journal/

on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

emotional bedrock

Yesterday I read a story about a psychotherapist who had a very difficult client. The client was homeless and didn’t have money to pay, yet the therapist elected to take her on, paying for supervision herself to ensure she could get a professional opinion on how she’s handling the case. The client had a history of abandonment so she was extremely needy, frequently calling the therapist almost every day.

Long story short, despite trials and tribulations which included a suicide attempt in the middle, fifteen years later the client was able to thrive independently. I loved this sentiment:

“It is at times like this that therapists feel the earth move. It’s not when the big revelations tumble out, or even the times when the patient effuses gratitude. The most satisfying moments are these seemingly mundane occasions that make one feel a person’s molecules have been somehow rearranged for the better. I felt that all the time, patience, skill, compassion, and money I had put toward the healing of Emily had reached her, and not only reached her but settled into a kind of emotional bedrock.” – Deborah Luepnitz, Schopenhauer’s Porcupines

Fifteen years! What does it mean to spend fifteen years with a person not on a personal level but on a strange professional yet intimate level? What does it mean to patiently trust in someone’s lifelong’s process of becoming? One can never know where it’ll go when the process takes so long, so it takes a giant leap of faith and dogged persistance for both the therapist and the client. It is really not easy for either party to keep showing up. For fifteen years!

The idea of becoming a therapist has popped up in my mind repeatedly recently. It will be a long and expensive journey, and I am not sure how committed I am to it yet. But I’ve found the process of holding space and being a mirror for my friends particularly meaningful, especially if I was able to reflect a little bit of their own light back to them. I was aware of this a few years ago, but it never occurred to me that I would want to do this professionally.

But each time I read stories on psychotherapy I am moved profoundly, each time my therapist holds space for me I can feel the edges of my existence. How therapeutic and life-changing it is to have someone see and take us seriously, and what would it mean to be able to give this gift to people who really need it? What would it mean to be part of the process of someone forming their emotional bedrock?

I think it is one of the greatest gift in life to be able to gift someone a full and accurate reflection of themselves and their potentialities, to honour them seriously as a human being, to believe in their capacity to thrive. And perhaps it means even more to show up for them when everyone else has failed to do so, to give them a safe space to hurt and to truly be with them while they grow and heal.

In one of my earlier sessions with my therapist, I told her that it saddens me that therapy exists as a profession, that we have to pay for someone to take our emotions seriously, that the people who really need therapy will never be able to afford it. I was moved to tears when the therapist above initiated an effort to provide therapy for the homeless.

I would like to work with disadvantaged communities if I ever pursue psychotherapy as a path. I think how we navigate life is based on how we see ourselves and by extension, how we relate to others. I have spent most of my life walking in circles because I was unable to see myself. It is arguable if I even had a self. Who knows how our lives may unfold if there are people who are deeply invested in our becoming as our selves (and not treat us like a statistic/case number/retirement funding source/trophy/extension of themselves)? If, if I can become a person who is resilient enough to be there with someone while they take their time to become – looking at where I am now I think I have a long, difficult way to go – I think it would be an extremely meaningful way to spend the rest of my life.

The thought of sticking with a someone for more than a decade sounds unthinkable and claustrophobic to me (yes I have commitment issues), but who knows?

Chronic patterns

This post was posted as a Patreon update but it turned into a deeper reflection, so I am posting cross-posting here to share:

Without really knowing it, months have passed since my last update. It seemed like yesterday that 2018 had just begun. I apologise for not having done more updates. Since the last time I had written here I haven’t been well. My migraines kept recurring, and I had another relapse of my depression. I am hesitant to call it a relapse, because I am not sure if I was ever out of it.

I paused all work that involved code, because looking at lines of code trying to obsessively solve coding problems is one of the quickest ways to trigger a migraine. At that point, I wasn’t sure if I was working on my experiments because I really wanted to, or is there some deeper complex behind it, like was I trying to prove my self-worth?

I lost all spirit to engage the world. I couldn’t find it in myself to deal with it, or write something here, because I really don’t know what to write when I don’t even know what is going on myself. One of my favourite morning routines is to make myself a cup of coffee and sit in front of my computer, looking forward to see what the internet can bring me on each day. I lost that too. I found it hard to get out of bed, I stopped meeting my friends, I stopped replying to texts.

But throughout it all, I still found solace in books and I continued writing every week. At the very least, I documented my despair.

I can only say this with hindsight, but this period was necessary. I left full-time paid work to learn how to stop hurting myself, but I continued to do so in other guises: pro-bonno work, volunteering with civic causes, providing emotional labour, working on my experiments, writing complex essays, etc.

I think I managed to do something very few people have done. I managed to burn out on my supposed sabbatical, except this was not a physical/mental/creative burnout, but only now I know, it was an emotional burnout.

I was simply repeating my unhealthy patterns despite not having a job. I didn’t know how to regulate myself, whether it was time, boundaries, emotions, cognitive processing, being on twitter/facebook, exercise, etc. My body was tired that I keep putting myself through the same loop over and over again. I kept being triggered and my emotions were frequently on a rollercoaster. This time, unlike previous years, I became aware of my pulse getting quicker, my skin getting tighter, my chest feeling constricted — all the responses when the body is getting ready for a flight or fight response. I even managed to observe it with amusement when it cascaded while I partially thought it was funny and yet I was not able to control my meltdown.

It started to dawn upon me after reading a ton of books that I am fundamentally wired to respond the same way and it doesn’t really matter whether I am working or on a sabbatical. I am still susceptible to the same stress response whether it is a work deadline or someone is asking a seemingly innocuous question. I live with chronic body ache for years and it never occurred to me that it could be because my muscles are perpetually tense due to constant vigilance. My body does not know how to feel safe.

I started myself on regular therapy and now I am hoping to do more work on myself in hope that I can change the way my body responds to stress triggers. I am not sure when I can resume my experiments. I lost all interest in them or anything that remotely resembles the computer during my period of despair, but recently I am starting to feel that familiar spark of curiosity and desire to tinker again. But I am not going to rush back into them because I am not in control of my body’s health yet.

If you would like to withdraw your support, please do so. If there is another creator that you feel is more deserving, please feel free to transfer your pledge. Not being able to meet expectations is inherently stressful, and I would like to maintain a lighthearted connection with everyone here.

I will continue to publish every week, and it is my hope that through my voracious reading I can distill what I’ve learned externally and personally in order to share it with the world.

There is something fleeting that is coming out of the entire process: a framework for well-being. We tend to talk about well-being in silos and I hope to integrate what I’ve learned reading philosophy, neuroscience, psychotherapy, etc into an accessible interactive framework. Another one of my experiments I guess. We’ll see how we unfold.

a series of cuts

A series of events had made me really stressed out lately, though someone else in my shoes probably wouldn’t be very affected. In recent years I’ve learned to observe other people’s behavior in context to mine, and I realised for most people, they tend to let things affect them a little and then move on, whereas I accumulate them like a bin except I don’t seem to ever empty my trash.

I’ve also learned that I probably never really learned to regulate my emotions as a baby (that’s the age where we form our brains by mirroring our caregiver) and coupled with some genetic lottery I’ve just turned into this really over-sensitive person until to a point it is actually disabling. I have never seen my sensitivity as a disability until I realised (again) how much energy I spend over-reacting to everything and how much it burns me out. Then again I didn’t know emotions or emotional labour can burn us out either.

Sometimes I am led to believe I’ve come very far to becoming more zen until I get triggered again. Having an emotional meltdown can in itself lead to a depressive spiral, because there is a lot of self-blame — why am I feeling like this again despite doing x,y and z? I think for over a year I kept stumbling over any progress I had because all I could do was wallow in self-pity whenever I had any form of relapse.

A lot of it is the inability to zoom out. I kept narrowing on how bad I’ve felt without zooming out to see how much progress I’ve made relative to a year or a decade ago. A few years ago I wouldn’t have the self-awareness to cut my spiral short by doing some intervention like hiding myself away whenever I feel overwhelmed so I can give my nervous system a much needed break from being overstimulated. I am now able to observe the actual feeling I have when I am burning out, whereas in the past everything felt like a painful blur all the time.

I don’t know how I’ve survived till now without some coping skills earlier in my life. I know I’ve chalked up a lot of self-resentment which I’m still trying to undo, but I’m not sure if I ever will. It is tiring to live like this, where everyday feels like a series of cuts. Imagine going through life where one is afraid to move because everywhere you turn you’re afraid to get cut. There were some phases in my life where I’ve made radical changes by just running through the cuts — let all of it hurt faster and all at once just simply because I was tired of this chronic decay. But that takes its own toll too, as I’ve discovered.

I am not resilient. Previously I would hate to admit this because it makes me feel like a weakling. But I have learned that it is worse trying to pretend otherwise, ignoring the fact and serially hurling myself into situations I should have kept away from. I wouldn’t ask someone with a limp to sprint, so why do I keep insisting on being someone I am not?

But maybe if I recognize and accept the fact I am not resilient, I actually have something to work with. I can try to work around it instead of ignoring it. I can slowly try to build on it. If I keep on insisting I’m resilient when I am not, isn’t it like asking a piece of paper to wrap fire?

I used to blame PMS for making me weepy and unstable. But I think I am grateful for it. It is upon instability that the structure gets to be tested. I am beginning to think of PMS as a time when for a small window, I get to see how well my coping skills have developed. (Not very well, for now.)

These days I just tell people when I don’t feel well. In the past I’ll just make up some excuse or try to deal with it. Being honest, whether to people or to ourselves is hard.

I try my best, to my capacity. I am still trying to find out what is my capacity. I am also still trying to know who I am, without being moulded under the pressure of needing to be approved of. How real can I be, as a person? Am I willing to risk alienation in the search for myself?

Existential searches seem to have become a joke. I am glad I am searching, because if not I don’t know why the hell should I exist. At the very least I feel like I am starting to know where I start and where I end — what truly brings me joy versus what am I conditioned to.

lost innocence

It is Sunday again, my designated writing day, and again one of those days when I don’t feel like writing, which is a sign that I have to write. I have a multitude of thoughts which I don’t know how I can express coherently, so I won’t even try.

I wanted to write about my anxiety, on how it persists chronically even though rationally there’s nothing to be anxious about. It is like my brain is simply conditioned to feel anxious. My therapist tells me that I am too used to being in a struggle so I don’t know how to handle not being in one.

I remember a story I recently read, about a tiger who was kept in a 12 by 12 feet enclosure while her keepers built a beautiful environment for her. The day it was ready they eagerly released her, and apparently she went into a corner of the compound and didn’t venture beyond 12 by 12 feet. It is a similar narrative to the elephant bound by invisible chains. I relate a lot to this, because I have learned no matter what my external conditions become I still feel limited by my past conditioning and fears.

But I woke up to the stories of Emma Gonzalez silently crying for 6 minutes and 20 seconds in front of a crowd and a TV camera. There is a terrible sense of guilt that I am trying to cope with my existential crisis while kids out there are dying, followed by more guilt because there are hundreds of kids who are also dying elsewhere but they don’t belong to a certain country or race and they will not be known. Both situations are terrible and one can argue that it is worse that violence is taking place in a supposedly civilised country where people are supposed to feel safe and yet I can also argue that it is already 2018 why are we still perpetuating violence and war regardless?

I feel hopeful for these activist kids, that they are a generation who grew up with the expression and interconnectedness of the internet, they will go great distances to achieve things that previous generations have never done before. I feel a complex ball of feelings that we adults have failed them but precisely of this failure they are stepping up to display what is possible. To us. Maybe there will be many of us who will wake up to the fact that we are and we can be responsible for our own politics and by extension, our future.

Recently I keep trying to surface my past, trying to remember when and what made me into this anxious person. I remember feeling naive idealism and a sense of anything is possible. I remember believing that great change can be done with deliberate intention and action. But these days I live with fear and a sense of cynicism.

I think about the kids, and I wonder if youth is extremely precious because there is a window when the world doesn’t feel that harsh and one has not experienced too much human idiocracy and conditioning to be both fatigued and jaded. I wonder if the right way to survive adulthood is to build a sense of creative resilience to withstand the cynicism that will inevitably come our way. I wonder if there is hope for someone like me to feel like a kid again.

I have lost my innocence and with it, my idealism but perhaps with enough work I could find a different way to perceive the world again.

full participation in aliveness

I am now reading Already Free, written by a psychotherapist who is also a Tibetan Buddhist. Since I’ve been reading a ton of books on both subjects I picked it up without hesitation, eager to read something that carries both perspectives. There is a disclaimer though: literature and interpretations on both psychotherapy and buddhism lie on a very wide spectrum, so I wouldn’t take the author’s opinion as absolute on both subjects, yet that is precisely why it is interesting, we get to experience how different people interpret concepts or put them to use together.

He offers a counter-intuitive response to pain and anxiety: to commit fully to experiencing disturbing feelings and accept them as part of our existence. His basic premise is that we spend our entire lives trying to feel safe and so we build buffers everywhere, but paradoxically a comfortable existence deadens our existence and aliveness:

“Unfortunately, one of the consequences of this approach of eliminating problems is that the more successful we are at cocreating life circumstances that seem to guarantee safety, the more likely it is we will start to feel stagnant or deadened. We’re no longer engaged with the spontaneity and unpredictability of things, and often we no longer feel fully alive. It’s like living in a gated community. It’s comfortable, but something’s missing.”

A while ago I wrote a short note on Facebook:

today’s incomplete controversial thought on why we suffer if there is a higher power: one of the greatest gifts gifted to life is creativity. If life is creative, that means it has to contain the full spectrum of possibilities: including pain and suffering. On a related note, it is often through pain and suffering that evokes the expression of creativity and transcendence. We are loved enough to be alive in a creative universe (instead of one where everything is perfect because we cannot be trusted to with a full range of experiences). Edit: There is inevitable suffering in this world, such as grief that comes from having loved. Yet out of the full range of possibilities, we have created a world that is full of unnecessary suffering.

I experience these very lucid moments when everything makes complete sense to me once in a while and it moves me deeply. But somehow the daily mundane routine and responsibilities tend to make me lose my way, and I end up feeling existentially anxious. It is probably a result of deep conditioning.

Reading Already Free reminded me of my note, a note I have forgotten so quickly that I had written just over a month ago. I am reminded that I spend a lot of my energy trying not to feel anxious, trying to avoid the life circumstances that would make me feel so. The book made me reflect on how much anxiety is created by actual situations versus the attempt to avoid them. How I am actually narrowing the range of possibilities of my life by trying to avoid pain and suffering. Because while trying to avoid suffering, I stay put. I stop taking risks. When we stop taking risks, we are basically giving up opportunities to live creatively.

I think about all the times I took risks in my life. Quitting school, quitting my jobs, disappointing people, falling in love, going freelance, visiting SF for the first time even though I was running out of money, ending relationships, moving countries etc – they were painful and difficult but they brought me the most fruitful, creative and enriching times of my life. I think I have gone through so much risk and change that it had deeply exhausted me, and it has made me into a fearful, anxious person.

I think the point is not to go jumping into fires but to contemplate a balanced position between trying not to sabotage myself and maintaining a sense of adventure. It is about the middle way. What I really like about the book and by extension, buddhism, is that they remind me that it is impossible to avoid suffering in life, so what we can do is to fully participate in our aliveness. Suffering is part of the deal, but perhaps if we’re not afraid to suffer, we are rewarded with the journey of becoming and co-creating.

unconditioning unhappiness

The other day I remarked to my partner, I am really an unhappy person. This is not news obviously, but in the past I would just feel a pervasive sense of unhappiness without really knowing why. Recently I’ve begun to dug deeper within, trying to trace my chain and instinctive reactions, and I realised I have a million pre-programmed pathways to anxiety and despair.

I navigate the world as though I have the worst of luck. I am primed for terrible events happening to me. I think of people close to me dying, all the time. Everything seems to be my fault.

I didn’t actually realise it is not normal to think and feel like this all the time until recent years. It is amusing to tell my partner my long list of cascading worries and she just looks at me quizzically and sympathetically. On a side note, I think it is very intriguing and enlightening to be with somebody really different because there is this reoccurring realisation and reminder that one can really perceive and navigate the world very differently.

I wonder when did I start to fear life? When did I start to think of the world as full of giant sink holes? I don’t think I was ever a happy child but I don’t remember being an obsessive worrier until my 20s I think.

I don’t know how to untie my knots for now, except a mediocre attempt to meditate regularly, and going for therapy. And of course, reading a lot of books. I do think compared to my previous selves say 3, 5, 10 years ago I have made tremendous progress. It is just hard to remember to zoom out sometimes, and one can only hope that the daily work goes to somewhere.

Most of us don’t think of how many of our reactions to events are just automated conditioned responses. That was a liberating realisation for me: if something I thought was innate in me was actually a conditioned/programmed response, I could in time, learn to recondition myself.

I think it is restrictive to go through life expecting sadness and disappointment in every corner. I am depriving myself from a full experience of life. For a long time I was resistant to lifting my pervasive sadness because I thought that was my nature and I don’t think happiness should be the only preferred way of being. But I have grown to realise it is one thing to be sad because there is truly something to be sad about versus being unhappy because that is the filter my brain puts everything through. If I took away that filter just for a second I could see that things just are. I am the one labelling them or perceiving them to be threats. There are truly life-threatening situations in life, just not 90% of the time.

I am not looking to be happier. I don’t think the opposite of sadness is happiness. I think they are their own spectrums. All I want is to be at peace, to see things for what they really are, to not add unnecessary weight to them or to myself, to be able to interact and deal with things as they are, without magnifying or complicating them.

I feel tired all the time. I am starting to understand why. It is very tiring to live when every single little thing triggers a complex chain of reactions in me.

I want to live life from a position of clarity and stillness, not just a walking bunch of out-of-control, conditioned responses, driven by fear.

why search for inner-peace

Today I started reading The Monk and the Philosopher, which is a fascinating dialogue between Matthieu Ricard (the supposed happiest man in the world) and his father. Ricard gave up a promising career as a scientist to become a Tibetan monk. His father, a philosopher, couldn’t understand why, so the book was produced.

This is how he felt about his science career:

“…the realization that such research was unable to solve the fundamental questions of life – and wasn’t even meant to do so. In short, science, however interesting, wasn’t enough to give meaning to my life.”

…and he got to know and mix around with very famous people (both his parents are famous) and yet he realised:

“But at the same time the genius they showed in their particular field was not necessarily accompanied by what you could call human perfection. All their talent, all their intellectual and artistic skills, didn’t necessarily make them good human beings.”

His father argued that Ricard could have done more for humanity had he continued his pursuit in science, but he responded:

“It’s true that biology and theoretical physics have brought us some fascinating knowledge about the origins of life and the formation of the universe. But does knowing such things help us elucidate the basic mechanisms of happiness and suffering?”

…and that external progress will be futile without internal progress:

“We can end a conflict, or a war, but there will always be more, unless people’s minds change. But, on the other hand, isn’t there a way of discovering an inner peace that doesn’t depend on health, power, success, money, or the pleasures of the senses, an inner peace that’s the source of outer peace?”

I haven’t finished the book, but I deeply resonated with most of his thoughts. I too, felt a sense of emptiness no matter what I did in my career. On hindsight I think subconsciously I knew that my accomplishments in my career didn’t not make me a better human being. In fact, it made me regress. I think there’s three ways one can truly succeed (whatever success means):

  1. If you cannot beat them, join them
  2. Become numb
  3. Develop skills to manage people but this takes a healthy sense of self and yet it still gets tiring when everyone has their own baggage.

I didn’t have it in me to do any of those three. At the end, I was so burnt out that all I wanted to do was to become a ride-share driver to pay my bills. The idea of driving people around was infinitely more appealing.

What about the world? Doesn’t it need more activists, or people to work with causes, non-profits? Shouldn’t I forego my own sense of well-being to help? I cannot answer this for everyone, but in my own experience, I was only carrying my own suffering everywhere I went. There are power struggles and conflicts even in activism work. As long as I didn’t have a healthy sense of self, I would just be contributing to a dysfunctional dynamic. In chinese we have a idiom, 越帮越忙, which loosely translates to, “the more one helps, the busier it gets”.

But even if I did well, I would still feel empty. I didn’t want the illusion of accomplishments to define me, I too, wanted an inner peace that is indestructible. I have gone through enough in my life to know that everything is transient.

And I don’t think anything I could have done would solve anything. Us human beings, we don’t know how to be fulfilled. We could go to Mars, reverse climate change, end poverty, and I would bet that we would still not know to be fulfilled. We would probably still try to assert power over each other or depend on heavy laws to prevent us from doing so. I don’t think true peace comes from imposing laws and achieving material progress. We will always be in conflict until we understand that peace comes from within.

I cannot change the world, but I can attempt to change myself. If I can’t work for peace for this world, then at the very least I should bring peace to myself so that I can stop inflicting pain on others.

The past few months I’ve been doing mostly nothing except read. The books have brought me a huge amount of peace, acceptance and aspiration. For once, I aspire not to be successful or to save the world but simply to become at peace with myself. I want to become equanimous with my own suffering: to allow myself the room and right to suffer and yet not be crushed by it.

It was hard leaving my old world behind. I was so embedded within tech, most of my friends still work in tech, my sense of identity was infused with tech. But I think I have to give up the comfort of familiarity if I truly want to search for truth and meaning, to walk into the unknown without a path.

Fortunately, I do have the company of numerous people before me. I wouldn’t be the first person to search for truth, neither would I be the last, but I think I am starting to feel at home in this space of uncertainty and becoming.

a life worth living for

I’ve always thought of death as a relief, and could never relate to people who try really hard to survive (like eating your own poop in an earthquake or something). To me, it would be a relief to not have to feel and go through the drudgery of time. Life mostly feels tiring to me. It feels like an intentional staged act, and I have to be on this stage even though I don’t really care what happens to it.

(For more context, I also don’t care about legacy, if I go to heaven or hell, if I get good or bad karma, if the human race exists in a hundred years, or whether the universe expands or contracts or evolves. It is very difficult to live life if one doesn’t care what happens in between or after. I don’t neccessarily believe 1 is better than 0 or being alive is better than being dead.)

It has been a mystery to me, why do I feel this way and most other people don’t. What exactly went different? Is it genes? Some neurotransmitter dysfunction? Subconscious memories of the other side? I’ve come to think of it as natural biodiversity: if nature is diverse, then there must be people who are naturally attuned to life, and then some who are not.

Recently I’ve been asking myself: what life would I be interested in living? Will I be uninterested in life no matter how great it gets, or is there a spectrum of it that I will find it worth surviving for? Is it this world I am opposed to living on, and as a thought experiment, if I were born on an alien planet, would I still be uninterested in life?

If this world is what I am opposed to, what kind of world will I want to live in? And by extension, what can I do to shape this world into that?

I have no answers. I am not sure if it is my limited imagination, but for now I cannot imagine a world and a life I would be naturally inclined to live for.

Maybe it is okay to be uninterested in life, and maybe it is necessary in order to be able to truly observe it.

(The other day, someone told me that life sucks, and I strangely found myself taking the opposite position. I think I could intellectually see why life doesn’t suck, but it is an emotional dissonance that plagues me.)

On the other hand, this could be just the beginning. I have spent most of my life fighting against life, or living in a shell that other people have constructed for me, and it is only in recent years that I feel I have some level of agency to compose my life. I feel like if I do it right, I could have a very different few decades oncoming compared to the first few. The first few were trapped in many imagined limits, and now I feel like I am finally free of many of those limits.

What can I do with my life now to answer my questions? Will I be able to at least attempt to live a life that I feel is worth living for? What if it is actually up to me to live one?

(Maybe it doesn’t matter to me what happens in between or after, but as long as I am philosophically opposed to quitting life, then I will have to at least try my best to answer my own questions.)

what therapy gifts

I had my second therapy session today with the same therapist. Prior to her I’ve gone for two other sessions with two others, but something didn’t feel right. I wondered if I was too picky, expected too much, or if my idea of therapy was misaligned with reality. I had to google “how do you know if you have found the right therapist” and it turns out I wasn’t expecting too much to want my therapist to have a sense of humour or have some chemistry with me.

I think everyone has different needs and maybe for someone else these factors are not important, but being in therapy is an intimate relationship because you want to be comfortable telling your deepest darkest feelings. If they make you uncomfortable or judged or somehow something is breaking down in the lines of communication (i.e the therapist seems to be listening but her body language seems to show otherwise), it doesn’t matter if it’s your imagination or you are projecting, as long as you don’t feel safe to talk openly, I think it wouldn’t work.

I used to think I didn’t need therapy, because I had this misconception that therapy is for people who have difficulty accessing or acknowledging their innermost feelings. I write them out and publish them publicly, why would I need a therapist? Maybe the word “therapy” also has negative connotations, but in my last post I mentioned that some eminent psychotherapists believe that the therapeutic relationship is essential to becoming. Because without having a good mirror to our own behavior, can we really have a holistic awareness to our selves?

That said, it was also because I wasn’t aware of the healing/enriching qualities of having a relationship with someone who’s able to listen to us fully without judging, trivialising, or fixing. How often do we have that in reality? How often do people try to tell us we should feel a different way or we shouldn’t be having certain feelings? Maybe you would think, that’s what close friends or family can do, to support us unconditionally. But close friends and family come with their own worldviews and biases, sometimes even more so because they think they know you intimately, so without even properly listening and understanding they are already assuming they know what you’re actually trying to express. We need someone who doesn’t have an investment in the outcome of the dialogue. Imagine trying to tell your loved ones you wake up everyday feeling like you want to end your life or that you want to quit your job when their quality of life depends on you not quitting? On top of that, people carry their own baggage so they will try to understand us from that vantage point without giving enough consideration that we are different people with different needs and aspirations (I make the very same mistake myself when I share my opinion with my friends who come to me with their issues so now I give big fat caveats).

A few years ago by serendipity I met someone who listened so deeply to me that it changed me in ways so profound that I don’t even know how to describe the experience in words. Reading Carl Rogers helped me articulate that experience in a concrete sense — the power of listening. When I met my current therapist I was reminded of that experience, the experience of someone being there with me, acknowledging me, creating space for me to be me.

Sometimes we don’t actually want someone to make us better. Sometimes we just need someone to truly listen and try to understand. Sometimes we just need a space to hurt, for as long as we need, without advice telling us to exercise more or think more positively or go for vipassanas. The decision to heal or become has to be on our terms and timeline. Having someone who is capable of honoring and facilitating that can be powerfully transformative and life-affirming.

psychotherapy in the process of becoming

I am on a search to find a psychotherapist. I’ve been curious about psychotherapy ever since reading Carl Jung, but what really put me over the fence was reading Carl Roger’s On becoming a person. I found the book by accident, a friend shared an excerpt on Facebook, and I resonated with it deeply, so I bought the book (I guess Facebook is useful sometimes after all).

Carl Rogers strongly believes that psychotherapy is for everyone, and it is an important process to becoming:

“When a person has, throughout therapy, experienced in this fashion all the emotions which organismically arise in him, and has experienced them in this knowing and open manner, then he has experienced himself, in all the richness that exists within himself. He has become what he is.”

and a longer version of how a genuine relationship with a therapist can benefit:

“If I can create a relationship characterized on my part: by a genuineness and transparency, in which I am my real feelings; by a warm acceptance of and prizing of the other person as a separate individual; by a sensitive ability to see his world and himself as he sees them; Then the other individual in the relationship: will experience and understand aspects of himself which previously he has repressed; will find himself becoming better integrated, more able to function effectively; will become more similar to the person he would like to be; will be more self-directing and self-confident; will become more of a person, more unique and more self-expressive; will be more understanding, more acceptant of others; will be able to cope with the problems of life more adequately and more comfortably.”

I was blown away when I first read the book. I have never thought of therapy on such terms before. I thought of therapy as problem-solving (or in other words, fixing), not considering how rare it is to be with another person who is capable of mirroring without judgement or noise: who we are and who we can be, back to us. Sometimes what we need is not fixing or improvement, but the liberation of being discovered, accepted and received.

Perhaps I’ll share more about my process and journey in the next few posts.