Thank you for your many supportive comments and accounts of similar experiences in response to my last post. Your empathy and warmth have emboldened me to share yet another new development in my life, one which I would have been deeply ashamed of several years ago but which I now view in very positive terms. A month ago I began psychotherapy for the first time in my life. I am not planning to turn this site into a therapy blog, but I am going to discuss it a little bit and also tell you that being in therapy does not warrant the stigma it so often carries.
Therapy was very much derided in my family when I was growing up. My narcissist father always talked about it as a self-indulgent pastime for weaklings seeking excuses for their shortcomings or hand-holding because they can't cope with life. I internalized these attitudes. I often cringe when I hear "therapy talk" because it sometimes sounds too much like that Saturday Night Live character. (If you're in the U.S. you are probably familiar with that character who used to look in the mirror and say things like, "I'm good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, I like myself!") Along with a number of conservative types, I have tsk-tsked the feel-good Oprah-ization of our culture.
But therapy at its best is not about indulging dependence or weakness or self-absorption or feel-good excuses for bad behavior. Precisely the opposite! I am only a novice, but it seems to me that the alleviation of personal suffering is only one goal of therapy (and certainly not an unworthy one). Therapy fosters a clear-eyed, rational view of reality (as opposed to child-like panic, magical thinking, or self-serving rationalizations to give just a few examples). Therapy encourages independent problem-solving. Therapy reflects such values as maturity and the confrontation of unpleasant truths-- although it does not encourage needless self-recrimination at the expense of problem solving. Sure, I am imagine that numerous self-serving therapists and manipulative clients have abused the therapeutic process. But therapy, when conducted the way it is supposed to be, is designed to aid people in becoming happier, more effective, and more responsible. Nothin' wrong with that.
I first became more open-minded about therapy a few years ago when a close friend insisted that I read a book called Worry: Hope and Help for a Common Condition by Edward Hallowell. The book contained a very simple sentence that made me immediately start crying. It was something like: "People who worry suffer." It was such a revelation! I was suffering. And suffering needlessly. There are all sorts of measures that can relieve excessive worry, like proper nutrition, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, relaxation exercises, rational self-talk, therapy, and medication. I prefer the idea of solving my own problems without assistance but my rational side has to admit that it is stupid and pig-headed to dismiss the idea of therapy for that reason. After all, why is it superior to solve problems without assistance than with assistance?
Nonetheless, I resisted the idea of therapy for a long time and, after a sunny 2005, I felt that I had had some success dealing with things on my own. But in 2006. I kept hitting a brick wall in my efforts to talk myself out of my constant fearfulness. So I finally gave in and about six weeks ago started seeing a very kind and perceptive psychologist.
It was he who led me to the important discovery, recounted in my last post, that I am the child of a narcissist. However, consistent with what I said about above about taking responsibility, it must be stressed that this realization is not intended to be an excuse for my own shortcomings. I am an adult and therefore wholly responsible for my own choices and actions. I nonetheless think it is accurate to view myself as a "victim" of my father's behavior. Despite the bleatings of those who decry the "victim culture," there is nothing wrong with viewing oneself as a victim if one has been a victim. Accurately acknowledging victimhood is not the same thing as relieving the victim of all accountability for his or her life going forward. Understanding what was done to me and how it has affected me are necessary steps towards achieving the goals of therapy.
My diagnoses are Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. (No, I am not like the stereotype of the wild-eyed Vietnam veteran who has flashbacks wherein he believes that he is reliving past dangerous situations. Flashbacks are a real symptom of PTSD for some people. I do not have flashbacks, but I do have lots nightmares of past events and intrusive daytime memories.) Not so long ago, I would have been horrified at having a "diagnosis," but I think I am over that. These labels merely describe something that I am actually experiencing. And I have also come to realize that having a mental health diagnosis does not mean that one is irrational (although one may have irrational thoughts about certain areas of one's life), or incapable of functioning responsibly, or unable to make decisions for oneself or others.
I assume that if I am ever up for a judgeship or if I apply for a law license in another state, I will likely have to disclose these diagnoses. It doesn't matter though because I think my health and happiness and effectiveness across the board are more important. And I am honestly at the point where I think I could handle publicly admitting this under my own name if I had to.
Anyhoo, that's the long and the longer of it. This blog will soon return to its regularly scheduled programming of feminism, feminism, and more feminism. Cheers!