on to hope. I am so very glad that you are finding hope here.

      AG

      Like

  8. Starrynights
    March 22, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Several of these really struck a chord within me, namely:
    ~ you have to stop protecting yourself so you can experience being protected (ouch!)
    ~ you need to feel safe enough to be scared (no!?!)

    I think I am actually feeling resistance to these! :/ But I sense the truthfulness of them, as well as the other things you listed. I’m fairly early on in my therapy, but I’m looking forward to one day having my own list. Right now I’m not far enough in to be able to look back and see a lot of progress yet; it’s just hard, and the boundary control hurts. Your list helps me realize that I WILL progress! 🙂

    Thank you,
    Starry

    Like

    • March 22, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      Hi SN,
      It was funny seeing you say ouch about the first one, because that is almost a direct quote of BN, that was said very gently and was actually very comforting. It’s also the beginning of my blanket story, which I have to tell sometime. At a very powerful moment, he brought me a blanket because I was cold and it just had a profound affect on me and was a pivotal point in our work. So that lesson only SOUNDS painful. 🙂

      You have a good ear for BN’s voice as if I had a nickel for everytime the man has said therapy is a place where you feel safe enough to be scared, I’d be retired already. 🙂 This one was also very important for me, because when I got scared, my father got angry (another story for another day) and the reason I actually started to trust BN was because he was so gentle and accepting about my fear. As scary as it can be to feel our fear, I also found it a relief to be able to have my feelings. I’m glad that you are finding hope in my story, because you will heal and have your own list someday.

      AG

      Like

      • Starrynights
        March 24, 2012 at 12:04 am

        I don’t know, I think I’m at a place now where I don’t feel a lot of hope, I feel sadness and grief. I guess today didn’t give me what I wanted.
        Would love to hear your blanket story. I wish I had something to hold on to during the week that can be a tangible reminder of my T, but I don’t see that ever happening. 😦

        Still,

        Like

      • Starrynights
        March 24, 2012 at 12:09 am

        Oops, hit post by accident.
        Was just wrapping up by saying Still – I know I’m so blessed to be on this journey, and I have much to be grateful for.

        Like

        • April 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm

          Starry,
          I spent a very long time in sadness and grief. But that doesn’t mean you’re not feeling any hope. That’s the difference between despair and grief. In both, we are faced with a loss over which we have no control, but when we grieve, it is with the hope that we will heal from the loss and be able to go on. I’ve felt both and vastly prefer grief, although my real preference would be neither. But as there is no way to avoid grief this side of the grave, I think I’m stuck. 🙂

          AG

          Like

  9. graceoverflowing
    December 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Being alone wasn’t the best I could do or the best I could hope for. I am capable of intimacy. Being known doesn’t mean being left. – Wow. Talk about getting directly to the heart of my fears.

    There was nothing inherently wrong with me, I just didn’t get what I needed and endured things I shouldn’t have had to.

    You need to feel safe enough to be scared.

    You have to stop protecting yourself to experience being protected.

    It seems like so many of these intertwine with each other, without seeing the beginning or end of each. It does give us hope that we can learn these things one day. Thank you.

    Like

  10. anne
    January 21, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks so much for your posts, I was thinking my psychologist had given up on me after i sent him an email, we discussed my feelings of me thinking people get tired me, I don’t overdo emails etc i try keep my boundaries as much as possible the hours i send anything and days etc but it is normally yhe day after a session, i hit a wobbly and try clarify the things ive said, anyway i sent one on Tuesday and it’s now Thursday evening and no response. I know I’m not the only person on the planet and others have worse issues then me and he has his own life, so im trying not to be self centred, but it’s driving me insane, I feel like I’ve maybe offended him in some way, or he’s had enough of me and wants to bail. Or he knows how sort of how im feeling because of our last session
    And is seeing my response, I have another session in a week but i almost feel like cancelling cause i just can’t take the feeling, if someone who i pay is sick of me after a handful of sessions then I really must be a lost cause.
    Anyway thanks for your post maybe it’s what you have been saying and he’s seeing my response. Thanks

    Like

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