After Riley’s death I found myself sitting in a therapist’s office.

It’d been years since I’d seen a therapist, but I wasn’t shy to go. I’ve found it useful at different times in my life. I knew I needed some help and so I found some.

Just before my first visit, as luck would have it, my grief transformed. We’d been to Yosemite, a blue orb appeared on a photo I’d taken and when we returned my grief had changed, was less intense. You’ll find a piece on that experience of grief transitioning in a post I wrote in February.

But there I was in the therapist’s office so I decided to use it to prepare for an upcoming visit to my hometown.Because I learned in my last go at therapy (some 15 years ago) that being prepared for a visit “home” was a good thing.

I have a super-toxic family. Damaged in ways that I’ve dissected over my entire life. One big thing therapy has done for me over the years is helped me process it and my role in it. And also helped me take radical responsibility when I needed to.

Therapy yes, analysis? Not this time

It’s not productive at this stage of life to recline on an analyst’s couch for years digging deep into my psyche. No, I want to work the issues efficiently. That’s not to say that I didn’t spend years in therapy because I did. There was a lot to unpack.  But I usually make a deal with my therapist that if I don’t “get it” in a certain period of time, I want them to clue me in. I do not want to spend lifetime waiting for that epiphany.

My current therapist and I have conversations. Discussions. It’s not a usual style of therapy but it’s one that works for meat this stage of my development. She asks questions. She’ll give an opinion if asked and not say “what do YOU think?”

(Note to readers: this works for me. That does not mean it would work for you. There is a time and place for analysis and different techniques. And no, I do not share the name of my therapist.)

So back to my family.

The other day my therapist asked me how it was that I managed to escape the family toxicity. How did that happen? I could see it wasn’t just a therapy question: she truly wanted to know.

Dark nights of the soul

I’ve wondered the same thing during many dark nights of the soul. I did leave my hometown young, and that was a big help. But besides that, I believe it’s pretty simple: I came into the world different. You know that little game, “which one of these is different than the others?”  That one was ME.

I’ve always been willing to look at myself. Oh, sometimes I didn’t see clearly. But as I aged, I took my self-protective blinders off more often. And also was able to take radical responsibility. To forgive. No, it wasn’t always that way. I spent my share of time rowing the river, Denial.

An when we’re busy living life we don’t always want to take time to reflect. But as an avid reader and the almost-holder of a PhD in social psych, my inclination was to think things through and try to find perspective.

And while I know my family’s toxic, it’s good once in a while to get an unbiased view of it, just to make sure I haven’t missed anything.

No, didn’t. They’re toxic.

And while I don’t NEED validation, sometimes it’s useful to reality-check my view of situations. I know someone whose best friend really doesn’t have her interests at heart. But she’s a pure soul who sees only the good in people. She’d never ask herself: Am I looking at this straight?

But I do ask myself that question. Then, recently I had a chance to reality-check something with my therapist.

It was about a former friend who had hijacked my circle of friends and then ghosted me. I wasn’t particularly distressed by her disappearance, but it was an odd outcome and I’d wondered about it. Even though was tangential to therapy, I saw an opportunity for an unbiased eye on something.

Is it strange?

This is strange, right? I asked.

Well, yeah, my therapist said. That’s strange.

Most of the time I get that it’s not “me,” it’s their issue. But I have to admit, it’s sometimes good to hear an outside view.

And that’s the chief benefit of therapy: it provides that outside view: a look at our lives in a clear-eyed way. Without our self-protective filters.

A good therapist is worth their weight in gold. In a future post, I’ll give suggestions on how to find a good one.


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