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The 4 Words My Therapist Said That I Will Never Forget

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It was a family therapy session, and I was getting overwhelmed. My dad had said something that had me confused, and the combination of difficulty processing that comes with PANS/PANDAS and my anxiety had my brain feeling like it was sucked into a whirlwind. I couldn’t figure out what he had said, at no fault of his, but I was completely unable to make any sense out of it. So, my therapist suggested I try to write it down, as this has worked very well for me in the past. So I did. I wrote it down and went back and forth with the words he said and what I understood until it was clear enough in my mind to discuss it.

After all that work and effort, I was left with only a sentence typed out in front of me. It felt like that was way more work than it should have been for one sentence. I felt like an idiot. So I said, “I just feel like that was way more work than it should’ve taken me to understand just one sentence.” Immediately, my therapist responded with a compassionate voice and four words that I will never forget.

“Don’t judge yourself, please.”

I had already judged myself, as I very frequently do. I had already told myself I was an idiot, that it took me way too long understand such a short amount of content — just one sentence. I hadn’t expected her to say anything. I made a face, and was trying to figure out how to respond when she added more. “Even though I know you already have. Please don’t.”

She didn’t give a reason why she was asking me not to do so. She didn’t try to debate it with me. She didn’t require any response from me at all. She didn’t judge what I was doing. She didn’t blame me. I didn’t feel any need to use a defense mechanism, because there was nothing against which to defend myself. She was right; I was judging myself. But that was obvious. Trying to argue otherwise would’ve been a waste because I had done so aloud. Because I didn’t have to respond, the words sunk into my mind as I reflected what I understood in that sentence.

The truth is, I’m very hard on myself. I beat myself up all the time, over things others would find insignificant. The compassionate heart I have towards others turns into judgmental, harsh and outright mean to myself. That pattern didn’t change after that session and within minutes after I left, I was at it again — thinking I was an idiot, that I was “crazy.” But this time, her words followed me. So, as the initial thought ran through my mind, it was immediately followed by her voice replaying those four words. “Don’t judge yourself, please.”

I never thought four simple words could mean so much. But to me, those words meant the world. Those words meant someone noticed I was hurting. They meant someone cared enough to speak up, during a time they really didn’t have to do so. They meant someone wanted better for me than what I give myself. She asked me not to judge myself in a way that didn’t cast any more judgment. She wasn’t mad at me. She genuinely cared, and wanted me to take care of myself because she cared about me.

I’m not saying those words were a cure. I’m not saying I don’t still judge myself sometimes. What I am saying is that a few simple words of support can have more power and impact to someone than most people could imagine. What I’m saying is that I sit here typing this, a year later, and I still remember exactly how she said those four words and how it made me feel. What I’m saying is that I spent months afterward remembering that moment every time I started to judge myself. “Don’t judge yourself, please.” Four words, 23 letters, and an infinite impact.

So, when you want to support someone and don’t know how to do so, don’t underestimate the power of just a few simple words. And to my therapist, if you ever see this, thank you. Thank you for being the consistent thread over the past year and a half of chaos. The consistent thread that I knew cared. And, of course, thank you for those four words. They impacted me more than you could possibly imagine, and I will never forget them.

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Thinkstock photo via mashimara

Originally published: August 21, 2016
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