In my work as a therapist I see many people with a variety of emotional problems. What most of these people have in common is their shame. They are ashamed that they have had to come to me in order to get help. They are also ashamed that they are too ‘emotionally weak’ and ‘screwed up’, as they put it. Indeed, this opinion is echoed by people who do not believe in therapy. However, what they fail to see is that we all suffer from emotional and psychological problems, since we can find life too demanding from time to time.
For instance, those who suffer from depression are criticized for being, among other things, ‘weak’, ‘self–centred’, ‘lazy’ and ‘attention seekers.’ Yet, all of us can feel depressed during our lives. Usually we have to hide it for fear of being criticized. The same is true for people who suffer from addictions. They are said to be ‘weak’ and lacking ‘self control’. However, the number of people suffering from some form of addiction, whether it be the internet, shopping or workaholism is very high. A similar reception is given to people who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Even people who have suffered from childhood abuse are criticized when they speak of the pain related to this. They are usually told to ‘get over it’ as it was ‘in the past’.
When I speak to people who make these accusations, they may admit that they have these problems; however, they will add that they keep their problems to themselves and are able to deal with these problems by themselves. Yet I believe that, in many cases, they really have not dealt with the problems. They often just ignore them. Take the case of a woman I saw who was a child of alcoholic parents. She had many problems including lack of self esteem, anxiety and codependency. In fact she came to see me, not because of her problems, but because of trying to fix everybody in her life, including her husband. I talked to her about her co-dependent tendencies and she refused to acknowledge she had a problem. She just kept talking about other people who had problems.
This is what happens when we will not own up to our own problems. Repression does not work. Our problems will emerge in one way or another and often harm others. In this case the woman meddled in other people’s lives and often did damage. In other words we do not just ‘get over’ our problems, we have to face them or we do damage in one way or another.
I would like people to realize that vulnerability is part of the human condition. It is not good or bad, it just is. We need to redefine emotional strength to mean those who have the courage to face their wounds and do something about it.