I’ve tried enough forms of therapy in my life to fill up the entire alphabet- CBT, EMDR, and IFS just to name a few. I’ve frequented the couches of specialists and generalists. I’ve gone to therapists who did more harm than good and therapists that I credit for my current state of inner peace. The kind of therapy that taught me the most though, is probably couples therapy. There I learned not only how to be in a relationship with others, but also how to maintain a healthy relationship with myself. The mantra in couples therapy is “stay curious”. We often react to the words others choose as if those words carry the meaning we would have said them with. This however takes an assumption so big it’s practically comical- that the inner workings of others mirror our own. We know that’s not true but changing how we operate is not a one-day fix. I was taught to ask my partner why he thinks how he does and what past experiences led to his perspectives, fears, and reactions. Slowly, my communication changed from a game of alternating between offense and defense to an exciting adventure. As I become more curious, I continue to be amazed by the depth of others.
Now you may be wondering how my couples therapy matra is relevant within individual self-growth. Don’t we know ourselves better than anyone else? During the time I have spent with myself, friends, and family, and as an integration specialist at ReYou Ketamine Treatments, I never cease to be amazed at the depth of each individual. We are often pushed to our limits, whether it be from suffering from a bout of depression, struggling with anxiety, or grappling with major life changes that prompt us to first look deeply inside of ourselves. The only way to begin to understand the deepest parts of ourselves is to develop a deep sense of curiosity. Rather than labeling ourselves as “anxious” or “needy,” we should be curious. Which part of you is feeling anxious? What is your anxiety protecting you from? Are you needy or is your reaction based on what you have learned to be adaptive in past circumstances? Curiosity can be learned. I would say it’s an innate quality that gets “unlearned” when we are repeatedly put in situations in which curiosity hurts us. Curiosity requires openness, and sometimes when we are in a predictable situation, it’s safer to cautiously create a set of curated assumptions.
Compassion and curiosity are natural dwelling grounds for each other. Once we start to be deeply curious, we become more compassionate. Understanding the process helps us gain an understanding of our psychology. In a world as fast-paced as ours, we often don’t have the patience to see the whole picture. Self-criticism is tempting when you don’t take the time to see all your inner parts and past experiences that have contributed to your current state. People are often afraid of self-compassion because they feel it is a self-indulgent act that will reinforce selfish and destructive behaviors. Although I don’t think that is ever the case, if one loses their curiosity, I can see how they are more at risk of these types of behaviors. Curiosity is a means to change. Curiosity allows us to see all facets of ourselves in a way that does not threaten our egos. When we look at ourselves critically, our inner defenses go into high gear. We are all familiar with this feeling, the feeling we get when we begin to justify something because we cannot stand the discomfort of contending with our cognitive dissonance. When we approach our egos in a non-threatening way there is no need for a lifetime’s worth of defense mechanisms to ensure that we don’t shake things up internally. When it comes to compassion and curiosity, I don’t know which is the chicken and which is the egg. I don’t think it’s possible to search deep within yourself and not be compassionate about what you find. I also can’t imagine a scenario in which you have complete compassion for yourself and curiosity does not begin to develop. All I know is that when I let myself go into a compassionate mode or am compassionate toward others, that is when true growth unfolds.
Integration Specialist at ReYou Ketamine Treatments