The 2012 Act Three Journey of an Actress/Coach/Writer.

Day 33 My Therapists: Part One

Posted by themirrenlee on 02/02/2012

Our brains have been programed like barcoding. Sometimes what's been coded there needs changing.

My therapists.

I’ve had three in my life, since my first one in 1992. Without them, I probably wouldn’t be functioning today. I know for sure that I would be pretty miserable.

Today I had an appointment with the one I see now – about every 4 weeks or so. Happily, it was one of those sessions that included a breakthrough for me. Always very helpful!

Talking to someone (who is more objective than a friend or relative) to help you: sort out your feelings/get to know yourself better/ make decisions/give you tips on mindfulness/deal with anger issues/find out why you don’t treat yourself well/cope with a chronic illness/make changes in your life, etc. etc. etc. can completely change your life for the better. (There are endless reasons why you might want to see a good counselor/therapist/psychiatrist. The difference with a psychiatrist, of course, is that they can dispense drugs if needed.)

I have always said that I’ll never understand why all drama schools don’t have a therapist on staff. After all, what does an actor need to know more than anything else? Themselves, and how they tick (as well as how their personalities manifest to others so that they know what they’re “selling”). That was what The Method’s Emotional Memory exercises were touted to address, but all they ended up doing was creating an environment in which actors would certainly get very emotional, but then not know what to do with it. (Take it from a Method trained actress.) The brain controls the emotions, so as far as I’m concerned it’s the brain we need to explore, to find out what’s been imprinted there from birth; or as it has been described, what tapes are we running that may need changing? For myself, I call them Buttons – they are those hot spots in your psyche that flare up to something, often when you least expect it, and you’re hit with an emotional reaction. When I first started having counseling, during the divorce with my third husband, I called myself One Giant Button!

I had always wanted therapy (I usually use the word counseling because I started with a relationship counseling service), because I knew that my upbringing had not only left many scars and behaviors that were causing me pain, but it was also affecting how well I lived my life. However, all the people surrounding me didn’t think it was necessary, that I just needed to “get over it”, and since one of my biggest issues was not doing what was best for me, but instead “triangulating” through what others thought and wanted, I didn’t pursue it.

Then my husband and I had to have at least one mandated marriage counselling session to be able to get our divorce. My husband was totally resistant to the idea of counseling, to the point of making the following statement: “I don’t believe in this Family of Origin stuff, except for Mirren, whose problems come from her family.” Illogical at best, insulting at worst? He then became so passive aggressive about the whole session that the counselor realized it was no use trying to go on. (Funnily enough, she said she was retiring that week so I’ve always thought he probably made her glad about that decision!)

I was intrigued, though, at the thought that I could talk to someone who might be able to help me figure out why I kept going down the same destructive paths I did. Even more importantly, I had reached a bit of an existential crisis because I had been the caregiver of all six siblings, as well as my parents, my whole life. With everyone either grown up, or no longer around, I was wondering what I was actually supposed to be doing with my life. I still had my daughter to raise (she was 4 and my son was 24), but I was so conditioned to be looking after “more” that I kind of felt at a loss.

It was a relationship counseling service we had attended, so I didn’t even know if I was allowed to go by myself. I asked if it was possible to have sessions about my “relationship with myself”, and, although considered unorthodox, it was ultimately approved (it was a subsidised situation, which was the only way I could afford it, so that’s why approval was needed). I then started to see a woman who would guide me through my first 5 years of counselling with great understanding, kindness, insight and even affection. I learned very quickly how damaged I was, and how I had been trained to triangulate through others’ needs first to the point where I didn’t even know what I, personally, wanted or needed. It was a harrowing, thrilling, upsetting, life changing, self affirming hell of a ride.

After three and a half years, she asked me if I was ready to stop seeing her. I was unsure, still feeling there were some Buttons I hadn’t uncovered yet, but I said I’d try it and see how I went. After six months, I felt I was still repeating some old patterns, so I went back and had six more months of weekly sessions. I then said to her how much I was going to miss her, but I felt that I didn’t “need” her anymore. This, of course, while sad for both of us, was a testament to her ability to help me feel that I could function better than I ever had. (I mention this as an example of how sometimes we need a “tune up”, even after we think we’re running smoothly.)

That was in 1992. In 2005, when my Fibromyalgia started escalating (because of Menopause, I ultimately discovered) to the point of seriously impacting my life, I started seeing a counselor attached to my doctor’s practice. In the beginning, I wanted help with mentally/emotionally handling my chronic illness (the mind/body connection). Very quickly, I discovered that I had still had some hidden Buttons that needed disconnecting. Most importantly, she gave me some invaluable insights that led me even further into uncovering the hidden codes that I’d been programed with. Plus, I was able to feel more positive about how I handled my health issues.

Tomorrow, I’ll share why one of my major issues is my guilt and shame at having a chronic illness, and how counselling has helped that. I’ll also talk about the counselor I’m seeing now, and the breakthrough that happened today.

I decided to write about this issue because I know there are those of you who think that seeing someone to help you emotionally is somehow a shameful thing, or don’t know how to go about it, or have had bad experiences and so gave up completely instead of looking for someone else. Maybe my experiences will give you an insight into how utterly invaluable counseling can be for you.

(Side note: If you have issues from an abusive (physically OR emotionally, or both) upbringing, I urge you to read John Bradshaw’s seminal book on the concept of your Inner Child, called “Homecoming”. I first heard of him from Billy Connolly! He mentioned him in one of his stand up routines as having helped him tremendously. Warning though: those with difficult upbringings find they can’t read the book without crying! (Which is not a bad thing. I’ve mentioned before that I think crying is a wonderful way to release endorphins and feel more relaxed.) The book makes you feel so validated, and yet so vulnerable, that you can’t help but get very emotional while reading it. (It even has a “quiz” to help you figure out at what years you got “stuck” in due to your childhood experiences.) Unfortunately, some people I know haven’t even been able to get through the book completely because of the wounds it brought up, in spite of the fact that he’s being constantly loving and helpful about the pain he’s discussing. It’s SO worth pushing through it, even if it takes rewarding yourself with a lot of chocolate along the way to help ease the journey! You will learn how to nurture your Inner Child and give yourself the affection/hugs/emotional input that maybe you’re lacking in your life.)

I’m just sharin’ …

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