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  • Writer's pictureHelen Dempsey-Henofer

It's time to challenge these myths

4 Myths Impacting your mental health

Hey Hey Hey,

The therapy world is a world of gentleness. We've stopped calling out (unless we're talking about tools of oppression) and have started "calling in." Combine this with my having been socialized as a girl in the world and I honestly am not super comfy laying some hard truths on you. That said, I've just got to. 


Many people start therapy - if this is you you're not alone - with the goal of not thinking certain thoughts or having certain feelings. This 100% makes sense. As a society, we have a really hard time making space for discomfort. I think of people who've experienced a major loss, confronted with well-meaning friends and family who want them to "feel better," and just how stupendously isolating that is. It makes sense that we do this, not just to others but to ourselves. Throughout our lives we've been given a whole slew of myths about how we're supposed to feel. When we hear the same messages again and again, naturally we tend to buy into them. So as much as it's filled with uncomfyness for me to lay it out, I believe in your healing and growth, and to grow we've got to confront some things that are holding us back. These four myths are spelled out in psychologist Russ Harris' book, The Happiness Trap. I'd wager you'll recognize them. Here goes...


Allow me to spell out for you the

four myths about happiness. Myth #1: Happiness Is the Natural State for All Human Beings Myth #2: If You're Not Happy, You're Defective Myth #3: To Create a Better Life, We Must Get Rid of Negative Feelings Myth #4: You Should Be Able to Control What You Think and Feel We pick up these myths damn near everywhere growing up. Stories and movies end "happily ever after." Skinned-knees somehow merit not "wow, that looks like it really hurts," but , "chin-up, don't cry." Of course, that's the tip of the iceberg. The way society shuts down and pushes away uncomfortable feelings is pervasive and happens in situations from skinned knees to broken hearts to total devastation. That being what it is, of course many people come to therapy wanting not to feel uncomfortable feelings. My truth is that I'm grateful to do work that I love and be included in my clients' journeys, but I don't have a delete button for painful experiences. While we can definitely learn to struggle less (it's possible to get off the struggle bus), it isn't by turning off feelings. I'm going to let you in on something: The struggle isn't in the thoughts and feelings themselves, it's in your relationship with them. In my last letter we looked at workability. To review, workability is how our actions in response to thoughts/feelings are working to bring us closer to living on your own terms. We can ask ourselves, "is this workable?" What stands out for me is that when we buy into these myths, when we believe we're supposed to be happy and able to control what thoughts show up, we then feel ashamed that we can't do the impossible. So believing you're supposed to be happy effectively makes you feel so much worse. In the book, which I won't completely give away, Russ dives in to each of these myths. From me to you, I'm just going to ask you to consider them. What myths are you buying into and what effect does it have on you?


Whew! It's uncomfortable for me to tell you what you might not want to hear. Yet, if we're going to change a crappy relationship we first have to acknowledge that the crappiness exists. (In this case, it's the relationship you've got with those myths). So despite the discomfort, that's worth it for me. Yeah, that's workable. Reading a letter isn't therapy. If I'm working with you in therapy and you're subscribed: Yay! I hope it's reinforcing what we're getting into in sessions. What the letter does is it puts therapy concepts into writing so that they can be accessed more widely. If you know someone who'd benefit, forward this on to them. There are two ways to sign up, a consent checkbox for new clients in intake, or easy-peasy from the website... available for anyone. Thoughts, feedback, all of that is welcome. As much fun as I'm having writing it, this letter is for you. Let me know what you want to hear about.

Finally, I'm preparing to be off for a week. February 7-11 I'm off for my birthday! Like you, I live in this society that is jam-packed with not-so-helpful messaging. So not only am I celebrating my birthday, I'm celebrating my own giving myself permission to celebrate.

Pervasive unhelpful messages are insidious: built into social norms, repeated in relationships, sneakily embedded in marketing. My challenge to you is to identify one. If you're wanting to see some change in your life, give yourself permission to do something (it can be a small step) to challenge it. Then let me know, what did you do? I hope you'll celebrate your progress too.

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