“I exist as I am, that is enough”
It’s something I say to myself over and over again. It’s something I have tattooed on my body. It’s a gentle reminder that I am worthy of love, acceptance, and happiness just as I am.
I practice self-love frequently through positive affirmations, empathizing with myself, and practicing gratitude for myself and my body. Without these practices, my depression wins. But sometimes, at the end of a long day, I walk through my front door feeling less than, drained, and definitely not enough for anyone. I sit on my couch and run through the day in my head- wondering what I could have done or said differently. More often than not, there are tears involved- tears that represent feelings of shame and disappointment. Tears that allow for me to express myself when I don’t have the energy to do so any other way.
As a professional, I’m constantly searching for areas of growth. I want to see everything, talk to everyone, form relationships and connections that better me as a human and sharpen my skills as a therapist. I want to help people. I want to remind people of their strengths- help them get to know the parts of themselves that they lost or haven’t been able to tap into. Sometimes, I fall short. I’m learning how to accept that and still view myself as being enough. It’s defeating to feel as though I’m not providing the care I know my clients deserve.
Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I’m frustrated. Other times I’m consumed by paperwork. I’m human. I get overwhelmed, overrun by grief and sadness, and unsure of what to say or do. Sometimes I’m triggered while working with a client and I have to find a way to ground myself and continue on with the session. Countertransference is real, folks.
In the moment, I feel crappy for experiencing my humanness. Sometimes, the crappy feeling lasts for the rest of the day/week. I’m hard on myself- I’m very aware of that.
When I’m having one of the nights that I mentioned above (sitting on my couch, tears flowin’), I can feel myself start to spiral. My thoughts start to wander. Am I good enough to be a therapist? Maybe I should have taken this class instead of that one. Maybe I should have focused on sharpening my clinical skills more. What did I do wrong then that has led me to feeling like this now? So on and so forth. How am I supposed to help someone reach their self-identified potential when I can’t even reach mine?
How am I supported to walk with my clients through the trenches? Am I doing them justice? I begin to wonder if someone who struggles with self-worth is fully capable of being an effective therapist.
Here’s what I remind myself of whenever I am flooded by uncertainty:
I don’t have all of the answers and that’s okay. What I do know is that I’m not afraid to admit my faults and share them with others. The possibilities are endless as long as I continue to check in with myself and find the strength to move forward even when I’m lacking in the self-love department. One thing I do know is that running doesn’t work for me. Here I am, standing as tall as I can with an open mind and heart.
I exist as I am, that is enough.
As always, thank you for reading. I’m wishing you all love and light.
It was last Tuesday when I had an emotional breakdown in my supervisor’s office.
I had just come back from transporting one of my team’s most challenging clients, and on the way back, another client detonated a full-out verbal thrashing into my ear over the phone. Those of you who work with high-risk clients know: we get called every name in the book.
And in that moment, it was just too much.
I literally had tears in my eyes as I was on the phone with this client because I felt so hurt. Being called a fucking cunt, the fucking devil, a worthless piece of shit, among other things, just hit every tender, insecure button I had in me. And after a while, I just sort of dissociated- just a little- and gave up. I just let this client keep yelling, and I said nothing.
I let them have it out. I let them have at me. Like target practice. Like a doormat.
I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted from the first client that day- not to mention that it had been an especially busy week in general- and my mental/emotional threshold had simply been maxed out.
In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, I began a new job recently with a completely different level of clients than I had previously worked with for the past eight and-a-half years. I work with people who are chronically homeless, have severe, pervasive mental illnesses, and usually a long-term polysubstance addiction. Not to mention complex, deeply saturated trauma histories. And as much as I understood where these particular client’s behaviors were coming from, I just felt paper-thin, and I couldn’t take it anymore.
So I walked into my supervisor’s office and awkwardly blurted, “Do you have a minute?”
Then the waterworks came. And not the cute, glazy-eyed ones; I’m talking awkward AS FUCK, heaving sobs- the ones when you’re sharply, breathily inhaling words that you’re attempting to say out loud. I was absolutely mortified.
Thank goodness I have an AMAZING supervisor who is actually trauma-informed. Her response was to omit empathy, kindness, and support, not to mention the fact that she didn’t look scared, disgusted, frozen, or annoyed. Instead, she helped me process where my response was coming from. This ultimately led to me saying the things that most employers would recommend you never utter aloud...especially to your boss.
“I just feel like you hired the wrong person.”
“I don’t know if I can handle this.”
In response, she told me that she did NOT think she hired the wrong person and that she, instead, was wondering what made me think that. She told me that I had to give myself some time, seeing as that I was transitioning to a completely different population in a completely new role and that it takes time. She asked me what I thought specifically triggered those thoughts and if it was certain statements this client said.
She even told me that she still has breakdowns sometimes, and that she will still cry to her supervisor too, the last time being last week!
I was SHOCKED.
How could this experienced, level-headed, respectable, intelligent professional experience these things? That should only be something a naive and total NEWB like me does. Someone not as smart. Not as experienced.
Not as “tough”.
Not as tough, i.e. “too sensitive”, “soft”, “naive”, “weak”. Not as, AKA not enough.
And that’s when it dawned on me. I’ve always felt “not enough”. I’m always trying to prove something to someone else. Even if that means telling little white lies. Even if that means my own health is put on the line as an expense. And I usually pay with it.
I don’t really know where this feeling of not being enough came from. It’s definitely a belief that is heavily tied to, if not entirely bred from, my anxiety and depression. It often seems linked to my anxiety, because the antecedent to that thought is usually what if I’m not enough? What if I’m no good at this? What if people judge me? It’s so anxiety-based!
I have mixed attachment styles, including with myself. I question myself almost all the time, and the questions tend to birth full-blown monsters of doubt, paranoia, and persecution. It’s exhausting.
The truth is that one of my ultimate fears is that I’m weak. Yet, I didn’t come from an ancestry of “weak”. I came from warriors and survivors. And I fear I won’t amount to them.
So when I think of clients (and staff I supervise) and my role as the person that’s supposed to help them, maybe it’s my own expectation(s) of what I’m supposed to do. Or who I’m supposed to be.
If I’m not helping you and you don’t need me, then who am I supposed to be?
I’ve gotten so used to having clients- PEOPLE- come to me for help healing from their trauma, who are in the mental headspace of knowing, let alone wanting, therapy. And the clients I have now? Most of them are in the pre-contemplation stage; the world has wronged them so much that they easily view people like me as part of who’s out to get them. It’s still trauma-based, just not in an obvious way.
Maybe when the roots of clients’ behaviors aren’t obvious to me or known to them, my own power feels challenged, and I don’t know what to do with the unknown. Maybe that’s when I don’t feel like I’m enough.
And I honestly think this touches on my own past history of feeling powerless. In my childhood when I would feel powerless to help, specifically around violence, I would just sit, stare, and cry while hiding.
I would dissociate. Because, really, what more could I have done?
All of these realizations right now are 100% being realized in this moment as I’m writing this, and it’s a trip! I had to process through all of the high-falutin stuff to get at the meat: being around volatile, disruptive people triggers my own childhood freeze and surrender response. You guys, I was not expecting this just now. Shit man.
So there it is. It’s not about the clients. It’s about me. Well, it’s a little to do with the clients- I have to give myself the grace of acknowledging the challenge of working with people who have so many challenges. It’s only natural. But it’s also about this blending with my own unresolved feelings of not doing enough or being enough to stop what’s coming, or what’s already happening.
There are parts of me, bigger parts than I want to admit, that are still that little kid. And it’s okay that she still needs healing. It’s okay that I give her space to do that. It’s okay that I’m human.
In the words of one of my favorite characters, Edward Scissorhands, I’m not finished. And that’s okay too. Thank goodness I’m not! Otherwise, there wouldn’t be anything more for me to learn. And I would likely be so complacent and bored out of my mind!
My supervisor said that there’s a reason for the term growing pains. Growing hurts. Maybe the muscles in our limbs don’t twist and transfigure, but the neurons in our brains certainly do. New connections, new emotions, deeper ways of thought, the works.
I don’t want to be the person who always plays it safe, I want to be the person who is fearless. And yeah, there’s still a part of me that wants the fearlessness for selfish reasons, and there’s part of me that definitely enjoys playing it safe. Again, all okay. All human.
What’s been helpful for me throughout all this has been to know I had safe people to talk about it with, who I knew wouldn’t judge me or minimize my feelings. My supervisor was one of them. And Natasha was the other. It’s nice to have someone who understands that not only does the feeling of not being enough come up, but who also understands what it’s like to experience this WITH emotional dysregulation, ruminations, and chaostrophic, all-or-nothing thinking!
I HAVE to acknowledge those things, because they’re part of my mental health condition, and I won’t get better if I don’t accept that they impact how I experience the world. I still have more growth to do, and I know there will be more growing pains to come. But I know now- thanks to this blog!- that I DO have power over one thing at all times: how I speak to myself.
I can choose to be kind to myself and not be The Judge. I may not be able to control what emotions come up or how my client felt or reacted, but I know now that I can absolutely choose what I tell myself in those moments. I can choose to reframe. I can choose to empower. I can choose to switch my thought from I am a worthless DUMBY of a supervisor who knows jack-shit to DAMN, I’m a badass for making it through that!
I can also change how I perceive what’s happening in the moment. With the client I was talking about before, my mindset was about ME, MY feelings, MY reaction. It turned inward, and put ZERO attention on noticing what my client was doing. I’ve said it to interns I’ve supervised hundreds of times, and now it looks like I need to take my own advice:
If I simply just notice how the client sounds, what the client is saying, and how they’re saying it, it becomes something to watch, instead of something to absorb.
That is HUGE for me. What someone says/does to me, or around me, says so much more about them than it does about me. And as someone who is so quick to come to conclusions and spurred by emotion, this will be so beneficial for me to keep in mind for the future. Something to notice, not something to identify with. Something to watch, not something to absorb.
I hope this helps for you too. Especially all my fellow courageous empaths out there. We can do this work. As long as we give to ourselves.
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