The surprising story that helped clients pursue long-held desires

*(Transcript edited for readability)

There was a personal story that I used to share with my clients and I was always surprised at how much impact it ended up having on how they saw themselves and what was possible for their lives. This is somewhat related to the concept of comparison and I want to take some time today to share that with you.

Sharing personal stories in a therapeutic relationship can be a bit controversial, but if somebody asked a question, it was always about trying to assure themselves they were not alone and would not be judged. So, I answered them. 

Survivors of trauma want to feel safe and know that you understand, and therefore you're less likely to judge them. So, I decided very early on that if somebody asked, I would tell them that I, too, was a survivor of abuse (or other personal experiences) as long as it was relevant to the healing work.

If someone asked questions like what age I was when I was abused or who my abuser was, I would tell them. It always helped strengthen their sense of trust and safety in the therapeutic relationship. And nobody ever asked inappropriate questions or anything deeply personal, but there was often another story that would come up...

I was really surprised that this is the story that stuck with them. Maybe because it was a little bit more of a story versus just an answer.

For people who have been abused as children, you often limit the possibilities in your life. You think you are not capable. You think you are not good enough. You think that you are going to fail. You tend to hold yourself back.

I've worked with so many clients over the years. I've worked with people who had dreams, things they wanted in their lives but held themselves back. They felt like it was too late for them, that they weren’t smart, capable, or talented and they weren’t enough for anything.

Most of my clients over the years have been women. Women who had the desire to change their careers or discover new opportunities, go back to school or go to college for the first time. Maybe even finish high school or get their GED and go on to college.

So many different dreams and desires that would show up in the room. 

When somebody would bring that up, I would share with them my journey. 

This is where comparison comes in because most people make assumptions about their therapist as well as with people in general, right?

I began sharing my educational journey with my clients, I shared with them how much fear I had, how much doubt I had, and yet there I was, their therapist. 

It would come up for them because they had this idea of something that they wanted to do but they were holding themselves back. 

Many of you probably know that my educational journey was not typical of what people thought of me in terms of the assumptions they made about me, a white girl that seemed to be middle class (at that time anyway), who had her own business.

I did well in school probably until about third grade and it was all downhill from there.

In seventh grade, it really started going downhill. I began getting in trouble. When I was in high school, I skipped school and my grades were not good. 

*(I didn't share this in the video but I also started smoking cigarettes and weed... though we called it pot 😉)

I came from a very low-income family. My grandparents became kind of low-middle income, but my mom and I were below the poverty line. My dad was gone. I did have a stepfather, but he was one of my abusers. So, obviously that was not a great situation.

Growing up in my family, probably mostly because I got in trouble a lot and didn't do well in school, there was an expectation verbalized to me once by my grandmother that I would end up pregnant and quit school and then live the life my mom lived. And, I expected that to likely be true as well, not consciously, but that was the reality.

When I was 16, I got pregnant, just as expected. 

I thought I’m going to finish school. My son was due in mid-August, and I thought, we'll be on summer break and my mom will help me. I was a junior at that point and I thought, okay, I'm gonna do this.

I planned to go to summer school because of all the classes I had missed but, I was going to finish school.

About a month later, I had to have an appendectomy. At that time you had to be out of whatever you were doing for a while. So, I missed school for a couple of weeks and I felt pretty hopeless. I took it as proof... finishing high school is just not what I was meant for, I was meant to be a high school dropout and that was it.

But I wanted to go so I battled within myself about it and I did go. On that first day back, I had to go to my counselor's office to get a pass into my classes because of missing those days. When I went in to talk to my counselor, she said, “Oh, I just assumed you dropped out.”.

I remember feeling dejected and a little abandoned in a way, and probably a lot of other things. But, at that moment, it was reinforcement

Who am I kidding? My counselor just expects me to drop out and doesn't bother to check on it or anything. I showed her my doctor's order, and she's said, “Oh, I'm sorry.” but that was it.

I went home that day and I think that was the very last day (I attended school). I didn't go back and that was all the proof that I needed in my mind, this is all there is for my life.

A few months after my son was born, I moved to North Carolina where my husband was stationed.

I had my second son right after I turned 18 and I decided that I was going to go back to high school.

We had just moved into a new neighborhood with a high school pretty close to where I lived. I called the high school and asked what I needed to do to enroll.

She asked me a bunch of questions. When she discovered I was 18 she said, “You know, I think this might be a good program for you.” She directed me to my local community college to complete a high school diploma program (different than a GED). It was designed to help you go through the same kind of curriculum to get your (high school) diploma.

I enrolled in that program and I'm grateful she directed me in that direction because having two small children under the age of one and a half, that program was the best thing for me. But, I didn't know where it was going to go after that.

I didn't believe it could go beyond that, but something pushed me.

I wanted to go back and looked into some different options. I came across a surgical technician program at the community college and I decided I was going to do that.

My marriage wasn't going well at that time, things happened, and I didn't end up doing it.

I moved back to Illinois and gave up on the idea because I took that again as proof and evidence that it's just not meant to be. My kids were getting a bit older and I didn't know what was going to happen in terms of being a single mom. There's just a lot that was up in the air.

I kept thinking about it. I ended up mentioning it to the person I was with at that time (who is now my husband) and he pushed me. He was very encouraging and he pushed me to go. I told him, I don't know what I would go for. In all reality, all those excuses were excuses because I was terrified.

I was terrified. I didn't think I could do it. I did not believe I was smart enough. I didn't believe I was focused or determined enough. I didn't believe I was capable of taking community college classes and doing well, but he pushed me. In a loving way, he pushed me. I ended up signing up for a couple of classes, having no idea where that was going to lead.

The part that I share with my clients is how terrified I was and how I deeply believed that I would not be able to do it

After community college, when I went on to get my bachelor's degree, I never anticipated that I would ever be able to do it. Nobody in my family had a bachelor's degree. I don't even think my parents and grandparents finished middle school.

I was terrified. I was nauseous. I was panicked thinking about it. When I went to look at the textbooks, those huge textbooks, I was like, Oh my God, I can't do this. I realized it was also too late to drop out.

I started with two classes, two classes that I read the descriptions of and I thought, okay, this sounds interesting.

I took one psychology class and one sociology class, and I was terrified. 

Then, going on to my bachelor's degree, (I was even more) terrified. I was finding all kinds of reasons (excuses) why I couldn't do it. Why it wasn't the right time, including the last thing that I was holding onto... my GPA wasn’t great because I still wasn't doing all that well.

My GPA needed to be high to get an extra grant into my bachelor's program. My excuse was no, I'm going to retake this class

I got a D in a biology class because my dad died that semester and I had to miss classes.

(I wanted) to retake this class so I can get my GPA up so I can get another $500 for transfer credit. I told the transfer director, I think I'm gonna hold off a semester. She asked me why. I told her the reason and she said, “Well if that's all that's keeping you, we can make that up.”

(In my mind) I was trying to come up with some way that it still wouldn't work.

I wanted to take the class again at community college because I wasn't ready, I was terrified.

I did not want to fail. And, I believe that if I tried to take a college class, it would be proof that I was stupid. Seeing the textbooks and looking at the curriculum, I told myself that I can't do this. But, I did it.

I had no intention of getting a master's degree but, any job I could get as a bachelor's level social worker wasn't going to pay off my student loans for my bachelor's degree. 

I was terrified again. Absolutely terrified every semester. I just knew that was going to be the semester that would prove that I was not capable.

I shared with my clients the fear, the absolute so deeply ingrained idea of it not being my time, not being smart enough, not being young enough, not being practiced enough, not being whatever enough.

I held on to that idea each step along the way. 

I was not brilliant at school. At each level from community college to bachelor’s degree to master’s degree, I improved my GPA. But, I improved not because I got smarter. I mean, I learned more, but, I improved because the more concentrated you are in what your studies are, you're much more interested and the more interested you are the more you take in.

Like if you're reading a book and you're interested, you're going to remember the book. If you're reading a book that you have absolutely no interest in and you think is stupid, you're likely not going to remember a whole lot of it.

So, even in my bachelor's program, there were a lot of classes I had to take that I didn't enjoy and wasn't very good at. But then, in my master's program, all the classes were classes that I was interested in. The point is, that each step of the way, each time you put yourself out there, each time you step into the unknown and you push through that fear, you're able to see something about yourself.

You're able to trust something about yourself that you didn't even know existed, that you thought you had to go out and build. 

But, all of that is already inside of you. 

So, whatever it is that you have been not doing because you think that you're not capable or you think it's too late (not just about school or career), it could be about a new hobby, some sort of desire or dream you've had that you've held yourself back from thinking it was stupid or immature, not the right time, too old, even a new career, even if that means downgrading, so to speak, like maybe you went to school to be a doctor or a lawyer and you realize you hate it and maybe you want to run an animal shelter...


Anything you desire for your life, what you need to achieve, you are capable of achieving it. It already exists within you. It absolutely does. You just don't see it yet. 

That's what this healing process is, in part. It's about helping you see and connect to the truth that already exists within you.

The reality is that I'm not smart in a lot of things unless it's specifically related to something like sociological research. Letters and numbers together are supposed to mean something and it makes absolutely no sense to me. There are a lot of things that I'm not very good at. 

We don't have to be good at everything. We can't be good at everything. We can't. But, the things that you want for your life, the things that you want to do, the things that you want to achieve, you have that inside of you already.

The things that you didn’t achieve that you wanted to achieve have no bearing on who you are or your capacity to achieve them. 

When you can see that as being true for you, then you recognize, you get to experience life and things that you have shut yourself off because you didn't think you could or maybe didn't think that you should.

Remember, it's not about whatever it is that you achieved. It's about allowing yourself to see the truth and connect with the truth of who you are and what you are capable of. All of that is possible and is already within you.

As you heal, you begin to open to the possibility of your innate worthiness.❤️❤️