The Positive Aspects of Opening to Change

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Reader’s Question

I am a 45-year-old divorced mother of three. I am self-employed and am moderately successful. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, although I was originally diagnosed as Bipolar I. I have been in and out of therapy for 20 years in an effort to resolve my adult issues that resulted from childhood trauma. Over the last two years, I have had the opportunity to work with a very good psychiatrist and I see her on a weekly basis. I have made more progress with her than I have with all of the other therapies combined.

My question is this. I have worked to the point that I am no longer aggressive and guarded, and I have developed skills which allow me to be more open and vulnerable, but therein lies the problem. As I allow myself to be vulnerable, I am experiencing a lot of pain and disappointment. Specifically, I have been betrayed or rejected by the people I have allowed myself to ‘need.’ Initially, I thought that it was because I was too needy, but I don’t think that is the case.

I am in so much pain that I am beginning to doubt my decision to change in this way. While I accept that the way I was before is not a good way to live, it served a purpose. It protected me from the pain that I now feel. Is there a ‘happy middle path’? I don’t want to go on this way.

Psychologist’s Reply

Please allow me to congratulate you on finding a good psychiatrist who has been able to help you. Finding someone who is the right fit for you is not always an easy task, so I love to hear therapy success stories like yours.

In order to continue your therapeutic journey, perhaps a change in perspective is in order. Although being in pain is never fun, it does provide the motivation for change, because without it, we would be too comfortable. Even with physical injuries, pain is a necessary ingredient for letting us know that something is wrong. Thus, we need it in order to get better. Although the pain may never go away completely, as long as you keep working to get better, it will eventually subside and not feel so terrible.

I realize that the way you were before may have seemed preferable, but I suspect that it really was not. Although it did protect you from the pain, it also prevented you from feeling the joy that you are capable of feeling. While being vulnerable is difficult, it is only through truly opening up that you are able to know, understand and accept the people, feelings and situations that can lead to great happiness. You cannot be emotionally intimate with someone unless they know the real you, and you know the real them. And this can only be accomplished through being vulnerable.

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As you have discovered, there is risk in vulnerability. You will get hurt and people you choose to let in may not always be worthy of the honor. However, the pain of this may help to learn how to choose those people more carefully, and you can try again. No one can promise you a life free of pain or guarantee that every risk will turn out well. However, if you quit now, you will certainly never get the rewards.

It sounds like you’ve come incredibly far and I want to applaud all of the work you have done. Getting to where you are now is quite an amazing feat, one that eludes many people. You know that you have the courage and perseverance to succeed, so I hope you keep taking this journey. I do believe the end result will be worthwhile.

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