Courage, Vulnerability, and Strength: How Therapy Empowers Us

young asian woman hiker sit mountain rockPsychotherapy can be about more than treating symptoms; it can be a path to living a more fulfilling life.

People often begin therapy to alleviate symptoms—a worthy goal, to be sure. But perhaps even more compelling is the ability of psychotherapy to help us counter our tendencies to stay in our comfort zones, and to challenge us to open ourselves to the aliveness and dynamism of the ever-evolving now. It can help us tap into our potential and live happier, more meaningful lives.

Yet it’s not uncommon to hear people say that therapy is like using a crutch, or that therapy makes people dependent on their therapists. In some cases, such claims may indeed be true. However, good therapy is meant to empower us, to help us mature, to stand on our two feet and face whatever comes our way.

Furthermore, therapy is not an easy process. If your therapist is doing his or her job, you will feel uncomfortable at times as you examine uncomfortable feelings and the reasons they exist. Whoever thinks that therapy is a crutch or an easy process clearly has not gone to therapy.

Therapy Takes Courage

Engaging in the process of therapy is a courageous endeavor that is not for the faint of heart. Successful therapy demands that you see what you do not want to see within yourself. We all have parts that we don’t want to see, parts that scare us and that we have carefully hidden deep inside.

Good therapy is meant to help us uncover those parts. Even in the safety of a strong therapeutic relationship, that is no walk in the park. It requires commitment, emotional stamina, capacity to tolerate difficult emotions, capacity to shift attention to different aspects of ourselves at the right moments, and compassion—lots and lots of compassion. It requires dedication and a willingness to be in (inner) places that we haven’t been before, a willingness to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability Is True Strength

Allowing ourselves to be touched and open to experience in a non-defensive way is a very vulnerable thing to do. The idea that this is a weakness is a delusion; nothing takes more courage than to meet the parts of us that are scared and hidden. As long as we try to force our way into seeing our depths, we will not have access; the way in is through vulnerability and allowing our experience be exactly what is.

Allowing ourselves to be touched and open to experience in a non-defensive way is a very vulnerable thing to do. The idea that this is a weakness is a delusion; nothing takes more courage than to meet the parts of us that are scared and hidden.

This is no easy task. Our culture advances a belief that we need to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps,” but that belief is based in unconscious fear that dominates our experience—in fact, it is an act of violence toward ourselves.

If instead of beating ourselves into action we learned to invite the shaky, scared parts of us to show up, and we hold them with openness and let ourselves directly feel all of their uncomfortable sensations, we are being as courageous as we can possibly be. We are willing to meet ourselves without hesitation.

If we allow ourselves to feel the sense of deficiency (or whatever we are resisting), without defending against it, in time we can begin to experience a palpable sense of strength, courage, and determination that is not based on ideas of what should be, but are actual, felt experiences. Good therapy can help us with this.

Real Therapy Has Results Beyond the Reduction of Symptoms

There are real, tangible benefits to engaging in this process, including an increased sense of freedom. By understanding and unwinding the inner structures we have hidden inside, we are also recovering a great deal of previously frozen aliveness. By learning to see through our emotional and mental defenses, we also gain openness, awareness, and responsiveness. We become more finely attuned to what we need and to what is needed at any given moment.

A simple way to measure psychological well-being is by how responsive we are to the immediate environment without our old filters getting in the way as much. Neither reactive nor passive, we become able to appropriately act in a way that supports our continuous development.

This is not a mental exercise; it includes all of our being. It includes awareness of our mental, emotional, and somatic (physical) states. It requires uncovering our past beliefs and ideas about reality. It also requires getting to know our limitations and our capacities. And it requires us to not be defended—or at least not extremely defended. In a way, therapy can be an adventure into our inner landscapes, a process in which we are willing to be transformed by self-discovery.

By becoming aware of the parts of us that we didn’t know existed, we can begin to know ourselves in a more intimate way. In turn, our satisfaction in life increases, because our actions, emotions, and thoughts come into greater alignment. Furthermore, by understanding our unconscious inner conflicts and relational patterning, we begin to lessen their impact on our well-being and our capacity to respond appropriately to life.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Manuel A. Manotas, PsyD, therapist in San Francisco, 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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  • Maddie

    Maddie

    September 24th, 2015 at 7:32 AM

    Therapy as a crutch? Those people are people who have obviously never needed help form anyone else because if they had they would know that actually therapy is a way to stop needing so many crutches in life. It teaches us to be our own strength and crutch.

  • Marlo

    Marlo

    September 24th, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    I have never looked at it like this before.

    I guess I have always been so busy with life and taking care of other people that I have gotten sort of beaten down and too tired to take care of myself.

    It felt like a weakness to me to ask someone for help when I see now that actually being able to go to someone and ask takes a whole lot of courage.

  • lucinda

    lucinda

    September 25th, 2015 at 7:28 AM

    Because I have always been the type of person to put up walls to hide what I was feeling the thought of letting that go and tearing down those walls? Seems like a pretty scary prospect. I think that there are times that I am actually scared of what is underneath all of that because I spend so much time trying to force happiness on the outside that I haven’t cared for any of those inner feelings in a long time.

  • Gracie

    Gracie

    September 26th, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    But you do have to admit that there is something about therapy that has to tear you down some before you can allow it to build you back up again.

  • bill

    bill

    September 28th, 2015 at 7:57 AM

    Sometimes the most courageous thing that you can do for yourself is to admit to others that you need help. This does not make you weak, it makes you BRAVE!

  • Cassie

    Cassie

    September 29th, 2015 at 9:06 AM

    From my own experience I would have to say that the best thing that I ever did to get a true sense of my self was going to therapy. It made me get to know someone that I didn’t even know that I had inside of me, and I am so thankful for that.

  • Randall

    Randall

    September 30th, 2015 at 4:24 PM

    being vulnerable
    for me
    is being unsafe
    if i let down those walls
    who is going to hurt me?
    and who is going to save me?

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    June 4th, 2016 at 6:39 AM

    Therapy is the best thing I’ve done for my mental health.it has really helped me.it’s not a crutch..I have a good relationship with my therapist.I wish I could meet with her daily.she helps keep me stable.

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