Eleven Ways To Be Your Own Therapist

This is a piece by Daniel Mackler. I recently watched his film Take These Broken Wings. That led me back to his website where I had already read a lot of stuff I really liked but this time I asked him if I could publish some of his articles. I may publish several more in time. But for now you can visit his site here.

And even though I’ve done two posts on his film already, I hadn’t seen it when I wrote about it the previous times. I cannot articulate how it moved me because, honestly, it was a spiritual experience. And the nature of the spirit is ineffable. I think everyone in this country and the world should see it and I highly recommend you buy it, watch it, and pass it on. I might add though, too, that there is nothing explicitly spiritual about it…that is just how I experienced it. So don’t let that language turn you off. You can buy it here. Marian has the best review on it in my opinion here.

First a comment on psychological growth by Daniel and then I will follow with the above titled article:

Does Growth Have to Be Painful?

Yes. Pain is a byproduct of the growth process. Emotional growth stretches the limits of the personality, and this is unpleasant. At some level personalities want to remain static and fixed, and become rigid as such, even for the most growth-oriented people. Even children. If children were not compelled to grow, motivated deeply and intensely from within – by their inner spirits, their life forces, their passion – they wouldn’t be able to put up with the pain of growth. Growing is not fun. Its consequences may feel wonderful over the long haul, but its process is awkward, uncomfortable, and anxiety-producing.

Growth is humbling. Growth requires vulnerability. Crayfish are a wonderful metaphor here: to grow they must shed their protective exoskeleton, because with their tough skin intact their soft underbody cannot expand. So periodically throughout their lives they shed their skin, expose their softness to the world, and grow radically. But this is also their time of highest risk, as their claws are now soft and useless and their backs pierceable. The same fish and frogs they spend their lives eating can suddenly turn around and eat them back. Thus, during this time they must protect themselves. Generally they crawl under a rock and hide, doing their growth in a private, safe space, not unlike a therapist’s office, a confidential journal, or a sanctuary for prayer.

People who cannot handle the pain and vulnerability of growth are consigned to stay stuck in life. They must keep their true selves buried from the world’s eye and from their own. They cannot face their full range of feelings because this is too dangerous. These feeling tell the truth. They must instead act out their inner truth – their buried pain and rage – in disguised form, through addictions and self-destructive behaviors and inappropriate relationships (most notably with their own children), and even physical illness. The body tells the truth when the conscious psyche cannot.

Now Daniel’s article Eleven Ways to Be Your Own Therapist:

KEEP A JOURNAL: Journaling – that is, writing down the truth of your feelings, your point of view, your fears, your angers, your hopes, your expectations, your desires, your fantasies, your hatreds, your regrets, your thoughts, your memories, your prejudices, your secret loves, your painful experiences, your humiliations, your past traumas – requires massive intimacy with yourself. This self-intimacy is the essence of good therapy, and yet is also what makes good therapy so difficult. Many people find it difficult to journal – or journal in a deep and prolonged way – because of the strange feelings of being so emotionally intimate with oneself. But if you can tolerate the potential discomfort, if you can sit with the truth of who you are and look at your truth expressed on the page in front of you, then you can nurture a wonderful relationship with your greatest ally: your own true self!

ANALYZE YOUR DREAMS: As Freud wrote (and I will paraphrase), “dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.” If you want to know what’s going on down there in the basement of your psyche, you need look no further than your dreams. The only problem with understanding your dreams is that they express your deepest truth entirely in code – through metaphor. Everything in a dream has meaning, and the hard work of decoding the symbols of your dreams – that is, getting to know the symbols of your own unconscious – will bring you right in touch with the depths of who you are, and what your unconscious conflicts really are. This is tough work, and often humbling and ugly, but if you can hang with it, the rewards will be well worth the effort!

PRAY: Prayer, a hateful word to many because it is so misused (by ultra-religious people) and so disrespected (by those traumatized by the ultra-religious), is a wonderful form of self-reflection. It is done best in silence and privacy, so that only you and your own heart can hear your deepest desires and needs. Prayer is a chance to go as deep as you can consciously go, and a chance to let your soul air its most beautiful truth. The most original and honest prayers open the deepest doors, and let us know who we really are and what it is that is most important to us in our lives. They say that prayer is talking to “God,” and when we remember that the Kingdom of God is within, and that “God” is really just the best of our truest inner self connected with the truth of the whole universe, we remember that when we pray we are talking with our best friend in the universe.

: This form of self-reflection allows us to ask ourselves a question in our own mind, and let ourselves free associate to the answer. Our mind has the capacity to always give us just the answer we need at any given time – and to answer with the most beautiful truth – if only we ask and listen for the answer. Inner Dialoguing is almost a magical technique, because it is so simple and obvious: ask yourself a question and just listen for the answer! Why it can be so hard for so many people, however, is that they lives their lives so dishonestly that they are terrified to GET the answer. It might really rock their boat. But that can be no excuse for the truth-seeker. If our boat is faulty it needs to be rocked, and sometimes a good rocking shows right where the weaknesses are – which allows us to repair them. I actually use Inner Dialoguing regularly as a therapist – in session with patients – when I don’t know where or how to proceed. The part of me that answers my thorniest questions is a better supervisor or therapist than any I have ever had.

EXERCISE: This might sound rather blunt and concrete after having written about such lofty things as dream analysis and prayer, but the reality is, we all have a body that is full of memories and history and blood and energy. It is vital to get our energy flowing throughout the body – and to keep it flowing. Exercise works amazing wonders on the mind and emotions. I have heard it said that some studies have shown that just a little bit of regular, gentle, healthy exercise is as good as or better than an antidepressant – and certainly doesn’t poison you with side effects and spiritual squelching! Of course, some people go over the top with exercising, and use it self-destructively, but none of these self-therapeutic techniques are of any healing value if used radically out of balance with a healthy lifestyle.

SOCIALIZE: We humans are social creatures, and as much as there is a time for aloneness and self-reflection, there is a time also for interacting with our fellows. We all need friends! An external ally in the world is a true gift, and oftentimes there is no better medicine than being witnessed by someone who loves us, cares about us, holds our best interest in their hearts, and is willing to take our side on life’s difficult journey. Plus, life entirely alone is boring!

: This might sound silly, but it is radically important. The brain simply needs its sleep to do its job properly. Also, the soul needs its rest as well, and when we deprive ourselves of proper, regular downtime in a safe, comfortable and non-medicated environment, we fail to meet our responsibility for self-love. When we engage in self-therapy we nurture the little child who lives inside of us, and that little child, like every little child in the world, needs to be tucked in and put to bed at a proper hour – night after night. Every good parent knows this.

LIVE A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE: There is a wonderful therapeutic value in eating well, seeing the doctor regularly, taking care of our teeth and hygiene, and not putting any substances into our bodies which negate the spiritual journey of life. I believe that alcohol and drugs – both illicit and many that are perfectly legal – have no place on the healing process, and only foster anti-healing, that is, dissociation and regression. No one who loves a child would dare feed him cigarettes or alcohol, so when we consider that we are trying to heal and free the traumatized child within us, why would we bathe him in those very chemicals?

TRY CELIBACY: Periods of celibacy – and being single, without even emotionally romantic attachment or masturbation – can be wonderful balms to the soul. They bring back into focus our relationship with ourselves, and help us detach from relationships and sexual activities – both of which so easily breed projection. Sexuality is a beautiful, powerful, and wonderful thing, but it is so easy to misuse, because unresolved childhood traumas magnetically attach to, distort, and ultimately pollute all things sexual. As the saying goes, “sex is simple, you’re not.” We do ourselves a wonderful service when we let our expressed sexuality lie fallow for a period – sometimes a long period – so that we can discover our deeper purity.

: There are answers to life’s deepest questions everywhere – and sometimes, shockingly enough, these answers are even in books, and sometimes even in psychology books! (Pardon my humor. But then again, I really mean it. Freud wasn’t kidding when he titled one of his books “Humor And Its Relation To The Unconscious” – even if the book itself is dull as nails.) But all of literature – even areas we might normally shun as beneath us – has the potential to teach us something, to mirror some part of ourselves back to us, and if we search for the right book, we might just find it. And don’t poo-poo children’s and young adult books – I have often found that they hold more wisdom than the majority of adult literature! Ramona Geraldine Quimby (brought to life by author Beverly Cleary), The Giving Tree, and The Velveteen Rabbit have much to teach

HAVE FUN: This is not to be underestimated. We all need to relax, let down our hair, enjoy (or play!) good music, take a nice walk, go for a swim, and just do something seemingly non-productive for a while – only to discover later that our fun was far more psychically and emotionally productive and therapeutic than we could have imagined. Having fun balances out life’s intensity, and stopping and smelling the roses opens us up to a whole new portal of life’s beauty. Life, after all, is here to be enjoyed.

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