Before we begin, let’s clear up some facts.
I’m not a therapist. I’ve never even done therapy on my own. A few years ago, when I was at my lowest and would benefit from therapy, I didn’t know it was an option.
Now that I know how wonderful therapy can be, I’m at a point in life where I don’t think I need it. I listen to my gut a lot and know that when the time is right to start therapy, my gut will tell me to.
However, even though I have no real experience with therapy, I have delved into this topic. I have read tons and tons of articles on psychotherapy in an attempt to understand my mind better. Even in medical school, the subject that really draws my attention is psychiatry.
And among the many lessons I’ve learned so far about therapy, one is that the end point of therapy may be that you don’t need a therapist to give you therapy to become, in the truest sense of the word, your own therapist.
This is what I’m trying to do with my life. To that end, I want to discuss four psychological skills that might help you go down this road as well. Let’s dive.
Here are 4 psychological skills that will allow you to become your own therapist:
1. Learn to reject your first thought about stressful situations
Since the feeling is the first
who pays attention
to the syntax of things
I will never kiss you at all
This is an excerpt from one of my favorite poems “Since feeling is first” by EE Cummings. The gist of this excerpt is that we view the world firsthand through a clouded lens of emotion and feeling.
By this, Cummings means that when a man sees a beautiful girl, he feels emotion before anything else. After that, other voices in his head may convince him not to ask the girl voices of reason and logic that may say that getting into a relationship is not a priority at the time.
However, Cummings argues that a man really should ask the girl out because any amount of logic, reason, and maturity will pale in comparison to the sheer joy of a first kiss.
It’s really a beautiful poem. You should check it out. However, what catches my attention here is that Cummings was perfect when he argues that we have emotions before anything else.
And that is precisely why we should learn to reject our first thoughts. Our first thought in response to any situation is infused with emotion and in line with the biases we have in our lives.
- As we think about a fight we recently had, we may think we are not guilty, but that thought may be rooted in the “I can never be wrong” bias that is trying to protect our egos in the short term, but is actually disastrous in the long term.
- While contemplating a career change, your first thought must invariably be rooted in fear that it may delay or even prevent us from pulling the plug.
First thoughts rarely carry the credibility that could justify decisions based on them. Yet, many of us consider it the last word. We never question its credibility. It’s because we’ve never been taught to foster a basic skepticism of our own mind which is often, notoriously, the biggest liar of our lives.
This is why it is necessary for you to learn to reject your first thought about situations. Question its credibility. Strip it of its power by asking yourself a million introspective questions. Try to eliminate emotion and neutralize prejudices with equal skepticism. Always remember, your mind lies to you.
When you dismiss your first thought and force yourself to think without emotions driving the thought process, you are more likely to find the truth about situations. And isn’t truth the essence of therapy?
2. Taking responsibility even when you think you are not responsible
I think most people misunderstand the word responsibility. For example, are you responsible if you lose both hands in a train accident? Certainly not, right? After all, you weren’t the train driver.
However, when we think about what responsibility really means, a different perspective opens up before us.
The word is simply a sum of two words. “Responsibility = Response + Capacity”. Which means having the ability to respond.
Take the story of Ibrahim Hamadtou. He’s the one who actually lost both of his hands in a train accident when he was young. What do you think he did? Did he deny responsibility and blame his luck for the bad luck he suffered? No. He took responsibility.
He grew up to be a professional table tennis player and represented his country at the Paralympics. Yes, he plays ping pong even though he has no hands. As? He holds the racket in his mouth.
Therapy is about healing yourself. It’s about being self-reliant and finding your own peace of mind. But this cannot happen if you avoid responsibility.
Even in situations where the people around you are clearly to blame, learn to take responsibility. By doing this, you convey to yourself that YOU retain the ability to respond. Yes, you can’t control people’s actions and you can’t control every little thing that happens to you. But you always retain the ability to choose how to respond.
- When people around you are cynical, bitter, and negative, you can choose not to let their negativity affect you.
- When people around you wrong you, instead of anger and vengeance, you can choose to be empathetic by understanding that no happy person ever wrongs others. And maybe if they’ve wronged you, it’s because they’re hurting themselves.
Understanding this does not mean turning a blind eye to people’s actions. No. It just means that sooner or later you have to realize that the only person you have total control over is you.
3. Trace your character traits to their roots
Here’s a blunt question for you: How did your parents screw you up? YES. I’m not asking whether they screwed you up or not. I’m asking how they relied on the certainty that they actually screwed you up.
As we grow older, we realize that our parents aren’t the perfect people we thought they were. There comes a point where we take them off the pedestal we put them on in our childhood when we realize that they are just human beings capable of making mistakes just like the rest of us.
You see, for the first (roughly) 18 years of our lives we were locked up in an institution we call home with overseers we call parents. In these formative years, it is natural for some gaps to creep into our path to emotional maturity as well as some scars.
And something particularly creepy, sinister, or illegal doesn’t need to have happened to us in our childhood for those events to scare us. No. A seemingly normal or mundane event like a loud argument between our parents could be enough to micro-trauma us in our childhood due to our vulnerable and fragile emotional selves.
Thus, it is quite probable that our need for therapy in our adult life may have its origins in our childhood. And therefore, it’s a good idea to try to trace our quirks back to their roots.
For example, I am an overly independent individual. I don’t like depending on people or expecting much from them. This is because as a child I expected a lot from people and was therefore very disappointed. That disappointment was partly due to my high expectations and partly due to the failure of people to meet even my modest expectations.
Either way, I didn’t like being disappointed. So unknowingly, as defense mechanisms often emerge, I became fiercely independent. This is great at times, but it also proves to be a hindrance to my relationships growing due to my lack of courage to be vulnerable.
Now that I know why I am who I am, I can try to work on some of the traits that may become obstacles in my life. But that only happened because I took the trouble to trace the roots of my traits.
This is why I try to do this exercise often not only with myself, but with others as well. Because, A, it’s good practice. EB, it helps me understand why people are who they are by looking at the cores of their emotional assemblies which helps me empathize with them, instead of just judging them by looking at the surface.
4. Get out of your own life
The reason a therapist is able to help you is that they are knowledgeable and, at the same time, able to look at your life from the outside. This means that their perspective on your life will be free from prejudices, emotional obstacles and prejudices.
However, the downside here is that while the therapist may be able to understand your major emotional structure, they will be perpetually ignorant of the minor subtleties of your emotional complex. This is because no matter how knowledgeable they are, they are not the ones living your life.
You, on the other hand, are privy to all your emotional subtleties. You know your desires, insecurities and fears better than anyone. However, the disadvantage in your case is that you are plagued by prejudices, emotions and prejudices. Which is what’s stopping you from helping yourself.
But think about it if you are able to look at your life from the outside won’t you be able to help yourself better than a therapist given the fact that you know yourself like no therapist ever can? This, of course, is much easier said than done. Being able to look objectively at your life means working on many things
- It means learning to be skeptical of what you believe so you can neutralize the millions of prejudices you harbor.
- It means being able to move from prejudices to post-judgments. Which essentially means forming opinions after examining the facts, not before.
- And it means trying to reject your emotionally infused thoughts and instead relying on objective reasoning to find the truth and make decisions accordingly.
If you are able to do this, you will have a bird’s eye view of your life and understand yourself better than ever. Of course, this won’t happen overnight. What I’m suggesting is that you start working on it today and eventually, over the years, you’ll be able to walk out of your life whenever the need arises.
By writing this article, my attempt is to help you improve your life assessment and healing. However, this article is in no way a substitute for an acute need for therapy. In times like these, seeking help from a professional might be the best step to take.
However, we must also keep in mind that since it is our life and we must live it 24/7, it is also necessary that we learn to heal ourselves properly. Here are 4 principles that could help you do the same:
- Learn to reject your first thoughts. They are often imbued with emotion and are often not true.
- Take responsibility even when you feel you are not really responsible.
- Look for the origins of your unique traits.
- Go out of your life minimizing if not eliminating the influence of emotions, prejudices and preconceptions on your thought process.
Akshad Singi, MD has been featured in Better Humans, Mind Cafe and others.
This article was originally published on Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.
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