The Importance of Having Faith in Yourself (a.k.a. “Why TF is This Not Working??”)
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
I often have clients who are going through the ‘Why the fuck is this not working?!’ phase of change and growth. This is a normal and natural part of changing, and I’ve been through it myself, so I get it. I get that it totally sucks, but I also have the benefit of hindsight to know that it ends at some point in time (usually just when you’ve declared ‘This is pointless!’ because the Universe has a robust sense of humour).
Being naturally skeptical myself, it just doesn’t jive with me to say “Trust me, this will work!” It feels too much like selling snake oil. Lemme tell ya, if I were a snake oil salesperson I would be representing with a compelling sales pitch, research, and testimonials. Because that’s the kind of person I am. “Trust me” just doesn’t cut it for me. Instead I will tell why I know this ‘Why the fuck is this not working?!’’ part will come to pass.
Many moons again, when I first decided to go to therapy, it was because I was mature and self-aware enough to know I needed and deserved help and support. Just joking! I had to be pushed into going by my best friend, who offered to drop me off there and then admitted it was because they were afraid I would bail. Rude. But understandable. To get me to go, they had to tell me “This is beyond me. I can’t help you. You need professional help. So go”.
And so I went right away! Just joking, I really dragged my feet. But I did go! Eventually. At first I would leave my sessions feeling disoriented, worrying that I had made the wrong choice by spending a lot of money I didn’t have on something that felt like it could never ‘work’ for me. The money issue was real: I was literally borrowing money from BFF so I could be therapized, and just squeaking out bill payments. However, the money issue conveniently aligned with the fact that I just didn’t wanna do this hard stuff. I wasn’t sure I could count on myself to follow through because I didn’t have much faith in myself at the time.
But gradually, I was leaving the sessions feeling more hopeful, lighter, and with more clarity of mind. I remember one day in particular I walked home feeling physically like I was light and bouncy for the first time in forever. Even though nothing was ‘fixed’ yet . I was like “Therapy is cool! And I’m awesome for doing it! I got this!”
Then it happened, which is to say, shit happened: I messed up. I lost my shit, I did that same stupid thing I always did. I slid backwards so hard and fast I hit the wall and crashed through it. Funnily enough, I can’t remember what I did, I just know it felt like a huge catastrophe that left me deeply disappointed in myself, embarrassed and right back in that space where I couldn’t do this, no matter how hard I tried. It felt like the little progress I had made had disappeared in a moment. It was all gone, there was nothing good left. I irrationally declared that I would not keep going to therapy and wasting my money and I sucked and everything sucked. Blerg!!
It was so tempting to stop. Tempting because not all of the reasons were nonsense. But most were. Like this gem: something about me that was making this not ‘work’ and since it probably would ‘never’ work I should just quit while I’m ahead. Invariably, I would calm down, dry my tears, dust myself off, and things would be put back in perspective. Therapy was cool again! Good thing that was finally over, and would never happen again, I incorrectly assumed.
Somehow this cycle kept happening! I would promise myself to be better, try harder and keep myself ‘under control’. Seemingly without warning, all that good progress would come crashing down around me. It always made me feel so low, because I had to start over again. From the beginning! So. Much. Work. So unfair! So defeating! Blerg!
Except that story I’d been telling myself about losing all the progress and starting over isn’t true. It’s an illusion that, as long as I believed it, could only help me feel like a piece of crap. Feeling so down on myself was great actually, because I could justify walking away from what was some of the most important personal work of my life so far.
Although I didn’t quit, I always had my bags packed, so to speak. If there was something so wrong with me I couldn’t be helped, then I might as well not bother continuing. It was a lie I wanted to believe that fed the fear which held me back from really getting through it all.
If it weren’t for BFF who stuck by me every messy step and misstep along the way, and wouldn’t let me quit, I might not have realized this very important truth: Every time that I fell short, failed, disappointed myself or someone else, lost it, hit the wall and generally fucked up - it didn’t negate or erase the good work I had done. In fact, quite the opposite - it enhanced it.
Losing my temper helped me realize why it was so important to get to the root of my anger and learn how to self-regulate emotionally. Criticizing my body reinforced the importance that I do the inner work I needed to do, so I could love myself properly. Every time I thought about giving up on my dreams because it wasn’t going perfectly, I reminded myself why it was important to surround myself with authentic people who demonstrated for me that we are all flawed, that we all have the same struggles, and to reach out for help when I needed it. And why it was important to be this person for others, too. So, as it turns out, all that shit that kept bubbling up wasn’t evidence I was doing poorly, it was what I needed to address and work on, conveniently bringing itself to light.
This illusion isn’t only my illusion. It belongs to all of us. It feels SO hard sometimes. It seems like it will be impossible to sustain this amount of effort for very much longer. And it might be impossible to sustain forever, which is why it’s great news that change gets easier with time, if you let it. You can make it easier by just letting some of the pressure off, by not resisting so much, and by cultivating faith in yourself. It gets easier when you let yourself fall but you get back up and keep going anyway.
Sure, it could take a long time, and it could be really hard. But I can guarantee you it will take longer and feel harder if you keep fighting against yourself. When you keep beating yourself up for falling short, that’s all you’ll see. You won’t be able to let yourself celebrate your accomplishments - especially if they seem small at the time. I’m talking about days when your accomplishments include “I went to therapy” and “I didn’t cry at work today”. Those are big wins that can look small at first. So look more closely!
You are winning when you keep it up even though you have no idea if it will ‘work’. When you keep it up when you’re not really sure what the outcome is. When you keep it up when you are willing to embrace the parts of yourself that you’d rather cut out and get rid of. Because those parts of you are part of the whole you, and you are amazing.
Feeling like you’ll never get ‘there’ does not mean anything in reality. Because there is no ‘there’ from here: it really is a journey, as cheesy as that is to say. Change and growth is a process and it’s not linear. So experiencing setbacks and mistakes do not not negate all the good you’ve already done. It does not mean you are flawed beyond repair, that you might as well stop trying, and that you don’t deserve to be investing in yourself.
So go ahead and drop that nonsense on the floor, stomp, jump and dance all over it, and get on with the important work you need to be doing. When you land in the ‘Why the fuck is this not working?!’’ muck remember: It happens, and that’s okay. Just stay on your path, keep breathing, put one foot in front of the other and you’ll come through the other side stronger than ever.