I have to admit. I rarely find the portrayal of therapists in movies and television very flattering, let alone accurate. Too often, counselors are depicted as either cold and insensitive or full of cheesy cliches. In comedies I do find them pretty funny, but I sometimes wonder why anyone would seek out therapy based on some of these media portrayals.
My wife and I recently saw the movie, “I Smile Back” starring Sarah Silverman as a drug-addicted mother. And actually, the therapist in the movie – played by Terry Kinney – wasn’t half bad. The movie itself was quite a downer and I wouldn’t consider this a wholehearted recommendation. But there was one line in the movie that stuck with me.
Just before the main character finishes her drug treatment program, she’s telling her therapist how she wishes she could go back to the person she once was, reminiscing about her marriage, her kids, the smile she once had. She’s grieving the loss of what she had before her life fell apart.
The therapist responds, saying…
“Everything beautiful – every moment of beauty – fades away. But then there’s another one, and another one, and another one. You just have to be alive to see it. Have faith in yourself.”
What this statement suggests is that all good things and beautiful moments eventually fade, whether we make wise or foolish choices, have good luck or bad, lead healthy lives or not. The reality is, these things fade for everyone, not just you. And just like everyone else, there are more good, beautiful moments coming in your life. The problem is, when we give up on ourselves we’re no longer present, awake, alive enough to see it when they do.
Toxic shame says you didn’t just make a mistake, you are a mistake. It says you deserve the losses you’ve incurred, and brought them on yourself. It hangs over us like a cloud, making it difficult to see the positive things. Getting out from under that dark cloud takes time and work. It often starts with a radical acceptance of things as they are, understanding that the present moment probably shouldn’t be any different given all of what’s happened up to this point. Radical acceptance is the middle ground between the extremes of self-blame and denial. It’s not about liking how things are, but accepting how things are. Taking responsibility rather than taking blame. It also takes a measure of self-compassion – extending the same sort of understanding and forgiveness to ourselves that often seems easier to offer to others.
But time, effort, radical acceptance, and self-compassion can all lead to re-igniting a faith in oneself, enabling the ability to see the beautiful moments in store. But, then again, the therapist in the movie said it so much better (I can’t believe I just wrote that!).
Andy Young, LCPC, CADC, CPAIP
New Prairie Counseling Center