Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Do You Censor Yourself in Therapy?

Do you censor what you tell your therapist? It’s very common to filter what you say to acquaintances and co-workers because you are concerned that others will not understand you or like what you say. Some of this self-editing may spill over from our every day lives to our therapy sessions. Are you filtering what you tell your therapist? Have you deliberately lied to your therapist, even if it was a ‘white lie’? Are there areas of yourself that you’ve ‘forgotten’ to mention?
Most people want to present themselves in the best light they can. During individual therapy, you can present yourself any way you like and there is no one from your personal life to tell your therapist otherwise. You choose what to share. Because you want your therapist to like you, the urge to present yourself in the best light possible is strong. People who aren’t ready to be that open and vulnerable may say, ‘I don’t care what others think.’ The reality is that everyone wants to be liked. If we didn’t feel liked by our own therapist, we wouldn’t feel safe enough to discuss anything personal. Ask yourself whether you are censoring in order to have your therapist like you. If so, know that wanting someone to like you is normal and common. It is part of our natural instinct to protect ourselves from perceived harm (even emotional harm) and part of our instinct to keep ourselves in relationships.
If you are hiding parts of yourself that you don’t like or are ashamed of, there may be several reasons. You might do this because you feel these parts of yourself aren’t important to the work you’re doing in therapy. Maybe underneath you are concerned about how your therapist will react. It can be disconcerting not knowing what your therapist will do or say. Fear of your therapist’s reaction might be a tremendous factor in choosing to keep parts of yourself from him/her. Have there been times that his/her reaction seemed dismissive, disinterested, angry, or shaming? Did you feel angry or hurt then? If so, it’s not surprising that you may be censoring yourself to avoid the possibility of that happening again. I have more to say about therapists’ reactions and will write another posting on this subject later.
It is terrifying to consider sharing parts of yourself that you don’t like with a person you desperately want to like you. What if they, too, don’t like those parts of you? This instinct to show only your best side shows up in therapy in a number of ways. There’s a huge pull to present conflicts in your life as being largely the other person’s fault or caused by factors beyond your control. It’s much harder to acknowledge out loud how you’ve contributed to the conflict. Perhaps you haven’t shared something you’ve done that you feel horrible about. You may be concerned that, knowing about your behavior, your therapist will think you are a horrible person. Maybe you’re uncertain whether your therapist will have to report you or notify authorities if they learn about something from your past. Maybe you’re scared your therapist will deem you ‘crazy’ and need to be hospitalized.
Therapists are trained to be empathetic, meaning we seek to understand and feel the emotions our clients feel. Therapists are also trained to have unconditional positive regard for clients, which means that we care for our clients no matter what. These two traits are so important to a good client-therapist relationship that they are deemed necessary for therapy to take place. That is the foundation of the work.
It is very important to tell your therapist that you realize you filter what you say. You can talk about the reasons that you’re censoring yourself without telling your therapist the specific things you are afraid to say. Just the process of talking about your concerns can be very valuable. It is likely that this censoring is impacting your life in other areas too. The censoring can be a subject in and of itself.
As you explore this, it opens you to accepting yourself. The parts of yourself that you don’t like and the behaviors you’ve done in the past are a piece of who you are. We are all human with areas of strength and areas of weakness. It is a huge burden to carry shame about the parts of yourself you don’t like for your entire life. It’s exhausting and sad. But the universe created empathetic therapists. One of the beautiful attributes of your relationship with your therapist is that as you talk more about what you really think and feel and do, and he/she accepts you and still likes you, you come to know that you are okay. You come to know that what you think and feel, your needs and desires, are normal and acceptable. In turn you will understand that you are normal and acceptable - and likeable. That is healing.

1 comment:

silver dollar said...

It's an interesting phenomenon that for most people it's not enough to get what we want if it's less than what we think we deserve or need. And more often than not we base that need, not on any actual specific requirement, but on our sense of self-worth as compared to others'.
This is true of the compensation we receive at work; for many, the materialism we've achieved as compared to our social circle, friends, and neighbors; and, if and how much we are liked by people we respect as compared to all other people similarly liked. As a child many of us wanted to be, if only secretly, the teacher's "favorite". And there's sibling rivalry as a child for our parents' attention and affection. This need to be the "best" or the "favorite" doesn't go away. We want it from our boss, our parents, our best friend, perhaps the owner of our favorite restaurant, (although he says that to every customer), and dare I say, our therapist?
It's difficult to argue with the sentiments in this blog, yet I find myself wanting more. It's not enough for me to know that I'm liked by my therapist if I know that my therapist likes everyone equally. Extrapolating Ms. Keller's argument could justify liking the most despicable people. And that would put me on the same footing. "Likeable." Perhaps if I were less insecure I could more readily embrace this philosophy. Unfortunately, I'm not. Maybe I should talk to my therapist about that!