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Big Therapy Words and Ideas

February 8, 2020

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Last night, I went to see the wonderful poet and author, Morgan Harper Nichols. If you haven’t come across her work whether via Instagram or her books, please stop and go read it; I fully believe that her words bring healing to many souls. The event was called Honesty over Perfection, and it was a gathering. For the first hour, hundreds of people connected and decided to show up. And it was beautiful. Each and every one of us were threaded together by our desire for authenticity, and our shared belief in the message of honesty over perfection.

Honesty over perfection looks like choosing to show up as our whole selves, in the moments and places that we find ourselves, rather than hiding behind or freezing due to perfectionism. If you have been in therapy before, you may have heard of authenticity or self-compassion, inner child work, or boundaries, but what are these things, really, and how do we cultivate them? In this post, I want to give a brief overview of some big therapy ideas.

Boundaries: A boundary is a line that you set to allow the good to enter in, and the harmful to be kept out. Boundaries are the rules and ways in which we verbally and nonverbally decide what is okay with us, and what is not okay. Good boundaries are clear and intentional, and have consequences when they are not respected. A good boundary can look like resisting from stalking an ex after they broke up with you. It can look like deciding not to go to a family event because of triggers of trauma. Boundaries are a practice, such as learning how to say “no” and taking the pressure off of oneself to be everything to everyone around you.

Boundaries help us to show up for the people we love in bigger ways than when we have no boundaries and are stretched too thin. Learning how to set boundaries takes work and time, and is an imperfect process; as humans, we are always learning. When we make mistakes and cross boundaries, as we are bound to do, we need to have self-compassion for ourselves.

Self-compassion is a tool in which we speak kindly to ourselves and act in accordance with the knowledge of our humanity and imperfection. Self-compassion allows us to have more empathy for others because we do not hold ourselves to such high, unattainable standards. Our expectations of ourselves are often reflected in the way that we treat others and what in what we expect from them. When we are able to speak kindly to ourselves and be gentle with ourselves, we are also able to offer this same kindness to others. Rather than self-deprecating, we are better motivated to try again and give ourselves and others more chances to heal and connect and grow. Self-compassion for ourselves is part of the foundation that allows us to show up authentically.

Authenticity // Showing Up: Authenticity is the act of showing up with others and being present as we are in the moment, not trying to cover up our imperfections and the ways in which we fall short. To be authentic is to embrace our humanity, and to compassionately acknowledge the humanity of others. We feel most loved and known when we are able to be wholly present as ourselves because there is a deep human connection that comes when our hearts and souls are engaged with one another. All of these things: boundaries, self-compassion, and authenticity are connected to something called inner child work.

Inner Child Work: This is the work of comforting and speaking words to and over your younger self. Sometimes, therapists will have their clients bring in a picture of their younger selves, and ask them to say aloud what they wish someone would have said to their younger self. Inner child work is a constant practice of learning how to give the child within us that never fully healed compassion and the parenting and love that they did not receive at that age. Addressing one’s inner child is difficult work; it can bring up past traumas and flashbacks, and going back to places in our minds that are tender and vulnerable (open to woundedness) is hard, but this work is of great value. We do this work with therapists because we heal in forming new relationships with others, learning that we can get our needs met in healthy ways even if we haven’t experienced that before.

May you choose to be honest and show up and be present rather than trying to be perfect today.

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