The Courage to Work on Yourself

foggy cliff at sunset“Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us.”  – David Richo

I think the most courageous acts a human can do are to accept his or her own flaws and take the steps to make the appropriate changes in life. I work with courageous people on a daily basis. Every time I begin to work with new people, I am always struck by their motivation and strength to make changes in their life. I know that when they walk into my office, the decision to call me was not an easy one.

Walking into a therapy office is scary, as it requires a person to be vulnerable with a perfect stranger. For most, talking about their most inner fears is not an easy or fun experience. I have worked with so many different people over the years, and there is one constant about the people who make change in their life: being vulnerable is the recipe for growth.

It is not easy to be vulnerable, since most of us have been hurt in so many different ways and the idea of going through this again is not something we desire. Who wants to be exposed to their sadness and shame? Unfortunately, it is our tendency in today’s society to avoid this exposure and instead keep piling on our baggage.

When I first start to work with someone new, I like to have a frank conversation when I first meet that person. I want them to know that the therapeutic process is a difficult one, yet it can be very rewarding. Sometimes people feel worse before they get better, but by committing to therapy they are allowing themselves to achieve beyond their current limits and attain a state of personal maturation.

It takes true courage for someone to take that stance and move forward. I am proud of every person who walks into my office. The ones that stick it out are the true heroes. I find it so wonderful to see them bridge the gap from where they are to where they want to be in life and begin to live out these desires.

When I was in my graduate program years ago, one professor talked about the human journey and the need to take chances to mature in life. He talked about Soren Kierkegaard’s writings, as well as his philosophy that each human experiences a leap of faith on a regular basis. Based on Kierkegaard’s writings: Each person stands before a cliff in the dark of night, with a dense fog before them, not knowing the height or landing below.

One thing is certain: there is a sound of ocean and tide below. Even though we think we will land safely in the water, we still fear the danger of the rocky cliffs and bitter end based on our inability to see the surface below. People before have landed safely while making this jump, yet we still ponder the decision based on our potential doom.

This is where we need to take a leap of faith. If we can make that jump we grow as individuals, as we never know the outcome of any event. It is said that if we jump, we can call ourselves human, and once we land safely, we can call ourselves heroes.

I have always wondered—what is the difference between a person who lives in serenity, and one who lives in anguish? I think the difference is that the one that lives in peace has taken the leap of faith. Carl Jung once wrote, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

Here’s to the heroes who have taken the leap of faith, and the ones who step into my office.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Todd Deutsch LMFT, therapist in Los Angeles, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Colette

    Colette

    November 21st, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    How do you get from saying that you are going to accept your flaws to then needing to work on them? I have such a hard time with this on my own personl level because I recognize that I do have flaws, we all do, but then if they are mine and I own them, how do I change them? Isn’t that saying that what I am and who I am isn’t good enough and that I need to change? I don’t know I get so confused sometimes about how much of me I actually need to change and what parts are okay and that I continue to accept and live with.

  • Jamie

    Jamie

    September 19th, 2016 at 2:48 AM

    Eva Pierrakos lectures are helping
    She explains very well and goes over. You can read them on pathwork.org

  • Todd Deutsch

    Todd Deutsch

    November 21st, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    Thats a great question. I feel the best way to understand the magnitude of our actions is to see how they affect us and possible consequences as a result. If you feel that these behaviors/actions are creating feelings of shame, sadness, and anger than I would suggest addressing them. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions or comments at todd@CompleteGamePlan.com. Have a great Turkey week.

  • Pappy

    Pappy

    November 21st, 2013 at 7:16 PM

    Todd: This is really impressive. Usually, as I go through my day, I think I’m a fairly decent person. However, during the quiet times, when there is time to reflect and listen and talk to my inner voice, I know I’m flawed. There have been times when I failed to do what was right, i.e. I didn’t act when I should have. Perhaps I treated someone harshly instead of with understanding. I’m reminded of an occasion many years ago when my short temper got the best of me and I treated a young man very badly. I remember this and it hurts me to this day whenever the memory surfaces. I am convinced that is my punishment for how I behaved.
    I am so proud of you. Love, Pappy

  • Colette

    Colette

    November 22nd, 2013 at 4:39 AM

    Thanks Todd for understanding that push and pull we all feel at times1

  • tatiana

    tatiana

    November 23rd, 2013 at 4:59 AM

    Sometimes the most difficult thing is realizing that you are wrong in certain areas and that you can use some work tweaking and making those better. That doesn’t mean that you are ignoring your authentic self or that you aren’t being true to you, it just means that not one of us is perfect and if there is work that we can all do to be better and better for someone else, then why not take that shot and do it? I think that when you take a good look at yourself like that then in the end you are only going to become stronger.

  • Harrison

    Harrison

    November 25th, 2013 at 4:48 AM

    You might not naturally have this courage-

    this may be something that has to be worked on all along in conjunction with your counselor.

  • Paige T

    Paige T

    November 27th, 2013 at 4:52 AM

    not sure how much I agree with the opening quote- the wonuds are the opening to the most interesting part of us? How about the parts of us that hurt the most? I see that these are the things that make us who we are, but I like to think that I want to get past those wounds and not have those identify who I am

  • Sheila Burchill

    Sheila Burchill

    February 5th, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    From someone who has been in psychotherapy for 7 years, and much of it has been psycho-dynamic psychotherapy, in order to change, you need to be able to recognise first of all what it is about you that may be perpetuating or causing your current situation to be unsatisfactory. Part of this will be looking at the causes – in my experience it was my childhood. Once you have established what it is about YOU and come to terms with it (this is where therapy, if it is working, will make you feel worse before you feel better) you then have to train yourself – almost use your intellectual ability to override some of the ingrained behaviour and replace it with more healthy actions. As over 90% of what goes on in the brain is sub-conscious, it is the things that you do without thinking about them that needs your attention not just the things you are conscious of. To do this you really need to be able to analyse the things that are happening and your actions within them. At first this will be after the events have occurred. You’ll then come up with strategies to deal with things or respond in a new way. The next time a similar situation arises you may then ‘catch yourself’ and consciously apply your ‘new’ actions. This will be trial and error – sometimes you’ll miss it, and only catch yourself after it’s too late. But eventually, and with enough conscious working and analysis, you will train yourself to be more ‘mindful’ and think about the things that you didn’t used to give any thought to. I’ve been working on this 7 years and I still have little set-backs, but generally I have trained myself to behave in a more healthy and mindful way, but it takes lots of energy, effort, fearlessness, and the ability to cut yourself some slack. However the rewards are profound and you will find benefits in all areas of your life – this is because certain traits and behaviours play themselves out in parallel often between work/family and personal relationships. My advice is, if you are really willing to do this, then find yourself a good psychotherapist and be prepared to work at it for years and not months.

  • Demetria

    Demetria

    April 6th, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    To me, it is going to be terrifying. I still cannot find the strength to open my mind, mouth and heart. But what depresses me more is the person who wrote she has been in psycho therapy for seven years! If she cannot find herself after all those years, I can’t even think of a prolonged invasion of my mind for so long. I do not want to be dependent on someone as a drug would be. This is depressing in itself.

  • Grace

    Grace

    April 7th, 2014 at 3:31 AM

    When I first went to therapy, I knew there were lots of problems, but had no idea how to “fix” them. It’s true, I felt worse after having been. It was like all the guilt, shame and confusion which I had hidden for so long, erupted, and I had no control over it. Something on the inside of me compelled me to keep going for therapy. I am so glad I followed the prompt. Now, looking back, I see that I have got my life back. I have become a person. I have ownership of my life and I know I can go to therapy any time I feel I need some help along the way. Hanging in there for the long haul, has been the key to self-empowerment for me. It’s a wonderful feeling to own myself. Something I had never experienced before.

  • Todd Deutsch

    Todd Deutsch

    April 7th, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    Going to therapy isn’t a quick fix and requires time, energy, and strength. It can be a roller coaster yet the end result can be great relief and happiness. I remind clients that sometimes things can be worse before they are better since we are opening up raw emotions and wounds. Change is a process since we have developed defenses which we naturally utilize when a negative emotion is triggered. Therefore, it can take years to develop new healthy patterns to respond to life stimuli.

    Grace, your empowerment is the reason I work in this field. Congrats on your accomplishment.

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