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The Real Reason I'm an 'Overachiever' in Therapy

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“You still don’t think you deserve therapy.”

I sat in silence, staring deeply into her eyes. My therapist was interpreting a dream in my last session and her assessment ended with the above words. They hit me like a brick over the head, because she’s right. I instantly felt a nervous childish giggle creep up, which is my coping mechanism when I feel deeply uncomfortable.

• What is PTSD?

I’ve faithfully come to every session weekly for the last year and a half. I listen intently, take notes, do my homework, journal, take my meds, read academic articles about my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis… 

In other words, I strive to be a “good patient,” one who she will enjoy working with. Is it because I’m a perfectionist? Partly. Is it because I really want to heal my trauma? Partly. 

But the truth is, a lot of my “overachieving” in therapy is simply a product of a deep sense of feeling unworthy of it. There is a sense that I have to earn her care, work for it, otherwise I’m not good enough and she will abandon me.

For me the biggest challenge I have in life is identifying my needs and acknowledging that they are legitimate and that I deserve to get those needs met, not because I’ve earned it but because I’m human.

The more I think about it the more I recognize how this feeling of inadequacy has driven so much of my life. Getting straight A’s, taking extra dance classes, working long hours, being the best at everything not because I wanted to feel superior to anyone, but because it’s the only way I felt like I was just OK or good enough. 

It’s almost as if I have to achieve to earn my right to exist as a human, and it’s really the source of so much of my anxiety and depression. 

When she said those words it occurred to me that my needing her came with intense feelings of shame and fear. How can I trust that she won’t leave me? Do I really deserve the attachment I’m starting to feel?

The biggest thing child sexual abuse steals from you is your humanity. It robs you of your power, renders you helpless and makes you feel like there is something inherently wrong with you to have deserved the abuse. So you think that in order to not be abused you must be perfect and earn your right to live in this world.

I know logically that I do deserve to heal or I wouldn’t keep going back. Now I just need to allow myself to feel worthy and to take back the power that was stolen from me so many many years ago.

This is the journey of healing those scars and it’s a journey of discovering your true self for the first time, feelings and all. The journey is long but I think I have an amazing guide if I can just learn to trust the process, the connection and the fact that I do deserve it. 

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Thinkstock photo via Jupiterimages

Originally published: February 25, 2017
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