Today I did that thing where I cleaned my whole apartment so that I could procrastinate while tricking myself into thinking I was being productive. I cleaned all. the. things. Which also included washing my dogs and clipping their toenails. Maybe for other dog owners, that’s a frequent chore. I do not fall into that category of dog owners. And now you’ve learned that you probably never want to pet my dogs.
Once I exhausted all the crevices of my apartment, it seemed appropriate then to take my procrastination to a coffee shop. Right now I’m on a patio that looks out onto Town Lake (for non-Austinites, that’s code for “river”). It’s beautiful. And it’s miserable. Because it’s 94* outside. Typing has turned into an intense cardio workout at this point, with each move of my fingers bringing me one step closer to passing out.
I think there might be a table available inside, but it’s sorta chilly in there, so I won’t be relocating. But more importantly, it would be me admitting defeat if I were to move all my things. People would stare judgmentally at me knowing I failed. They’d realize I’m an inferior human being because I chose poorly. Obviously.
Therefore, I stay and I sweat. Because, pride.
(Insert segue) ← while that might look like an editing note I made to myself about inserting a segue at this point in the writing, really I’m just instructing your brain to make up its own segue since I got nothing.
Granting ourselves permission. Let’s talk about it.
I feel like a large portion of my job as a therapist is to grant people permission to feel a certain way. Or think a certain way. Or do a certain thing. And this permission I’m granting is not about encouraging them to feel a different way. It’s about letting them feel the way they are already feeling. Because they are already feeling it. Because it’s there. Because denying they feel that way doesn’t make it not there.
It’s shocking to me how many people walk around telling themselves they aren’t supposed to be feeling or thinking certain things.
What’s not shocking is how many of us just want someone to tell it’s okay to feel the things we feel, think the things we think, be the way we are. We want someone to help us not feel crazy, or silly, or ashamed.
And there’s something about a therapist giving someone permission to feel/think/do a certain thing that holds more weight than when we try to grant ourselves that same permission. Which makes sense, really. The therapist is seen as the wiser person -- the authority.
I mean, I know that if I’m wanting to get in better physical shape, I’ll trust the advice of a certified trainer more than the advice of some stranger at a bar who’s telling me all about how much her spin class changed her life. “Uhh… cool story bro, but I’ll stick to the person who knows what the hell they’re talking about.”
I see my own clients frequently needing permission. Here are some things I’ve heard clients say, and my typical response:
It feels like I shouldn’t be sad about this anymore.
It’s okay that you’re sad.
I want to quit, but I feel like I’d be letting people down.
You’re allowed to quit. It’s not your job to manage other people’s expectations of you.
What if he doesn’t see me in a positive light anymore if I do this
He’s allowed to not be happy with you. And you’re allowed to not need him to be happy with you.
But how can I let go of my obsession about this if I haven’t gotten to the bottom of it yet?
You don’t need to have all the answers in order to be okay.
I don’t respect her anymore, but I know that’s wrong to say.
Sounds like you lost some respect for her based on some poor choices she’s made. I’m not quite sure why it’s wrong of you to think that then.
I was offered a promotion and while it’s hard for me to turn down new challenges, taking it would add even more stress, not make me any happier, and I don’t need the money.
You don’t seem to think the promotion will be worth it. You’re not obligated to take it just because your old self would have taken it.
There is nothing profound in any my responses. Except that someone is reminding them that it’s okay. That they don’t have to feel bad about any of this.
This is something we can each do for ourselves then, not just something we have to pay someone to tell us. It’s something you just have to be mindful about then whenever you’re having an internal conflict, or when you feel bad or guilty about how you feel.
You can even ask yourself:
If the answer is yes, then give yourself permission, damnit.
... And a brief word about what I mean when I say lighter. Lighter is not always synonymous with easier. For my client who was offered the promotion, for example, it would be easier for her to take the position. Easier because it’s her default pattern to say yes. However it’s exactly that pattern that leaves her feeling stressed. So if she were to take the offer, she’d feel momentarily less stressed because she made an easy decision, however she probably wouldn’t feel lighter moving forward.