in working with teen girls, i am constantly asked questions about myself. some of them are relevant to the session, some are them being nosey and some of them are just the client’s attempt to stray from the topic that really needs to be discussed. the one thing that is true no matter the question asked is that i really stop to consider it. i want each of my girls to know that i am truly listening and that i value their thoughts.
this week, one of my girls and i met and had a session that made me smile from ear to ear. during last school year, she was in an incredibly toxic relationship with a boyfriend who was manipulative and at every step, she was questioning her self worth. at the beginning of this school year, i could sense that she was reaching a breaking point. even though i was hoping she would make the decision to end the relationship, i could not instruct her. that is one of the common misconceptions about therapists – there is this idea that we just tell people what to do. on the contrary, i rarely give my opinion – my main focus is holding a space for each and every girl to feel safe to bring up whatever is going on for them at that time. i knew i was at least doing that piece right because she said “for 50 minutes every week, i know that someone is truly listening and listening without judgment.” that is all that matters to me.
anyway, before she ended the relationship, she asked me a question: “ms. tappan, what do you think is the most important thing you can do in any relationship?” i do not know that i had ever been asked that question by anyone, much less, by a 17 year old. and without hesitation, i flashed to this quote i saw on the wall of a hospital at the end of november…
“loving ourselves works miracles in our lives.” -louise l. hay
i explained to this girl (who was much stronger than she knew at the time) that the most important thing is loving yourself. at first, she looked at me with a puzzled expression. she even went as far as repeating the question. i simply repeated the answer.
then, i did something i do not do often. i self disclosed. in a therapeutic setting, if i am self disclosing, i have to be sure i am not doing it to make me feel or sound better – it has to be for the benefit of the client. i explained to her that i have been in relationships/situationships of a romantic nature (and also, purely platonic relationships) where i am so focused on loving the other person that i had lost sight of loving myself. and then, when i took a moment to step back and recalibrate, i realized how much i had been missing out on because i was not watering the most important plant in the garden. i compared it to being on a plane and needing to first put on your own mask before assisting others in applying their masks (in case of an emergency).
in that moment, i saw her eyes light up – it literally looked like the lightbulb turned on instantaneously. she thanked me and left. not even a week later, she had ended the relationship. fast forward a few sessions…
this week, she walked in and looked vibrant. we talked about current stressors and of course, i checked in to see how she had been doing post breakup. she said she was doing better than she thought she could and i believed every single word. we laughed about how now, the tears she sheds in session are from actual laughter and not from sadness. we celebrated her ability to put herself first without guilt. and then, she asked me another great question: what changes have i seen in my life since i made loving myself a priority?
i told her i would need a whole day to go through them all but the top five are:
- increased self confidence
- healthier relationships with friends, family and love interests
- a higher success rate in accomplishing goals i set for myself
- an increased bandwidth for my clients, her included
- less stress in my life (fewer headaches, better sleep more often that not, a better ability to focus on tasks day to day)
loving myself really has worked miracles in my life.
what has loving yourself done for you? tell me about it.