Therapy questions to be vulnerable with; you’re welcome

image credit: Daniel Olah

This Mercury Retrograde has me in my feelings a lot of the time; anger, hope, nostalgia, rage, happiness, and deep deep shades of blue. It feels so much like a lot of the shadow work I’ve already done, and because I know it’s a lifelong process, I’m willing to be present for it as I’m able — even though it sucks.

I’m getting weekly therapy, although it’s still new. Establishing a rapport with my therapist has been easy; they are familiar with the types of things that I need that space to process, and are available by email or a phone call on therapy days where I’m in too much pain to get in the car and drive.

Something that has been very difficult for me to become accustomed to is the fact that my needs are important too. Coming from the background that I have, where every cis man I have been romantically involved with has leaned on my emotional labor in unfair and abusive ways, and in some cases outright abused me physically, it’s not surprising that I don’t have an intrinsic belief that my needs are worth acknowledging, and bringing up with others, and attending to.

One of the things my therapist has asked me to do recently, as part of working on emotional reactions of distress to the concept of getting my needs met, is to use curiosity as a framework (this is in line with a lot of the DBT work I’ve learned in recent years), and with kindness ask myself how do I feel before these emotions come up, how do I feel while they are present in me, and how do I feel afterward.

I thought that for today’s list, I would try interrogating a few of my specific emotional responses to healthy relationship dynamics, since that still freaks me out and probably will for as long as it takes me to gently work through my traumas around this topic.

But that feels like an insurmountable thing to do, so instead I am going to get curious and kind about *that* feeling.

1. How did I feel before this came up?

I felt like I could definitely do this, that opening up my heart and bleeding all over the keyboard is something I do regularly, so it would not be a big deal. I felt like it would be therapeutic and I thought that I was prepared for how it would feel just to consider doing it.

2. How did I feel while it was happening?

Having decided that I was going to make a list of feelings and interrogate them was overwhelming to the point that I very nearly stopped writing here and found something to distract myself. Right now, while I am writing, there is a dense sad feeling in my solar plexus, the kind of feeling that I get when something is so upsetting that I’ve subconsciously stuffed it into a box for later.

3. How do I feel afterward?

I did need to sit a while with my sad overwhelmed feelings so that I could feel that there *was* an afterward. I am not sure how much ‘afterward’ there is right now, but I can see that I am remembering that my reactions of sadness, of overwhelm, of unimportance, of being-too-much-ness, those are okay for me to have AND they don’t last forever. I can see that writing about this is helping me find words for the feelings that feel more stuck when I can’t name them. I can remember that I always find the words, eventually. I can remember that things take as long as they take, and that this is not just okay, it’s a sign of healthy relating to myself.

Let’s be real about how to get therapy in this post-capitalist trash fire of an economy:

Therapy can be really difficult to access, and sometimes we have to do some of it on our own. I can go to my elder or other spiritual specialists in the local community for this kind of support, so that they can help me interrogate my impression of reality in order to get closer to the crux of the thing that is causing me distress. 

It is a big ask to go to someone with this level of potential emotional labor, and I’m grateful for the professionals I know who can do this and have the practice of boundaries that make them able to give me this kind of space. 

I’m going to continue working on my shit — my shadow work, as I think most people in the pagan community would refer to it — and I’ll bring you along sometimes in hopes that my experience can help you with your own.

xox, Nix

Nix Kelley
Nix is a genderqueer person with several chronic illnesses and probably too many projects: among them are Ever On And On, a home for their death doula work; and Anchor & Fox Consulting, a place to support spiritual specialists. Nix is also known as FireHeart, and is training as a Seeker on the Path of Light with Renewal Coven.

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