We often hear the phrase “Do the Work” when discussing taking care of mental health needs, but what exactly is this “work” everyone speaks of and how do we do it? Doing the work will look different for everyone because we are all on our own journey towards healing, but essentially it means going inward and taking a solid inventory of yourself and discovering who you are and what needs you have. It means uncovering layers of hurt, shame, and resentment that may have been piling up for decades. It means having the courage to be vulnerable and allowing others to truly see you—to take off that mask and be your authentic self. It means owning up to character defects and taking the steps necessary for positive change to occur.
Sometimes a catalyst for change and the beginning of “doing the work” starts with an event that perhaps was out of your control. Maybe a divorce or a death of someone close to you. Or perhaps you have been dealing with a personal struggle for a long time and you are noticing an unhealthy pattern in your relationships. You may be called to make a major change as you start to realize that you can no longer function this way. Things may be coming up to the surface, and you may be at the point where you are ready to start cleaning up, healing, and living a healthier lifestyle.
There is one thing that tends to get in the way of us starting this work and that is denial. Denial is insidious and it does not want you to make any changes. It wants you to keep things the same and keep you stuck right where you are. Denial tends to linger in our blind spots, so we may need help from others to get rid of it. If you have noticed many people in the past telling you the same thing, but you are still living in denial—it may be time to make a move towards acceptance, even though the road to acceptance can be difficult and unpredictable. You can make peace with denial, perhaps it has been “protecting” you from pain that you have not been ready to face. Maybe you have spent many years unwilling to look at those blind spots, and denial has been shielding you from having to go there. Just remember though, you cannot start doing the work if you continue to live in denial.
So, how do you get started with “the work”? Here are a few suggestions:
1) What values are most important to you? Do you value kindness, assertiveness, fun, mindfulness, freedom, fitness? Some of these values will be very important to you and some will be not so important. Also, some values will be more important in one area of your life vs. another (such as work vs. parenting). Now start thinking about whether your actions are in alignment with these values. Are you being a kind person? Are you dedicating time towards fitness? Sometimes we need to make major adjustments in certain areas of our lives so that we can be more aligned with our values.
2) What are your strengths and weaknesses? Unfortunately, we can’t be good at everything, but there are some things that you may realize are true strengths. Perhaps it is putting together social events (building a support system), maybe it is helping your son with his math homework (problem-solving abilities). It is important to reflect on the strengths you have because they will help you as you start to do the work. It is equally important to understand your weakness, as these may be areas you can lean on your support system for some extra help.
3) Learn to set healthy boundaries. Do you struggle with people-pleasing tendencies? Is it hard for you to say ‘No’? Have you noticed a tendency to put others’ needs before your own? It may be time to set boundaries with certain people in your life, or perhaps in a professional setting. Don’t be afraid to carve out time for yourself—it is not selfish to make your own needs a priority.
4) Get honest with yourself. Are there certain topics you have been avoiding? Do you find it uncomfortable to be alone with your thoughts? Don’t let the mistakes of your past continue to haunt you. It is okay to practice self-forgiveness, to let go of the past, and to own up to mistakes. Be willing to feel your feelings, especially if you tend to stuff them down. If it is anger, let it show up in a healthy way. If there is hurt behind that anger, allow yourself to feel the hurt. It is not shameful to show emotions and to practice vulnerability.
5) Learn to release the things you cannot control. Sometimes fear is lurking behind our tendency to control. What are your fears? What is getting in the way of truly letting go? Reflect on what is in your control and start with that. Learn to give yourself a break and to go with the flow. Practice positive affirmations such as “I let go of all expectations”. It takes time to truly let go of things out of your control, so have grace for yourself throughout the process.
Doing the work is not easy, it is why we call it “work”. Starting therapy could be a great first step if you are thinking about getting started with this work. Here at 253 Therapy and Consult, we have licensed therapists that can help you along this journey and provide structure and support as you go through the healing process. If you think you may be ready to start “doing the work”, call us today to set up an appointment!