Therapists Reveal 30 Things People Are Often Embarrassed To Tell Them But That They Actually Hear A Lot OfInterview
According to Lori Gottlieb, who is a psychotherapist based in Los Angeles, the author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, and co-host of the podcast Dear Therapists, it's very common for people to struggle with fully opening up to their therapist and hide things from them at one point or another.
There are many reasons why we stay silent. Sometimes we worry that the information will make the therapist view us in a negative light, but we also might find the issue embarrassing, or just be stuck in denial.
To find out more about the topics that we keep to ourselves, Redditor u/Music-and-wine made a post on the platform, asking: "Therapists, what is something people are afraid to tell you because they think it's weird, but that you've actually heard a lot of times before?" And the replies they received provide an interesting insight into what usually stays behind closed doors.
Two topics come up with regularity: when someone discloses to me that they were sexually abused as a kid, and/or when some is experiencing suicidal ideation. Both are something I hear from clients every single day, and so I don’t find it weird at all. But, when I have someone in front of me who’s talking about it for the first time, I know it’s important to validate the fact that even though I might be talking about this for like the fifth time that day, they have never talked about this EVER, and are in need of gentle care to feel safe.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Cain told Bored Panda that talking to a therapist you've just met is like emotionally undressing in front of someone you don't know. "It's natural to feel nervous at first," Dr. Cain said. "But it gets easier to share as you feel more comfortable with your therapist. It is okay to let the process unfold naturally, at a pace that is comfortable for you."
The psychologist highlighted that it's very helpful to keep in mind that the therapist is there to help you. However, "if there is something you don't want to share, it's okay to tell your therapist that you're not comfortable sharing about that yet," she added.
"If you are not sure whether you should share more about something, one thing you can do is ask your therapist if it would be helpful to give more details about it."
I'd say a common one is believing that there's something innately, irreparably wrong with them that makes them unable to ever truly 'fit in'. For a lot of people it's such a deeply ingrained belief that it can be extremely painful to acknowledge or express, regardless of the level of personal success in their lives.
Imposter syndrome is present in nearly every client I've worked with (hundreds over the years), and it sometimes is hard for people to recon with that they feel incompetent in work or life. It is super common to feel like everyone else has it figured out, and that you are the only one flailing. The biggest thing that I've learned in transitioning to adulthood and in getting an in depth look into so many people's lives, is that we are all just trying to figure it out, and a lot of energy goes into trying to make it look like we know what we are doing and fear of being found out.
Reddit user DnDYetti, one of the mental health professionals whose reply you can find on this list, agrees that there may be a big variety of reasons why a client holds back information from their therapist.
"I can't realistically touch upon them all, however, I feel that the most common reason is the fact that the client is engaging in a brand new environment with someone whom they have only just met. Thus, that fear of judgment is likely front and center in their mind until they get to know their therapist better and get the opportunity to build up a therapeutic alliance," DnDYetti told Bored Panda. "This is especially true for individuals who have had a long history of perceived judgmental interactions within their life. This connects highly to what is known as an individual's 'learning history.'"
"Simply put, what an individual has experienced in their daily life will be ingrained into their understanding over time and impacts their behavior (positively or negatively). If an individual has consistently experienced judgmental people and has had a long history of distrust with those around them, then they are highly likely to be defensive and fearful of opening up to others in the future. Every therapy experience holds so many unforeseen possibilities, and that is why a fear of opening up is not something that we take personally as therapists. Instead, we take the time to understand why that fear is present, and we work with you to help you navigate that fear, regardless of why it's there."
Basically, anything having to do with sex. There's so much shame. Sexual abuse. Sexual fantasies and fetishes. Erectile dysfunction. Infidelity. Becoming sexually assertive. I've been told that I have a good "psychologist's face." I try not to have a strong reaction to normalize the discussion. With adolescents, they are extremely anxious to tell me if they've relapsed or aren't doing well. They cut one night or they were suicidal. They're having a lot of negative self-talk or panic attacks. They'll come in, pretending everything is okay. It's usually in the last 10-15 minutes that they'll say something. They'll reveal that they worried they'd let me down. That I'd be disappointed in them. It usually turns into a discussion about policing other people's feelings and tolerating emotions. I explain that I care about their well-being and it's my job to monitor my emotions and reactions, not their role.
I do a lot of trauma work. Many people who have experienced molestation or sexual assault feel ashamed and confused because their bodies responded. Having an erection/lubrication or even an orgasm does not mean you wanted the sexual contact and it is still assault. Clients often hold a lot of shame and confusion about this. They wonder if it means they wanted it or if there is something wrong with them. It is a tough thing to work through because of this. Assault is assault. Sometimes human bodies respond to sexual touch even when we don't want that touch.
Someone once said it’s like tickling. You laugh when you get tickled even though you don’t want someone to tickle you
DnDYetti said that it takes time to find a good therapeutic match, as there are many different types of therapists and differing therapeutic models that they use.
The numbers, however, are reassuring. Overall, 4 in 10 American adults (42%) have seen a counselor at some point in their lives and a third (36%) say they're at least open to it, although almost one in four (23%) say they would never see a counselor. Millennials and Gen X have more interest in counseling than Boomers and Elders. 21% of Millennials and 16% of Gen X are currently engaged in therapy.
Though the reason why a person seeks therapy may vary, Americans consistently indicate the experience was very positive (47%). Another 29% say it was somewhat positive, with a small minority calling it somewhat (5%) or very negative (1%).
In order not to fall in the last two categories, DnDYetti advises to "take the time to find someone who works well with you and encourages a collaborative experience where you can feel comfortable about each step of your therapeutic journey towards a happier and healthier life."
That they do not know what they enjoy doing. Often they have people in they're life, including therapists, say "try to do something fun today" or ask "what do you like to do when you have free time?". Many people I work with do not know what those are. Once I explain that I dislike these statements /questions because they assume people should know the answer, and that many people don't, I can watch as they relax, take a deep breath, and say something to the effect of "oh my, that's so good to hear. I have no idea what I like to do. That's part of the problem.". More often than not they feel like they should know and that everyone else their age has it figured out. They are embarrassed to say that they don't know when in fact not knowing is very common. I couldn't even try to count how many clients I've had this conversation with.
That they "hear voices". I've found that a lot of people aren't familiar with their own internal dialogue or "self talk" and that this is typically "normal" internal processing. A lot of people think that they are "hearing voices" and hallucinating. There are some pretty simple questions we can ask to determine if it's hallucinating or just internal dialogue, and most often it's the latter.
Edit: I want to clarify that not everyone has am internal "voice". Some have none at all, some have more of a system of thoughts that aren't verbal, feelings, or images. That's normal too!
"There may be times where clients tend to overthink about a situation, and therefore end up discussing a topic for an extensive period of time," DnDYetti said. "If that happens, we may have to reel you back in for a moment to focus on a particular word you stated or the way something was expressed, if we find it clinically significant. Regardless, I don't think that it is really possible to 'overshare' when a client is progressing through their therapeutic journey and processing everything that comes along with it. The ability to externally communicate about events (past, present, or future) alongside any thought processes that come to mind for that client is all quite healthy to express towards their therapist."
According to the Redditor, everyone has their own timeline for their therapeutic journey, so don't feel as if you have to progress at a certain speed. It's not a competition. "There will be days of perceived 'success' and days of perceived 'failure', but you'll find your way in your own time," they explained. "It's your journey, and we're just there beside you to help guide you when you feel lost or scared taking a path less traveled."
The relief one feels when a loved one dies after a prolonged illness. It’s very normal and common, yet a very guilt laden emotion. It’s perfectly okay and normal to feel this even amongst the grief and sadness.
I work in an older adults service for people with dementia and mental health problems. I see a lot of family members/Carers feeling ashamed of the fact that they are finding it incredibly difficult to care for someone that has dementia or a chronic mental health problem.
Carer burnout is a real issue and people need to know that it’s not easy to see someone you love struggling every day, or slowly fading away month by month. Carers and family members desperately need time for themselves and need to know that it’s okay to feel the way that they do.
No one is superhuman and we all have our own needs. It’s why we have therapy groups for Carers. It’s okay to struggle to look after someone and you should in no way feel ashamed of having those feelings.
The amount of people I see who feel like they should be grieving a “certain way” and are afraid that they “must not have loved someone,” or, “must not have cared.” People grieve in all sorts of ways. The “5 stages of grief” are bulls**t.
I was consulting with another clinician who was seeing a couple whose daughter had died. The wife was convinced that the husband must not have cared about her because he “wasn’t grieving out loud.” In reality, while she had been going to support groups and outwardly expressing, he had been continuing to work in a garden that him and his daughter had kept when she was alive, using that time to process and grieve as he did. Both were perfectly fine ways of grieving, however it is expected that ones grief is more than the other. They both ended up working it out however, he driving her and others to their weekly support group, her attempting to work in the garden with him on the condition that they didn’t talk. Really sweet.
To that same extent, the amount of people who are unaware of their own emotions and emotional process is astounding. So many people feel only “angry” or “happy” and worry something must be wrong with them otherwise. Normalizing feeling the whole gamut is just as important. Recognizing what we’re feeling as well as what it feels like in our body when we’re feeling is incredibly helpful for understanding how we process and feel. As a whole, how we treat emotions as a society is kinda f**ked. Thanks for coming to my Ted talk.
Being tired of being a mother. There's this social thing of loving your kids and they should be the first thing in your life, but having a child is messy and a real hard work, is normal to just want to take a break once in a while from all that responsibility.
Suicidal ideation as a form of self soothing. Knowing there’s always an option even with no plan on doing it.
Husbands sexually abusing their wives. It’s f**king heartbreaking every time I have to explain to my clients their husband’s actions are textbook sexual assault.
Unwanted intrusive thoughts are normal and do not mean you are a bad person (yes, even intrusions of sexual/religious/moral themes). By definition, these are thoughts that are unwanted bc they go against your own values and highlight what you don’t want to do (eg, a religious person having unwanted blasphemous images pop into their mind, or a new parent having unwanted sexual thoughts about their new baby). However normal these thoughts are (over 90% of the population), the moral nature of these thoughts mean that often people experience a lot of shame and take many years before they first tell someone about them.
OCD gets misunderstood a lot. It’s not just having a clean house or liking things to be organized. Common intrusive thoughts can include violent thoughts of harming children and other loved ones, intrusive thoughts of molesting children, fear of being a serial killer etc. My clients can feel a lot of shame when discussing the thoughts or worry I will hospitalize them.
PhD in Clinical Psychology here.
Just to name a few:
They had sexual/semi-sexual encounters with their siblings (same sex or opposite sex) when they were 6-12 years old.
That they don't like [insert annoying thing here] about their partner/spouse. This typically happens within a "mostly good" relationship, where it's like "I love my husband, he's a great guy, [insert 10 other good qualities], but I HATE that he's [drinking, not spending time with me, not spending time with the kids, is messy, etc.]
That [despite stating they're straight and possible being hetero-married] that they're not straight
That they're really afraid that no one likes them.
That they've thought about suicide but wouldn't actually do it.
That they've thought about suicide and had actually considered it.
That they feel like they're living their lives out of duty - to society, to their parents, to their partner, to their kids - and they hate it.
Loneliness. Often clients say they feel lonely, but they believe they’re the only ones who feel this way while everyone else has friends, family, etc. Yet, it’s so common, even among people who don’t appear to be lonely.
Perfectionism- clients thinking they are much more flawed than everyone else, even if they are very high functioning.
I work at a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter, so not a therapist, but....
Clients often feel wrong for still loving their abuser. They won't talk about it because they're embarassed but it really is one of the most common things. You don't suddenly undo months/years of gaslighting and indoctrination that lead to you being fully devoted and in love with your abuser and that's okay. It takes time and processing to heal from that.
I have heard some variant of "This is probably weird, but I feel if I am my true self around others than they won't like me" more times than I can count. As I explore the formative situations to this belief alongside my clients it definitely pulls at my heart strings.
Speaking to their departed loved ones. Thankfully, theories now support this and don't consider it to be a sign they're not "moving on with their lives". I encourage my clients to explore the continuation of their relationships with the deceased.
That they think they have feelings for us, love us, etc. Transference is a hell of a thing. Imagine you’re a middle aged male with a history of invalidation from females and a traumatic past and suddenly you’re spending an hour a day 4-5 times monthly with a young woman who attends to your needs, validates you, speaks kindly, and praises you. It’s more normal than you think. Typically I give them psycho education about transference, relate their feelings toward their past experiences, and move on. If a client has a history of it though then I try to refer them to a male therapist because it can affect the therapeutic process if it continues or escalates.
That they haven’t had sex with their partner in years and don’t know how/if they will ever have sex with their partner again. There is so much shame around sex in the USA that a lot of people are scared to talk to their partner about their sexual needs. Time goes by, and suddenly they haven’t had sex in 3, 5, 10 years. It starts for a lot of people in their 40s and 50s.
A lot of people (falsely) believe there is something wrong with their marriage because they fantasize about people other than their partner.
Many of my clients lived through severe childhood trauma and neglect. They had no one to model or explain healthy emotions or to show them appropriate ways to react to stress, fear, anger, etc. Most often they’ll describe a completely normal reaction to a stressor and then follow that up with “I don’t know if that’s normal.” These are adults who were exposed to so much dysfunction during their formative years that they don’t know whether it’s normal to cry when they’re anxious or afraid, feel angry when their boundaries have been violated, etc.
That they don't like their family members, are angry/want to stop communication with their parents etc. I work in a country which Is more culturally collectivist, so not wanting anything to do with your parents makes you an a**hole in the current cultural sense.
We deal with this almost on a daily basis. There is deep and profound shame in this and when we find that line of "oh, it might be that your parents are toxic to your mental well being/trigger your trauma" many of my clients actually get visibly angry with me.
Cultural psychology is so important, cause when I first moved here I had my American/European hat on, oh boy, did I need to adjust.
EDIT: I'm in Ukraine
Recurring intrusive thoughts about harming others. Can be hurting/killing someone or sexual fantasies about children or relatives. Usually people take a while to admit those.
The reality is that if you are having them frequently you aren't dangerous. You probably have OCD and are terrified that you might be dangerous.
I treat veterans with PTSD. I quite often have people who are hesitant to disclose that they killed someone, even though it is obviously a super common story in the context of my job.
Missing their depression after their mood starts to improve.
A common one in the time I was a therapist was simply "I don't know".
You'd be surprised how reluctant people are to admit that they don't know why they're feeling how they are. But that's exactly why you're (or were, I'm not a therapist any more) sat there with me; so we can figure out why together.
It always put me in mind of a line from America by Simon and Garfunkel:
"Kathy, 'I'm lost' I said, though I knew she was sleeping. 'I'm empty and aching and I don't know why'."
Clients become quite fearful of admitting that they weren't successful since the last time they had a session. This could include not succeeding in using a coping skill that they're learning about, or not being able to complete a homework assignment I gave them. Humans aren't robots, and therapy is a lot of work.
That being said, I don't expect people to be perfect as they start to work on themselves in a positive way. It takes time to really commit to change, especially in relation to trauma or conflicted views that an individual holds. I feel as if the client doesn't want to let me down as their therapist, but these "failure" events are just as important to talk about as successful moments!
Licensed Professional Counselor here.
Pretty much everything.
But a common one is "secret feelings." Secret resentment towards a spouse or the difficulties of being a parent. Lost attraction in a spouse. Private daydreams and sexual fantasies.
Seems like every time someone tells me "I have this really weird daydream I'm always having...", they then tell me their variation of the Suffering Martyr Daydream. So common it has a name!
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