My 8th grade algebra teacher was a very kind and patient woman named Mrs. Collier. Math has never been my thing, and I found myself totally at sea in her class. She never embarrassed or shamed me, and she was available if I wanted help in solving the problems at hand. Somehow, I scraped by with a C. I had always been a good student, and the C was upsetting to me on its own. To cap off the embarrassment I felt, my teacher recommended that I retake algebra the next year in high school. The idea of having to retake a class felt humiliating to me. What she told my parents, though, was that I was not ready to move on to geometry and that I had not understood the principles of algebra enough to move on to higher math. I agreed, but I was hurt.
As it turned out, I took algebra again the next year and ended with a 98 average. Things made sense that year in a way they hadn't before, and I was able to feel a sense of accomplishment rather than shame or fear about my skills. Now, this did not set me up to be a mathematician by any stretch of the imagination, and I was glad to be done with math after my junior year, but, looking back on it now, I can see Mrs. Collier's point. I wasn't ready.
The important thing to consider about readiness is that readiness is different from willingness, eventual capacity, or interest. Readiness is about having the necessary skills and resources to do something. I wanted to learn algebra. I wanted to do well in the class. I was not at a point where my brain was equipped to handle that information in a useful way. That was not a reflection of me as a person. It was just the way things were.
Clients often come to me and express frustration with themselves that they are not "over" their trauma or loss or that they haven't conquered their anxiety or depression yet. These changes do not happen because we want them to but because we take the steps and develop the skills and the readiness for those changes. If your depression "magically" disappears, how will you know how to cope with it if and when it returns? If you force yourself to "forgive" and "be over" your trauma before you have worked through it, you may well find yourself with increased anxiety, depression, or physical health problems.
Similarly, clients sometimes talk to me about having been in therapy before and not having accomplished what they wanted to accomplish. Often, as we discuss where they were at the time and what was going on in their lives, we find that they were not in a good place to make the changes they wanted. They weren't ready.
Truly, we sometimes have to make changes before we are ready (moving, changing jobs, having a baby), but I think ideally the most effective change comes organically. I very much believe that therapy is about learning to listen to and honor yourself and your needs and feelings. With that comes the need for acceptance. Acceptance is not approval but simple acknowledgement that things are as they are. If I want to take a trip to Europe, that's fine, but I don't get there by wanting to be there. I have to plan, save money, and make arrangements. Once I finally start the trip, I have to wait the time it takes to get there. I have to acknowledge and accept where I am before I can make the appropriate next steps.
Therapy is a journey that takes preparation, effort, and time. Ultimately, all of that creates a self-awareness and engagement with life that does not often occur without those elements. The journey itself is a gift and should be appreciated. You'll get there when you're ready.
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