The uncomfortable truth about therapyWhen we are suffering emotional pain or experiencing bewildering patterns of defeat with increasingly ruinous consequences, the last thing we want is more pain. 

We want respite and relief. And the relief we crave at such times is often some form of validation— whether from a friend, a family member, or even a therapist. 

What we want is someone to tell us that our pain is not our fault, but that of a cruelly unsympathetic or unjust world and it is that world that has to change, not us. 

This is understandable. Believe me, I’ve been there.

Of course, there are injustices and unkindnesses in the world that should be rectified. But in the meantime, we remain in pain. We can’t afford to wait for the world to change. Whether we are victims of our own unconsciously wrought self-sabotage or external injustices, the power to begin to feel better lies in our own hands. 

The Comfort Zone

Taking responsibility for our suffering can feel like adding insult to injury or pouring salt into a wound. It’s uncomfortable.

We are all familiar with the concept of the “comfort zone.” But what makes our comfort zones so, well, comfortable? 

Our comfort zone insulates us from anything unfamiliar or threatening. But as soon as we encounter something unknown or unfamiliar, at least a modicum of stress or tension arises, and the comfort bubble bursts.

But if nothing unfamiliar is encountered in our comfort zone, then by definition nothing can change there. No learning, insight, change, growth, maturation, or evolution can take place. It is stasis. Everything there is familiar. We must leave our comfort zone to find anything new —and, yes, that means risking encountering threats. 

The uncomfortable truth about therapyThe Uncomfortable Truth about Therapy 

What has this got to do with therapy?

If therapy is about learning, insight, change, growth, maturation, and evolution, then by definition it cannot take place in our comfort zone. Yes, the comfort zone can exist in therapy, perhaps as a safe place to return to integrate new knowledge gained from explorations in the uncomfortable zone. But if we are to continue to deepen the process of learning, change, growth, maturation, and evolution, then we cannot remain in our comfort zone for long. A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for, goes the saying. And as Andrew Marvell observed, “the grave’s a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace.”

The uncomfortable truth about therapy (like life and love)  is it requires us to be willing to be uncomfortable. And that means being willing to encounter all kinds of ambivalent to outright negative feelings, including fear, anger, shame, guilt, and regret. These feelings must be honestly and courageously faced, integrated, and, hopefully, transmuted.

When the Going Gets Tough

Unprepared for the discomfort that therapy entails, many of us may look to head for the hills at the first sign of discomfort. But it is important to remain in the process at these times— especially at these times– because it means that something new is being encountered. And it is only then that change becomes a possibility, for change requires the integration of a new element into a system of a new element, around which the system can reorganize and become more complex and efficient. 

As Albert Einstein has said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

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