I have been attending a women’s therapy group once every two weeks for about 11 months now, and in that time, I have often wavered about whether to continue. I often leave group with kind feelings towards the other women, but asking myself, do I really fit in here?
Group has a certain rhythm to it most weeks. E starts by leading us in a short meditation so we can quiet our minds. She has us ask ourselves, what is it that needs attention? Then we go around the circle (there are usually about seven of us), and we give little updates about how we are doing and what feels pressing to us. Then we say if we want to “work,” that is, to have our issue be a focus for the group to talk about. After all the updates, there are usually two or three people who want to work, sometimes more, and we usually have time for at least two people.
We have to speak up if wewant to work, which E says is good practice for learning to advocate for ourselves. In fact what usually happens is we all do a lot of deferring politely to one another (“Oh, only if no one else wants to work; maybe Annie’s stuff is more important…”), or the attention goes automatically to the person who is most visibly distressed. Since one woman’s mother died recently, and another lost her best friend, there’s been a lot of time focused on grief and loss. But we also talk a lot about relationships with partners, challenges of parenting, and job stress.
I’ve been going to group for nearly a year now, and I think I have worked twice. Maybe three times? But definitely not since June, when I took a big risk to try to deepen the conversations we were having. And recently I’ve been asking myself, why aren’t I speaking up more?
I think, at some level, I have been carrying the idea that I am somehow different than the others, that what I’m thinking about might not feel relevant to them, that my struggles are repetitive or boring or weird. It’s funny to think that way, because no one in the group has ever said anything to suggest that’s what they think. I’ve never been met by anything but warmth and kindness. And yet, I fear I’m wasting their precious therapy time.
Also, I often feel that my stuff isn’t “urgent,” and I don’t want to take away the time and space from others who feel their work is urgent, because a loved one recently died or they have a scary meeting coming up with their boss this week or because they will be going home to an angry husband, or whatever it is.
These thoughts roll around in my head and keep me from talking much about my own journey. Then I leave group and I feel, well, unseen. That’s not the case every week, but often. And because I often feel this way, I have told myself many times that maybe I should quit. Maybe it’s not for me. It’s a good group, but I just don’t fit.
That’s what I told myself again a couple weeks ago, after the last session.
But two things have caused me to do some rethinking over the past two weeks. First, I cleaned up my notebook where I scribble notes down from therapy, and I came across Marie’s comment to me. I had told her about the group session in June, when I talked about being in sex therapy but not doing the homework and not fully understanding why. She had congratulated me for taking the risk to share that. And then she said, “You will probably have to keep doing that. Just doing it once won’t change the way you feel about group.” I’d forgotten she said that, but when I read it again, I realized that I hadn’t continued taking risks. I had just done it once and then expected everything would feel magically different, more intimate, and I would feel securely connected to the group. Hmmm. Maybe that wasn’t very realistic.
Secondly, I heard a poem on the radio last week, and it really spoke to me. It described perfectly how hard it can be to come together in a meaningful way.
By Micky ScottBey Jones
Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
It will be our brave space together
We will work on it side by side.
I want group therapy to be a brave space. But it can only be that if we all contribute to making it that way, or at least trying. I can see now that I haven’t been trying, not in the way I could be trying. I make one effort, and then I step back and leave it for everyone else. Instead of continually showing up, willing to be open and vulnerable, I hide myself away, afraid I’ll be too odd or boring or people won’t get me.
I have a well-established habit of assuming that people won’t get me. Consequently, I often stop trying to connect. I don’t show myself, and then I’m disappointed because I feel unseen. I end up lonely.
So I have resolved to hide less. It doesn’t mean I’ll always ask to work in group. But I’ll try to ask more often. I’ll take time before group to figure out what really needs attention and prepare myself to share it, at least during the check-in. I’ll risk being irrelevant or boring or the other things I fear being.
I don’t promise to stay in group forever, or even for another year. I just promise to try. And as a first step to fulfilling that promise, I shared this post in group on Monday night.