Therapists: Is it normal to feel this way?

This is gonna be a long one...

I'm an avid follower of the YouTube personalities and podcast, Big Mood. Two weeks ago they posted a video entitled, You're Normal If You Feel This Way

The topic came up for the ladies via a Reddit Forum entitled, Therapists, what is something people tell you that hey are ashamed of but is actually normal? I love this topic simply because it's great to know that people have the same thoughts and feelings as you do. For someone who is slightly more anxious, it's one less thing for me to worry about.

I wanted to highlight some things on the list so that it's easier to sift through, it will likely be in line with what the girls discussed in the podcast. I haven't gotten all the way through the Reddit forum but I will try to find any extras that were missed. 

I recall the time I started therapy and the topic of what is normal came up. Side note, I was actually in a sliding scale program with a university. The counselors were in their graduate program and this was part of finishing their degree. I didn't have health insurance for a good portion of my twenties and I really wanted to go, so I'm glad I got the referral from a friend. Anyways, when I asked my first counselor about if anything I had told her was normal, treading carefully not to pry into her other clients personal information, she answered with a series of questions. They were along the lines of, "What do you think normal is, what would it mean to say that you were normal?" Essentially, she never answered me and it was frustrating. This counselor in particular was very much into "Question Therapy", not an official term, but she would never give me an answer to anything. I thought it was fun until I realized after 6 months, I was just more confused about everything and was just paying to talk to someone. Nothing against her, she was still in school and likely had methods she wanted to try on her clients. 

When I was assigned my next two soon-to-be counselors, they willingly provided that what I was feeling was normal--meaning I didn't have to ask. I question myself a lot, like a lot, so I think someone like me would need this kind of reassurance at least until my training wheels came off.

I was worried the former experience is what therapy would be forever, just questions on questions on questions until you solve some mysterious life puzzle. A good note to take: there are all sorts of therapy methods out there. Even if you are low income, you can switch counselors or you can even tell your current one that you want something more or would appreciate them guiding you a bit more.

I digress. My hope is that you, the reader, can have peace of mind reading this selection of normal things people confess in therapy. It seems most of the responses are from acclaimed therapists, licensed professionals, or even mentors in the mental health community. Some may be from clients of therapy, either way, nothing here is set in stone, it's the internet. 

So, what is normal?

1.) Intrusive thoughts.

Where do I begin. This was the most popular item shared by clients in therapy sessions. 
I learned this a while ago, so the intrusive thoughts I had, although uncomfortable, are no longer alarming.

The thoughts can range from jumping on top of a table during a meeting and screaming and performing a suggestive act to self harm to punching a baby. I will try not to be too graphic, please refer to the reddit forum or this article for further explanation.

Yes, I've had these thoughts, lately not so much. I think I had them more as a teenager or in my twenties. They are random thoughts, but they are just that, random thoughts. The fear that most people have is that they do not know themselves and are capable of doing things to harm themselves or others. According to various websites and Psychology Today:
"One of the most distressing [myths] is that having such thoughts means that you unconsciously want to do the things that come into your mind. This is simply not true; in fact, the opposite is the truth. It is the effort people use to fight the thought that makes it stick and fuels its return. People fight these thoughts because the content seems alien, unacceptable, and at odds with who they are. People with violent, unwanted intrusive thoughts are gentle people. People who have unwanted intrusive thoughts about suicide love life. And those who have thoughts of yelling blasphemies in church value their religious life."

I like to think this is the reason the phrase, "He's so cute I could just hug him to death/squish him" was coined. So you are fine my friend.

2.) Relief or mixed feelings when a loved one dies.

Various reddit users attribute this to someone who has a long term terminal illness. They expressed relief when their loved ones passed away, not because they did not love them, but rather they were happy the suffering ended. It can also be rough seeing someone you care about in the condition that they are in.

It's also normal to feel relief when a family member dies if they weren't that great towards you, one user accounted her father was abusive. While she was angry at him and relieved to let go of that part of him, she also mourned the loss of his 'caregiving' side.

I don't have too much experience with this, although my grandmother on my dad's side passed away couple years ago. I saw her a lot when I was younger, but I spent most of my time with my mom. My dad only had me every other weekend.

I enjoyed the time I spent with her, but much of my high school up into my mid twenties, I wasn't speaking to my dad. I didn't have issues with him, but it caused some rifts at home when I mentioned him to my mom. After I started living on my own at 24, I reached out to him about 1-2 years later. Since it had been so long, I loathed the idea of anything resembling a dramatic reunion. I also didn't tell my mom until some time had passed because I just didn't want a lecture. Fast forward to today, we are all kosher. My dad is chill, my mom is chill and there's no more tension.

Anyways, I felt bad for my dad when his mom passed. She was only in her 60s. But I felt even more guilty for not being more emotional about it. It was sad, but I wondered if I was being sad enough for my dad. I let him know I wasn't good with those things and have trouble showing affection towards family. I'm not sure why, even my mom. But I'm not sure it got through to him, we're still working on that part. 
I feel more comfortable not mentioning anything about her death either way, even as years pass or her birthday. I think saying anything could be worse than saying nothing.

People go through life envisioning how you are supposed to feel and react to these situations but you'll never know until you experience it yourself. Then you have to be compassionate for what you do feel, even if it's not what people expect of you.

3.) Running away from home.

Especially as a teen, as this reddit user commented. I think everyone experiences this, therapy or not. I don't think I struggled with that as a teen, but I started experiencing it in my twenties. Boy my twenties were the greatest. There's that sarcasm.

When I started experiencing more heavy bouts of anxiety and possibly mild depression (not professionally diagnosed) I started feeling this sense of not wanting to try anymore. I remember the first day I felt it intensely, I was driving my car home and was talking to my mom on the phone. I'm not sure what triggered it but I lost it. I told her I didn't see the point to life anymore, I was tired of trying. 

Now, let me say, I'm conflicted as to whether this would be considered suicidal or not. I've never even considered it because I've never wanted to inflict harm on myself. But what is the definition of self harm?

What I did have some desire to do is to just walk outside one day, in whatever outfit I was wearing, whatever the weather, time of day, and just keep walking. Walking until I couldn't anymore and just see where it takes me. Sometimes I'd envision being harassed, which deterred me mostly. 

I started to do it one night when I was in my early twenties, I walked about 10min from my house but I turned around. I was too scared. I was even critical of myself for not going through with it, as if no one was going to take me seriously unless I went all the way through with it. 

In my late twenties it looked more like just not showing up to work, turning off all forms of communication, not paying my bills anymore, and just driving with no destination. It wasn't that long ago that the latter thoughts came up for me. I really wanted to quit life. 

In both cases, I think what I was feeling was invisible, misunderstood, and unsupported.  I wanted someone to listen, to see me. Of course there were people talking to me, I was in this grad therapy program I mentioned earlier starting in 2019, but it wasn't enough. It actually became worse during therapy and may be in larger part due to the pandemic starting the following year. But there were several other factors playing into it and I truly think that having someone to talk to about it was more helpful than not. 

I'm lucky that those thoughts don't come up as often anymore, I think since I've moved from my home state to where I am now and have a pretty healthy relationship, I've built myself back up. My partner helped me blaze through a lot of my feedback loops, my counselor at the time, too (I had three different counselors because they were grad students, some graduated during my time there). I think making a cross country move by myself and not staying stagnant where I was really helped too. Circumstantial anxiety and depression are a real thing, so get out while you can.

In any event, sometimes running away from home isn't a physical place, but metaphorical. It's normal, but if you have any thoughts like I did, I would definitely let someone know. I'm a strong person and don't know how I didn't end up a statistic, but I also don't know what would've happened if I had not been talking to someone when I was.

4.) Pretending to be something you are not to gain acceptance or continue receiving support.

This one is kinda old news, but it goes a bit deeper than what you may think. The context in which this reddit user provided had to do with depression. The person who was depressed would often pretend to be sad around others just to 'keep up with appearances'. 

It's similar to when you are sick, or when you need help. Sometimes you don't want anyone to know you are doing better because then they won't care anymore or assume you're able to take care of yourself. If I tell someone I'm doing better, they won't call anymore. If I post a photo of myself out at dinner with friends, they will assume I'm on the up and up. Aside from societal pressure (confusing as it is because even in today's age being open is 'good', but the results being positive or negative vary drastically) Sometimes these behaviors are also due to parents or people in your life who don't understand mental illness. They don't walk in your shoes, so they solve it the only way they know how, in their shoes.

I posted a lot about my financial situation and all the woes that came with it on social media or in person with friends in my late teens and twenties. There was obvious lessons learned there, but the issue at hand was feeling like I couldn't post a picture of something I had purchased or me having a good time because I felt like I wouldn't get any sympathy. Or rather, the critical voice would say, *Scoff* "She's posting about struggling so much, why is she spending money on coffee and high end make up?" 

People take things at face value, especially on social media, and they think your life is in order because you save enough money to buy yourself nice cosmetics. There were a culmination of feelings including guilt and shame when I did work up the courage to post or share such things. But even today, as I hit 30, I still feel like I have to 'balance it out', I can't be too positive or they'll pass judgement on me. They'll think I'm just negative and lazy...or faking things for sympathy. It's like I have to constantly feel socioeconomic inequality to feel valid.

I have received both positive and negative comments, some passive in such a way that my financial situation was calculated to be entirely due to not working hard enough. But it's the negative ones I--we--hang onto. 

In a scary turn of events, however, I started to realize how I view others and where that critical voice comes from, generously conditioned by those negative comments and societal 'norms'. I've always considered myself a kind and contentious person, but in my twenties while I was figuring life out, I was guilty of being just as judgmental. I would look at someone's life with their brand new cars and clothes, listen to their travel stories, and assume they were fine: they didn't need help. Did I totally disregard them? No. But I did believe my problems were bigger than theirs and they had the 'suite life'. While some of it may have been true and many people agree that money solves quite a bit of your problems, it doesn't mean that those people aren't suffering in some other type of way. That was a hard lesson to learn, especially in the culture where when you don't hit career/wealth marks by a certain age, you are automatically deemed a slacker. We still do it today, I still do it, but I've certainly come to peace with it starting in my late twenties. 

My way around those judgmental thoughts was: you can't prescribe solutions or assume things about them when you haven't lived their life. We've heard this many times through out, I'm sure, but it has meaning to me now. They are not you, even if you explain your whole story to them, they will never fully understand. The important part is if they do try to understand, or if they don't question you as a person in the first place. Those are the kind of people you want in your circle. You'll likely be offended when someone tries to prescribe you solutions to your life problems, as if they are so easy. But instead of clapping beg, I raise you to realize that your problems may seem easily fixable to them. Either because they've been through it or they haven't and are forgetting all the steps it takes to get to that solution. They could also be someone who gives unsolicited advice or genuinely cares about you.

The other thing you can do or consider while sharing is: consider who you are sharing with and let them know what you are looking for: advice or a listening ear. Set your boundaries.

The unfortunate thing about this feedback loop is it can lead you to downplay your own feelings and needs. You'll start to question yourself and your needs, which can also lead to hazy or unestablished boundaries with others. Just remember you know you best and you are always allowed to feel things! It is a matter of how you act on them, it's not easy at all, but it is do-able.

5.) Being conflicted about their feelings towards an abuser.

This reddit user described this as either loving an abuser or not hating all aspects of the abuse, some saying they felt guilty for the abuser when they were charged.

Now, a lot of comments that followed were related to sexual/physical abuse, I don't want to minimize it, but my experiences aren't exactly the same. I can't imagine those feelings, but I completely understand feeling guilty for someone who has mistreated you. 

Using the word abuse sounds strange when I think of the situations I've been in, it sounds dramatic. Maybe that's what this therapist meant, when people felt conflicted. Maybe they thought it wasn't that bad, compared to other things. 

I'm certain I've been in mildly (or regular? I don't know) abusive situations with a few people. Recently I recalled all the moments I was bullied in school. Back then, I didn't really consider it bullying because I had friends. The bullied student is typically alone and sad all the time, too. But lately, I wonder if some of those things have really impacted me. What if I was a bullied kid? *Quietly smirking to myself*

I am no psychologist but maybe when we go through these things we downplay them in our minds because we only see these things in the move. They're so unbelievable that we must be making things up. Maybe it's a defense mechanism. 

I'm also afraid to define these things as extreme events because what if they aren't, what if I spend too much time on them and they aren't worth it? What if a therapist misdiagnoses you? In any event, there is nothing wrong with you if you feel anything but hate for someone who has mistreated you.

6.) Discontent or refusal to share strengths or positive aspects about yourself.

This was an interesting one, not too many people commented on it. I can definitely talk to you about what my strengths are, sometimes there are days where it's harder, but that's to be expected. 

I think people downplay their positive traits in order to make others feel better. Or because people like to say that if someone talks about how good they are at something, it means they are actually bluffing and insecure. People are cruel.

This could also be someone who just really dislikes themselves and doesn't know what they are good at. I've never been in that place. I know it my heart of hearts I am a good person, but if you feel this way, you aren't alone!

7.) Regret having kids or not being instantly attached to your child when they were born. 

I don't have kids but I can agree this is likely one of the most taboo topics on here. Most women on the forum discussed it taking a few months to finely feel an attachment to their kid. This isn't to be confused with not feeling a sense of protectiveness to them.

They plainly state that these "screaming potatoes" that poop and need to be fed all of the time. They need everything from you and have no personality. It takes time for that bond to grow, some dads were on the same page. 

The topic of regretting having kids didn't come up as much, I'm not sure that the average person would be comfortable talking about it. Most parents who have 'oopsies' are the ones who say they wish they had you at a different time in their life but they never regret having you. This is what I was told and I completely understand. Other children seem to take it more harshly, understandably so. I just knew that accidents are never fun and most people grow to love their children in some form. 

Parents who really didn't want children likely aborted or put up for adoption and honestly there should be no shame in that. Those who had children under family or societal's unfortunate and I hope you've come to like the person you brought into this world. In fact, I'm sure you have, but don't feel guilty or shameful for feeling the way you did or do. 

One poster from reddit exclaimed, "Parents, hang in there! I'm in the empty nest stage and can just grab my girlfriend to go do yoga in a jungle somewhere or book a sailboat across the world on whim. Freedom is waiting for you."

It's also OK to want your kids to get the h*ll out at some point, or to miss your freedom through the whole process. It doesn't mean you don't care or are a bad parent. You are also a whole person, separate from your children, who has needs, wants, and desires. 

I think women and men should be able to be open to these conversations, even if it is an extremely difficult one. As controversial as it is, the more open you are with who you are and what you are going through the better off you will be at achieving peace. I would caution this conversation be between people you trust with your life, though. It's not something I'd casually mention to anyone, the world still seems to be disgruntled towards women who aren't happy about children all of the time. Or maybe you should share, so that it can be more normal. You're allowed to have negative feelings towards your kids and overwhelmed with raising them. Just make sure you have a strong support network. 


Leave a comment or contact me using the forum at the bottom of the page.  Don't forget to check out the video and/or the reddit forum linked at the top of the page for more discussion. 


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