by Marianne Vernacchia on 05/02/20


Sometimes in therapy, things get worse before they get better. As we get in touch with difficult feelings and begin to look at patterns or issues in our lives that aren’t working, we may feel worse. Sometimes we may take actions that make it worse! Why? How could that be? Why am I doing all this, then???

The goal of therapy is to have a safe and confidential place to explore why we’re not feeling good, not acting like our regular selves, or perhaps to heal from a negative experience. If we feel safe enough in therapy, we can drop the wall we’ve built around painful, uncomfortable feelings to be able to explore what’s behind them. Like a scab that may be covering an infection under the skin, we may have to lift the scab and clean out the wound underneath. This hurts! And sometimes our pain becomes worse as we take a look and poke around at old wounds. In therapy, we often benefit from looking at how the past has affected us, how we’ve come to hold beliefs about ourselves, others, and life that aren’t accurate or working well for us any longer. Perhaps we’ve developed ways of coping that aren’t holding us up in positive ways anymore. Whatever it may be for each person, it is painful to revisit uncomfortable experiences and uncover problematic patterns in our actions and beliefs. This is the part that doesn’t feel so good.

As we uncover what isn’t working and why, we realize that we may want to try out new ways of thinking, acting and reacting. Things like, speaking up and setting boundaries, asserting ourselves, or practicing stepping back and letting go. These are new skills and new skills take practice. We may be clumsy and awkward at first. Nervous and unsure, we may take baby steps in the beginning. This is normal. If intense emotions have been bottled up, we may find that we let loose, and come across too forcefully when speaking up, or trying out new behaviors. THAT’S OKAY TOO!

Be gentle and forgiving with yourself as you go along. Be patient! New ways of thinking and behaving take time to practice.

Therapy is hard work and is not for the weak! It takes courage, effort and yourself. Here are some tips:

  1. Set a time every day to check in with yourself and feel any underlying feelings. Ask yourself: What Am I Feeling?

  2. Write your feelings down, or say them out loud.

  3. Honor your feelings, and be curious about them, versus frightened or critical.

  4. Ask yourself if there is anything you are doing that is contributing to yourself feeling this way? i.e., Are you allowing yourself to be treated unfairly? Are you expecting something unrealistic? Are you doing a behavior over and over and getting poor results?

  1. Ask yourself what you can do to take care of yourself? Do you want to take action? Do you want to change something in yourself? Make a request of others?

  2. If so, make an action plan or timeline.

  3. Evaluate afterwards how you feel? Did it work? Would you do anything differently?

  4. Remember that the goal is to make progress, not to be perfect!

    © 2020 Marianne T. Vernacchia, MFT 

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