My group therapy session last week left me feeling rejected, embarrassed, sad, self-conscious, and angry (all in that order). Somehow, I became the focus during group and the subject matter stirred up emotions of being an outcast preteen, which I thought I’d outgrown. I didn’t have very many friends in elementary school. Kids often made fun of me and singled me out for various reasons (one was related to race since there weren’t very many Asians at my school at the time). I clearly still remember the boy who called me names as I was shooting hoops by myself on the playground as he repeatedly told me to go back home to China (I am Filipino). Apparently, as I experienced during group therapy, the memory still effects me with just as much emotion today as it did when I was a kid, which sounds ridiculous especially since I’m a grown adult who has accomplished so much in my life. Yet, I’m sure we all have memories as a child that we either vividly recollect, suppress, or completely block out of our minds due to the pain they once caused. As much as I hated having these feelings come to the surface, I trusted in the therapeutic process and knew that re-experiencing the emotions would lead to greater insight.
Now that one week has passed, I felt different going back into my group therapy session this weekend. I was able to consciously separate the feelings I had as a kid from the grown adult I am today. During group, I shared the wave of my emotions I had experienced in the interim, as well as how my cultural background and traditional upbringing impacts my communication with others (ie, in Filipino culture, assertiveness is often viewed as being arrogant and disrespectful, whereas in American culture, assertiveness is often expected and rewarded). The outcome was a sense of validation from my group cohort, for they wanted to understand the reasons why it’s so hard for me to talk and express my opinion during group. Sure, I had to feel like crap and relive components of the hurtful experience, but the outcome is that I’m able to distinguish how those deeply ingrained feelings continue to impact my interactions with others today (ie, fear of feeling misunderstood, withholding my opinion due to fear of being judged, feeling prone to scrutiny, etc). There’s something therapeutic about being consciously aware of the origins of your emotions, whereas prior to this exchange, I felt out of control of the emotions as they were triggered. I realize that I’m not the self-conscious, shy kid I used to be. During my latest group therapy session, I recognized my ability to let down the walls that I had built to protect myself from criticism/judgment. The ultimate outcome = feeling more open to being myself.
As a result of this experience, I have even greater respect for those in therapy. It’s not easy processing painful emotions and many have experienced far more difficult and traumatic events in their lives compared to me. For anyone who believes that therapy is designed to make you feel good after each and every session, you’re wrong. Therapy takes far more work and courage than anyone can even imagine.
Photo by Marlon Santos