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Day one: Can therapy make you selfish?

Do you worry that having counselling might be indulgent or selfish? Do you fear that focusing on your own desires and needs might result in neglecting or hurting others? Lots of people who go into therapy have these fears. And the fear of selfishness is understandable given that many of us were brought up to put others first. However, I’m wondering if there is a different way to look at this issue? Perhaps there is a kind of ‘healthy selfishness’ that we can explore in therapy and which might help us get our lives in better balance?

Take journalist, Sally Brampton’s, experience. In ‘Shoot the Damn Dog’*, a memoir of her own suicidal depression, she recounts how a therapist told her she was abandoning herself every time she:

  • pretended she was fine when she wasn’t
  • refused to rest when she was tired
  • didn’t ask for what she needed from a person with whom she was intimate, and
  • put someone else’s needs before her own but resented doing so.

The therapist explained that Sally suffered from a failure of care; care for herself but also care from her parents who should have taught her how to take care of herself in childhood. Sally explains that as a child she unconsciously learned that it was better not to need or become attached to people or things, because anything she loved – people, dogs, houses, schools – were taken away from her. As an adult she was able to see other people’s needs but not her own, and this contributed to her serious depressive symptoms.

Over the next few days we’ll be blogging about this subject, challenging the idea that therapy is selfish, and looking at how a positive focus on ourselves can be good not only for us but for all those we relate to. Far from promoting selfishness, we think therapy might enable us to be less selfish and more loving.

Tomorrow we tackle the hot topic of narcissim… is therapy just ‘all about me’?

Author: Wendy Bramham
Editor: Briony Martin

April 2015

* Shoot the Damn Dog – A Memoir of Depression, by Sally Brampton. Bloomsbury, London, 2009.

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