Couple showing openness sitting in new house

The Myth of Openness… in Therapy & Daily Life

on January 26 | in Blog | by | with No Comments

Month after month, year after year, I get new clients (and new trainee counsellors) saying within their first few sessions, if not on the first day – “Well, Audrey, what I really want is to be open.” or “Well I’ve had ____ happen in my life and after that, I became closed. What I really want is to be open – to a lover, to new experiences… to life.” I hear this over and over. And internally sigh, not because it’s bullshit, not because I get the same kind of client (unless you count the same type of client to be human beings – then I do get the same type of client!), but because it’s so prevalent, and it’s based on a false premise. People keep saying this because they are yearning for an experience of life that is full of flow, spontaneity, newness and excitement. Perhaps because they are plagued by anxiety or depression that hinders them from a more open existence, or perhaps they simply feel the need to be in control of what happens and want to restrict the flow – at times this amounts to the same thing. But from wherever it springs, the yearning seems to be fairly widespread in the people I work with.

Here’s the thing about openness…

Openness, above all else, at all times, with all people, in every situation, simply isn’t reality. It’s not even particularly healthy. Or helpful (are you getting the picture?). Imagine your heart. Your heart pumps blood around your body. How does it do this? It does it by opening and closing, over and over and over and over again. Staying open equates to bleeding out. Closing up equates to heart attack. Neither works alone. Together, they sustain life.

The work of therapy, if we continue our heart analogy, is to clear blockages and allow a yearning for a healthier lifestyle and diet. But the heart will still open and close. Over and over and over again.

When past hurts and traumas cause blockages, we no longer seem to have a choice in whether an “attack” is imminent. If the blockage happens to clog an artery or a main ventricle of the heart, we don’t experience choice. It happens or it doesn’t. Past trauma, old wounds never properly taken care of, these seem to creep up on us when we’d least like them to. At inopportune moments, when we want to change our life, or attract a partner, deepen friendships, create the life we want.

So while it’s true that blockages cause pain, and that openness can be equated with generosity and free flowing emotions, oftentimes our belief that we should be more open, has us contracting with judgement, disappointment and frustration that we aren’t better at it. Thus closing up even more. We are left “shoulding” all over ourselves, berating ourselves and adding to the challenges we face.

So be open?

Yes. But allow yourself the time and space to work through the blockage, without adding insult to injury. Finding a therapist who works with your rhythm, and with whom you feel a connection, can be a powerful part of clearing away the old and allowing your natural ability to be open to life to restore itself. You will always be impacted by your past, working with a good therapist won’t leave you with a blank slate, with this mythical ability to be open to everything, the way we sometimes imagine we would be if we were unencumbered by the past.

Impacted by the past? Of course. Defined by it? That can be a choice. Of course when the blockages are there, we don’t experience choice. Blockages lessened and/or removed, blood, life, flows freely through us, heart still beating, open and closed. Maybe the next time you start to beat yourself up for being closed to life, you will have a moment of compassion for yourself. We don’t set out trying to be closed to experiences, having difficulty trusting or backing away from intimacy. We are impacted, sometimes powerfully and devastatingly, by life. And when this happens, we often shut down and become closed. While we want to close off to pain, to betrayal, to lack, when we close, everything is impacted – our ability to love, to experience joy, abandon, trust in others and ourselves. We experience ourselves as diminished. And long for fabled days of openness.

Take a look at your life.

Do you know what has happened to you? Do you want to live this way? And can you allow yourself a moment to recognise the rhythm of opening and closing that is going on within you right now? And that while it might not be what you’d like, it’s what you’ve got. So choose. You want more life in your life? Get help, get guidance, but first get real. You can’t always be open. And that’s okay. It’s more than okay. It’s life.

Contact me at [email protected] for a free consultation to find out how we could work together.

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