Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

This book is written by Lori Gottlieb, with a subtitle: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed. My acquisition and reading of this book is a direct product of Amazon’s ranking and recommendation system. It was presented to me, in the middle of my browser, with its eye-catching sub-title. This sub-title caught my attention more than the title itself and the writer’s name, of which I admittedly have not heard of before, but then I do not know any therapists. The word “maybe” is a very important addition to its title; “You Should Talk to Someone” would have been too forceful and presumptuous.

What drew me to this book is the curiosity: what a therapist’s profession is like, what it is like to attend therapy sessions, what problems people bring to their therapist, do people generally find the therapy approach useful, how quickly can people solve their problems and establish a new way of being, how does it fail and why, and many other general questions. I am very skeptical about therapy. I believe in learning in a full-rounded fashion: reading and writing, formal education and discussions, debates, physical activities, spending time with loved ones, meeting new people, developing new hobbies, trying new adventures, anything that generates positive energy, and keeps oneself mental and physically active. Therapy really does not sound appealing at all. But I desire to understand the importance of therapy for people who need or like it, and see the value of the field from others’ perspectives. I am glad that I read this book. It allowed me to peak into that mysterious world through a small window. 

Would I consider therapy after reading this book? No, thanks. A very firm no and thanks. Would I recommend therapy to people around me? Maybe, it depends whether there is enough resources and support available from other channels, and self-resilience and so on. Frankly, it depends on the weather too! I need some rain. 

Would I recommend this book to you? Yes, a resounding yes. It helps me to understand people and the issues they deal with. Some people find it hard to cope with changes particularly the devastatingly bad ones; others adapt to changes quickly and let time work its magic; some think very light of playing a character in this lifelong drama; others take every step in life very seriously or somewhere inbetween. It is important that we see from other people’s viewpoints, and find ways to accommodate and comfort others. Above all, the book is fun and easy to read. 

Enjoy your life, whether you choose to read this book or not. Take a break if needed. Always get back on stage. We are both the actors and the audience. 

Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch.

I know how affirming it feels to blame the outside world for my frustrations, to deny ownership of whatever role I might have in the existential play called My Incredibly Important Life. I know what it’s like to bathe in self-righteous outrage, in the certainty that I’m completely right and have been terribly wronged, because that’s exactly how I’ve felt all day.

I also know something less commonly understood: that change and loss travel together. We can’t have change without loss, which is why so often people say they want change but nonetheless stay exactly the same.

Sometimes we are the cause of our difficulties. And if we can step out of our own way, something astonishing happens.

Most people are what therapists call “unreliable narrators.” That’s not to say that they purposely mislead. It’s more that every story has multiple threads, and they tend to leave out the strands that don’t jibe with their perspectives.

I feel as though I’m viewing this scene from above, watching a confused version of myself move at incredible speed through the famous stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

“The only way out is through.” The only way to get to the other side of the tunnel is to go through it, not around it.

Most big transformations come about from the hundreds of tiny, almost imperceptible, steps we take along the way.

I’m ready, I think. One foot, then the other. I’m going to be fine.

There’s nothing like illness to take away a sense of control, even if we often have less of it than we imagine. What people don’t like to think about is that you can do everything right—in life or in a treatment protocol—and still get the short end of the stick. And when that happens, the only control you have is how you deal with that stick—your way, not the way others say you should.

Yes, I’m seeking objectivity, but only because I’m convinced that objectivity will rule in my favor.

“the therapeutic act, not the therapeutic word.”

In idiot compassion, you avoid rocking the boat to spare people’s feelings, even though the boat needs rocking and your compassion ends up being more harmful than your honesty. People do this with teenagers, spouses, addicts, even themselves. Its opposite is wise compassion, which means caring about the person but also giving him or her a loving truth bomb when needed.

Before you speak, ask yourself, What is this going to feel like to the person I’m speaking to? 

People often mistake numbness for nothingness, but numbness isn’t the absence of feelings; it’s a response to being overwhelmed by too many feelings.

I once heard creativity described as being the ability to grasp the essence of one thing and the essence of some very different thing and smash them together to create some entirely new thing.

The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it. 

“Your feelings don’t have to mesh with what you think they should be,” he explained. “They’ll be there regardless, so you might as well welcome them because they hold important clues.”

How many times had I said something similar to my own patients? But here I feel as if I’m hearing this for the first time. Don’t judge your feelings; notice them. Use them as your map. Don’t be afraid of the truth.

The things we protest against the most are often the very things we need to look at.

Wendell explains that my pain feels like it’s in the present, but it’s actually in both the past and the future. Therapists talk a lot about how the past informs the present—how our histories affect the ways we think, feel, and behave and how at some point in our lives, we have to let go of the fantasy of creating a better past. If we don’t accept the notion that there’s no redo, much as we try to get our parents or siblings or partners to fix what happened years ago, our pasts will keep us stuck. Changing our relationship to the past is a staple of therapy. But we talk far less about how our relationship to the future informs the present too. Our notion of the future can be just as powerful a roadblock to change as our notion of the past.

People tend to dream without doing, death remaining theoretical.

Looking death in the eye would force them to live more fully—not in the future, with some long list of goals, but right now.

Life is the very definition of uncertainty.

In therapy we aim for self-compassion (Am I human?) versus self-esteem (a judgment: Am I good or bad?).

“Most things worth doing are difficult,”

Happiness equals reality minus expectations.

So many of our destructive behaviors take root in an emotional void, an emptiness that calls out for something to fill it.

Therapists don’t perform personality transplants; they just help to take the sharp edges off. A patient may become less reactive or critical, more open and able to let people in. In other words, therapy is about understanding the self that you are. But part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself—to let go of the limiting stories you’ve told yourself about who you are so that you aren’t trapped by them, so you can live your life and not the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life.

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

The internet can be both a salve and an addiction, a way to block out pain (the salve) while simultaneously creating it (the addiction). When the cyber-drug wears off, you feel worse, not better. Patients think they want to know about their therapists, but often, once they find out, they wish they hadn’t, because this knowledge has the potential to contaminate the relationship, leaving patients to edit, consciously or not, what they say in their sessions.

“I only know what I would do. I don’t know what you should do,”

I try to wrap my mind around this paradox: self-sabotage as a form of control. If I screw up my life, I can engineer my own death rather than have it happen to me. If I stay in a doomed relationship, if I mess up my career, if I hide in fear instead of facing what’s wrong with my body, I can create a living death—but one where I call the shots.

The four ultimate concerns are death, isolation, freedom, and meaninglessness.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

When we give our minds space to wander, they take us to the most unexpected and interesting places.

There’s no hierarchy of pain. Suffering shouldn’t be ranked, because pain is not a contest. 

You can’t get through your pain by diminishing it, he reminded me. You get through your pain by accepting it and figuring out what to do with it. You can’t change what you’re denying or minimizing. And, of course, often what seem like trivial worries are manifestations of deeper ones.

“Every laugh and good time that comes my way feels ten times better than before I knew such sadness.”

I believe in you. I can see possibilities that you might not see quite yet. I imagine that something different can happen, in some form or another. In therapy we say, Let’s edit your story.

Relationships in life don’t really end, even if you never see the person again. Every person you’ve been close to lives on somewhere inside you.