The stigma around psychotherapy and normalizing it

Imagine you are a little kid unaware that you are struggling with anxiety. Anxiety in kids usually shows up in the form of refusing to go to school, lack of interest, and working to do simple daily tasks because they feel overwhelmed. Imagine you are a little kid struggling with anxiety, growing up in a typical Balkan household. You don’t know your emotions, but you know it is hard for you to go to school. So you ask your parents if you could skip a day, explaining that it has been challenging for you.

The reaction?

A theatrical compilation of “you are just lazy, and you must go because we say so” if you are lucky enough. Worst-case scenario, you get beaten with your mother’s slipper. This is why I had to fake my sick days, by the way. So your parents tell you to stop being such a baby, to man up, stop being so soft! But they don’t want to listen because, in their values, they have not set emotional regulation and reactions as a priority of any kind. So they try to program you with the exact words their parents used on them, the only set of a belief system known to them. And they are unaware of their words’ impact and the lack of words leave on that child’s life.

Most people know that psychotherapy is a combined treatment with which psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals help people with different emotional distresses or illnesses. But if you ask around people in our country on this topic, you would most likely hear the same answer: Psychotherapy is for mentally ill people. We are strong enough to handle our problems.

Each of us has been through a difficult period at some point in our lifetime. Whether that has been caused by some big traumatizing, life-changing event or some seemingly irrelevant situation in which negative emotions have been triggered. Either way, these negative emotions must be recognized and faced as soon as possible because, as we know, everything we do and think builds our habits and negative patterns in our everyday life.

So when it comes to dealing with negative emotions such as stress, sadness, jealousy, or insecurity, we all take a different way of handling them. The sad truth is that the majority of people try to deny their emotions and frustrations by distracting themselves with other temporarily uplifting and indulging activities. So people usually run away from their negative feelings and thoughts by forcing themselves to stay “busy” so they don’t have time to deal with them.

In the modern world, most advanced European countries are well aware of mental health, the struggles, and the importance of keeping a healthy mind. Most of the people there have their therapist, so psychotherapy is just a standard way of solving the problems inside your head through talking and analyzing with a professional. Unfortunately, in our country, the outdated mentality yet remains. People in our society do not take mental health seriously, unknowingly carrying around unhealed traumas that sooner or later lead to self-destruction and ruin their relationships while also strongly affecting all the people close to them.

I don’t know if I can even comprehend how important it is to deal with our emotions healthily. You see, the feelings we are running away from always seem to catch up on us. We cannot run from our own life experiences. And here’s the thing. When we go through a stressful and traumatic experience, our brain may numb itself to forget, but our nervous system always remembers. So even if you have forgotten this particular event and marked it in your brain just as something terrible that happened in the past”, what happens after is whenever you experience a situation in which somebody says or does something that reminds you of that previous situation, you get triggered. You start panicking and lashing out at that person just because your nervous system got activated and perceived the situation as a threat and a possibility of you being hurt again. This becomes a pattern, and it is how traumas are formed. 

But how would a person who doesn’t study the human mind know how these things work, so talking to a therapist is the easiest and most efficient way to heal and self-help in order to improve our mental health? I hope that mental health issues get the awareness they need in our society and that the negative stigma around psychotherapy turns into a positive outlook and standard way of seeking help when any person needs it.

Dragana Andreevska

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