In the age of Ted Talks, blogs, and self-help books, there seems to be an unending supply of content about self-love, self-compassion, and self-acceptance. I don’t intend to give you anymore advice or tidbits on self-compassion or how to love yourself. I want to share an experience I had with a client that brought this whole concept to life. By being with this client, in a moment of inner realization, taught me more about self-acceptance than I could ever understand by reading a book on it or hearing someone talk about it.
This particular client was a middle-aged man who was critical of himself. People who knew him would have described him as extremely hard-working, successful in his career, and very involved with supporting his wife and kids. He mentioned early in our time together that he felt everything he had in his life was only a result of the demands he put on himself and his unrelenting drive to improve his “weaknesses.” Initially, it seemed admirable that he was constantly striving to improve. However, after getting to know him, it became clear that this constant inner critique prevented him from ever truly experiencing a sense of satisfaction, contentment, or enjoyment. This critical attitude toward himself left him feeling like he was never measuring up and that in some way, he was letting his family down—that he was a bad husband and father. Internally, he was struggling with feelings of guilt, shame, and that he was defective and needed to be fixed.
While cognitive behavioral therapy might have suggested that the client identify negative core beliefs about himself and change his self-talk, the most healing element of our time together was unplanned. It came as a complete surprise and occurred rather organically through a single text message he received while in session with me.
During one particular therapy session (that just so happened to fall on his birthday), he received a text message. It was only a few minutes into our time together and as his phone vibrated, he said to me, “sorry, let me put this on silent.” As he reached for his phone and looked at it, something seemed to catch his eye. He looked at his phone for several seconds, entranced with what was there in front of him. He set his phone down and then quickly picked it up again, looking at the same thing that was on the screen. Out of courtesy, I asked him if he needed to step out of the room to take care of something. He said, “No, no, no. This is just really strange. My mom just sent me a happy birthday message with a picture of me as a newborn baby. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of myself as a baby. I look so innocent.” He appeared to be experiencing a deeper level of emotion as he looked at this baby photo of himself. I did not want to pull him out of that experience, so I let him be in silence for a few moments while he sat, mesmerized by the picture that lay in front of him.
A few moments later, I checked in with him to see how he was feeling. He said that he had never felt this way before. That for the first time, possibly ever, he felt an inner sense of peace and he felt differently about himself. He talked about feeling a deep sense of love in his heart and that it felt like a lightbulb went off. He mentioned that he could now see himself as innocent and blameless.
The rest of our time together that day felt quite different. He spoke slower, talked softer, and appeared to be much more relaxed. What had been problems discussed in past sessions were not talked about and did not even feel relevant or important anymore. It felt that in this one moment, he had a change of heart. His perception of himself seemed to shift in an instant that day in my office. His rigid view of himself as inadequate, unlovable, guilty, and incomplete seemed to melt away into a feeling of peace, compassion, and acceptance.
From that day forward, he walked differently, talked differently, looked differently, and expressed feeling differently. His life had been transformed. His relationship with his wife and kids was filled with greater love, appreciation, and joy. His career reached another level of success that he did not even know was possible. It was not through working harder or gritting his teeth, in fact, it all seemed to feel more effortless and natural to him.
I reflected on the experience I had with this client, what I have seen in my experience of counseling, and being with clients through their most difficult moments. The theme is transformation and healing can sometimes occur quite suddenly and unexpectedly—it cannot always be planned, controlled, or mapped out. It was a moment of clarity; an internal realization that is very difficult to put into words and language.
What a powerful experience to have the realization that nothing in the environment, circumstances, or other people needed to change to feel complete, whole, at peace, and satisfied. It is like coming home to one's self, awakening to a feeling that had long been forgotten.
Xavier Heditsian, MA, LPC
Reach out to me directly at email@example.com
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About Sam Nabil
Sam offers therapy in Boston and Boston Marriage Counseling for adults suffering from relationship challenges, life transitions and anxiety. Sam Nabil was featured in many prestigious publications. Check out his interview with Aljazeera English, The Washington post, The Boston Globe, Fatherly magazine, Women's health magazine, Cornell university, Yahoo News, USA Today, Marriage.com
Naya Clinics offers Marriage Counselors near me, individual therapy near me, and life coaching near me in various locations across the USA and the world. Naya Clinics also offers Online marriage counseling, online therapy, and online life coaching.
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