In the previous two posts, we’ve talked about why therapists ask about your childhood. We’ve explored:
- how your childhood sheds light on who you are today; and
- the reasons why you might feel resistance discussing your childhood or family during therapy (and the reasons are many).
This post is about the “payoff” for talking about your past in therapy – how doing so will help you heal, grow and transform.
You Can and Do Change
As humans, we are all always changing. This is good news! And wanting to change is a pretty common reason for starting therapy in the first place.
But in order to change, you have to understand where you’ve come from and what has shaped you. Exploring your childhood is the natural place to start.
How Do You Change Your Behavior? First, Seek to Understand It.
To change behavior, you have to understand behavior. This sounds obvious, and it is, in a way. But change can be complex and challenging because before you can change something about yourself, you first have to know why you feel or react the way you do.
Let’s look at some examples:
- You get very upset when your partner doesn’t call when they say they were going to. Your reaction feels over the top and later you’re embarrassed about how upset and angry you got. This reaction wasn’t just about your partner not calling, though. It hit on a raw nerve for you because you had parents you couldn’t consistently rely on and you’re super sensitive to abandonment or rejection or feeling alone in the world.
- You feel controlled when your partner tells you that you’re putting too much detergent in the washing machine. The logical part of you thinks that your partner is just trying to help but the emotional part of you feels super annoyed. You wonder why you’re making such a big deal out of a small thing. You realize you grew up in a family with a lot of rules where you didn’t have a choice to do things the way you wanted to do them—so there is a part of you today that is sensitive to any outside stimuli that feel controlling.
When you can understand where your behavior comes from, then reactions that seem to come out of nowhere begin to make sense. You’re not a whiny baby (in the first example) and you don’t have a weird hangup about soap (in the second example). You are just sensitive to certain things because of your past.
In therapy, you talk through all of the things from your past, so your past doesn’t have to control you anymore. You let emotions surface so you can grieve, get angry, or do whatever you need to do so the emotions can move through you. When you come out on the other side, you will often feel a sense of peace, calm, or acceptance.
Another way of thinking about this is that therapy makes unconscious assumptions conscious, so you know why you do what you do—and then you have power then to do things differently. Insight on its own may not change much in your life. But insight coupled with behavioral change can change a lot.