One of the things that often happen, when people come in for therapy, is that they almost apologize for their feelings or experiences, as though I might be offended, upset or shocked at what I’m hearing. Almost everyone who cries in my office says, “I’m sorry” as they reach for the tissues. We seem to have a universal shame at showing our distress and potentially upsetting someone else. The irony is that we all feel sad sometimes, we all cry, we all complain, we all go through periods of frustration and despair. Most of us feel compassion when we recognize those feelings in someone else.
A subtle side effect of our reluctance to be honest about our own emotions is that it isolates us from other people. When we are protecting our own wounds we sometimes project them onto others or blame them for our feelings. We can feel paranoid and suspicious. We can feel afraid that we won’t be loved or accepted if we are known fully. We can pull back from emotional closeness and intimacy, without even being aware than we are doing so. We can also give the impression that we’ve got it all together, when really we’re just as “human” as everyone else.
As social beings we tend to look to others for information about how we are doing in all areas of our lives. We look at each other’s possessions, relationships, careers, education, children, physical characteristics, housekeeping, happiness and even health to give us ideas about how well we are doing. Unfortunately, this leads us to make some pretty false assumptions about other people and about ourselves.
Most of us have had the experience of thinking another couple is so much more connected than we are only to be surprised when they “suddenly” break up or one of them has an affair. This type of experience happens in all sorts of areas. We assume that other people have it better than we do or that they are coping better than we are. New parents often think they are the only ones feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, exhausted and not particularly happy. They don’t realize that most new parents feel this way some of the time. Wouldn’t it be nicer if we knew we are normal when we have these kinds of feelings? If you, like many of us, are ashamed of your messy house, your weight, your sex life, your education, your relationship happiness, your job performance, your kids’ diets or behavior or a whole host of other things, think again. There is no perfection out there. We are all just bumbling along doing the best we can.
Let’s make a pact. I won’t judge you if you won’t judge me. We’ll both accept each other’s strengths, weaknesses and limitations and understand that life is a process not a destination. We will stop hiding who we really are and start celebrating that we have a lot in common.
I believe that most people have problems and heartaches and that from time to time things don’t go very well. I think if we worried less about being judged and were more open about our struggles everybody would feel better. Wouldn’t it be nice to know you’re normal?
Individual, couple and family therapist