Aleenah Ansari gazing at the camera

It's a Process: 3 Key lessons I've learned from therapy & self-reflection

April 12, 2021

On vulnerability, speaking up, & investing in your mental health

By Aleenah Ansari, Contributor

For a long time, I thought therapists were magical problem solvers of my life. I would come with an itemized list of trauma and grievances, and they’d present with the tools to work through them.

Turns out, therapists aren’t magicians — but they are people who can give you the space to vent and understand where your frustrations come from and unpack past trauma. They can be sounding boards who can listen to your stories, ask follow-up questions, and offer an outside perspective. Other times, they can be there to validate your feelings and make you feel a little less alone.  

Instead of coming to a therapy session with a list of problems to solve, I focus on the things I want to talk through. Opening up with a therapist requires the next level of vulnerability – not just talking about the things I share with everyone, but going deeper. What am I afraid to talk about? Am I deprioritizing the experiences and things that give me the greatest joy? Am I truly fulfilled by my work, or the idea of it?

Here are some things I’ve learned about pursuing therapy:

Prioritizing therapy is an investment in myself – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I’m so privileged to have an employer who pays for therapy, but I want to acknowledge that the cost and stigma associated with therapy only increases the barrier to entry. 

I’m grateful that I finally found a therapist who I see regularly, but it took me a while to find the right fit. At the time, I thought I was the problem. In hindsight, I’ve realized that it takes time to find the right fit for your needs. This means that you might have to do multiple consultations, phone calls with your insurance, and check-ins before you find someone.

Plus it’s even harder to find the right therapist who’s compatible in terms of personality and approach. I wanted to find someone who accepted my identity as a queer Pakistani woman (and didn’t constantly question if I was accepted by my parents or community), but also challenged me to think more deeply about what makes me fulfilled.

Now that I have a therapist that I see regularly, the challenge has shifted. 

It’s hard to open up about my deepest insecurities and fears and unpack where they come from, and I’m no exception. I know that I struggle with insecurity about my body image and fears of abandonment, but it doesn’t seem apropos to start a session with, “Well, time to dive into my deep-rooted trauma and how it fuels the fear that everyone in my life will leave.” As my therapist reminds me:

Therapy isn’t easy, but you can find someone who will walk that journey with you. 

It’s important to share pieces of yourself and dive into each session with vulnerability.

In my case, I’ve only recently started opening up to my therapist about my intimacy issues. I dated someone I had no feelings for, and later fell in love with someone who was a platonic friend. In the end, both of those people broke it off with me, and I blamed myself for not being enough to make them stay. In my mind, neither love nor attraction could salvage our fledgling relationships, and I ran out of cards to play. In hindsight, those experiences broke me, because I opened myself up, vulnerabilities and all, only to have ‘love’ and its derivatives come crashing down. After reflecting on these experiences with my therapist, I’m learning to recognize that I don’t have to beg for someone to stay. And if someone doesn’t want to be with me, I’ll adopt a “thank you, next” mindset, because I’m grateful for what I learned from the relationship. 

I have my therapist to thank for this revelation — her unwavering patience and listening ear gave me the space to open up when I was ready, and to not repeat these patterns in current and future relationships.

Aleenah Ansari holding flowers
photo credit: Andrea Chen

Here are some lessons I’ve learned through therapy and self-reflection:

1. Comparison is the thief of joy.

Through therapy, I’ve gone toe-to-toe with my feelings of jealousy and where they come from. Story time: I was talking to a dear friend who always inspires me with her go-getter attitude. She is the epitome of building inclusive and innovative products, telling stories otherwise untold, and creating the opportunities she needed when she was younger. I envied that I didn’t have everything she did. I was less assured in my ability to build a business or write stories that were as creative or impactful as hers. Therapy invited me to question my scarcity mindset — she creates a community of folks who value storytelling and innovation, and I do, too. 

I am reminded that others’ success is not my failure. 

Instead, I want to see others as my community and collaborators and recognize that we all bring different strengths and perspectives to our work.

2. It’s important to speak up, even when it’s challenging.

In a past job, I worked on a team of white co-workers that made me feel overlooked, talked over, and belittled. My therapist made the comment that stopped me in my tracks: I censor myself because I don’t think others will value my thoughts and opinions. How many times have I engaged in the mental gymnastics of whether I should pitch a new story or propose a solution, only to be spit back to reality and realize that everyone had already moved on in the conversation? 

My therapist reminded me that speaking up is inherently powerful, and I owe that to myself, whether people engage or not. In the words of Audre Lorde, 

“When we speak, we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed, but when we are silent we are still afraid, so it is better to speak.”

3. Ask for help.

As I’ve scoured every tech company for new roles at the intersection of marketing and storytelling, I’ve been struggling to believe that I could succeed in any of them. My therapist reassures me that I don’t have to do anything alone. I can call on my friends, family, and partner to talk through the tough stuff, like the factors I’m weighing as I look for the next career opportunity or the cities I could call home and why.

End Note:

Pursuing therapy is an investment in your mental health and well-being. As you think about your own journey, open up about your identity and needs. What keeps you up at night? What do you want to get out of each conversation? It might not be easy or linear, but I hope it gets you closer to feeling self-assured and a little less alone. 

About — Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is a writer at Microsoft, aspiring creative director, and journalist at heart. These days, she interviews engineers and designers behind the internal tools and resources at Microsoft and shares their stories in Microsoft IT Showcase blogs and videos. She’s also passionate about helping early-in-career professionals feel more confident in telling stories about their identity and work. To follow along with her journey as a writer, check out her Instagram and website, or book a 1:1 session here.

Cover photo credit: Andrea Chen, @hella.shot

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