Last week started as a no good, very bad week. I guess being a therapist-in-training can just feel oh so disheartening sometimes. I spend a lot of time wondering if I’m being helpful and it can be hard not to take my supervisor’s constructive criticism personally given the personal nature of this work in general. When all I wanted to do was sleep in lieu of participating in the usual activities I enjoy, I knew it was a sign of just how down I was feeling.
Fast forward to Friday when I was thinking about how it was the best week I’d had in a long time. I wondered: what changed? What happened throughout the week that transformed my emotions in such a helpful way? Reflecting on that very question is what inspired today’s blog post.
I Was Focusing Too Much on One Aspect of My “Self”
There’s this idea in our culture that our “self” is simply one integrated thing. We’re just one person with one identity, and everything we do is a reflection of who we are as an entire person.
I don’t buy into this.
Instead, I think there are a plethora of different identities we hold all at once. I, for example, am not just a master’s student; I’m also a daughter, girlfriend, feminist, friend, musician, book-lover, athlete, writer, and many other things.
With each part of my identity, different qualities get expressed or suppressed. When I’m playing the role of “Student” at school, for example, I might be a bit more introverted than when I’m playing the part of “Friend” with someone with whom I feel comfortable. When I’m giving a lecture on nutrition, I might have to bring the confident and knowledgeable parts from my identity to the forefront.
So, what does that have to do with feeling like sh*t sometimes?
Well, I have a theory...
I think we feel down when we focus a disproportionate amount of energy on a part of our identity that isn’t flourishing in a given moment. In doing so, we downplay or downright forget about another part of our identity that actually has an opportunity to make us feel really great.
Let me explain…
The main narrative going through my head at the beginning of the week was, “I’m a horrible student and therapist,” and I couldn’t seem to shake this. Every thought I had only added fuel to the fire. Remember when you said that stupid thing to your supervisor? Yeah, he probably thinks you’re an idiot.
But in chatting with some newcomers to my master’s program the next day, I was suddenly being asked questions about what it’s like to be a therapist, what I’ve learned, what I’m interested in, etc. Suddenly, I was out of my Student role and into more of a Mentor role in some capacity, and therefore able to connect with skills I’d been failing to acknowledge, like leadership or an ability to build connections.
Then, I went out for drinks with a classmate. And as we chatted and confided in one another, I remembered another skill I possess—the skill of holding people’s secrets dearly and not being judgmental.
The Bottom Line
When you’re feeling down, try thinking of what role you’re feeling down about. Is it your Work role you’re feeling inadequate about? Parent role? Friend role? What skills do you think you’re lacking at the moment (i.e. intelligence, confidence, etc.). From there, focus on doing something that brings out a totally different role of yours, and therefore different skills. If you’re lacking confidence, step into a role that might force you to be confident, like that of a teaching role. Before you know it, you’ll reconnect with parts of you you’d been forgetting about, and your week will turn around like mine did.